ALMOST SECRET PARIS
Love Paris, but hate crowds? Check out lesser-known but lovely sites in the City of Light
Paris is a magnet for tourists and they usually arrive with matching itineraries – Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Musée D’Orsay – the list goes on. This means there are often epic queues to get into the biggest museums and long waiting times to access the city’s attractions, particularly in peak season.
But there are great alternatives throughout the city offering as much charm as more famous sites without the maddening crowds. Make the most of your Paris holiday with this guide to some of the best.
CHÂTEAU DE FONTAINEBLEAU
The Palace of Versailles will always lure tourists but the equally grand Château de Fontainebleau, just south of Paris, is a more interesting option. The residence of French monarchs for centuries, this palace was restored by Napoleon after the revolution and is now a protected landmark.
Elaborate interiors and the art collection are key drawcards but make sure to allow time for a wander in sprawling gardens spread across 130ha around the chateau.
It’s also great value at only €11 (about $A16) a ticket, making it a much cheaper option than Versailles. MUSEE-CHATEAU-FONTAINEBLEAU.FR
Smart Parisians know the Eiffel Tower isn’t the only, or the best, way to glimpse a view of the rooftops of Paris.
Wave goodbye to the hordes of tourists and instead head south to the tallest office building near the centre of the city, the 210m-high skyscraper, Montparnasse Tower.
Get the lift to the Panoramic Observation Deck at the top and behold a truly spectacular view of the city that includes the magical sight of Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece. TOURMONTPARNASSE56.COM/EN/
THE BASILICA OF SAINT DENIS
Notre-Dame Cathedral is spectacular and worth seeing, yet its throngs of visitors are enough to deter even the most enthusiastic sightseer.
Instead, take the metro to the suburb of Saint Denis, just north of Paris, to see a church considered by many locals to be the city’s most beautiful and important, the Basilica of Saint Denis. It boasts stunning stained glass windows and was the burial place for more than 100 French royals (including Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette), as well as being Joan of Arc’s favourite church. It’s also home to the preserved heart of Louis XVII, still on display. SAINT-DENIS-BASILIQUE.FR/EN
MUSÉE MARMOTTAN MONET
Forget shuffling through the crowded galleries at the Musée d’Orsay to catch a glimpse of Claude Monet’s famous water lily paintings and instead head to the often overlooked Musée Marmottan Monet, which boasts one of the best collections of impressionist art in the world.
If you time it right, you might get to spend time alone with some of the Monet paintings on display here but make sure you save some time to also enjoy the extraordinary work by his equally famous contemporaries including Renoir, Degas and Gaugin. MARMOTTAN.FR/UK/
PARC DES BUTTES CHAUMONT
There are beautiful parks throughout Paris and one of the most popular is the Tuileries Garden that sits between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. But if the crowds get too much try a wander in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the city’s east.
A favourite with locals, this park features a large lake at its centre and is the perfect spot for a relaxed picnic.
If you’re feeling energetic, climb up the hill to the Temple de la Sibylle, which affords spectacular views of the park and beyond. EQUIPEMENT.PARIS.FR/PARC-DES-BUTTES -CHAUMONT-1757
PALAIS DE TOKYO
The permanent art collection at the Centre Georges Pompidou is one of the best (and largest) in the world. But if you’re looking for a contemporary exhibition on a less intimidating scale head to Palais de Tokyo. This edgy museum offers ever-changing carefully curated displays – just the thing for an hour of culture that isn’t too overwhelming. PALAISDETOKYO.COM/EN
CRUISE ON CANAL SAINT MARTIN
Each day thousands of tourists pack on to the open-topped boats that ferry up and down the river Seine, but a more enjoyable option is to skip the masses in favour of a cruise along the Canal Saint Martin.
The leafy waterway in the city’s northeast (featured in many French films including Amelie) is a beautiful setting, and floating along on a boat run by Canauxrama at twilight with a glass of rose in hand is the perfect way to spend a Parisian afternoon. CANAUXRAMA.COM/EN
Baguette – Skip the queues at Poilâne and try the award-winning bread at Tout Autour du Pain
Macarons – Head to Pierre Herme for these sweet treats rather than tourist favourite Ladurée (pierreherme.com).
Hot chocolate – Avoid the crowds at the famous Angelina and try tea salon Jacques Genin (jacquesgenin.fr/).
Steak Frites – Relais de l’Entrecôte deserves its fame but Le Petit Cler is a great alternative (lepetitcler.com).
Away from the tourist madness, Paris has more wonderful parks, palaces and waterways if you know where to look.