Our Paris might be a little different than most people’s versions of the city. That might be a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know. I would guess that a typical trip to Paris would include several museums, a trip up the Eiffel Tower, lining up to walk through Notre Dame, shopping on the Champs Elysees and heading out for fancy meals.
For us, we’ve seen the Louvre once, it really was pretty cool. We’ve never been to the top of Eiffel Tower (some would say this is a sin), we’ve walked the Champs Elysees, and we poked our heads in Notre Dame when we were here with friends a while back, but the vast majority of the time we’re eating street food, sitting in the park, wandering through the dozens of farmer’s markets gathering food for a picnic or just getting lost.
There’s good reason to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visit Notre Dame, go to the Louvre and walk the Champs Elysees, but there are alternatives that are just as good or maybe even better without the MASSIVE crowds, tour busses and lines.
Eiffel Tower alternative = Montparnasse Tower: This giant and very controversial* eye sore in the middle of the city offers several things the Eiffel Tower does not offer. First of all, there’s no line, ever. When we were there on Sunday we walked up to the counter, bought a ticket to the top of this 59 story monster and were rode the elevator up with only two other people. Most importantly, the view from the top is better than the view from the Eiffel Tower. Why? Because you actually get to see the Eiffel tower as it stands above the city instead of standing on the Eiffel Tower and looking at this monstrosity of a building they call Montparnasse Tower. *One of the recent mayoral candidates vowed to tear down the building if he were elected. Elections were Sunday and she did not win so you still have a chance to grab this great view.
Champs Elysees alternative = Take your pick: There are dozens and dozens of beautiful small streets to shop, stroll, people watch and grab a bite to eat. A few of our favorites are Rue Mouffetard, Rue de Renne (It’s not the most scenic, but every side street off of the main street is beautiful, especially if you take the side streets between Rue de Renne and the Jardin du Luxembourg.) There’s also Blvd Saint Germain that runs form the 5th Arrandesment through the 6th and beyond. There area between the Seine and Blvd Saint Germain is also full of tiny streets filled with small shops, cafes and galleries. Rue Mouffetard deserves an entire write-up on its own. We’ll do that in Part II.
Notre Dame alternative = Saint Germain des Pres: This among several other churches throughout the city are just as beautiful, though not as grand, and easily accessible. There are also numerous churches some larger, some smaller, but again, they are all over central Paris and easy to walk into. I was in a church this afternoon at the bottom of Rue Mouffetard that had beautiful stained glass windows and there were only two other visitors in the entire church.
Fancy food alternative = endless possibilities: We have probably eaten from 50 or 60 different boulangeries, patisseries, delis, cafes and tiny 12 seat restaurants. We’ve had excellent dinners in Michelin rated restaurants and we’ve eaten from street vendors selling $3 crepes and $5 ham and cheese baguette and have to say that a baguette in the park has many advantages over a fancy meal in a restaurant. Don’t be afraid to eat from the numerous walk-up windows or street side counters. The most common street foods you’ll find are of course crepes, and then there are plenty of baguettes in all varieties, Panini(s?) and something new we’ve notices on this trip, bagel shops. And for the pastry list, if you can think of a pastry there’s a shop within a few steps that will have it and it will be delicious.
Museum alternatives = to start with, the Picasso Museum: Clearly there’s no substitute for the Louvre or the d’Orsay, but there are some other great museum around Paris worth visiting. To start with, we love the Picasso Museum. It’s small, easily manageable in a day and housed within a beautiful old mansion. There are no grand halls like in the Louvre, instead you’ll get small, intimate rooms shared with only a few others. The Pompidou is worth looking into also. Besides the Picasso Museum there are several other small museums spread around Paris that are worth seeing.