Editor’s Note: We’re excited to share a guest post from travel writer Julie Blakley. Julie writes the France Travel Guide for the BootsnAll Travel Network. Growing up with a Parisian grandmother and a few stints living in Paris affirmed Julie’s love for everything francais (though mostly all things having to do with duck confit, pastries, baguettes, wine and copious amounts of cheese).
If you’ve been to Paris, you’ve probably snapped your photo in front of the Eiffel Tower, tried to see over hoards of tourists to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, strolled the Champs Élysées and probably even climbed the crooked hilly streets of Montmartre to Sacre Cœur.
But for those travelers who are coming back to Paris for a second, third or fifteenth time and want to discover the underbelly of the city, you may have to dig a little deeper than the traditional guide books to find the parts of Paris that make the city so charming – the backstreets, forgotten neighborhoods and lesser-known museums.
Here is a list of some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path spots in Paris. If you want to explore Paris and find some of your own favorite spots, I have one piece of advice – walk, take a café break when you get tired, and then walk some more. Some of my most pleasant times spent in Paris have been meandering the streets and discovering the hidden courtyards, tucked away parks and best spots of the city.
I lived near the border of the 12th and 20th arrondissement in Paris, and while you will rarely see the 12th touted as a must-see area of the city, I learned to really love hanging out and exploring in this neighborhood. The great part of the 12th is that it’s not a neighborhood where you’ll find many tourists, fancy shops or major attractions, but rather an area where real working Parisians live and shop.
The area is diverse, and the streets are lined with bakeries, epiceries, grocery stores and all of the shops that service the people who live and work in the area. Located in the arches of the viaduct of the former rail line that used to run from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes along Avenue Daumesnil are a cluster of artisan and artist workshops where you can peek at treasures developed over centuries of craftsmanship.
2. Belleville Quartier
One of the reasons I love Paris is for the eclectic diversity of people who make the charming City of Lights their home, and Belleville is a neighborhood that well represents the cultural melting pot of Paris. In this neighborhood, you’ll find enclaves of French bobos (bourgeoisie), Algerian, Moroccan, Chinese, Orthodox Jewish, Senegalese and bohemian artists.
An easy walk from Père Lachaise (the famous French cemetery, and a highly recommended stop), you can come to Belleville to indulge in a great Asian meal from one of the many affordable restaurants, smoke hookah alongside art students, or stop in for a treat at a North African bakery. It’s the perfect place to experience Paris’ rich diversity and explore a quaint neighborhood.
On Tuesdays and Fridays from 7 am-2 pm on the Boulevard de Belleville, you’ll also find a great outdoor market where you can get both traditional French food items as well as some from the ethnic groups that live in the area.
3. La Butte aux Cailles
Located between Montparnasse and Chinatown in a hilly quarter of the city, this neighborhood was once a small village located on the edge of Paris. Today this often-forgotten area of Paris is full of tiny houses, art nouveau architecture and winding hilly streets. It’s well worth spending part of an afternoon strolling the streets.
Since it has been featured in several famous French films (including Amelie), the Canal Saint Martin is not exactly a hidden area of Paris, but it is certainly skipped by many tourists.
Located in northeastern Paris, the canal is a long strip of water surrounded by quaint homes, shops and restaurants and arched by beautiful footbridges. This is a great place to enjoy a stroll along its banks, where you’ll see local French children playing with sail boats and people taking their little dogs for walks.
5. Musée du Vin
Of course, one of my very favorite parts of Paris is enjoying the wine. It’s easy to get an inexpensive bottle that tastes great, it’s drunk at every meal and it goes so well with all that cheese I’m usually busy stuffing in my face.
While you may be feeling some sort of weird obligation to spend hours in the Louvre, I say why not skip it in favor of the Wine Museum. If you are going to slate time in a museum while in Paris, it may as well involve drinking.
The Musée du Vin is set in a 15th century stone quarry and has a display of historic viticulture artifacts, tasting events, wine education classes (in English, bien sur), and houses a restaurant in a Medieval cellar with classic French fair and wine.