Travel guides will share great information about popular experiences and sites, however, they don’t always mention the special, unique Paris experiences that locals or die-hard devotees to the city enjoy.
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When I travel to Paris, I’m in search of all different kinds of experiences that can make my trip even more special….whether they be culinary, active, or learning experiences, or sites that are not necessarily written about in tour guides. These places are often cherished by locals and are not always crowded, which is a bonus.
Here are some of my favourite, unique experiences in Paris (note: I keep adding more, so be sure you keep checking back for new ones):
Unique Paris Experiences To Consider:
1. Have A Drink On A Boat That Is Moored In The Seine
This is number one because it is truly the most enjoyable, unique Paris experience that I keep doing. While having a drink at a sidewalk cafes immensely popular in Paris, if you want a different view, consider heading to the Seine River. One of my favourite places to have a drink is on a barge which is located on the Seine near Pont de l’Archevêché. It’s had various names throughout the years, such as Le Kiosque and Un Mojito Sur Scène. Sometimes there’s recorded music and sometimes there’s a live band. I highly recommend going in the late afternoon and relax with a glass of wine or a Kir (wine + Cassis liqueur) while you gaze upon Notre Dame Cathedral.
2. Relax At Place Dauphine
An oasis in the heart of Paris. This little park is surrounded by cafes and is just a stone’s throw from the Seine near the western end of the Ile de la Cite in the 1st arrondissement of Paris.
3. Fat Tire Bike Company Tour
There are so many cool things to do in Paris and I highly recommend you take a “Fat Tire Bike Company” bicycle tour through Paris at night. Your tour lasts 4-5 hours where you’ll see sites like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre Museum (outside).
Imagine riding through the courtyard at the Louvre or down Boulevard Saint-Germain. Some commentary is provided, but seeing Paris at night is what makes this so unique. Fine for children too. It is very safe and the evening is topped off with a cruise on a Bateaux Mouche drinking wine! This unique Paris experience is THE way to see the city and get a little exercise.
4. Renting a “Velib” (bicycle) in Paris
February 5, 2020 Update: the Velib system has expanded into e-bikes which are more expensive (2 € for 30 minutes). If you have a credit card from outside of the EU you can only get the 24-hour (V-Découverte) or 7-day (V-Séjour) pass using your physical card at the bike terminal and the cost is 5 € and 15 € respectively. You cannot order the pass online. Your personal ID number and a PIN that you need to get the bikes is on your receipt. A 300 € deposit is temporarily debited to your credit card.
In the early days of Velib, you’d have to enter the code at the terminal to unlock your bike. But now, with technology, you can use the integrated “V-box” that’s on the bike. You just key in your ID number and PIN and you’re set to go.
The first 30 minutes are free and then there is a 1 € charge for every 30 minutes IF you don’t return the bike to a docking station within 30 minutes. So what this means is that you ride for up to 30 minutes, return your bike, do your errands or sightsee, and then get another bike. As long as you don’t go past your 1/2 hour, the ride is “free” and you aren’t charged for a half hour. If you do it this way, switching bikes every half hour, the cost is only the price of the pass.
There are other plans as well. These are monthly or annual subscriptions especially for folks who live in Paris. They are the V-Libre, V-Plus, and V-Max.
5. Indulge In A Hot Chocolate At Angelina
Angelina’s is an institution that’s over 118 years old and is still adorned in architecture from the 1900s. It opened at 226 rue de Rivoli in Paris in 1903 by Austrian Antoine Rumpelmayer and was named after his daughter-in-law.
The tearoom and cafe continues to reside at the same location. It is “the” place to have a truly decadent hot chocolate. But this isn’t just any hot chocolate or “Chocolat Chaud”. Rich? Yes. Creamy? Yes. Smooth? Yes. It comes in a pitcher with whipped cream in a separate container. Angelina is a tea room that also serves breakfast and lunch and pastries. There is often a line up to get in; however, the wait is usually not too long.
Once inside you can just have the hot chocolate (called “L’Africain”) which is made with the cocoa from Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Niger. You could also add a dessert like their famous Mont Blanc (meringue plus chestnut cream) or go for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea. Check out my niece’s guest post where she shares her experience at Angelina.
6. Shakespeare and Co. Booktalk
Visit this old, established bookstore that has many books in English. Check out the listing of authors who give free book talks. Past guests have included cookbook author, David Lebovitz and Canadian Naomi Klein who presented her book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate”. When the weather is warm, the seating often flows out into the front courtyard. Shakespeare and Co, Paris. Read more about the Book Talk here.
7. Visit The Conciergerie
La Conciergerie is a former prison built in the 1400s and located just west of the Ile de la Cite. It is most well known for housing Marie Antoinette and hundreds of other prisoners during the French Revolution.
During the Reign of Terror, approximately 2700 people were imprisoned here before being executed. Marie Antoinette was taken from her to be executed on the guillotine.
While the exterior of the building (rebuilding took place in the 1800s) is beautiful, so is the interior with two grand halls and gothic architecture. It is located west of Ile de la Cite, near Notre Dame.
8. Relax On Pont Neuf
Relaxing on Pont Neuf and the Square du Vert-Galant (one of my favourite views of Paris). Bring a picnic lunch and just watch the boats glide by.
9. Listening To Chamber Music in Sainte-Chapelle
Throughout Paris you will see posters advertising various concerts in churches. The best are certainly the ones which take place in Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel), located on the Ile de la Cité not JUST because of the music. The striking 15 stained glass windows which are each 15 metres high are stunning and will impress you particularly at night time, so be sure to attend a night-time concert.
More information is in this post: Attending A Chamber Music Concert in Sainte-Chapelle.
10. Having A Picnic Dinner On the Pont Des Arts
When dusk arrives, the crowds come out to the Pont Des Arts with their picnic dinners of baguettes, cheese and wine. Sometimes some musicians come out to play as well. It is a big party with joining! The Pont Des Arts is a pedestrian bridge that crosses the river Seine near the Louvre. [See below for more Perfect Picnic Locations]
11. Attend A Performance Or Take A Tour Of The Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier)
Visiting the Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier), which is located at 8 rue Scribe (adjacent to the Opera Metro) should definitely be on your list. Don’t just take photos from the outside. Go inside either to attend a performance or to take a tour. Here is more information about the tour [Guided Tour Of The Paris Opera].
As for attending a performance, during one of my early trips to Paris, I got tickets to see the American ballet. My friend and I were able to sit in a private booth and while it was an interesting experience, at that time there wasn’t any air conditioning. I had to leave early as it was just too hot. Not sure if they have air conditioning now, but if ballet isn’t your cup of tea, definitely consider taking a tour.
Being up in a booth gives you a different perspective that you won’t get on a tour and it is here that you can imagine how the chandelier might have come crashing down in the Phantom of the Opera.
12. Drink Vin Chaud At An Outdoor Café In Winter
Vin Chaud is popular during Christmas and New Year’s. It is hot red wine with mulling spices and served with sugar on the side. Sit under a heated awning at an outdoor cafe. Or, go to an outdoor market where you can sample some vin chaud and roasted chestnuts! [Here’s the recipe so you can make it at home: French Mulled Wine-Vin Chaud]
13. Lunch at Le Jules Verne Restaurant In The Eiffel Tower
Take the private elevator to the 2nd level of the southern pillar at the Eiffel Tower and wait to be entranced by Alain Ducasse’s exquisite cuisine. I went on Bastille Day, for my birthday back in…….when the restaurant was not under current chef Frédéric Anton, yet my lunch and experience were very memorable.
14. Watch A Fashion Show At Galeries Lafayette
Most Fridays throughout the year at 3:00 pm, Galeries Lafayette puts on a 30 minute fashion show at its Haussmann store (40 Boulevard Haussmann) in the Salon Opera on the 7th floor. You will need to make reservations through their website. The show used to be free but they now charge 13.9 Euros (9 Euros for children).
Galeries Lafayette Website: https://haussmann.galerieslafayette.com/en/events/original-fashion-shows
16. Take In A Great View Of Paris—atop Galeries Lafayette
After you do some shopping at Galeries Lafayette, go to the roof top (escalator and stairs to the 8th floor) and grab a coffee (or wine) and sit on the outside terrace, taking in the fantastic view of Paris.
17. Listen To Some Jazz On The Banks Of The Seine
…..especially when Paris Plages is on in the summer. Paris brings tons of sand onto the banks of the Seine and sun worshippers sunbathe and walk along the Seine. Often musicians will set up shop and play some tunes.
18. Attend A Cordon Bleu Cooking Class
Definitely consider taking a Cordon Bleu course. You can go for a half-day or full-day and learn how to make macarons, breads, regional cuisines, and sauces. Check out my favourite 10 short courses here. Find out what the macaron course was like as well as the recipe that I now use to make dark chocolate macarons just like the ones from Le Cordon Bleu.
19. Be In Paris On July 14, Bastille Day
Be in Paris the day before and the day of “Bastille Day” (France’s National Holiday on July 14—-ironically, my birthday) and watch the parade down the Champs Elysees. Here’s more about July 14 and the storming of the Bastille: The French Revolution and July 14 In Paris. Also, check out the post about watching the parade and taking a dinner cruise on the Seine, and ending the evening with fireworks by the Eiffel Tower: Your Guide To Celebrating Bastille Day In Paris.
20. Wander The Gardens at The Musee Rodin
Walk around the beautiful gardens and see the famous “The Thinker” sculpture.
21. Go Running For Fun Or In A Race
Run the Paris Marathon (in April) or the “20 Km de Paris” (in October) or just run along the Seine for fun!
If you do decide to run a race in France, be sure to have a doctor’s certificate and book well in advance. And be prepared for some “different” race foods. No bananas but lots of sugar cubes, raisins, oranges, and pound cake are often offered along the route as well as water in bottles. Yes, bottles. Thousands and thousands of bottles are scattered all over the road, so watch out! (Find out more about what it’s like to run in France: Running In France).
22. Ile Saint-Louis and Ice Cream
Berthillon ice cream and sorbets are cherished by locals and tourists, particularly when they are purchased from the store on the Ile Saint-Louis. There is something about wandering the streets on the Ile and eating a delicious, rich ice cream cone. Berthillon’s is the second oldest ice cream parlour in Paris. You will no doubt encounter a small and playing on the bridge between Ile Saint Louis and Ile de la Cite.
23. Relax In Luxembourg Gardens and People Watch
…..and watch little kids play with their boats in the fountain.
24. Drive Around The Arc de Triomphe (and around, and around)
Here’s your chance to drive like the French! This is one of the grandest roundabouts and it is fun to drive around the Arc and try to get out onto one of the major streets. Just don’t be fearful. Be bold!
25. Join A Strike, Or Watch One
Strikes, or, “Les Greves” can shut down all transportation, museums, or any public institution. They occur fairly often but do not last long. I encountered one as I turned a corner. I felt completely safe and the crowd of a few thousand were very peaceful.
26. The Catacombs
This underground cemetery houses the remains of more than 6 million people. It was established in the early 18th century as Paris’ cemeteries could not deal with the overflow of bodies. It is interesting to see the skulls and femurs artistically arranged throughout the underground cavern. The entrance is located near the Metro: Denfert-Rochereau. Find out more about the unique sculptures that are done throughout the catacombs: Sculptures de Décure In The Paris Catacombs.
27. Buy A Hermès Scarf…And Don’t Forget The Cards
The Hermès carré (scarf). The classic orange box with the horse motif. Timeless. The beautifully designed silk scarf has been cherished by those who love the unique patterns ever since it was created in 1937. But true fashionistas know that when you purchase an Hermès scarf (at a Hermès boutique, bien sur), one MUST also ask for the “Cartes A Nouer” (aka “Knotting Cards”). The 22 cards provide pictures and instructions to tie your scarf in many different ways. You won’t get the box of cards unless you ask! Do consider buying an Hermès scarf and getting it framed. Check out this post to find out how to turn it into a beautiful piece of wall art.
28. Buy Something From Cartier
Who can resist Cartier?
The iconic brand makes jewelry and watches, of course. But did you know that if you buy one of their watches, you can get one of their travel cases FREE. Once again, you must ask for it. It is in plush red velvet and is a perfect travel companion for your time piece.
29. Le Café Des Chats
In 2013, Paris opened its first cat cafe. I went 2 days after it opened, and had a glass of wine and a dessert while kittens and cats wandered around the cafe, sat on laps, and posed for pictures.
It’s a different experience. Yes, you obviously have to like cats.
To find out more about what it’s like, check out Visit Le Café Des Chats.
30. Le Foodist
As mentioned in my October 11 blog post about my Le Foodist experience, the market visit and cooking class is definitely worth doing, not just for the tour, the cooking and the food, but especially for the stories told by Fred, the owner/chef who truly made the experience memorable. We went to an open-air market to pick up the ingredients for lunch and then came back to prepare the lunch.
Location: 59 Rue Cardinal Lemoine in the 5th Arrondissement
Check out these other unique experiences in Paris-some are off the beaten path which makes them even more interesting:
Active Boomer In France–check out the walking route
Spend New Year’s Eve In Paris: oysters, champagne, and the Eiffel Tower
Beautiful And Famous Bridges In France To Photograph– 4 are in Paris
Le Tout-Paris Rooftop Bar In The Cheval Blanc Hotel (beside La Samaratine)
Looking for unique experiences in other parts of France? Be sure to check out the growing list : Top 100 Unique Experiences in France
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