Want an authentic Parisian experience? Here's some must-sees in the French capital
If you have ever taken a turn around the city of lights, you have undoubtedly experienced the hustle and bustle of the iconic tourist spots that Paris has to offer.
From the gothic turrets of the Notre Dame, to the industrial but elegant aesthetic of the Eiffel Tower, and from the challenging ascension up the steps of Montmartre’s Sacre Coeur to the powerful silhouette of the L’Arc de Triumph – Paris has so much to give to Francophiles and enthusiastic backpackers alike.
However, if you have been to Paris before and are returning, or simply are not interested in falling into a tourist trap, you may want to consider some less well known but still stunning spots to visit.
On the cusp of my sixth trip to the French capital, having being pointed in the right direction by Parisian inhabitants many times – I thought it was only right to share the ultimate casual to-so list in the city that will have to picking up some authentic macaroons and a true sense of Paris nightlife rather than a bunch of Eiffel Tower keyrings.
When in Montmartre, it is generally assumed that your singular goal is to hike the 300 steps up the hill’s summit to visit the Scare Coeur. However, beyond the stalls of tourist tat and glorious view from the top, is a whole Parisian district to explore.
You can pop in to the wall of love – an art exhibition featuring the phrase ‘I love you’ in every known language – before grabbing a coffee and getting lost among the hilly cobbled streets, filled with some of the most beautiful Parisian and mixed-influence architecture the city has to offer, stopping along the way to admire street performers, the street art, and the many small parks and gardens.
Brunch opportunities are endless, so select your ideal people watching spot before chowing down on the traditional hipster offerings of avo and eggs with a distinctly French attitude to what time you’d like to order your first glass of wine.
Bar hopping in Pigalle
Pigalle has a bit of a bad reputation, but it’s a well-known fact that some of the best bars are situated in the area.
On my last excursion, we ventured to an unexpected little bar by the questionable name of Dirty Dick. Hidden down a side street off Boulevard de Clichy behind a blank, black façade, the door opens and you are enveloped in a surprising Polynesian, tiki bar atmosphere.
Extremely tourist friendly, the bar boasts some serious cocktails, including huge share cauldrons in volcanic shapes, brought to your table and lit aflame by the extremely talented bar staff. The prices are reasonable for Paris, with one XXL cocktail setting you back a minimum of €36.00 – but it serves four. The atmosphere is cosy, with patrons sharing tables and floor space with a side view of the constant flame throwing at the bar, as many cocktails require a hint of volcanism.
Just hold on to your handbag on the way out to the next spot (try Mini Pong for more exceptional cocktails), and try to avoid the Moulin Rouge area if you want to keep away from other tourists.
While it may seem sinful to stray from French bistro cuisine while in the French capital, I implore you to spare a meal for Pink Mammas. Located in Pigalle, the striking pink-tiled building is unmissable for both it’s choice of décor and its foodie offerings.
The restaurant is famous for its truffle pasta – and I have to encourage you to give it a try. Creamy, savoury and exceptionally fresh, it’s the kind of meal you will still be craving many weeks later. If you have a party of four who are all ordering the same pasta dish, they will bring it in the hot copper pot straight from the kitchen, so you can divvy out your own servings.
I recommend starting with a burrata before moving on to the truffle pasta, all washed down with one of their signature cocktails or a glass of vino. The décor features walls heavily laden with 18th and 19th century paintings, as well as countless fascinating and oversized glass jars filled with pickled fruits, stacked on what must be the sturdiest shelves in all of Paris. The restaurant does not take reservations, so I recommend going at 11.30am to queue and devouring an early lunch there at noon when it opens.
Paris Opera House
Rich in history, the Paris Opera House is a great pit stop on the way to the Louvre if you’re in that area. While it’s still a tourist hot spot, if you go early in the morning you can get some stunning Instagram pictures while taking in the baroque architecture.
The Opera House does internal tours, but if you’re pressed for time the exterior will do – it’s complete with marbled columns and white stone statues mounted on the façade. A 10 minute stroll away is Angelinas, the extremely popular pastry and tea house.
Grab yourself a few macaroons, a Montblanc and a coffee to go from the gorgeously pink and girly pastry mecca – or one of their amazing hot chocolates which is essentially just a cup of melted chocolate might I add – and cross the road to the Jardin des Tuileries. A quintessential Parisian park, cross over the tennis courts to sit and survey the ducks in one of the garden’s many huge fountains.
Palais de Tokyo
This extremely popular museum often has pop up art and fashion exhibitions – but between showcases, the beautiful building is surreally transformed into a skateboarding teen’s paradise. Walking up, you can hear the highly recognisable scraping of fibreglass boards – but I don’t venture there to watch the kickflips.
The museum acts as a perfect viewing platform for the Eiffel Tower, without going through the hassle of fighting the crowd, the souvenir sellers and the dance performers at the official Eiffel Tower ground zero.
There are a number of spots where you can see the Tower in it’s entirety, and a selection of low walls to pose on for your souvenir snaps.