The Marais, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, Île de la Cité … there are so many wonderful places to see in Paris. But why stop at the monuments you see on postcards? The City of Light has many hidden treasures and even entire and unusual village-like areas. Architectural gems, secret villas, cosy neighbourhoods perched atop hills – come and admire these lesser-known spots that are well worth discovering.
The art nouveau architectural movement was both short (it only lasted 20 years, from 1890 to 1910) and astonishing. With its original creations, colourful ornamental façades and decor inspired by nature, plants and insects, it is a striking style. In Paris it is mainly in the upmarket districts, especially the 16th, that you will see art nouveau architecture, notably by Jules Lavirotte and Hector Guimard (who created the Paris metro ‘kiosk’ entrances). Wander around the streets in search of these unique buildings, and do seek out the ‘Castel Béranger’ at 12/14 Rue Jean de la Fontaine.
From the small village that is Butte-aux-Cailles to the large boulevards, especially Avenue d’Ivry, the 13th arrondissement is one of the best places to see street art in Paris – everything from attractive stencils and wildstyle graffiti to huge murals on building façades. Local artists such as Miss Tic and artists from around the world such as Obey, C215 and Seth have left their mark in this open-air gallery. Wind up your tour with a visit to the Lavo//matik gallery on Boulevard du Général-d'Armeé-Jean-Simon to gain further insight into this art form.
The 11th and 12th arrondissements are typically Parisian districts with busy café terraces, renowned restaurants and trendy coffee shops, but also some beautiful little passages. Most of them are to be found around Bastille, along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and in the Charonne district. The must-sees are Cour du Bel Air (56 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine), Passage du Cheval Blanc (21 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine), Cour Damoye (12 place de la Bastille), Passage du Chantier, Cour des Bourguignons and Passage Lhomme. Explore the small streets and alleys leading off from the passages and you will find flower-bedecked workshops, tucked-away craft shops and loft conversions.
Unexpectedly enough, the modern 19th arrondissement is home to one of the most greenery-filled villages in Paris, the Mouzaïa. This little slice of countryside in the midst of the city is located a stone’s throw from Place des Fêtes and is made up of small houses on streets leading off Rue de Mouzaïa, named Villa Lilas, Villa Alexandre Ribot, Villa Claude Monet etc. Wander around the maze of streets and admire the old-fashioned houses with colourful facades, the flowering trees lining the streets and the lush vegetation. A peaceful haven amid the city’s bustle.
The 20th arrondissement has some quiet streets with a village feel, such as Villa du Borrégo and Villa de l’Hermitage. One of the most surprising ones is La Campagne à Paris (the countryside in Paris), a verdant housing development with the feel of a hamlet. The collection of houses on these streets, built for working-class people in the 20th century, is one of the best-kept secrets in Paris. With cobblestones, brick houses and flower-filled gardens, the area lives up to its name. It truly feels like the countryside in Paris.
Near to the better-known Buttes Chaumont, the Butte Bergeyre hill offers a breathtaking view of the city, its characteristic rooftops and monuments such as the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and the Eiffel Tower. Perched at a height of 100 metres, this unusual little district is a pleasant place to live, with small houses and groups of houses, a community garden and a vineyard. A peaceful, timeless place, it can be visited at any time of day, but the view is particularly stunning at sunset.
At one end of Place de la Bastille, the Port de l’Arsenal links the Canal Saint-Martin to the Seine. Formerly a commercial port, it is now a marina, and a pleasant place to get away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Along the 4.5 km stretch of quayside, you can admire the small boats, sit and read a book, have a picnic in the adjoining park, or a fish and seafood meal at the waterfront restaurant Le Grand Bleu. A good way to experience that holiday feeling in Paris.
The old railway lines of Paris are being transformed into unique and enjoyable places to spend time. The first stretch to have been transformed is the Coulée Verte, an oasis of greenery in the heart of the 12th arrondissement between Bastille and Vincennes. This 4.5 km long tree-lined walkway is designed like a hanging garden on the former railway line. It is filled with rose bushes, dotted with benches in the shade and stretches of green, and runs through buildings. You can walk the entire length in one stretch or do part of it. Do go down to street level to visit the craft shops in the Viaduc des Arts.
For some years now, the 13th arrondissement has proved to be dynamic, creative and innovative. The district is reinventing itself to attract visitors who enjoy straying from the beaten path. Thanks to good restaurants, trendy bars, a lively riverside scene and the quality of life in the district, people have indeed been coming here in increasing numbers. One of the things they come to see is the architecture. Some of the best-known modern architects have designed constructions in the area, and the result is an eclectic and intriguing collection of buildings, especially around Avenue de France. The headquarters of Le Monde dotted with LED lights, the white and gold Home tower, the Fulton building with balconies that change colour, the M6B2 Tower of Biodiversity and the black T8 ‘Nest’ building are among the striking creations that make the journey here worthwhile and never fail to spark a reaction.
From the Canal Saint Martin to Pantin, the route takes in La Rotonde, the Canal de l’Ourq and the Bassin de la Villette. The banks of the Paris canals are a lovely place to walk and to watch life in Paris unfold. Along the water, you will see groups of friends enjoying a drink or a takeaway meal and people playing Molki or boules. Take a seat on the terrace of a popular bar such as Point Éphémère, Chez Prune, Le Pavillon des Canaux or Le Paname Brewing, and have a tasty meal at Gros Bao, Siseng, la Maison Becquet or Simonetta. Watch or take part in the open-air activities, then enjoy a concert at La Philharmonie de Paris, the Cabaret Sauvage or the Zénith. Whatever the time of day, the day of the week or the weather, there’s always something to do or see along the canal banks.