10 Of The Coolest And Most Unusual Things To Do In Paris
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Paris, you have to think outside the box.
You need to erase the unrealistically romantic picture of the city of love, which Hollywood has painted.
You should forget all the touristy things to do in Paris and instead search for some really cool and unexpected activities.
You must keep an open mind and remember that unusual things might also hide in the most popular, crowded, and visited places.
To serve as an initial inspiration to start your creative search, here is a short yet sexy list of rather unusual things to do in the French capital.
1. Celebrate Love At The Wall Which Unites
The Wall of Love (Le mur des je t’aime), according to its authors, is built to unite instead of divide people.
Hidden in a small public garden on the hills of Montmartre, you’ll find a mural with the most powerful words in the world.
I love you is written in 250 languages on 21 cm x 29.7 cm (8.3 x 11.7 in) enamelled lava tiles. Three hundred and eleven representations of the phrase in all major and several rare languages cover the 40 m2 (430.6 sq. ft.).
The artist Fédéric Baron and the calligraphist Claire Kito created the wall in 2000, in the Jehan Rictus Garden in Montmartre, using 612 tiles.
The red splashes between the words are the parts of humanity’s broken heart which the authors attempt to reunite on their gigantic fresco.
The garden opens at the same time (weekdays: 8:00 AM, weekends and holidays: 9:00 AM) regardless of the season but closes at different times. The closing times are shortly after it gets dark in each season.
2. Discover Ancient Art And Imposing Interiors
If you’re dedicated to finding unusual things to do in Paris, then you might think the Louvre is not the right place to search.
However, you’ll be wrong to dismiss the most famous gallery in the world.
The museum, hosted in the former French Royal Palace, has an extensive collection of items on display. In fact, it is home to over 15,000 pieces of art!
Most tourists enter it to see the famous Mona Lisa and a few other widely known paintings and statues. In my humble opinion, they actually visit the Louvre to brag in front of their friends, not to appreciate art.
Here are my suggestions for several lesser-known collections in the Louvre, which I believe will surprise and astonish you – hell, even bring goosebumps to your skin:
Arts of Oceania
Hidden at level 0 of the Denon Wing, the Art of Oceania collection presents items from islands with names, hard to pronounce.
Idols of religions you haven’t heard about stare at you and evoke unexperienced feelings.
In the Sully Wing at level 0, you’ll find artefacts dating back to 4,000 BC.
The Ancient Egypt Civilisation collection boasts sarcophagi, mummies, and even pyramids.
Unlike in Egypt, in the Louvre you can admire the ancient builders’ craft without hordes of tourists or vendors around you. Even the temperature is much more pleasant in the halls of the former royal palace.
The Oldest Collections
In the Richelieu and Sully Wings at level 0, you’ll find the oldest items in the Louvre.
Dated back to 7,500 BC, the Near Eastern Antiquities have arrived from the area of e.g. today’s Iran and Syria. The ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Levant, and Arabia have left colossal treasures, which you can only admire in these two collections.
The French Crown Jewels
The Denon Wing keeps the French Crown Jewels.
On level 1 in the Galerie d’Apollon, you’ll not only find what the French kings have worn.
You will also be mindblown by the imposing interior of the hall!
Tips For Visiting The Louvre
To find a pre-planned and unusual itinerary for your visit to the Louvre, check the visitor trails.
Take a good look at the plan of the museum to search for the collections, which match your interests, and discover their locations.
Here are a few extra tips for your visit to the Louvre:
- Use the Porte des Lions Entrance near the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to avoid queuing at the popular Pyramid Entrance.
- Alternatively, you can buy your ticket online. It costs a bit more, though.
- Wednesdays and Fridays, the museum has longer opening hours.
- On Tuesdays, the Louvre is closed.
- There is free admission on the 1st Sunday of the month from October to March and on July 14th. However, keep in mind that everyone wants to get in on these days.
- Time needed: two hours will ensure you’ll have the best experience while roaming the halls of the Louvre. Less than that would mean too much running around and won’t justify the price of the ticket. Longer than that might be too exhausting and overwhelming.
3. Pay Respect To The Dead Above And Underground
Paris is home to several popular cemeteries as well as an extensive labyrinth of underground tunnels, known as the Paris Catacombs.
If that’s not enough for you, you can also visit the Pantheon to pay respect to France’s national heroes.
The Parisian Cemeteries
If you want to find the last resting place of France’s most eminent minds and famous personas of the last few centuries, you should add at least one of the Parisian cemeteries to your list of eccentric places to visit.
Here are the most well-known cemeteries in Paris:
- Père Lachaise Cemetery: the largest cemetery in Paris is the most visited in the world. It’s the last home of Honoré de Balzac, Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison, and others.
- Montparnasse Cemetery: also known as Le Cimetière du Sud, it’s a beautifully maintained cemetery park with impressive tombs and gravestones of the French intellectual and artistic elite.
- Montmartre Cemetery: alternatively called Cimitière du Nord, this is a place where countless famous artists and writers are buried. Alexandre Dumas fils, Degas, and Heinrich Heine, among others, rest in peace in this graveyard.
The Catacombs Of Paris
If your fascination with death wants to take you deeper on your journey to find the most unusual things to do in Paris, then you should visit the Catacombs of Paris in Montparnasse.
Hosted 20 metres underground in former limestone quarries, the catacombs contain the remains of millions of Parisians.
In the 18th and 19th century, the graveyards of the city posed a high risk to public health. Bodies were moved to the maze of dark tunnels of the unused mines. They were arranged in a macabre display in an ossuary, as well as in the long galleries and in narrow passages.
Here are the most important facts about the Parisian Catacombs:
- Their depth is 20 metres, which is approximately equivalent to a seven-story building.
- The number of steps during the tour of the catacombs is 213. You will descend 130 steps and climb 83 stairs on your way up to reach the exit.
- The total distance covered by the tour is 2 km / 1.24 mi. The length of the galleries of the ossuary is 800 m / 0.5 mi.
- The area of the tunnels is approximately 11,000 m2 / 118,403 sq. ft.
- The duration of the tour is 45 min.
- The temperature is cool 14°C / 57° F all year round.
If this sounds like one of the cool things to do in Paris for you to undertake, then read this information and tips as well:
- Only 200 people may enter the catacombs at a time. This might cause long waiting times at busy hours.
- No toilet or cloakroom facilities are available inside.
- The tour is unsuitable for people with heart or respiratory problems, those of a nervous disposition, and young children. The catacombs are not accessible for persons with reduced mobility.
- The best time to visit the Catacombs of Paris is from October to April. Try to come between Wednesday and Friday, at 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM for the shortest waiting times.
- Alternatively, you can buy your ticket online to skip the lines.
I admit that visiting cemeteries or catacombs might be too gruesome for some travellers.
So if you still want to pay your respects to the dead without feeling morbid, you should do so in the Panthéon.
It is situated in the Latin Quarter – the bohemian heart of Paris. The main architect, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, reportedly wanted his building “to combine the lightness and brightness of a gothic cathedral with classical architectural principles”.
You be the judge whether he completed his mission with his Neoclassical masterpiece.
Originally built to serve as a church, it is currently a secular mausoleum.
The remains of French national heroes lay in its crypt. Among them are Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Alexander Dumas, Louis Braille, Pierre and Marie Curie.
4. Sail A Boat In A Royal Pond
I bet after the horrifying previous activity, you would want to do something a bit more lively in Paris next.
So check this out:
In the middle of Le Jardin du Luxembourg, lies a small pond.
You can join the young crowd at its banks and play with a wind-powered sailboat.
What better place to inspire your inner child than the 17th-century park with a Royal Palace as a background?
The park also features formally laid-out gardens, trees planted in patterns, and lovely statues on pedestals.
I think this is all you need to know about this cool Parisian activity!
5. Disappear In The World Of Books
Founded by Sylvia Beach, an American expat bookseller and publisher, the quaint bookstore Shakespeare and Company sits near the Seine River banks.
On the edge of the bohemian Latin Quarter and a stone-throw away from the Notre Dame Cathedral, the shop is the most visited one in Paris.
Still, if you avoid weekends and busy hours, you can enjoy a quiet walk between the overflowing bookshelves. Come in the morning, right after the bookstore opens at 10:00 AM, or stay late – between 9:00 PM and the closing time at 10:00 PM.
Shakespeare and Company and its founder played a huge role in the book publishing and cultural life of Paris. Especially during the two World Wars, Sylvia Beach helped numerous authors get their works published.
For example, she helped James Joyce bring his Ulysses to the world.
Nowadays, the bookstore is still geared towards supporting authors and encouraging people to write and read.
Enchanting little nooks invite for cosy reading in the upper room. Surrounded by the smell of antique books, it is the perfect place to peruse, seated comfortably in a leather chair.
You might even find a pressed flower or a note from another time between the pages!
If you decide to take a unique souvenir home from your trip to Paris, this is the perfect place to buy it. Before leaving, make sure you get a stamp in your book(s).
6. Make A Wish At Point Zero
In case you didn’t know, all distances in every country are measured from a starting point, usually somewhere in the capital city.
The distances in France begin at the Point Zero in Paris. It is located in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
A small, octagonal brass plate in the ground marks the geographic centre of Paris.
For decades, tourists have invented and performed their good luck rituals around the spot.
For example, some will spin on one foot with the other one on the marker, while making a wish. Others might kiss and promise each other eternal love while standing on it.
Most commonly, visitors and Parisians will touch the plate as a sign of conquering the French capital.
Maybe you’ll want to start your own ritual?
It is entirely up to your imagination what you’ll choose to do on this cool spot in Paris!
7. Examine The Proof Of Earth’s Rotation
A simple device, named after its creator – the physicist Léon Foucault – can demonstrate Earth’s rotation.
In 1851, the scientist suspended a 28 kg (61.7 lb) brass-coated lead bob on a 67 m (219.8 ft.) long wire from the dome of the Panthéon.
The plane of the pendulum’s swing rotates clockwise approximately 11.3° per hour. It finishes a full circle in approximately 31.8 hours, thus giving direct evidence of Earth’s rotation.
Foucault’s Pendulum, used in 1851 at the Panthéon, resides in the Museum des Arts et Métiers in Paris since 1855. An exact copy of the original operates under the dome of the Panthéon.
If you visit the mausoleum to pay respect to the greatest French minds (see #3), the pendulum will be the first thing to catch your eye. And if you choose to glimpse at Foucault’s original bob, the Museum des Arts et Métiers will have further treats for you.
Located in a converted church, the museum features impressive design, science, and engineering collections. Extraordinarily detailed models provide a fantastic voyage into the history of technology.
There are sections devoted to electricity, communications, computers, civil engineering, measurements, textile, etc. You can observe historical instruments and methods for measuring temperature, weight, length, volume, frequency, and much more.
The best part?
You can examine some of the instruments and test their accuracy yourself!
The best times to visit the Museum des Arts et Métiers are Thursday evening and Sunday morning. On Thursdays, the museum closes its doors at 9:00 PM, 3.5 hours later than on other days of the week.
8. Spy On Eiffel’s Secret Apartment
When the Eiffel Tower opened for the World Expo in 1889, Parisians were divided in their opinions about the iron construction.
Today, you can’t imagine Paris without the iconic structure rising above the landscape of the city.
Few tourists realise that the observation tower not only provides the most spectacular view over Paris but also hides Eiffel’s secret apartment.
Tucked between the girders, the famous architect set a cosy apartment for himself and his occasional guests. The elegant wooden furniture provided comfort in his hours of solitude and quiet reflection.
Reportedly, wealthy Parisians had offered more than once large sums to spend a single night in the apartment and have the fantastic view of the city at the Seine River banks all to themselves.
Eiffel had declined in order to keep his privacy.
Among the few visitors, who had the rare chance to enter the premises, was the inventor Thomas Edison.
The two great minds of the 19th century are immortalised in wax figures. You can observe them “having a conversation” behind a glass window in the mostly untouched secret apartment.
To avoid queuing at the Eiffel Tower, you should buy your ticket online.
9. Find The Statue Of Liberty’s Little Sister
One of the Seine River islands – the uninhabited Île aux Cygnes – hosts the little sister of the famous Statue of Liberty.
The 850-metre-long island is just eleven metres at its widest point. The replica of the Liberty Enlightening the World, better known as the Statue of Liberty, stands at its Southwestern end.
The Parisian version of the iconic statue is a quarter of its larger sibling’s size. She rises 22 m (72.18 ft.) high.
Originally, the statue faced east, towards the Eiffel Tower. In 1937, she was turned west for the World Fair in Paris, thus looking in the direction of New York City.
The Statue of Liberty in the French capital is nearly three years younger than her sister. President Marie François Sadi Carnot inaugurated her on July 4th, 1889. She was donated to the city by the American Expatriate Community in Paris to mark the centennial of the French Revolution.
10. Kiss The Night Goodbye With A Cabaret Show
A cabaret show is not extremely unusual to imagine doing in Paris. In fact, I’m sure the moment you read cabaret, a famous red mill popped into your head.
However, I would recommend you another place for your evening entertainment (read on to see which one).
There are tens of establishments in Paris, which offer cabaret shows. Moreover, they all must put quite a spectacle to compete for your attention.
Therefore, my advice is to choose a lesser-known place to finish your night. You’ll get a better performance and even some extras for less money than at the most famous ones.
Here are the top-rated cabarets in Paris:
- Moulin Rouge: the most iconic but over-commercialised cabaret show. Located in Montmartre. Prices start from 97€.
- Le Lido: a dazzling, quick-paced show in the Champs-Élysées. Prices from 70€.
- Le Crazy Horse: extravagant choreography in an intimate setting near the banks of the Seine River. Prices from 85€.
- Paradis Latin: great acrobatics in a posh ballroom in the Latin Quarter. Prices from 65€.
- Au Lapin Agile: the most intimate cabaret experience in Paris where the audience becomes part of the show. Located in Montmartre. Prices from 28€.
My recommendation is the superb performance at Le Crazy Horse. It was unusual, unexpected, and affordable. The seating was great and the atmosphere – spectacular.
What Are Your Favourite Unusual Things To Do In Paris?
In this post, I showed you ten cool things to do in Paris.
In fact, I even included several alternative locations for some of these unusual activities.
Moreover, the tips mentioned should help you optimise your time in the French capital.
Now is your turn:
What are your top unusual things to do in Paris?
Share them in the comments below. Let’s add more cool activities to this list!