Everyone wants to go to Paris, but too many people ask “How can I avoid the tourist attractions in Paris?”
The only guaranteed way is to:
- find yourself accommodation in the outer suburbs of Paris, and
- spend your whole trip there smoking and drinking red wine.
BUT, if you can accept bumping into a few tourists among the locals, and it’s the less popular Paris sights you wish to see, then join us!
We’ve already established that Montmartre is the best arrondissement to stay in, well away from the crowds of the Champs Elysee and the Eiffel Tower. There’s also a village feel up here, so rather than another cafe breakfast let’s explore the market options.
Now I don’t care what your clean eating plan says about carbs – in Paris, you eat bread, and at Le Grenier a Pain (or any of the boulangeries in this area) your hardest choice will be limiting your selection.
Perhaps also a croissant? To mix with the cheeses we’re going to purchase and the slices of ham. Add some fresh strawberries for a heavenly breakfast – all acquired along Rue Lepic, wedged between the Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge but a world away from where the bus tours take people.
We can’t avoid the Metro entirely today, but we do choose to walk to the Paris Opera House again rather than change lines, before boarding Line 3 in the direction of Gallieni.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Perhaps the most famous cemetery in Paris, Pere Lachaise was created at the same time as the Catacombs were filled with the bones of earlier cemeteries, emptied to allow for urban sprawl. At the start of the 19th century, no self-respecting Paris resident wanted to be interred this far out of town. This forced the administrators implemented one of the finest marketing strategies death has ever seen: they organised for several dead celebrities (including the lovers Abélard and Heloïse) to be moved here!
We’re here to pay our respects to some of the famous, more-recent residents; the celebrity trick has worked, as Pere Lachaise now has a waiting list.
Viewed appropriately, cemeteries are beautiful spaces to visit – designed with serenity and dignity in mind, they provide a parkland filled with the most personal of monuments to those loved (as we all hope to be) at the end of their lives. Rituals have developed around some of these monuments. Will you join the legion fans who kiss the tomb of Oscar Wilde?
Throw a flower to Edith Piaf, the little sparrow?
Or fornicate among the paraphernalia on Jim Morrison’s grave? (We didn’t see anyone doing this, but that’s the story!)
I’m off in pursuit of Sarah Bernhardt, the great French actress. Walk and explore – you never know who you might run into.
For lunch, we thought we’d take you for a walk along the pretty waterfront of the Canal St Martin. We catch the Metro back to Republique and head north – less than 2 kilometres (3 miles) from the endless chatter of the Louvre, here the conversation is sedate and almost exclusively en francais.
We’re on the lookout for an attractive cafe targeting the locals, not the tourists – and at Ten Belles (just off the Canal’s eastern side, on rue de la Grange aux Belles) we’ve found it. Fabulous coffee and premium sandwiches we can enjoy here, or take with us as we continue our walk.
The benefit of the Paris Metro having stops so awkwardly close together is that whenever our feet get tired, there’s likely a station nearby. It might require 2-3 interchanges, but it will take us to our next destination.
The Religion of Peace
Still looking for some peace and quiet in a city that draws 28 million tourists per year? Then get on the Metro to Place Monge, and join us in the tearoom of the Grand Mosque.
The Grand Mosque of Paris was built in the 1920s to honour the tens of thousands of Muslims who died during the First World War. A monument to peace … and peaceful it truly is.
We spend half an hour wandering the gardens inside, its intricacies modelled on the famous Muslim castle complex the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Taking a seat for an afternoon mint tea, we could still be in Morocco rather than this bustling European capital.
For those seeking the ultimate relaxation experience, the Mosque is adjacent to a Hammam – we won’t take you through the entire spa, sauna and massage process, but this review is worth reading before you visit.
Au Revoir, Paris
You can’t be a tourist here and not see any other tourists, but it’s certainly possible to spend an entire day experiencing Paris the way the residents do. And for our final evening, we intend to continue that experience.
There are many more streets to wander; countless cafes and bars to step inside; and returning to Montmartre after dinner, there’s an entire nightlife we can choose to immerse ourselves in.
And another bottle of french red wine to empty before we leave the apartment in the morning.
Paris – merci beaucoup!
Want to go? Need to know!
- Pere Lachaise Cemetery’s website offers an interactive map (and a virtual tour); if you’d like a printable version to help with your walking, here’s the one we used.
- Ten trip tickets on the Paris Metro are usually a safe bet for stays of 3 days or more. You’ll love walking around Paris, and the love of walking will mean you’ll suddenly find yourselves on the far side of the city and needing to metro to the next destination.
- Entry to the Grand Mosque is free; food costs are reasonable; massages increase from €15 for 10 minutes to a complete spa package for only €58.
Have you visited Paris? Share your hidden gems in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.