Paris is a magnet for tourists – and they usually arrive with matching itineraries. Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Musée D’Orsay, the list goes on. This means there are often epic queues to get into the biggest museums and long waiting times to access many of the city’s key attractions, particularly in peak season.
But there are great alternatives throughout the city offering just as much charm as the more famous sites without the maddening crowds. Make the most of your holiday in Paris with this guide to the city’s best under-the-radar tourist spots:
The view from Montparnasse Tower (Image: Supplied)
Glimpsing a view of the rooftops of Paris is a must-do on a visit to the city, but smart Parisians know the Eiffel Tower isn’t the only, or the best, way to do it.
Wave goodbye to the hoards of tourists and instead head south to the tallest office building near the centre of the city, the 210m high skyscraper Montparnasse Tower.
Get the lift all the way to the Panoramic Observation Deck at the top and behold a truly spectacular view of the city that (includes the magical sight of Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece). Bonus tip: skip paying a fee to visit the top and instead pop into the Ciel de Paris bar on the 56th floor for a cocktail with an almost-as-good view, minus the wind.
The Basilica of Saint Denis
Notre-Dame Cathedral is undoubtedly spectacular and worth ticking off your list at some point. Yet the endless throngs of visitors in and around it, especially on sunny afternoons, are enough to deter even the most enthusiastic sightseer.
Instead take the metro to the suburb of Saint Denis, just north of Paris, to see a church considered by many locals to be the most beautiful and important in the city: the Basilica of Saint Denis.
It boasts stunning, brightly coloured stained glass windows and was the burial place for more than 100 French royals (including Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette), as well as Joan of Arc’s favourite church. Plus, it’s home to the preserved heart of Louis XVII, which remains on display in a glass case.
The glorious halls of the Château de Fontainebleau (Image: Supplied)
The Château de Fontainebleau
The Palace of Versailles will always lure tourists but the equally grand Château de Fontainebleau, just south of Paris, is a more interesting option.
The residence of French monarchs for centuries, this spectacular palace was restored by Napoleon after the revolution and is now a protected landmark.
The elaborate interiors and extensive art collection are the key draw cards – but make sure you allow time for a wander in the sprawling gardens that spread across 130 hectares around the château.
It’s also great value at only 11€ per ticket, making it a significantly cheaper option than Versailles.
There are treasures to be found in the little-known Musée Marmottan Monet (Image: Supplied)
Musée Marmottan Monet
Forget shuffling through the crowded galleries at the Musée D’Orsay to catch a glimpse of Claude Monet’s famous water lily paintings and instead head to the often-overlooked Musée Marmottan Monet, which boasts one of the best collections of impressionist art in the world.
If you time it right, you might get to spend time alone with some of the Monet paintings on display here but make sure you save some time to also enjoy the extraordinary work by his equally famous contemporaries including Renoir, Degas and Gaugin.
The Parc des Buttes Chaumont
There are beautiful parks throughout Paris and one of the most popular is the Tuileries Garden that sits between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. Historically a popular place for locals and visitors to stroll, it remains a major drawcard and is usually teaming with people.
This can make for good people watching, but if the crowds get too much you should try a wander in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the city’s east. A favourite with locals looking for a peaceful patch of green, this park features a large lake at its centre and is the perfect spot for a relaxed picnic.
If you’re feeling energetic, climb up the hill to the Temple de la Sibylle, which is perched above the lake and affords spectacular views of the park and beyond.
The Palais de Tokyo in Paris is a must-see. (Image: Supplied)
Palais de Tokyo
The permanent art collection at the Centre Georges Pompidou is one of the best (and largest) in the world and worthy of a visit, if you’re a lover of 20thcentury art.
But if you’re looking for a contemporary exhibition on a less intimidating scale head to the Palais de Tokyo. This edgy museum offers an ever-changing series of carefully curated displays that are just the thing when you are looking for an hour of culture but don’t want to be overwhelmed.
Then finish up with a long lunch on the terrace of the on-site restaurant Monsieur Bleu (which is located directly across the river from the Eiffel Tower and offers a spectacular view) and perhaps a drink at the museum’s soon-to-open cocktail bar Les Grands Verres.
Go for a cruise on the Canal Saint Martin with Canauxrama (Image: Supplied)
Cruise on Canal Saint Martin
Each day thousands of tourists pack onto the open-topped boats that ferry up and down the river Seine, but a more enjoyable option is to skip the masses in favour of a cruise along the Canal Saint Martin.The leafy waterway in the city’s north east (featured in many French films including Amelie) is a beautiful setting, and floating along on one of the boats run by Canauxrama at twilight with a glass of rose in hand is the perfect way to spend a Parisian afternoon.