Off the beaten path in Paris

Wednesday 10 June 2009This is 14 years old. Be careful.

Susan and I are going to Paris for a week in July, and taking Max (17) and Ben (11). We’re looking for ideas of things to do there, especially unusual ideas that we won’t find in the guide books. Ruins and climbing are the kinds of things the boys talk about when we ask them what they want to do. Already on our list are the catacombs and sewers. We might skip the Louvre entirely. Mont Saint-Michel is fascinating, but seems like a 3.5-hour trip there, so it’s doable in a day, but it would be a really long day.

Any recommendations?



I dont have any recommendations really for Paris. I know its heresy, but I didnt really like it that much. Im not an Art guy nor a big shopping guy.

Your comment on the sewers & catacombs intrigued me (wish I had known about that prior to my trip). If you want to do some geekdad stuff prior to the trip there is a great website on flashlights (gotta have some good ones for the sewers etc) at covering a wide range of LED flashlights etc. It is absolutely remarkable at times the details of the posts there.

John C
Paris is made for walking. I figure that most non-working days that I spent in Paris I probably walked somewhere between 5 and 10 miles.

Sacré Cœur in the Montmartre district is well worth a visit. You have to climb a hill to get there, and then you can pick up some cheese and baguettes in a market, and climb a bunch of winding staircases to get to the top of the dome where you can hang out and enjoy the view for a while and have a snack. I did that at lunch time few years ago, then walked Montmartre there to Notre Dame and Ile Saint-Louis.

A place that isn't really off the beaten track, but is a must IMHO, is Angelina's at 226 Rue de Rivoli, near the Louvre and Concorde. Their claim to fame is the "best hot chocolate" in the world. Having not actually had all the hot chocolate in the world, I can't confirm that theirs is the best, but it was definitely quite good... but quite pricey, too.
Justin Shoffstall 8:03 PM on 10 Jun 2009
Have you ever read Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco? You must MUST go here -ée_des_Arts_et_Métiers

+1 on Sacré Cœur
Sainte Chapelle is stunning (although also the site of the only rude Parisian incident I've experienced)
Pere Lachaise Cemetery makes for a fun stroll

You might also find a few interesting, off-the-beaten-track, places on Atlas Obscura, a site recently launched by the author of the Curious Expeditions blog, where you might find some other interesting suggestions
Ned, I lived in Paris for about 3 months. I found a great way to find new places in Paris was to Geocache, there are loads hidden around the city. Kids normally love geocaching.
Thanks, all. Anyone ever go to Parc Asterix? Ben is a real fan of the comix and we are thinking of going there. Also -- gulp -- Paris Disney...?
Thierry Bernard 8:39 PM on 10 Jun 2009
The Cluny medieval museum. It's a small museum. My nephew and niece liked it when we visited (the adults too). I liked how close you could get to the pieces.
Have not been to Parc Asterix. Have been to Euro Disney, 15 years ago. It's just like Disney in Orlando, only smaller, less crowded, and they speak French, and the souvenirs are less expensive - though maybe not with the current exchange rate. And don't eat the hot dogs. That goes for just about anywhere in Paris, though. But you're in France, so why would you eat a hot dog?

BTW: what is the timing of your trip? Overlapping with the Tour de France, by any chance?
The catacombs are awesome. I wish I had something new to add to your list, but I don't at this time. I did visit the catacombs in December and it absolutely rocked.
I'd recommend a short train trip to Chantilly (from memory less than an hour each way), and the chateau there. My wife and I visited there while we lived there back in 2001/2. It was way less crowded than Versaille (which is also worth a visit if you have time, but expect to be buried in tourists). There's also a race course and a horse museum in Chantilly, which didn't interest me personally.

I'd have to say I lived there for 14 months and never found time to visit the Louvre - somehow I couldn't bring myself to stand in those lines. For my money, the Musee D'Orsay (more modern art), and the Musee Rodin were both pretty good, although Orsay tends to get crowded, and it's a long visit to see it properly.

Napoleon's tomb was interesting for the 5/6 year old boys of one of my friends, and the armory museum attached to it was fascinating for me, although less so for my wife.

Another place that might interest is the Arènes de Lutèce, which is in the fifth arrondisement, but a little off the beaten path - the remains of an old Roman amphitheatre. The only reason we found it was because we lived nearby, and had to pass it almost every day going out... It's not something that will keep you occupied for a long time, though.

If the boys like trains, I'd also suggest thinking about taking the TGV to Lyons - it's a beautiful city, and you get to ride the TGV, which is an experience in itself. I believe the trip is around 2 hours, from memory (and it's a few hundred miles). It's been a long time, but it used to be possible to do this as a day trip from Paris, with an early start, but reserve tickets in advance.... Another possibility is to head out to Tours on the TGV, rent a car and tour the Loire valley - there's a house somewhere (I forget exactly where) where DaVinci spent some time which is fascinating, and the chateaus of the Loire valley would certainly interest teenage boys. Mont St. Michel is pretty awesome, but seems like a lot longer than 3.5 hours away (although we took a long trip through Normandy to get there, so maybe my memory is misleading me on this).

Another nice short day trip is to Giverny, to Monet's house, although this might not interest two teenage boys too much, and it does tend to get a little crowded.

The catacombs were awesome, I would definitely recommend them, although it's a lot of walking..... I'd avoid Euro-disney if you've been to the magic kingdom in Orlando - at least when I was there, it was pretty much the same, and not worth wasting time on if you're in Paris....
Tuure Laurinolli 11:55 PM on 10 Jun 2009
+1 on Musée des Arts et Métiers. Also, I wonder why no-one has mentioned the air and space museum at Le Bourget. If your flight back home leaves in the afternoon, visiting Le Bourget on the way back to CDG is a worthwhile option.
The huge queues for the Louvre (except for the days it's closed at the start of the week) are the reason I've never bothered on my many visits to the city; though the Tuileries gardens adjacent are pleasant for a stroll. Indeed, I find Paris a good city for just walking through, apart from the occasional main thoroughfare -- where you have to realise that the green man means "Run" and the red "Run faster". On the river and canal banks you find odd things like the sculpture along the Rive Gauche towards the Gare d'Austerlitz, the huge half-buried bicycle in the Parc de la Vilette, or the ready-to-launch mini-Eiffel tower on the canal-side on the way out to the Parc.

Chartres and the cathedral there makes a nice day trip out : spectacular stained glass, and the prototype for the Pattern in Zelazny's Amber.
Well, if it is climbing you are looking for, then bouldering you'll get! Check out for tips to where to climb.

I've never visited Fontainebleau myself as I'm not into bouldering, but rumour has it that it is very good!

Also you do not need to bring anything else than shoes - which should lighten your luggage.

- Hope that didn't take the climbing part too literally.
I spent several weeks in Paris last summer with my family. My son (age 9, high functioning autistic) and I both loved Musée des Arts et Métiers, the catacombs, and visiting EACH and EVERY bookseller stall along the Seine. If you're into books and catacombs, then seek out the Abbey Bookshop ( in the Latin Quarter.

The Musée national de la Marine ( has a great selection of ship models from every age -- we liked that too. It's near the Eiffel Tower -- climb the steps and skip the elevator.

The model sailboat rental in Jardin du Luxembourg was a big hit with the kids. Also, Paris-Plage ( starts in July -- our whole family really enjoyed that.

Don't dismiss the Louvre -- I was surprised at how much my son enjoyed it -- we went back twice in fact. The excavation and reconstruction of the original fortress was a hit, as was the Egyptian collection and a surprising amount of the sculpture.

Similarly, my kids enjoyed the Pompidou Centre. They have a small but interactive kids area, and the general collection is just so "weird" that it was fun. Plus my son enjoyed memorizing and tracing all of the color-coded external systems of the building ...

If your family likes to bike, spend a bit of time and effort to figure out Vélib ( -- the public bicycle system.
Follow the Tour de France! It finishes in Paris on 26th July. Maybe you could catch one of the other stages if you won't be there then. Have a great holiday.
I've been in Paris last Easter, and I have to say I found it much better than I remembered it: cleaner, less dangerous and much more "efficient" than 10 years ago. But then again, in the summer it gets really crowded.

Montmartre is nice, but it IS full of tourists. For your sanity, I'd suggest you go very early in the morning, and get off the metro at Chateau Rouge, NOT Anvers. The SacreCoeur-Anvers path is just a river of bodies and souvenir stalls, stroll somewhere else (eastwards, or behind the church) if you are looking for a decent lunch.

The canal near Republique is fairly kid-friendly and charming, but not particularly impressive.

You could google a few comicbook shops, there's quite a few in Paris (the French love'em), and they are a good excuse for the kids to learn the language.

Disparaging the Louvre is the hip thing to do these days, but I have to say that stuff like the Greek sculptures (like Nike of Samothrace), or the Italian Renaissance pieces, are just, well, absolutely indescribable. You can buy tickets online in advance and avoid the queue.

The large Marchee Aux Puces, well off the city centre, is huge and nice if you like antiques, and kids can rummage through boxes of 60s toys. But you have to reach it: the main buildings are surrounded by a wall of noisy stalls selling cheap jeans, "pickpocket galore".

Mont St.Michel is... weird, and very educational (sea levels etc). But it WILL be crowded, and touristy. Better than Versailles though (avoid like the plague!)

I wouldn't go up the Tour Eiffel. It's more impressive from underneath.
Fontainebleau is amazing. Circuits are graded so you can pick the ones of appropriate difficulty. Not sure how easy it is without a car though.
- Walking about the 'Canal St Martin' (or Cycling)
Not Paris per se, but Normandy is not far (between 2 to 3 hours by car):
- Caen and its medieval history
- Bayeux and Mathilde's Tapestry
- D-Day Beaches
Fontainebleau is famous for its rock climbing area.
Being Americans, you should take the short walk from the eifel tower to the statue de la liberte which was the mockup for the real thing that the sculptor used to make it.
Mont St. Michel is very pretty, but it's a long trip. The ideal way to see it is to be there when the tide comes in. Doing it in one long day of travel might not mesh with the tides.

Les Invalides, the French war museum, contains within it a relief map museum. The relief maps are highly detailed models of various cities and fortifications made for Louis XIV. For those interested in models and maps (and history) it's amazing.

It was barely known when I first went there, but it has a web site now (an annoying flash web site, but still):
I would suggest bringing an American Express card and renting bicycles from one of the Velib stands which are located essentially everywhere. Also, one of my favorite memories of Paris is taking the tour through Sacre Coeur, up to the top of the dome where you can stand and both look down into the sanctuary and look out over the city. I know the Louvre isn't high on your list but I really enjoy the Egyptian antiquities in the lower level, and especially the nearby exhibit that shows you the original walls of the castle.

Pretty much everything is great, though. On our last trip we went to some of the lesser known attractions, such as the Conciergerie and the Musee Marmaton. With children we went to the amusement park in the Bois de Boulogne. I would recommend that over Euro Disney any day. Finally, I have a book I'd be happy to loan you which is called something like "An Impressionist Walking Tour". Basically it is a walking tour that takes you to the locations where Monet, Renoir, etc. painted many of their famous paintings. (Example:
Musée des Arts et Métiers, which is a fantastic museum of scientific instruments:

And the really intriguing, unique, not-to-be-missed for kids, the Paris Sewer Museum!:
A museum pass lets you skip the long ticket lines at the Louvre and Versailles:

Not off the beaten path, but climbing the towers of Notre Dame is fun. You can also climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Outstanding views of the city from both locations.
The sewer museum is really cool, and not nearly as smelly as you might expect.
a couple food thoughts: chez marianne in the marais (for falafel). poilane for bread/bakery. laduree for macaroons.
My suggestions:
- Marché Mouffetard ( A typical paris market: great place to get a snack to eat in one of Paris parks.

- I cannot tell you if kids are allowed, as this is a bar (French are more liberal than Americans regarding alcohol and youth) but Le caveau des oubliettes is a bar in an 12th century jail (

- Paris Plage (they set up a beach on the Seine)

- The Louvre: THe building is well worth a visit in itself, just to see the view encompassing the Louvre all the way down to La Défense. I suggest you visit the outside, and the go underground below the pyramids, you will be able to see the foundstions of the original castle, as well as the marking that the stone cutter did to sign each stone.

The Dali Museum in Montmartre is a good alternative to the two big behemoths, the Lourve and d'Orsay. It's small in scale, so no museum fatigue and it's got, well... Dali, so kinda weird and interesting.

I second Chantilly as a less crowded alternative to Versailles. If memory serves, you can catch the RER (the commuter rail) to get there.

And a bateaux mouches ride, though clichéd, actually is a lot of fun.

The boys might like the "rat house", "Arouze Chimie", 8 rue des Halles,

You all might enjoy the large flea market at Porte de Clignancourt,

Have fun!
What everyone else said about going during the busy season -- you'll spend half your vacation waiting in lines for the popular stuff like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower (the Louvre might be worth it, the Museum of Modern Art isn't).

In the Luxembourg Garden is the original 10" model of the Statue of Liberty - easy to visit if you're walking around the city. This isn't the other other statue of Liberty featured in National Treasure but it is still a fun photo op. Next to it is a small 9/11 memorial.
Wow everyone, thanks for all the great ideas, we'll definitely be looking into them.

Turns out we will be there during the Tour de France, though not the day they finish in Paris!

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