Despite everything your guidebook might tell you, Paris can be incredibly tacky in certain places. As one of the most visited cities in the world, the central areas of the French capital throng with swindling street vendors, bistros, and brasseries that hawk faux "French" cuisine (underwhelming salads, dried-up waffles, dodgy-looking foie gras). And that's just the food.
Thankfully, the City of Love is huge, and there are certain corners of the capital that remain relatively untouched by the tourism industry's more exploitative types. So if you do take time to seek out the right neighborhoods, you can quite easily stumble upon lots of exquisite cafés and restaurants, much less-crowded museums, and the general feeling that you're acting -- and being treated -- more like a local.
To help guide you around these less-familiar parts, we've put together a list of the 25 best little-known and slightly unorthodox things to do in Paris. In areas ranging from the grassy western suburbs to Belleville in the trendy northeast, these are the city's best overlooked restaurants, bars, museums, shops, and other attractions.
Dune, 11th arrondissement
Recently reinvigorated by new head chef Evan Leichtling, this stylish little place near Bastille offers high-quality international set menus at thoroughly decent prices (two courses are €16.50). On any one day, you might enjoy some Fine de Claire oysters in a bouillon of anchovies, broad beans, and fresh herbs, or a panna cotta dotted with shortbread crumbs, Gariguette strawberries, and sorrel leaves. Though very much removed from the tourist circuit, Dune has proven strangely popular with passing indie bands in recent months (the restaurant's Instagram shows Animal Collective, These New Puritans, and Battles proudly posing behind the bar).
Gravity Bar, 10th arrondissement
Rather than fall back on the massively overpriced cocktail bars that line the crowded streets of the Marais or the Champs-Élysées, excellent 2015 opening the Gravity Bar should be right at the top of your list. Here, the bar staff can be relied upon to whip up all kinds of fresh, original, good-value cocktails, which are spread across four accurate but oh-so-French-sounding themes, including "weightlessness" and "exaltation." Team your cocktails with an aperitif of octopus or duck tartare and gaze up at the futuristic, gravity-themed ceiling design.
Galerie Vivienne, 2nd arrondissement
200 years ago, a detailed map of central Paris would have been dominated by what were known back then as the "passages couverts" ("covered passages"). Few remain today, but of those that do, the hidden Galerie Vivienne is easily the most glamorous -- think a 176-meter-long stretch of luxury fashion boutiques, with stunning glass-roofed structures that allow sunlight to pour onto the intricate floor mosaics below.
Musée Zadkine, 6th arrondissement
If you're after a spot of peace and quiet on the Left Bank, the small museum that houses Russian Cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine's beguiling wooden, stone, and clay works should do the trick. Reopened to the public in the '30s, the artist's light, bright former studio only takes about 15 minutes to walk around and its tucked-away location means it's often utterly silent.
Papacionu, 9th arrondissement
Drawing in a keen local clientele for over 15 years now, Corsican pizza joint Papacionu no doubt rivals any Italian pizzeria in the French capital. Easy to miss due to its modest frontage, the restaurant -- which is much bigger on the inside -- places a particular emphasis on fresh Corsican produce and is most renowned for its huge semi-circular "pizzaionados," served on chunky wooden platters. Everything is brilliantly done, from the light and fluffy crust to the flavorsome passata.
L'Institut Suédois, 3rd arrondissement
If you're tired of croissants, you should try a delicate Swedish "Kanelbullar" here instead. This traditional cinnamon-swirl-like pastry is one of many treats on offer at the Swedish Institute's café. There's also an idyllic courtyard terrace set in a former town mansion, the Hôtel de Marle. The Institut itself organizes excellent modern art shows, as well as an extensive program of Swedish pop concerts, literary readings, and film showings.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont, 19th arrondissement
The Jardins du Luxembourg and the Tuileries may well be the most popular green spaces among visitors to the French capital, but the immense (and hilly) Parc des Buttes Chaumont is where Parisians themselves come to let off steam. Built by Napoleon III in 1867, the park is particularly reputable for its lavish lakes, a mini Roman-style temple, a massive grotto, innumerable dog walkers, hundreds of bird species, and its superb on-site French bar-restaurant, Rosa Bonheur.
Café Lomi, 18th arrondissement
Tucked beneath an apartment block in the diverse Goutte d'Or area, this speciality coffee shop is slightly out of the way, but well worth a stop for its fresh and often elaborate brews. Standout options include the "black and white" (two different coffees, an espresso and macchiato, served on a rectangular coaster) or a "café-fromage" (a blue cheese from the Auvergne dipped in an espresso; tastes less weird than it sounds). Come back at the right time, and the baristas might be hosting one of their regular coffee tastings and workshops in the "laboratory" at the back.
Moncoeur Belleville, 20th arrondissement
Sure, the Eiffel tower and the Arc de Triomphe offer amazing views over the city, but queues can be horrendous and you may well have ticked them off already. For an equally jaw-dropping vista, the top of the Parc de Belleville is where you should head next. You'll be hard-pressed to spot a selfie stick here, as cafés like the brilliant Moncoeur Belleville exude a modest, village-like charm, and local young people hang out on the benches that overlook the park (and also much of the city).
Le 9b, 19th arrondissement
Finding a cheap drink in Paris can be nigh on impossible if you don't head to the right parts of town. The Belleville and Ménilmontant neighborhoods will usually deliver the goods, with endearingly scruffy music bars like the 9b filling up with post-work drinkers from the early evening on. The 9b's owners have quite recently invested in a new sound system and are just beginning to pull in the crème de la crème of Paris' tight-knit local DJ circuit, who sometimes take to the decks upstairs, sometimes in the basement. Pints are €3.50 during happy hour.
Le Pavillon des Canaux, 19th arrondissement
Over the past couple of years, the Canal de l'Ourcq has fast become one of the most happening parts of town, and bar and tea shop the Pavillon des Canaux really epitomizes the area's picturesque, revamped-docking-yard charm. Done up like a doll's house with bird cages, floral wallpaper, and a mock-up bedroom and bathroom (where customers can eat), the former townhouse serves a mean brunch on weekends, while the daily lunch and coffee menus are pretty decent, too.
Marché des Enfants Rouges, 3rd arrondissement
Built in 1615, Paris's oldest (and surely most atmospheric) market, the Marché des Enfants Rouges, isn't necessarily the best place to come to do your regular food shopping. But its luxury stalls will certainly provide a great addition to any dinner party. If you're looking for something to eat on the spot, the permanent fish-and-chips and Lebanese stands both offer limited seating space for visitors.
Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, 13th arrondissement
Libraries aren't usually top of most people's must-visit lists when they go abroad, but you should make an exception for the Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand and its 1990s architecture (essentially four immense skyscrapers in a square, with a closed-off green space at its center, right next to the Seine). At the very least, it will finally give you the chance to bring out that all-time GCSE French classic, "Excusez-moi, madame, où est la bibliothèque?"
Candelaria, 3rd arrondissement
Though Paris isn't great when it comes to traditional Mexican food, this intimate taqueria in the chic Marais area is always a delight. The tacos and tostadas at Candelaria are extremely moreish and, thankfully, reasonably priced (€3-€5 per dish), while the staff are some of the city's friendliest. After your meal, make sure to check out the secret bar through the back, where punters can enjoy all manner of tequila- and mezcal-based drinks in a discreet speakeasy setting.
The Jardins d'Albert Kahn, Boulogne-Billancourt
Admittedly a bit of a trek from central Paris, the beautiful Albert Kahn gardens are located in the well-to-do suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt and form part of the larger Musée Départemental Albert-Kahn. It's definitely worth taking the metro out, though: Philanthropist-photographer Kahn clearly had a pretty wild imagination, as proven by all the colorful forests, uninhabited "villages," and quirky Japanese, English, and French-themed gardens he created here. The early-20th-century eccentric envisioned the site as a miniature utopia, and it (almost) lives up to his ambitions.
Point Éphémère, 10th arrondissement
Formerly a factory that sent barges of material up and down the Canal Saint-Martin, the Point Éphémère has turned into an unlikely hit among young Parisians looking for a decent night out. The large space encompasses a bar (complete with canal-side terrace), an exhibition space, and various ateliers for art residencies and ample rehearsal space for bands. But it's the square-shaped 300-capacity gig space that really draws in the crowds, thanks to an eclectic program that might boast Malian blues music one night and U.S. punk rock the next.
MAC VAL, Vitry-Sur-Seine
Paris' first suburban contemporary art space recently celebrated 10 years of service and today draws increasing numbers of Parisians beyond the ring road surrounding the city center. Tourists are yet to make the leap, but there's no reason why they shouldn't: MAC VAL's permanent collection of 2,200 French artworks (featuring everyone from Christian Boltanski to Agnès Varda and Pierre Soulages) is one of the most versatile the Île-de-France region has to offer.
La Recyclerie, 18th arrondissement
Set in a former train station on the northern edge of the city, the vast Recyclerie is an eco-friendly bar, café, urban farm, and community workspace all in one. Designed to appeal to a mixed local crowd, meals here are relatively cheap (€8-€12 a head) and are made using either locally sourced produce or vegetables that are grown on-site. For a welcome breath of fresh air away from the city smog, don't forget to check out the 1,000-square-meter farm, which features everything from sweet-smelling fruit trees to cutting-edge aquaponics systems and loads and loads of hens.
Musée de la Vie Romantique, 9th arrondissement
After Dutch artist Ary Scheffer constructed this hidden green-and-white pavilion in 1830, the surrounding Pigalle area would soon become synonymous with the Romantic artists, composers, and authors that dominated Parisian cultural life at the time. It's now a beautiful museum dedicated to this prosperous artistic period, and like the Institut Suédois, it's worth visiting for its well-groomed courtyard café and bar alone.
Cream, 20th arrondissement
Nestled between a small community garden and a long run of Chinese and Vietnamese takeaway shops halfway up the sloping Rue de Belleville, Cream is one of very few artisanal coffee shops in this northeastern corner of Paris. But the regulars don't just come here because there's a dearth of other options. Named after a Prince song, this modish café's "crèmes" (milky coffees) and "noisettes" (macchiatos) are the perfect way to perk up before a day spent exploring the city. At lunchtime, the inventive and freshly prepared sandwiches, foccaccias, and salads are also worth a try.
Le French Touche, 17th arrondissement
This elegant concept store in the classy Batignolles area is bursting with beautiful (and affordable) souvenirs and potential gifts. A far cry from the tacky jewelry and accessory shops that you might find closer to the Seine, Le French Touche prides itself on its homey atmosphere and imaginative floor plan (when you go in, it almost feels like you've entered someone's front room). Stock-wise, the owners prioritize young, local French designers working in fields ranging from lighting and jewelry to stationery and bag-making, with the sole proviso that every item must be an "objet touchant"(i.e. feel nice).
Le Centquatre, 19th arrondissement
Community arts and dance center Le Centquatre is enormous, but tourists rarely bother coming in, which is baffling. The exhibitions are cheap (usually €2-€5), but above all, it's worth coming along to check out some of Paris' top emerging break-dancers, who blare out hip-hop in the cavernous main space and bust their moves in front of a sizable French public every weekend. While you're here, you may as well drop by the excellent art bookshop and well-stocked Emmaus charity shop, too.
Scaramouche, 18th arrondissement
A flamboyant little hole-in-the-wall in Montmartre, Scaramouche makes each one of its ice creams and sorbets using nothing but fresh, seasonal ingredients from the owners' native Provence. Flavors span both well-executed classics (a particularly intense bitter chocolate, for example) and more original varieties such as basil, lavender, ewe's milk yogurt, or a lushly aromatic blend of rosemary, olive oil, and pine-nut kernels
Musée de Nissim de Camondo, 8th arrondissement
Not all that far from the Arc de Triomphe, this often-overlooked museum is an immaculately preserved bourgeois mansion packed with period furnishings, sculptures, and artworks. Set up by Moïse de Camondo in 1917 as a dedication to his father, who died in the First World War, the museum is one of the City of Paris' most gorgeous inner-city escapes -- and it's rarely busy.
There are many beautiful historic satellite towns and villages scattered around Paris, but most tourists don't usually bother venturing outside the capital, except perhaps for a hectic day out at Disneyland or a horse race at Chantilly. But if you do feel like a refreshing break from the constant hum of the city, and neither horses nor rollercoasters are really your thing, you should jump straight on the hour-long train from the Gare du Nord to Auvers-sur-Oise. This isolated northern town was once the much-cherished countryside retreat of Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Pisarro, who immortalized sites like the Château de Leyrit (pictured) in their works. Go there today, and you'll find it hasn't changed much in the 125 years since.
By: Huw Oliver