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Culture junkies in Paris

My boyfriend and I taking a semester off from grad school (we are both studying to become architects) and are trading apartments for a month this fall with a couple in Paris. We’ve obviously already got accommodation and will be cooking most of our meals so we’re not that worried about restaurants. Mostly, we want to hit the major cultural sites like museums, churches, etc. We’ve never been there so we’re sort of starting from scratch but we’d love some really out of the way places that are not in the guide books or at least not in the first few pages. Obviously, we’re very, very into architecture but we also love music of any kind so we would love to know great places to see concerts. Thanks!

10 Answers

top answer by
Courtney from Los Angeles

Wow, what a great opportunity for both of you! Off the top of my head, I would say that two architecture students MUST see the inside of the Société Générale bank at 29 blvd. Haussmann. It’s like a whole building made of stained glass and is easily one of the most incredible buildings in the city. It’s still a fully functioning bank and for that reason you can’t take photographs inside.

Every architecture buff should see the  Le Grand Palais just off the Champs-Élysées. Maybe the best example of Art Nouveau on the planet. Same for  29 ave rapp--This extraordinary example of Art Nouveau architecture created quite the stir when first unveiled in 1901. Full of suggestive reliefs and symbolism (a super-saucy Adam and Eve grace the entrance and that's nothing in comparison to the door handles), it's great for a laugh even if you don't like the architecture itself.

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature - I think I may be literally the only person alive to have actually gone through this museum. I'm not an animal lover but even I enjoyed this--it's basically a museum of taxidermy which I'm not into, either but the French are so I gave it a shot. I'd go on one of the free days but I'd never pay for it. The last time I was there another museum goer was smoking inside as he went around looking at the exhibits.

Musée des Arts Décoratifs is a wonderful design museum that always has something unusual going on. A lot of their shows center around fashion, but they also have exhibits about design, advertising, even toys. Well worth checking out if you’re an aesthete. I could spend, and actually have spent, hours in the bookshop.

Bonnier de la Mosson's Second Cabinet of Natural History - Hidden away in a library behind the city's Museum of Natural History, this is an extraordinary cabinet of curiosities most tourists and even residents, never see. You'll have to be quiet as you take pictures, however, as the cabinets are bizarrely situated right in front of studying library goers. One of my absolute favorite places in Paris!

Espace Dalí in Montmartre isn’t that big but it’s very impressive with everything from his furniture to his sculpture on display. As long as you’re in the area, check out the Musee de Montmartre . It’s essentially a museum dedicated to the neighborhood and there are lots of great Toulouse-Lautrec posters and all kinds of paintings of the area. Just promise me you won’t go to the “Amelie” café, Café des 2 Moulins . It’s horrible! Totally inedible food. 

The  Pinacothèque de Paris is a little-known museum with great exhibits--well worth hitting!

Le Musee d'Edith Piaf - This is a bizarre-o little museum in the Belleville district that's not far from Pere-Lachaise (where Piaf is buried). Started by a Piaf fan who met her when she was 14, it contains artifacts of the tragic singer's life including her clothing and personal papers. It's only open a few days a week and you have to call first to be let in.

Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève - Sounds like architect Henri Labrouste, who designed this library wasn't exactly the world's most light-hearted guy. Although it was never realized, his initial plans included a garden outside to prepare visitors "for due reverence."

Deyrolle - Like rue Cler or Laduree, this taxidermy store has gotten a bit too much attention for my taste but after a devastating fire a few years ago, they need it. Definitely a place NOT to miss even if you hate animals. Gardeners should check out the gardening store on the first floor.

Marché aux Puces - This is the Yankee Stadium of flea markets and hallowed ground as far as I'm concerned. I come here on every trip without fail. Prices are steep unless you hit the junkier street vendors at the very, very end of the market who I don't even think are supposed to be there. Well worth the trek out even if it's just for inspiration.

Bois de Boulogne - This, in my opinion, is one of Paris' most interesting places and certainly one of its most interesting parks. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor actually maintained a house in the Bois where I believe they lived out their last years. Not a great place to be at night, though so make a point of seeing it during the day.

Passage Jouffroy - One of the best things to do in Paris is visit the "Passages" which were essentially the shopping malls of the 19th century. Passage Jouffroy is one of my faves. If you're into old book stores there is one all the way in the back next to the Hotel Chopin (my favorite in all of Paris) that is to die for. Really obscure stuff. There are also a couple of great art galleries both there and across the street (the passage is kind of divided in two) if you're looking for art.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Musee de Montmartre (attraction)
  2. Café des 2 Moulins (restaurant)
  3. Espace Dalí (attraction)
  4. Société Générale (attraction)
  5. Le Grand Palais (attraction)
  6. Champs-Élysées (attraction)
  7. Musée des Arts Décoratifs (attraction)
  8. Pinacothèque de Paris (attraction)
  9. 29 ave rapp (attraction)
  10. Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (attraction)
  11. Bonnier de la Mosson's Second Cabinet of Natural History (attraction)
  12. Le Musee d'Edith Piaf (attraction)
  13. Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (attraction)
  14. Deyrolle (attraction)
  15. Marché aux Puces (attraction)
  16. Bois de Boulogne (attraction)
  17. Passage Jouffroy (attraction)
  18. Montmartre (attraction)
9 thanks

answered by
Veronica from San Francisco

Is this for the upcoming semester?  The Champs-Élysées is lovely in the winter!  And I'm sure others have suggested Palace of Versailles but here's a tip: it gets very very warm inside the palace in the Winter, so wear layers you can take off!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Palace of Versailles (attraction)
  2. Champs-Élysées (attraction)
4 thanks

answered by
Andrew from Minneapolis

These aren't restaurants, but they're very Parisian food experiences:

  • President Wilson Market: Open air markets are my favorite. This one located in the heart of Paris is one of the best.
  • Fromagerie Laurent Dubois: The French make more than 250 varieties of cheese. I love grazing at Laurent Dubois’s shop. He’s one of the most knowledgeable in the biz.
  • Maison de la Truffe: Place de Madeline is a must-stop for me, and every I go, I head straight to Paris at the Maison de la Truffe for, you guessed it, truffles. It’s umami heaven.
  • Boutique Maille: France is famous for its mustard, and for mustard lovers like me, it’s all about Maille. The basically have the stuff on draught. From classic brown mustards to new mustard flavors, including dry white mustard, every time I'm here I want to swim in the stuff.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. President Wilson Market (restaurant)
  2. Fromagerie Laurent Dubois (restaurant)
  3. Maison de la Truffe (restaurant)
  4. Boutique Maille (restaurant)
4 thanks

answered by
Chase from Seattle

George Pompidou is one of the best modern museums in the world, bar MOMA NYC.   La Défense is modern in Paris.   Notre Dame Cathedral is not to be missed.   Basilique du Sacre-Coeur is a must.   Sainte-Chapelle is not boring, it's stunning.  Go to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise and see jim morrison's grave, plus oscar wilde etc.   Le Marais district is so dope.  I lived there for a few years.

When are you going?  If you go in the summer, walk the Champs-Élysées at dusk. Arrive at Arc de Triomphe and go upstairs, take in Paris at sunset.  If you're there in winter in december/january, you can usually ICE SKATE on the lower level/first mezzanine of the Eiffel Tower for really cheap... insider tip.  You'll thank me for that one ;)  It's like rockefeller center without the flash, but up in the air in paris!

Since you two are architecture majors, you must stay at  Mama Shelter, if even only just for a night.  amazing phillipe starck hotel. stunning design, great food and service... a bit far out of central paris (it's in the 20th arrd, past pierre lachaise cemetary), but for the design savvy traveler, it's a must. if you can swing the suite for a night it's pretty amazing ;) private balcony. plus there is a ton of street art in this neighborhood from space invader and banksy, etc

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. George Pompidou (attraction)
  2. La Défense (attraction)
  3. Notre Dame Cathedral (attraction)
  4. Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (attraction)
  5. Sainte-Chapelle (attraction)
  6. Le Marais (neighborhood)
  7. Champs-Élysées (attraction)
  8. Eiffel Tower (attraction)
  9. Mama Shelter (hotel)
  10. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise (attraction)
  11. Arc de Triomphe (attraction)
4 thanks

answered by
Rachel from Los Angeles

I love  Jardin des Tuileries and especially  The Louvre. The  Musée de l'Armée is great, too and not as popular. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Jardin des Tuileries (attraction)
  2. Musée de l'Armée (attraction)
  3. The Louvre (attraction)
4 thanks

answered by
Brew from Manhattan Beach

You have to go to the Musée d'Orsay. Better than the Louvre, in many people's opinion. The building is an old train station until a train plowed through the side of the building... true story.

The Louvre can be a little overwhelming inside if its crowded, but the architecture and all are nice to check out.

There's the Eiffel Tower. Not necessarily to stand in line and go up, but grab some food, and a bottle of wine and picnic in the park.

Of course, you have to go to  Notre Dame Cathedral. Make sure to walk over to the Ile-St. Louis which is connected to the island where Notre Dame is by a footbridge. Less tourists, better place to grab a bite or ice cream (see Berthillon) and a cool neighborhood.

Le Marais is one of the more interesting areas in Paris. Way less touristy than other areas, tons of cafes, restaurants, bars, etc. The stretch of Rue Vieille du Temple towards the Seine between Rue de Rivoli and Rue de Rosiers in particular, has a lot of cafes, bars, etc. Also, one street west on Rue de Bourg Tibourg has good options (I highly recommend Le Coude Fou for dinner, wine, etc.). 

Place des Vosges is another great place to wander, check out galleries, etc. Another great place to wander is Montmartre, take in street performers, etc. Pull up on the lawn outside of Sacre-Coeur church and enjoy the views. Like the park outside the Eiffel Tower, another great place to picnic.

Musee Rodin has great gardins. 

Catacombes de Paris does a pretty cool tour of the underground catacombs, where there's a ton of bones, etc. A little spooky and claustrophobic, but interesting tour.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. The Louvre (attraction)
  2. Musée d'Orsay (attraction)
  3. Place des Vosges (attraction)
  4. Musee Rodin (attraction)
  5. Notre Dame Cathedral (attraction)
  6. Le Marais (neighborhood)
  7. Catacombes de Paris (attraction)
  8. Eiffel Tower (attraction)
  9. Montmartre (attraction)
3 thanks

answered by

For you I propose Pinacothèque de Paris in the Madeline area is my favorites. Always it is creative and different. There will be a very good exhibit of Tamara de Lempicka, the artist from the 1920s soon.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Pinacothèque de Paris (attraction)
3 thanks

answered by
Kevin from Edmonton

Really enjoyed these churches:

Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont

Église Saint-Séverin

Music here:

La Maroquinerie

Enjoy your time there!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont (attraction)
  2. Église Saint-Séverin (attraction)
  3. La Maroquinerie (attraction)
2 thanks

answered by
Kim from Portland

This is a little off the wall, but there's the Sewer Museum, which is something really unique to visit beneath Paris streets (other than the Catacombes de Paris).

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Sewer Museum (attraction)
  2. Catacombes de Paris (attraction)
1 thanks

answered by
Soraya from New York City

You have to visit Le Marais.  It's fabulous and my favorite place in the world to window-shop. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Le Marais (neighborhood)
1 thanks

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