Now that we can maybe go back, it’s time to experience the city like a local
Maybe it’s your first time to the City of Lights but you just don’t want to follow the same path as other tourists. Maybe you’ve been once or twice before and are looking to mix up your visit a little. In any case, here are some alternatives to experience the best the city has to offer without running the tourist rat race.
Go up the Montparnasse Tour, not the Eiffel Tower
I heard you gasp all the way from over here, but you read right. Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower does afford you great views of the city and provides ample picture-taking opportunities, except… the most important part of that view is directly under your feet. Better to go up to the Montparnasse Tower Panoramic Observatory where you can get a spectacular view of the City of Love, made even better by the fact that you don’t have to look at the ugly Montparnasse Tower. Celebrate your wise decision and excellent Instagram photos at the Ciel de Paris restaurant. A glass of champagne costs 20 euros a pop, but you deserve it for being so clever.
Go to the Musée de l’Orangerie, not the Orsay.
Let me be clear: if ever you get a chance, you should definitely go to the Musée d’Orsay once in your life, if only to take in the beautiful train-station-turned-museum architecture, not to mention the greatest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world. But right across the river is the Orsay’s little sister, the Orangerie, a smaller, quieter museum that houses Monet’s Water Lilies as well as paintings by artists like Matisse and Soutine. You’ll have saved so much time avoiding the long lines at the Orsay that you might be able to hop on over to the très hip Jeu de Paume museum right next store to check out expositions on photography, or take a stroll around the Tuileries Garden, where both museums are located.
Go to Paris’ smaller or lesser-known churches
You can’t visit Notre Dame right now (which continues to break my heart). And the crowds at Sacre Coeur can sometimes spoil the fun. But there are so many other historically sacred sites worth visiting! All of the churches in Paris are free, and, believe me, even when a wedding is going on, you have the right to walk around and visit any which one you like (just ask my friends who got married in Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre, the oldest church in Paris, right across the river from Notre Dame). Aside from Saint Julien, there is also Saint Séverin, with its Chagall-like stained-glass windows, Saint Eustache, a gargantuan beauty on the Right Bank, Saint-Germain-dès-Prés, located in the heart of the very chic neighborhood named after it, Saint Sulpice, where Ernest Hemingway used to go to mass, and the drop-dead gorgeous Sainte Chapelle, which, due to its size, does charge an entrance fee, but is so beautiful that it’s worth it. Most churches in Paris also host regular classical music concerts, so why not visit and sit in on a show as well?
Go to the Canal Saint Martin, not the Seine
A night cruise on the Seine is both super touristy and kind of magical, but if you’ve done it once, you might not feel the urge to do it again. Go instead to the center of hipster Paris, the Canal Saint Martin, where you can picnic alongside all the 20-and-30-something locals. If you continue on up to the Canal de l’Ourcq, you can rent your own private boat and drive your friends around like a pro. Bonus? Cocktail-hour gift baskets are available for purchase, so if you’re not driving, you can sip wine and snack on cheese and olives while out on the water.