Who travels to Paris and skips the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, and Angelina’s?
Yep, that’d be me. I didn’t visit any museums, OD on pastries and sweets, or try snails or any other French delicacies on my recent week-long trip to Paris. And maybe, according to some people, that means I did Paris wrong.
But you know what? I did me, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Paris solo, for the first time. I hunted down good coffee and healthy eats, sought out cool photo ops and scenes you don’t see as often on blogs and social media, and biked my ass off.
Here are my 10 favorite finds for things to do in Paris that might be a liiiiiittle bit offbeat.
In the 12th arrondissement, there exists a short cobblestone street lined with brightly-colored homes. If ever there was a place fit for Instagramming, this would 100% be it.
It was a challenge to get photos of myself not just because I was on my own with no one to assist me, but also because I didn’t want to be that jerk hovering in front of some person’s door for ages making derpy faces at the camera. Totally worth it, though!
The Specialty Coffee Scene
I arrived in Paris with a brand new bag of coffee beans from a trusted coffee shop in NYC, fully expecting to have to fend for myself in this city if I wanted a quality cup of coffee. Normally I hate being wrong, but in this case I was thrilled about it. Because oh my goodness are you spoilt for choice when it comes to speciality coffee in Paris.
I barely made a dent in my Paris coffee shop wish list, but managed to make it to Café Craft (10th), Fragments (3rd), Café Verlet (1st), KB CafeShop (9th), and Télescope (1st). Happy to report that the coffee at all 5 of these places met my absurdly high standards.
I loved KB CafeShop in Montmartre for their excellent flat white and glorious outdoor seating, where I wiled away an afternoon on my laptop half-distracted by all the people watching.
Café Verlet has an elegant, old timey sort of feel to it. The best part is that they have an extensive coffee menu from which you can select one of several different types of beans from around the world. The barista will then brew your cup of coffee to your liking (I recommend taking a long black, which is the closest thing to an americano or a plain ol’ cup of black coffee). I still can’t believe I had a geisha coffee for just 5€! (Geisha beans are very rare and therefore normally quite pricey)
A few other cafes on my to-try list for future Paris visits include LOMI (18th), Loustic (3rd), Holybelly (10th), and Fondation Cafe (3rd). Where do you think has the best coffee in Paris?
Vélib Bike Share
One of my favorite Paris hacks is utilizing the Vélib bike share system to get around the city. For just 8€, you can snag yourself a week-long pass entitling you to unlimited free rides of 30 minutes or less. Of course you can ride for longer than that at a time, but you’ll be charged a small overtime fee.
Normally I’m a bit skeptical of cycling with a time limit, as it’s not exactly the carefree zen-like cycling I love. But in Paris it just makes sense because a). bike stations are plentiful, b). one metro ride costs 1.90€, and c). it’s a great way to work off the pastries and cheese.
I saved SO MUCH MONEY by cycling in Paris rather than taking the metro everywhere. What worked best for me was downloading the Vélib app on my iPhone and consulting it to find the closest bike station to my destination, mapping the route out in Google Maps, and setting my stopwatch for 25 minutes so I’d know when to dock the bike. There was always a bike station within a minute’s ride wherever I was, so even if the nearest one was full I’d still have time to find another one nearby.
Most tourists go up either the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe to soak up fetching views of Paris. Naturally, I eschewed these tourist traps for Secret Option C: Tour Montparnasse.
From this tower you have nearly a straight-on view of the Eiffel Tower from the east, which makes it ideal for watching the sunset. Even on a summer Friday night, there was hardly any wait at all to head up around this time. You can either take in the views from the fully-enclosed 56th floor which has a restaurant and gift shop, or walk up to the 59th floor observation deck for open-air views.
If photography is your #1 priority as it was mine, know that there are certain sections of the windows on the upstairs deck that you can shoot right through, rather than having to put your camera lens right up against the glass. And if you’re aiming to shoot the sunset or the hourly light show at the Eiffel Tower, you’ll want to stake your claim at one of these open window sections well beforehand.
Admission to the Montparnasse Tower Observatory Deck costs 17€.
Pont de Bir-Hakeim
Also filed under Underrated Views of the Eiffel Tower: the view from the Bir-Hakeim Bridge.
Immediately southwest of the Eiffel Tower and just a 15 minute walk from Place du Trocadero, you’ll find this really cool-looking bridge that’s delightfully lacking in tourists. It seems to be popular for engagement shoots (admittedly that’s how I came across it – I know that wedding photographers always have the pulse on cool photoshoot spots!).
I hate myself for not coming here for sunrise – I ended up at Trocadero instead and watched the sky turn a pretty pink and yellow off to the side and away from the Eiffel Tower. Had I been on this bridge instead, I’d have seen the Eiffel Tower with a colourful backdrop. C’est la vie!
If your Paris visit coincides with the heart of summer (July-August), you’ve got to hit up Paris Plages on a hot day!
Each summer, Paris puts on Paris Plages along the Seine as well as in the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement. This section of the canal is reserved for all of the summer things: think beach chairs on artificial beaches, a floating swimming pool, and pedal boat and paddle board rentals. It is delightfully local and not the least bit touristy – I think Parisians head here to escape the heat and the crowds that plague the city during summer, while tourists tend not to head this far away from the city center.
Not surprisingly, I did what I always do at the beach: I sunbathed. I didn’t swim or take a boat out, but instead opted to lay out on the edge of the canal, nap in the sun, and take in the summer vibes. It was such a wonderful afternoon!
One frustrating problem I have as a freelancer is that I don’t want to shell out several hundred dollars a month to rent a desk in a proper coworking office, nor do I particularly enjoy hopping from cafe to cafe in search of good wifi and open outlets for my laptop.
Enter coworking cafes, which bridge this gap quite splendidly. Paris is the first city in which I’ve witnessed this phenomenon, and I’ve no idea why because it is such a brilliant concept! For a reasonable hourly rate, you can camp out at the cafe with your laptop with wifi and outlets galore, without enduring the stink eye from exasperated employees who wish you wouldn’t just sit there and nurse a $3 coffee for hours on end.
Here are the top coworking cafes for freelancers in Paris:
Some of these coworking cafes charge an hourly rate which you can use as credit toward food and drink purchases; others charge an hourly rate and give you unlimited access to coffee and snacks. NYC, Sydney, and other top cities of the world: when will you follow suit?!
Wild and the Moon
One day I was feeling like I wanted to lay off the crepes and pastries, so I popped into this vegan/organic/gluten-free cafe in Le Marais (3rd arrondissement) for an acai bowl. Literally EVERY SINGLE THING on their menu looked like (health) heaven to me. Smoothies, shots, juices, bowls – I could have easily gone for the matcha bowl or the lavender latte.
If you’re a health freak (I mean that in the best possible way!), you will ADORE Wild and the Moon. No refined sugar, no additives or chemicals, no gmos, no soy, no dairy, no gluten. Nothing added at all. Clean eating galore!
Promenade Plantée (Coulée verte René-Dumont)
Why haven’t I read about this gem on any other travel blog?! For shame, travel bloggers!
If you’re familiar with the High Line in NYC, Promenade Plantée is similar – in fact, it’s supposed to be *the original* elevated train track-turned-linear park.
This green belt follows the old Vincennes railway line for 2.9 miles through the 12th arrondissement. The western half runs along the viaduct and offers awesome views of the buildings from above street level, while the eastern half runs at or below street level through parks and tunnels. The whole thing is easy to do in one go, but if you only want to do part of it definitely aim for the western side near Bastille.
Like the High Line, there are ample opportunities along the way to sit and relax; however, unlike it, there are far fewer people walking the Promenade Plantée and no street vendors or performers to detract from the zen. Glorious!
Place de la Contrescarpe
I went in search of a specific gelateria in the 5th arrondissement one day and came across the cutest, most quintessentially European square! Think fountain, accordion music, and sidewalk bistros all around.
I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in this area and would wholeheartedly recommend the following cheap eats nearby, walking south on Rue Moffetard:
- The Crepe Stand – I forgot the name of this stand, but it’s on the left side as you walk down the street and I believe it’s blue. It’s run by a friendly Pakistani guy who makes AMAZING crepes. He recommended the tandoori chicken crepe to me, which I had stuffed with all the fillings (cheese, veggies, sauce) and it was absolutely MASSIVE and delicious and somehow only 5€! Every single crepe I’ve had since this one has been a major letdown and I SO wish I’d gone back again for more. Don’t miss it!
- Gelati d’Alberto – About a block further down the street is this popular gelateria that I’d sought out for their gelato served in the shape of a flower. I loved their coconut and their rose flavors. Also, can I just say how challenging it is to get a good photo of gelato in 90+ degree weather? I had all of 30 seconds to snap it before it started melting like crazy.