I just got back from a whirlwind spring break trip to Paris! My friend and I packed in a lot of the major sites during the six days we were there plus found some (almost hidden) gems. Despite the rainy and cold weather, the tourists were still out in force. I was surprised how long the lines were to get up the Eiffel Tower, get inside Notre Dame or the Louvre. These sites are famous the world over for a good reason. They are magnificent. Yet, I particularly enjoyed the slightly more out of the way places we visited. Less crowds, no lines to snap the same selfie that everyone else is getting, the staff care more deeply, magnificent architecture. So whether you have an extra day after visiting the famous spots or are looking for an escape from the crowds, I hope this post helps you find a new spot to love!
1. Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Away from the main attractions, yet easy to reach by metro, this cemetery is the final resting place of Frederick Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf and many others. On nice summer days, I can imagine these spots being crowded. The cemetery is expansive, so no need to hang with the crowds. I loved wandering the tree lined, cobblestone avenues, marveling at the magnificent headstones and mini prayer chapels. I visited on a rainy day in March and it was lovely. Green grass and leaves on the trees would have been even more refreshing. You’ll need a map if you want to find any specific graves. Side note: I’m sure this is the spot that inspired the cemetery scene in the The Phantom of the Opera musical.
2. The Music Museum
This is a must-see for music lovers, and although included in the Paris Museum Pass, is not listed in many guidebooks or lists of things to see. The museum is housed in a wing of the Cite Musique, a large performing arts complex near the Paris Conservatory. It houses a large collection of instruments, displayed in chronological order, from the Middle Ages through the modern electronic music era. An excellent audioguide is included with the entrance ticket, which explains about the instruments and summarizes musical styles, genres and the lives of some of the great composers. My favorite aspect of the audioguide was being able to hear recordings of the instruments being played. Many days, there are free concerts inside the museum as well!
3. Saint Eustache Church
This 16th century cathedral can be found near the Les Halles/Chatelet transit hub, and although it isn’t as impressive on the outside as Notre Dame, the inside can hold it’s own with the more famous neighbor. There is no cost to go inside and I never saw a line. I loved wandering around the Gothic arches inside. One of the best things I did in Paris was attend the free organ concert here on Sunday. There is nothing like sitting inside an ancient cathedral with the powerful tones of the organ swirling all around you. It gave me goosebumps. And another plus, the organ’s keyboard is out in the open at St. Eustache, which is not always the case in the old cathedrals. It’s fun to actually see the organist who is playing.
4. The Estate of Trianon
Although I’m sure the palace and grounds can get relatively crowded, you will for sure find fewer tourists than at Trianon’s famous neighbor, the Palace of Versailles. The Grand Trianon Palace was the summer palace of the kings of France, also used as an escape from drama of life at court. It is still a palace with grand halls and chambers, beautiful furniture, incredible pink marble and gorgeous gardens. Wandering the estate, you will come upon the Petite Trianon, a small palace/manor designed in exquisite classical perfection. Marie Antoinette loved to escape here and commissioned a “peasant village” to be built near by. Since this village was never really lived in by peasants, “fairy tale” is the best description for this charming spot.
5. Montparnasse Tower
I personally never made it to the Montparnasse Tower during my trip, but I saw it plenty of times dominating (or marring as some would say) the cityscape. Many tourists say going up Montparnasse is better than going up the Eiffel Tower, because you get a great view of the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse. It costs 17 euros to go to the very top observation deck, but my friend’s relatives told us that one can visit restaurant located in the tower for free. If you go between 3 and 5 in the afternoon for Tea Time, it is acceptable to just order a drink and maybe a dessert and enjoy the view.
6. Sainte Chappel
Well, this isn’t exactly an unknown attraction. The lines can be long to get in Sainte-Chapelle, so it’s best to go as early in the morning as possible. But, I had to mention this chapel, because it just might be my favorite place in Paris. The stained glass is breathtaking. You have to see it to believe. You will enter the building at the lower chapel, which is lovely, but nothing compared to to upper chapel. Look for a small doorway and winding staircase in the back corner to get up to upper chapel.
Have you been to Paris? What are your favorite less crowded spots?