Last Updated on July 11, 2023
One of my favorite things about living in Europe is how fast you could get to another country. A long weekend in Ireland? A city break in Barcelona? That’s something I get to do regularly – not just because everything is so close, but also because it is so easy and cheap to get to a different country, with the amount of budget airlines that are covering even smaller cities all throughout Europe. (I’ve written in detail about how to travel around Europe on the cheap). And because it is so inexpensive to travel to other another country, it is easy to visit the same places over and over again, and to really get to know them. That’s why I’ve gotten to see more of Paris over the years than most tourists, and started to see Paris like a local – beyond the famous landmarks, Paris off the beaten path.
How to Experience Paris Off the Beaten Path
Paris est toujours une bonne idée – Paris is always a good idea, Audrey Hepburn famously said, and I couldn’t agree more. I never got tired of our weekends in this stunning city, Saturday mornings with cheese and baguette picnics in Jardin d’ Luxembourg, and afternoon eclairs from patisserie L’Éclair De Génie, where you find, undoubtedly, the best eclairs in all of Paris. Strolls along the Seine, seeing new art at the Centre Pompidou art center, meandering through the streets of Montmartre, ending the day with a glass of wine at the Le Baron Rouge wine bar… I could do it all over and over again, but I also made it a point to discover something new on each visit to one of my favorite cities in Europe.
You all know about the touristy stuff in Paris, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and Notre Dame, the Champs-Élysées and the Arc d’Triomphe. So today I wanted to share seven of my favorite experiences off the beaten path in Paris – from flea markets to street art to extraordinary city parks.
Three cool things to do in Paris for less than US$20:
1. Canal St Martin
What the Seine is tourists, Canal St Martin is to locals. This 4.5km long canal, which winds its way through Paris northwest of the Seine River, is a favorite with Parisians who you can see sitting along the edge, enjoying a chat and a bottle of wine. If you want to see Paris like a local, join them – a good place to start your canal walk is Boulevard Jules Ferry, near the Place du Republique, or you could start at the end of Canal St Martin in La Villette Park and then trek back toward Central Paris. A great spot to stop along the way is Le Pavillon des Canaux, a lovely bar right by the water near the Bassin de la Villette.
Closest metro stations: Republique (lines 3, 5, 8, 9, 11) or you could start a shorter walk near Jaurès (5, 7), skipping the first part of the Canal. Corentin Cariou on the 2 is the closest metro station near La Villette Park, if you want to start the walk there.
2. La Promenade Plantée
What the High Line is to New York, La Promenade Plantée is to Paris: a 4.7 kilometer long elevated green space, which was created, just like the High Line Park in Manhattan, on an abandoned railway line. If you are wondering which one came first: it was the Promenade Plantee, the railroad that it is set on the disused 19th-century Vincennes railway viaduct. The park offers a unique aerial vantage point on Paris and takes you off the beaten path in Paris. Read more about this unique place here: A magical, green walk along Paris’s Promenade Plantée
Note: The park is marked as “Coulée Verte René-Dumont” on Googlemaps.
Closest metro station: Bastille on the 1, 5 and 8 lines – Walk to the staircase south of Place de la Bastille on Rue de Lyon.
This up-and-coming neighborhood is known for its multi-cultural feel and the colorful street art. Here you find Chinese grocery stores right next to African shops and French cafes. You’ll notice that the neighborhood is grittier than most of Paris’ picture-perfect neighborhoods and get to know a side of Paris only very tourists get to see. It is one of the best ways to experience Paris like a local, and if you’re into street art, you really shouldn’t miss Rue Denoyez, an alleyway known for its many murals and graffiti. Around Belleville Park (both the top and the bottom of the park) you’ll also find lots of great street art.
Closest metro station: Belleville on the 2 and 11 lines.
Tip: I also recommend this fantastic self-guided Paris street art tour which starts at République, goes to Belleville and then loops back to République.
4. Les Puces (Saint-Ouen Flea Market)
Officially named Saint-Ouen Flea Market, but among Parisians the city’s largest flea market is known simply as Les Puces, which translates to ‘The Fleas’. The flea market, which takes place every weekend, is with over 2,500 market stalls the largest antiques market in the world and sees between 120,000 and 180,000 visitors every week. Treasure hunters, vintage lovers and souvenir shoppers can’t miss a visit to this market. I love flea markets, and wandering around the market stills with all the Parisians always makes me feel like I see Paris like a local.
Closest metro stations: Porte de Clignancourt on the 4, Garibaldi on the 13, or take the 85 bus right into the middle of it all.
5. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a giant park in northeast Paris, just north of Belleville (you can easily combine a visit to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with a stroll through Belleville). It is so much more than just your regular city park, with stunning landscape design and sights that include a Roman Pavilion (Temple De La Sibylle), a suspension bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel, concrete cliffs and a man-made lake. Plus: incredible views over Paris! Bring a picnic, or head to Rosa Bonheur, a bar inside the park that has a gorgeous terrace.
Closest metro station: Buttes Chaumont or Botzaris on the 7B
6 See the Eiffel Tower from this unique vantage point
Most people want to visit the Eiffel Tower when they travel to Paris, which I personally think is a Must-Do, not just for the views over the city, but also for the experience itself: to get up, close and personal with the over 130 year-old landmark.
Side note: To not just save money, but also get a real good feel for the tower, take the stairs to the observation deck! This also counts as a workout, so that you won’t feel bad about that second croissant or the hot chocolate at Angelina. The Eiffel Tower is famous for a reason! However, you won’t see any locals lining up at Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece.
When Parisians have visitors in town, they show off the city’s most iconic landmark from a unique vantage point – such as the rooftop of the Montparnasse Tower. And for less than US$20, it offers is an excellent vista over Paris.
7 Take a walking tour with a local
I love taking walking tours when I travel – not just for the commentary that I get about the sights we see along the way, but also for the useful insights I usually get from the local guides. Since they live in the place you’re touring, they usually know the best places to eat, the coolest bars, they have money-saving trips and can tell you which museums are really worth your time. In addition, Paris tour guides can give you other recommendations for off-the-beaten-path experiences that I haven’t listed here. Check out the best Paris walking tours here.