30+ Secret Spots & Hidden Gems in Paris
Updated: May 26
Looking for some unusual things to do in Paris? Here's my guide to discovering hidden gems and secrets spots in Paris France.
I love Paris. I'm a Francophile of the highest order and it's my favorite city in the world. Paris is cultured, sophisticated, and lives up to its hype.
I've visited many times, and wish I could just move in. I'm visited almost every museum, all the tourist traps and top sites, and all the arrondissements. Along the way, I've discovered many delicious hidden gems, charming back streets, and out-of-the-way neighborhoods in Paris.
I've been aided in this endeavor by a dear friend who lived in Paris for many years. With his help, I peeled back the layers to find unusual things to do in Paris. They're so much more enjoyable than jockeying for position in front of the Mona Lisa.
The Best Off the Radar and Unusual Attractions and Destinations in Paris
I've put together a list of 30 of Paris' off the beaten path destinations and less visited sites. Because who wants to join a horde of tourists pouring off double decker buses engaged in mass consumption? If you want to discover Paris' best kept secrets and avoid tourist traps, read along.
1. La Conciergerie: Royal Palace and Prison
La Conciergerie isn't an unknown or secret spot exactly. It's UNESCO-listed, after all. But it's a rather dark and dank space, so not many tourists actually venture inside, headed to Saint-Chapelle instead. But that's a mistake, especially if you're a history buff and want to re-live the French Revolution.
The underrated Conciergerie was built in the 6th century. It was the residence of Clovis, the first King of France and used to be a royal palace.
In the 14th century, the kings and queens abandoned the gloomy Gothic palace and decamped for brighter digs. When King Charles V, the last royal resident, moved out, he appointed the first "Concierge" and renamed the edifice La Conciergerie.
After the French Revolution, the Conciergerie became the "antechamber of the guillotine" -- the last stop before people were marched to the Place de la Concorde and beheaded. It boasts a stunning and atmospheric vaulted ceiling, the Salon des gens d’armes, which was declared a UNESCO site in 2006.
On one corner of the Conciergerie, you'll spy the Tour de Horloge. It contains Paris' oldest clock. King Charles V conceived it as Paris' first public clock. It was installed in 1535, gilded in 1585, and still keeps time for Parisians.
Where to find the Conciergerie: 2 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris
2. Auberge Nicolas Flamel: Paris' Oldest House
Down a winding cobbled road in the Marais neighborhood of Paris, you'll find a rather unusual stone house dating from 1407 and covered in symbols. It's officially the oldest house in Paris. Now, it's the site of a restaurant and hotel.
But the house was originally built by Paris' famed alchemist, Nicolas Flamel. Flamel reputedly invented the Philosopher’s Stone, a mysterious object that turned metal into gold. Flamel conducted his experiments in this house. Flamel's tomb, decorated with symbols, is on display at the Musée de Cluny, a must see site in Paris' Latin Quarter (but sadly not a hidden gem).
It's never been definitively proven that Flamel practiced alchemy. But he's certainly been the subject of obsession, appearing in many fictional books discussing alchemy, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
Where to find Auberge Nicolas Flamel: 51 rue de Montmorency Paris
3. College des Bernardins: a Rare Medieval Building in Paris
On a little side street on Rue de Poissy, you'll find a building almost no one visits -- the sober and refined 13th century College des Bernardins. It's a historical landmark in Paris. The college is a former residence of Cistercian Monks, who trained there for centuries before the French revolutionaries abolished monasteries.
It's a beautiful old medieval building, both inside and outside. The vaulted ceilings in pale beige sandstone are amazing. In 2004-08, the college became the last medieval building to be renovated in Paris. Now, it's used as a cultural and spiritual center.
Where to find the College des Bernardins: 20 rue de Poissy, 75005 Paris
4. Pantheon: Less Touristy Rooftop Views of Paris
The Pantheon is a grand neoclassical basilica dominating, rather ironically, the artsy Latin Quarter. Pantheon means "every god." It was built after a king's near death experience and celebrates the greatest dead heros of France.
The Paris Pantheon was modeled on the Roman Pantheon. While the exterior is Romanesque, the gigantic interior resembles a Gothic cathedral. The overall design is that of a Greek cross, with Corinthian columns and elaborate marble floors everywhere.
Sadly, people tend to glide by the Pantheon and just snap a photo. Aside from the disappointing lack of windows inside, the interior's the most fascinating part. Check out my guide for the full scoop.
But the best part of visiting the Pantheon is going up to the rooftop. The Pantheon boasts one of the best viewing points in Paris -- without the hideous lines at the Eiffel Tower.
I advise getting the 40 minute guided roof tour for an extra 3 euros. It's worth the 206 steps. A guide takes groups of 50 or so every hour until 5:30 pm. Halfway up, you have an amazing view of the Pantheon interior. At the top, you have a fabulous 360 panoramic view of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and Les Invalides.
Where to find the Pantheon: Place du Panthéon 75005 Paris
5. Basilica Saint-Denis: Deathstyles of the Rich and Famous
Just outside the Paris city limits lies a completely overlooked hidden gem in Paris -- the fantastic and sorely underrated Cathedral Basilica de Saint-Denis. It's downright astonishing that there aren't more tourists there. Really, I don't say this lightly. It's a French national treasure.
Saint-Denis is the birthplace of Gothic architecture. It heralds Europe's transition from a clunky Romanesque style to a more elegant Gothic one. It's one of the most historic and religiously important buildings in Paris.
Saint-Denis is the preferred burial site of French royalty, showcasing the death styles of the rich and famous. It's a museum of monumental French religious sculpture. It holds the funeral effigies of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. They were commissioned by Louis XVIII in 1815, no doubt to put an exclamation point on the Bourbon Restoration.
When you're done with the main nave of Saint-Denis, venture into the dimly lit Romanesque crypt. Parts of the crypt survives from the 8th century. You'll find the tombs of St. Denis (possibly) and the Bourbon Chapel.
Where to find Saint-Denis Basilica: 1 rue de la Legion D Honneur, 93200 Saint-Denis, France
6. Chateau de Vincennes: Medieval Fortress-Palace
Lying in the eastern suburbs of Paris, at the end of metro line 1, is the 14th century Chateau de Vincennes. It's a super easy half day trip on the Paris metro. I'm surprised more people don't go.
Like Fontainebleau, the chateau began life as as a royal hunting lodge in the 12th century. King Louis VII was known to dispense justice beneath the trees. During the 13th century, the lodge was transformed into a larger, palatial estate for the French kings.
In the 14th century, the venerable building you see today was reconstructed, renovated, and modernized. It became the primary royal seat until Versailles was completed. When the 52 foot Donjon was added, Chateau de Vincennes became the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe.
The chateau is wholly intact with a keep, dungeon, moat, and fortified concentric walls. That's pretty unique. When the royals decamped to Versailles, the chateau was used as a prison. The Marquis de Sade, Voltaire, Mirabeau, Diderot were all imprisoned there.
Where to find Chateau de Vincennes: Avenue de Paris, 94300 Vincennes, France
7. Parc de Bellville: Free Views of Paris
Belleville is a new hotspot in Paris. It's known for its colorful street art, ethnic food, and melting pot culture.
Belleville's park, the Parc de Bellville, is perched on a hillside. From there, you'll have a killer view over Paris and its major monuments, which is both free and tourist free.
Otherwise, the park itself is nothing special. If you want to hike in an idyllic leafy green spot, walk to the nearby English-style Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. It's Paris' 5th largest park and was created by Napoleon III. Walk the 207 foot long suspension bridge to an island and the Temple de la Sybille.
Address of Parc de Bellville: 47 Rue des Couronnes, 75020 Paris
8. Rue de Martyrs in South Pigalle
The steep high street Rue des Martyrs is the heart and soul of South Pigalle, and its main artery. It's a half mile of magic stuffed with over 200 cafes, restaurants, groceries, chocolatiers, fromageries, and bars. There's even a book written about it by NYT journalist and former Paris denison, Elaine Sciolino. I liked it so much I included it on my list of the 20 best books about Paris.
On Rue des Marytrs you can buy anything. And there is a speciality shop for everything, from rare cheese to sponge cake to gourmet dried herbs. So numerous are these single product shops that French food critics have dubbed Rue des Martyrs the “La Rue du Monoproduit.”
In the days of massive groceries and malls, Rue de Martyrs is a breath of fresh air. It's a great alternative to Rue Cler, which is now uber popular thanks to Rick Steve's endorsement.
Where to find Rue de Martyrs: in Paris' South Pigalle neighborhood near Montmartre
9. Marie de Medici Fountain: a Slice of Italy
Luxembourg Gardens is one of Paris' ever-so-pretty green spots, full of architectural delights. It's essentially an outdoor sculpture museum, and you shouldn't miss it. Dating from 1612, the sun-speckled gardens feature heavily in Victor Hugo's romantic novel Les Miserables. They were frequented by the real life philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Marie de Medici, Henry IV's widow, commissioned the Luxembourg gardens in the 1630. They were styled to emulate the Boboli Garden of the Pitti Palace, Medici’s childhood home in Florence. The crowning glory is the incredibly romantic Marie de Medici Fountain. It's a grotto-like monument designed to emulate water seeping from the stones.
Luxembourg Gardens itself is an outdoor sculpture museum. You'll find gorgeous sculptures by Auguste Rodin, Ossip Zadkine, and Aime-Jules Dalou. And a replica of a bronze model for the Statue of Liberty.
Where to find the Medici Fountain: rue de Médicis in the Luxembourg Garden, 75006 Paris
10. Abbey Bookstore in the Latin Quarter
Located in the Hotel Dubuisson, the Abbey Bookstore is a charming anglophone bookstore in Paris. It sells new, vintage, and rare books, lovingly offered up in massive floor to ceiling piles.
The bookstore also serves coffee and the delicious smell wafts among the books. You'll find the Abbey Bookstore on Rue de la Parcheminerie, a tiny lane dating from the 13th century. It's just 5 minutes from the much more famous Shakespeare & Co bookstore.
If you do visit the Shakespeare shop, you're right near another Paris hidden gem and unique piece of street art -- the Salvador Dali sundial on Rue Saint-Jacques. It depicts the head of a woman in the shape of a shell.
Where to find the Abbey Bookstore: 29 rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005 Paris
11. Saint-Etienne-du-Mont Church
If you're visiting the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter, don't miss this secret spot next door. Saint-Étienne-du-Mont is the final resting place of Paris' patron saint, Saint Genevieve. The exterior has an asymmetrical design, with a tall belfry on the left side. It was originally just extra space for an abbey founded by Paris' first king, Clovis.
But the French revolutionaries didn't like abbeys and targeted established religion. So the abbey (like the College des Bernardins) was suppressed. The abbey was demolished except for the Clovis Tower, which can still be seen from the church grounds.
Inside, there's an elaborate and rather unique rood screen, which separates the chancel from the nave. It's flanked by two distinctive spiral staircases and is the only one of its kind in Paris. The stained glass dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. The church was heavily damaged during the French Revolution, like so much else, but was restored in the 19th century.
Where to find Saint-Étienne-du-Mont: Place Sainte-Geneviève, 75005 Paris
2. Passage Mouffetard: Tiny Secret Passage
Rue Mouffetard is one of the most famous streets in Paris's Latin Quarter, located along the Place de la Contrescarpe. It's one of Paris' oldest streets with haphazard crooked cobblestones and food stalls. In another life, it was the main road of Roman Lutecia.
But hidden off the lively Rue Mouffetard is a secret passage almost no one knows about. It's a charming and very discreet haven of peace, jealously protected by its inhabitants. It's accessed through a narrow door glued to a souvenir store.
There, you'll find a hidden cobblestone street full of potted plants and hanging vines. Compared to the bustle of Rue Mouffetard or Paris' arcaded passages, it's deadly quiet and peaceful.
Where to find Passage Mouffetard: Near 52 Rue Mouffetard, 75005 Paris
13. Fountain Des Innocents Near Les Halles
One of Paris' most ornate public fountains is the Fontaine des Innocents. It's located in the 1st arrondissement near Les Halles and the Pompidou Center. Built in 1547-50, it's Paris' oldest monumental fountain.
The fountain is covered in mythical sea creatures, tritons, and nymphs. It was designed by Pierre Lescot, who was reputedly inspired by the Nymphaeum in Rome, and sculpted by Jean Goujon. It's lit up during the holidays.
The Fountain of Innocents rests on the grounds of the former Holy Innocents' Cemetery, which has a lurid backstory. The square was once virtually a mass grave, where Parisians simply dumped bones. When the site became an unsanitary decaying mess, the bones were exhumed and moved to the Paris Catacombs.
Where to find the Fountain des Innocents: Place Joachim du Bellay, 75001 Paris
14. Eglise Notre-Dame-de-Lorette
At the bottom of the Rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement is a graceful Paris hidden gem, the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette church. Built between 1822-36, it was classified as a historic monument in 1984. Don't let the name fool you. It's not Gothic like it's namesake. It's a more classical Romanesque style.
If you walk down Rue Laffitte, you'll see Notre Dame-de-Lorette with the Sacre Coeur as a backdrop. It's a gorgeous view.
Notre Dame-de-Lorette is somber and monumental on the outside. But on the inside, it's richly decorated and beautiful. It has a sumptuous dome and a highly detailed ceiling with floral accents.
Where to find Notre-Dame-de-Lorette: 18 bis rue de Châteaudun 75009 Paris
15. Eglise Saint Sulpice & the Drunken Boat Poem
If you're in the chic Saint-Germain-des-Pres area, take in the 17th century Saint Sulpice, with its charmingly mismatched towers that seem to float over a quasi-Greek temple. It's right next to the Luxembourg Gardens.
Saint Sulpice is a vast church, a massive hodgepodge really, second in size only to Notre Dame. Victor Hugo, who disliked "pretentious" neoclassical architecture, derided Saint-Sulpice's two towers as "two giant clarinets." But inside, you'll find real treasures -- a magnificent organ and gorgeous restored murals by famed French painter, Eugene Delacroix.
Part of the movie The Da Vinci Code was set in Saint Sulpice, though filming was prohibited inside the church. The church doubled as the headquarters of the Priory of Sion.
Just steps from Saint Sulpice on 4 rue Ferou, you'll find another hidden gem, Le Bateau Ivre, which translates as The Drunken Boat. It's a poem by a then 16 year old Arthur Rimbaud inscribed on a stone wall.
Where to find Eglise Saint Sulpice: 2 Rue Palatine, 75006 Paris
16. Place Dalida, Secret Montmartre
The secluded Place Dalida in Montmartre is one of the prettiest spots in Paris. It's a lovely escape from tourists. The square lies at the intersections between Rue Girardon and Rue de l’Abreuvoir (the latter being my pick for the prettiest road in Paris).
In the center, you'll find a statue of French singer and music icon, Dalida. She gained international fame at just 19. Her personal life was tragic, even by celebratory standards. She committed suicide at 54. Dalida is buried in the nearby Cimetière de Montmartre, an evocative cemetery in Paris (and yet another secret spot in Paris).
You'll notice that her statue is shiny and well worn in the upper torso. Tourists love to rub Dalida's breasts for good luck.
Where to find it: Place Dalida, 75018 Paris, France
17. Colonnes du Buren: Art Installation at the Royal-Palais
Just steps away from the throngs of tourists swamping the Louvre is the Palais- Royal. Its garden is a beautiful refuge in the center of Paris. In an inner courtyard of the Palais-Royal, called the Cour d'Honneur, you'll find a controversial, avant garde art installation.
The installation sits, rather antagonistically, in what used to be the palace's ugly parking lot. Created by acclaimed French conceptual artist Daniel Buren in 1985-86, the art installation is titled Les Deux Plateaux. It's commonly referred to as the Colonnes de Buren.
The Colonnes is a walk in structure of 260 black and white candy striped columns of varying heights arranged in a dizzying array of monochromatic swirls. When the installation was unveiled, in typical fashion, Parisians gave the Colonnes a poor reception.
But the Colonnes quickly became popular among strolling Parisians, skateboarders, and nearly everyone really. The space seems alive. If you're an Instagrammer, the Colonnes are a good alternative to the oversaturated Rue Cremieux. Here's my complete guide to the Colonnes.
Where to find the Palais-Royal: 8 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris
18. The Gorgeous Art Nouveau Door on Avenue Rapp
At 29 Avenue Rapp, you'll find what I think is Paris' most gorgeous door.
Designed by Jules Lavirotte, the striking door depicts a lush Garden of Eden. At the top of the door, is the architect's wife, Ms. Jules Lavirotte, shown with her fox stole. She's set amid sinuous flowing vines and Adam and Eve sculptures, in near ornamental delirium.
Lavirotte was an anti-Haussmann Art Nouveau architect, whose risky fin de sciecle style is described as decadent Baroque. Not surprisingly, this door won the annual Paris facade competition in 1901.
There's another pretty Art Nouveau door nearby at 3 Rapp Square. From the garden area at the end of Square Rapp, you also have a sweet view of the Eiffel Tower.
Where to find it: 29 avenue Rapp, 75007 Paris
19. Pere Lachaise Cemetery: Visit France's Brilliant Mind
Pere Lachaise Cemetery is Paris' village of the dead. It's an off the beaten path gem on the outskirts of Paris in the 20th arrondissement. Steeped in history, Pere Lachaise is the perfect place to walk among the dead and feel oddly connected to them.
Pere Lachaise's appeal lies not just in death, but in the fact that it's a brooding aggregation of French culture. Hundreds of celebrities, writers, artists, and musicians are buried there. This is where you come to honor the brilliant minds.
Pere Lachaise has a beautiful collection of funereal art. The most famous graves are those of Oscar Wilde, Frederick Chopin, and Jim Morrison. Here's my complete guide to visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
Where to find Pere Lachaise Cemetery: 16 rue du Repos Paris
20. Pavilion de la Reina: a Jewel Within a Jewel
The Pavillon de la Reina is a luxury hotel in the Marais, dating from the 17th century. I don't usually include hotels on my hidden gems lists. But this one is just so lovely (as is the Relais Christine on the Left Bank). The hotel, which means the Queen’s pavilion, once housed Queen of Austria in the 1600s.
The Pavillon de la Reina is an ivy covered building on the elegant Pace des Vosges, the zip code for French aristocracy. You should definitely stroll by for a peak. If you have time, take the glass side door and head to the inner courtyard for a glass of wine in paradise.
Where to find the Pavillon de la Reina: 28 Place des Vosges, 75003 Paris
21. Expiatory Chapel: a Marie Antoinette Site
The Expiatory Chapel lies in Paris' 8th arrondissement, in the Square Louis XVI, off Boulevard Haussmann. It's one of the Marie Antoinette sites in Paris. The chapel is placed on the site of a mass graveyard from the French Revolution, where Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI bodies were unceremoniously thrown after their executions.
In 1814, the monarchy was restored. In 1815, Louis XVIII, Louis XVI’s brother, commissioned a chapel in memory of the duo. It was intended to represent France's atonement for regicide. In 1914, the chapel was listed as a Historic Monument.
Built by Francoise Leonard Fontaine, the chapel is neo-classical in style. Inside, there are sculptures of the royal couple. Marie Antoinette is shown kneeling to religion. You can also read etched versions of Louis XVI’s will and the last letter written by Marie Antoinette (though the latter is of disputed authenticity).
Where to find the Expiatory Chapel: 29 rue Pasquier, 75008 Paris
22. Arenes de Lutece: a Slice of Roman Paris
Lutetia or Lutece was one of Paris' first names, used during the Gallo-Roman period. If you’re a history buff like me, you'll be happy to hear that vestiges of ancient Lutetia can still be found in Paris today.
The most significant ruin is the Arenes de Lutece, in the 5th arrondissement. Built around 200 A.D., it was one of the largest Roman amphitheaters in Roman Gaul, though not as large as the ones you'll find in southern France. The Arena seated around 15,000. If you look closely, at the base of the bleachers, you’ll see rooms where the Romans kept caged animals.
Over the centuries, it was buried under expansion detritus and used as a graveyard. In 1869, the arena was re-discovered during the Haussmann construction of Rue Monge. As with Notre Dame Cathedral, a group led by Victor Hugo rescued Arenes de Lutece from the city planner's wrecking ball.
Today, little remains of the original grand amphitheater. What you see is only 1/3 of its original size. The arena is mostly used by teenagers playing soccer.
Where to find Arenes de Lutece: 47 rue Monge Paris
23. Paris' Atelier des Lumière: Paris' Digital Museum
If you’re looking for a twinkly indoor activity that's visually amazing, you'll love the Atelier des Lumiere, or Workshop of Light. It's housed in an old factory in the 11th arrondissement. The workshop is a sort of contemporary digital art museum.
The Atelier des Lumiere has became a new cultural hotspot in Paris. It provides an immersive art experience, revivifying the masterpieces of seminal artists -- with moving projections on the walls, classical music, and a dazzling light show. You don't see the paintings as the artist intended, in quiet reflection. But you may feel like you're truly inhabiting the art, swathed in it from all angles and sides.
The Atelier just finished a Van Gogh exhibit and is now closed until February 28. Then, among other exhibitions, it will feature a show on Impressionism.
Where to find the Atelier des Lumiere: 38 rue Saint Maur 75011 Paris
24. Hotel de Sens: Medieval Mansion Turned Library
As a lover of all things Gothic, the Hotel de Sens might be my favorite building in Paris. It's one of Paris' few remaining medieval buildings, located right in the heart of the Marais. Hotel de Sens was once home to archbishopric of Sens. Now, it's a specialist library.
The fairytale Hotel de Sens was commissioned and built in the 15th Century. It took 27 years to complete. It was one of the first residences in the area. At the time, the Marais was a swampy marsh, not today's chic hipster spot.
If you look at the facade of the Hotel de Sens closely, you'll see a tiny metal cannonball stuck in the front of the building. It's a relic of the French Revolution, which hit the building in 1830.
Althought the exterior is fortress-like, the interior of Hotel de Sens is now a unique library specializing in the arts and humanities. It’s open for anyone to visit.
Where to find Hotel de Sens: 7 Rue des Nonnains d'Hyères, 75004 Paris