Unknown Paris (#1)

And also :

In Paris there are still places tourists (and even natives) don't know about.  Harriet reports : "Paris is the most romantic city in the world - and I am saying this after living here for so many years. It has lost none of its charm after all this time, even compared to my first glimpse of it when I stepped into a Bateaux Mouche and sailed down the Seine. Now, three decades and two children later, I still step into the streets of Paris and see them romantically. Whether it's shopping at the market and buying fresh flowers or having a chat with the fishmonger, I continue to be enthralled by this city where anonymity is guaranteed but human contacts abound."
 Suggestions for a Sunday in Paris...    Gardens in Paris
  • Music : the "Cité de la Musique", in the Parc de la Villette is a wonderful place with concerts and events of all kinds, the largest concert hall in Paris (la Philharmonie), bookstores, a museum, the National Music School (Conservatoire) in a park, with three canals and also the National Science Museum (kids of all age love it) and many other opportunities, enough to spend a very good Sunday.

  • Philosophy : if you speak French, it is fun to enjoy a drink while watching people who are discussing, in a very orderly, but sometimes passionate manner in a Café Philosophique ; a good one is Café des Phares, Place de la Bastille, every Sunday fom 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. In English : Café de Flore, 172 blvd Saint-Germain (first Wednesday each month). There are, also, a few "Science cafés", the best one being "Le Père Tranquille" 16 rue Pierre Lescot 75001 (1rst Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.).

  • Musée Guimet, one the most (if not The Most) extraordinary museums of Oriental Art in the world, 6 Place d'Iéna 75016 ; do not forget to visit its beautiful Annex nearby, the Musée du Panthéon Bouddhique with its Japanese garden (19 avenue d'Iéna 75016).

  • Listen to Jazz in the Flea Market (Django Reinhard "gipsy" style) : there are several small restaurants with good music and the Flea Market is fun to visit (it is safe but beware of pickpockets!) : Metro station : Porte de Clignancourt (open Friday, Saturday; Sundays and Monday)

  • Sip a cup of tea with Arab sweets at the Mosquée (5th arrondissement, near the Jardin des Plantes), visit an African open air market in Belleville (11th arrdt. northeast of Paris), enjoy a Chinese meal in Chinatown (13rd arrdt, southwest)

  • Walk along the Canal Saint Martin and the Bassin de la Villette (see many more suggestions of walks)

  • Stroll in the Parc de Bagatelle, a wonderful rose garden in a large park around a charming XVIIIth century mansion built for Marie-Antoinette (in the Northern part of the Bois de Boulogne)

  • (if it rains!) Watch movies at the Forum des Images/Vidéothèque de Paris (in the Forum des Halles) : a wonderful place, ideal if you want to select and watch several movies in a row or pick out all the the movies with a particular actor, a particular place, etc... Some movies will make you understand France better! The best street for (old) movies is Rue Champollion (between Place de la Sorbonne and Rue des Ecoles) : several movie theaters showing only classic films.

  • More to come...

Paris has many parks (the City's official count is 400 !), very different from one another. They are skillfully landscaped in harmony with the seasons. The "little green men" (gardeners) are very competent at maintaining them all year round. Among the gardens (with the number of tyhe Paris district "arrondissement"):

  • Big parks (like Central Park) : Bois de Boulogne (West) and Bois de Vincennes (East), 2,000 acres each, with lakes, rose gardens, cycling paths, " kiosques " where you can have a light lunch or drink,
  • Unexpected and enchanting : the Jardin Albert Kahn (in Boulogne near Paris), with a very beautiful Japanese garden and spectacular photo exhibits from the Collection Kahn (one of the largest in the world in the 1900-1920s)
  • Romantic : Parc Monceau (XVIIth arrondissement), with (fake) ruins or Parc de Bagatelle with its " folie " built for Marie Antoinette and its annual summer Chopin Festival, ...
  • Modern and innovative : Parc André Citroen (XVth),
  • Surprisingly hilly : see a picture of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont (built in the 1860s on a garbage dump, XIXth arrondissement) ; the highest park in Paris is the minuscule Parc de Belleville (XXth), which offers a great view on th city.
  • Pedagogical : Parc de Bercy (XIIth) or Serres d'Auteuil (XVIth), both with a gardening school or the spectacular Parc Floral de Vincennes (30 hectares) with many educational pavillions with thousands of species, in a beautiful park ; see also the Garden of the Museum ("Jardin des Plantes") (5th), with its historical trees and green houses
  • Great with children : Luxembourg gardens (VIIth) or Jardin d'Acclimatation (XVIth) with puppet shows (Guignol),
  • With used books stands: the Parc Georges Brassens (XVth) has a big used-books fair every Saturday and Sunday
  • Open-air theater : Jardin Shakespeare, inside the Bois de Boulogne
  • More gardens....

The city of Paris organizes visits (some of them in English), conferences, gardening courses, etc... all year round. See more walks.

USEFUL TIPS.... If you like to play (or watch) chess, there is a place for aficionados in the Luxembourg garden (near the tennis courts).

DID YOU KNOW THAT … ? A typical French garden features straight lines for the paths, absolute symmetry of the lawns and bushes, trees transformed into some form of abstract structure. The idea behind it is to illustrate that Man dominates Nature and can do anything he wants with it. No sensuality, no pleasure, but the domination of abstraction and concepts. This idea of gardens is consistent with the whole vision of the world resulting from the French culture. The park in Versailles epitomizes this idea of gardens : nothing common between a "jardin a la francaise" and an English garden.

 Unknown little spots in Paris...    Places with a certain flavor...
  • The prettiest movie theater in Paris, la Pagode, will soon re-open after refurbishment (its tea-room and Japanese garden are charming) 57 rue de Babylone 75007 ; excellent programming.

  • Little known monuments and buildings :
    • the College des Bernardins (20 rue de Poissy, 5ème) is a spectacular 13th Cent. buiding which housed a Fire Brigade (!) until recently when it became a center for top-level philosophical and religious meetings and conferences. It is the property of the archbishopric of Paris.
    • More to come ....
  • Unexpected but truly authentic churches : a Russian Church : St.Seraphin de Sarov, 91 rue Lecourbe 75015 Paris in a small garden with birch-trees ; a Buddist temple : Rue du Disque 75013 Paris in a parking lot, ....
  • Unexpected shops : totally devoted to canes (Passage Verdeau), to Champagne corks (26 rue la Bruyere 9ème), to furniture for dolls (Passage Jouffroy), tin soldiers (rue Guisarde), ....

  • Unexpected graves : Marie Bashkirtseff's (a real-size studio in Passy cemetery), Mr.Pigeon's (a completely-dressed couple in bed, in Montparnasse cemetery) , the entire Dog and Cat Cemetery (in Clichy), a walk in the Père Lachaise cemetery is a fascinating experience (100 acres, graves of unknown or famous, beautiful or crazy, ...). Read A walk in the Père Lachaise and combine a spectacular walk with a Wine & Cheese tasting !

  • Do you know the "Zouave du Pont de l'Alma" ? All Parisians know this sculpture of a soldier of the colonian troops (from Algeria) who is the meter (for Parisians) of how high the river is. In case of flood, weather reports refer to the ankle or the knee of the "zouave" (in 1910, the water reached his neck and people had to use small boats in the streets of Paris!).

  • Remember : Paris is not only Paris ! Around Paris, several cities are "almost Paris" and with a population bertween 50,000 and 100,000, a metro line, a cultural life etc... they attract more and more Parisians. Among them : Neuilly (very exclusive), Montreuil (many houses), Le-Pré-Saint-Gervais (very sought-after lofts), Vincennes, Issy-les-Moulineaux, Levallois and many others look very much like Paris.

  • See a video about the 10 most secret places in Paris

  • The Bible of Paris' lovers is Hillairet's book, which tells everything about each street (Jacques HILLAIRET, Connaissance du Vieux Paris, Payot, 816 p., 1950 (re-edit.2017)

DID YOU KNOW THAT.. ? Parisians love their fire-brigade. Contrary to other cities in France (except Marseille), they belong to the army and it is an honor for a young candidate to be selected for the fire brigade as the competition is fierce. Every year the "Pompiers de Paris" are the last troops to march down the Champs Elysées on Bastille Day, always amid huge applause. In Paris they are as popular as the firemen in New York. The fire brigade includes lesser known specialists such as the "Brigade Cynégétique", a group of 6 men and 12 dogs in charge of searching victims in rubble (in case of earthquakes for instance) and also capturing lost and/or dangerous animals in cities (in 2003 : 187 dogs, 90 hens, 79 snakes, 50 cats, 29 horses, 24 foxes, 11 trap-door spiders, 8 parrots, 5 scorpios, 4 iguanas, 2 monkeys and 1 rat !).

  • Brasserie Balzar : an old-style brasserie which is a veritable institution in the Latin Quarter, frequented by politicians, celebrities, students and professors from the nearby Sorbonne. White linen cloths on the table for lunch and dinner and in between time you can just stop in for tea or coffee. Friendly homey ambiance. (49 rue des Ecoles 75005 Tel. 33-(0)1 43 54 13 67)

  • La Closerie des Lilas: The favorite haunt of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Henry Miller and many, many other artists and writers, the Closerie des Lilas in Montparnasse is a good place to stop for a drink. And when you sit at any of the tables, take a look at the copper plaques with the names of the famous people who have frequented the Closerie over the years. (171 Blvd du Montparnasse 75006 tel. 33-(0)1 40 51 34 50)

  • Le Select : This is a very famous café in Montparnasse because this is where the Webmaster and his wife met each other! But there were other people there before them: Picasso, Modigliani , Henry Miller, Hemingway, etc. Also a good place to meet a friend for a drink. (99 Blvd du Montparnasse 75006 Tel. 33-(0)1 42 22 65 27)

  • For market streets, see our page Practical Paris

  • Visit several shops on the the same very focused theme (furniture, stamps, porcelain,...) in the same street

  • Read about Paris historical landmarks and architecture
  • More to come....

More places ....

  • Dinner in the courtyard of the Centre de danse du Marais (tel.33-1 42 72 15 42) and of the Café de la Gare : a terrasse, a restaurant with tapas, in a beautiful rather decayed old mansion...

  • The best ice-creams in France are from Chez Berthillon (31 rue Saint Louis en l'Ile 75004) : be patient (there is always a line) and enjoy them while you walk around the precious Ile Saint Louis ; the variety of Berthillon's ice-creams is astounding! And (hard to believe), until recently, the shop was closed in August...

  • More to come


DID YOU KNOW THAT......? How Parisians see their own city : anything on the other side of the Boulevard Périphérique (belt-way) just does not exist, the Rive Gauche (left bank i.e. South) is more intellectual and academic, etc.., the Rive Droite (right bank i.e. North) more business-oriented , the West part is wealthier and conventional, the East is less affluent and more "in". When you drive (good luck!) and ask for directions, major landmarks are train stations (Gare Montparnasse, Gare de l'Est, Gare du Nord, Gare de Lyon, Gare Saint-Lazare), major intersections ("places" : Place de l'Etoile, République, Bastille, Ternes, ...) and exits from the belt-way (called "portes" : Porte d'Auteuil, de Bagnolet, d'Orléans, de Vincennes, etc...).


How Parisians see their own city....

To read this (funny) map, the Paris version of the famous image of New York by Steinberg in the New Yorker, you may use the following approximative equivalents : "bobos" is something like "Radical Chic" (also called Caviar Left Wing), "Chalala" is like "Jewish Princess", "putes" is "hooker", "bourges" is "bourgeois" (contemptuous), "fringues" are togs, "racaille" is "riffraff", "coupe-gorge" is a no-go area, "pédés" are gays, "ploucs" are "hicks", "banlieusard" means commuters, "rien" is nothing. ..

 New ideas....    Day trips around Paris
  • In the Montparnasse area?  Eat a plate of delicious oysters on the half shell at La Cabane a Huitres on the rue Antoine Bourdelle, then stroll down the street to visit the Musée Bourdelle, the atelier of the well-known sculptor who was a peer of Rodin (Giacometti was one of his students).  The entrance to the permanent exhibit is free and while there you can sit on the benches in the front and back gardens that are filled with plants and sculptures, some huge.

  • "Creative leisure" in Paris for Foreign and French tourists ! The City of Paris has identified 400 activities (cinema, gastronomy, gardening, painting, fashion, design, ...). One third of these workshops are in English.

  • There is always something happening at the Cité Internationale universitaire, 17 blvd Jourdan 75014. Visit the site.

  • A Shakespeare play in an open-air theater, in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne : a beautifully designed garden theater devoted to English playwright William Shakespeare. Metro Porte Maillot then bus # 244 - tel 01 42 76 64 67.

  • See Paris from high up : the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre are not the only places with a great view on the city, there is also the top floor of the Centre Pompidou (restaurant Georges), of the Institut du Monde Arabe (with mint tea and pastries!), the Belvédère of the Buttes Chaumont park, the top of the Parc de Belleville (with a fun restaurant with typical music, le Vieux Belleville, 12 rue des Envierges 75019) or the roof of the Printemps department store (nice cafeteria)..

  • See Paris from the river : a cruise on the Seine can be a magical moment ! You can book one of the Bateaux Parisiens River Cruises included in the Paris Pass.

  • Rent a bike in Paris (in the Bois de Boulogne, or in many RATP designated spots such as: 95 bis rue Rambuteau 75001 tel 33-(0)1 53 46 43 77) or use the wonderful Velib system, which is almost free.

  • Attend a concert in the Théatre Grévin (Tel.33-(0)1 48 24 16 97) : a charming little XVIIIth-century-style theater, inside the Wax Museum (Musée Grévin).

  • Play chess in the Jardin du Luxembourg (behind the Museum)

  • Roller-skating tours start from Place d'Italie (Fridays, 10 p.m.) and from Bastille (37 Blvd Bourdon, Sundays 2 p.m.). You can also experience a ride on Sedgway, a high-tech electric scooter (70 Euros for a 4-hour ride)

  • Stop by Le Lucernaire : a friendly combination of a restaurant (approximately 20 Euros) , a movie theater and a bookstore in Montparnasse (23 rue Notre Dame des Champs, 75006 Paris Tel. 33-1 42 22 66 87)

  • A restaurant In The Dark : an astonishing experience in total darkness. Read Paris Pages about it.

DID YOU KNOW THAT .... ? One of the best kept secrets of Paris is the DÎNER EN BLANC event (the white dinner). Every year in June, since 1988, more than 15,000 Parisians have dinner together in one of the most beautiful sites of Paris (for example, right in front of Notre-Dame or in the courtyard of the Louvre), the exact place being disclosed to them an hour before dinner time. It is free but you have to bring everything, including a table and chairs, for an elegant dinner. You have to be dressed totally in white and bring the food and drinks (preferably white too). It is quite elegant, refined and very appreciated by upper-middle class and conservative Parisians. Read more about the rules.



 If you have a car, you can spend a pleasant afternoon visiting a few very picturesque historical places which are only a 20 to 40 mile drive from Paris (or easy train ride) :

  • Barbizon (South-East) : a charming village on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest, Barbizon is famous for the 19th century painters who lived and worked there : many ateliers, tea rooms and art galleries

  • Provins (East) : a REAL walled medieval city, 20 miles from Disneyland!

  • Giverny (North-West) : where Claude Monet lived, with his garden, wonderful all year round. Do not miss the Museum of American Arts, with many paintings of American Impressionists and fine exhibitions.

  • Auvers sur Oise (North-West) : have lunch in the Auberge Ravoux and see the room where Vincent Van Gogh died, and visit a delighful village with its Musée Impressionniste (an inventive virtual trip) and the church Van Gogh immortalized in " l'Eglise d'Auvers "

  • within a radius of 50 miles around Paris there are several beautiful historical cities, with castles, cathedrals, parks, museums, medieval streets, and each of these cities is worth a trip : Versailles (W), Saint-Germain-en Laye (NW), Chantilly (N), Senlis (N), Fontainebleau (SE) (clockwise) and, a little further : Chartres (W), Beauvais (NW) and Compiègne (NE).

  • Too many people queing for le Louvre : why not visit its antenna in Lens. An experience and a superb visit !

  • More to come

DID YOU KNOW THAT...? In Paris, street names often have something in common in a given neighborhood (for instance : around Saint Lazare station : names of European cities, around Institut Pasteur: names of scientists, around Pigalle : names of sculptors, etc..., the interior ring road - Blvd. des Maréchaux - is composed of 22 boulevards, each of them with the name of a marshall of Napoleon). Street numbers start at the River Seine (except for the avenues starting from the Arch of Triumph.) Street names give a good idea of the French national heroes. In any French city, you will find the major avenues with the names of Victor Hugo (the illustrious XIXth century poet), Jean Jaures (the founder of the Socialist party, a Renaissance man, humanist and brilliant lover of Greek literature, a pacifist murdered a few days before WW1 broke out), Jules Ferry (who designed the French educational system), Jean Moulin (the most revered figure of the resistance in WW2, arrested and murdered by the Nazis without having denounced anyone), other heroes of the resistance ( Pierre Brossollette, Daniele Casanova, Paul Vaillant-Couturier ), Gambetta (one of the founders of the Republican regime in the 1870s), Alsace-Lorraine (annexed by Germany between 1871 and 1918), Aristide-Briand (a politician between WW1 and WW2), Stalingrad, Charles de Gaulle, Jeanne d'Arc, Jean Monnet, etc... If you are lost between Lenin Boulevard and Karl-Marx street, no doubt : you are in a Communist city. See more....


  • Take a walking tour through the places where Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, La Fayette and many others lived. Read : "Paris : Birthplace of the U.S.A." : see bibliography. It could also be a good idea to take a walking tour with Paris à Pied. See many suggestions of walks.

  • Follow Van Gogh : "If you're looking for a trip on a theme, why not try some Van Gogh Walks next time you visit Paris ? Art historian, artist and free-lance photographer Priscilla Bain-Smith's book, "Van Gogh Walks ...Paris" is the first in a collection of guidebooks following famous artists around the cities they loved. Bain-Smith successfully celebrates the Dutch artist's peregrinations in Paris from 1886 to 1888 with a series of three very modern day walking tours through the City of Light. Whether taking us to Notre Dame Cathedral which Vincent relished visiting as a young man exploring Paris in 1875 or to the village of Auvers-sur-Oise where he died at the Auberge Ravoux, Bain-Smith's informative text and alluring photos allow us to to superimpose the 19th century Paris of Van Gogh on to today's French capital. Once you've traveled Paris with these Van Gogh Paris Walks in hand, it will never look the same again."

  • Visit the Cimetière du Père Lachaise : this huge cemetery (44 hectares) is a fascinating park, with 68,000 graves, many of them beautiful or picturesque, and more than 2 million visitors a year ; among its residents :

    • several illustrious Americans, including Jim Morrison ("The Doors", +1971) who still attracts many young visitors, Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas, Isadora Duncan,...
    • Oscar Wilde (+1900) has a spectacular monument, covered with hundreds of lipstick marks (a new protective glass has been built to ward off thekissers),which was shrouded, because considered indecent : in 1922, students tore out the fig leaf, with part of what was underneath...
    • Victor Noir (+1870) was a young journalist, murdered by a nephew of Emperor Napoleon III ; for unknown reasons, his (beautiful) statue is considered a symbol of fertility and women keep rubbing his protuberant penis, which has to be repaired on a regular basis
    • Alan Kardec (+1869), the founder of Spiritism, has always attracted very weird visitors... and thousands of other graves back to the illustrious lovers Abélard and Heloïse (+XIIth Century).
    • Read an article about the cemetery by Harriet Welty Rochefort and visit the cemetery with her!
    • Read Permanent Parisians by Culbertson & Randall and see about famous Americans who lived in Paris.
  • What to do ? Where to shop ? Click for practical tips on life in Paris and here for romantic places and songs about Paris.
  • Why not a walking tour in Paris, with well-regarded American writer David Downie ?
  • Visit the Paris Diary page.

More ideas for Paris underground.....

  • The sewers are a huge network and you can visit it (facing #93 Quai d'Orsay, tel 01 47 05 10 29). Be prepared for a smelly visit : you'll understand the cycle of Paris water (and you'll never touch water again).
  • The catacombs (Place Denfert Rochereau) : 6 million skulls and bones in quarry galleries, a very strange experience ; kids love it. (Place Denfert Rochereau, 14th Arrondissement).
  • More to come....

DID YOU KNOW THAT....?In the center of Paris, the buildings look very old and unchanged. With the exception of a few eyesores like the Tour Montparnasse and Jussieu, most of the buildings in the historic center of Paris retain their old style. But although they are "old", they are not unchanged. They may be brand-new inside and only the facade has been kept. This is called "façadisme" and it contributes maintaining an unity of style, resulting from the major projects and developments by Baron Haussmann in the 1850s-1860s. You may also notice what all these "haussmanian" buildings have in common : same color of stone, the fanciest floors are the 2nd and 5th, with balconies (remember : in France, US-first floor is "rez-de-chaussée", US-second floor is "premier étage = first floor"; etc...) and the roof, slate-colour, includes "Mansart" windows. (read the page about the ugliest buildings in Paris).


Paris has several passages, the commercial malls of the 19th Century, (in the center, near the Grands Boulevards).

They definitely deserve a visit!

This is a picture of the Passage Vivienne.




DID YOU KNOW THAT...? The "Sentier" (center of Paris, around the "la Bourse", the Stock Exchange building), formerly the area of Paris known as the garment district is now called "Silicon Sentier" because this is where many e-business start-ups are located.

DID YOU KNOW THAT.....? In Paris, many "cafés" (some say : most cafés) belong to Auvergnats, i.e. people from Auvergne, a poor and very beautiful region right in the center of France. They emigrated to Paris at the end of the XIXth Century and sold coal, then they started selling wine in their coal shops, then they gained control of the liquor distibution business in Paris and of the cafés. They are hard workers and keep close ties with their native region (the WebMaster is an Auvergnat ! ). Look at the name of the cafés : many of them refer to it ("L'Aubrac", "Le Bougnat" -this is the generic term for café owners from Auvergne-, etc...). Read about it.However, the oldest Paris cafe was founded by a Sicilian in 1686 (Procope, Rue de l'Ancienne Comedie, near Odeon) ; it is now a restaurant. Read how to decipher a French café.

  To related pages : more unknown Paris (#2), Paris notebook, ugliest buildings in Paris, historical landmarks, etc...

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How many people know or have visited what’s under the ground in Paris : the sewers, the catacombs perhaps, but a cheese cellar ?  Harriet had the unique opportunity to visit one in the 17th arrondissement where the renowned fromager works with between a hundred eight and two hundred fifty different kinds of cheeses yearly. Here’s what she writes about it in French Fried :

The first thing he showed me after we had descended a flight of steep stairs wa without any doubt the most important : the motors that keep the caves constantly humid, disseminating one thousand liters of water in fine particles every day. We contemplated them with the respect they were due – if caves aren’t humid, there’s no mold, hence no cheese… A powerful  smell of ammonia pervaded my nostrils . . . However, I forgot the fumes as I became absorbed in the view of, on either side of me, thick, high Cantals, concave-shaped Beauforts, a round Comté weighing thirty-five kilos . . . Across from the Cantal were some Mimolettes, one of my favorite cheeses. He held one up for inspection, showing me the dusty rind-literally dusty, as small bacteria called cirons eat away at it and have to be brushed off regularly.

For more on inttercultural differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's books : Joie de Vivre. Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's, 2012, French Toast.An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French, St.Martin's Press, 1999, French Fried. The Culinary Capers of an American in Paris, St.Martin's Press, 2001. More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc).

Enjoy a Wine & Cheese Tastings in Pariswith a talk on intercultural differences or followed by a walk in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. 
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