Get off the beaten path and beyond the usual tourist highlights with these fun and unusual things to do in Paris…
Paris is one of Europe’s prettiest, most romantic, and most popular cities. It’s also full of amazing tourist attractions, and many travellers dream of exploring the Louvre or visiting the Eiffel Tower.
But what about some of the lesser-known or unusual things to do in Paris? Even in one of the most visited cities in the world, it’s still possible to escape the tourists and get off the beaten path in Paris.
In this post, I’ve rounded up some of my favourite hidden gems in the French capital. I also asked some top travel bloggers and locals for their input. As a result, this is an extensive list of unusual and sometimes totally unique things to do in Paris.
If you’ve already checked out the main attractions in Paris and you’re looking for something a little more unusual, read on! And check out this guide to spending three days in Paris for some more great tips! Bon voyage…
23 Unusual things to do in Paris
1 – Take a Free Walk with a Paris Greeter
Recommended by: Paula, Expert Abroad
On our visit to Paris, we signed up for a Paris Greeter. The greeter service matches visitors with a friendly local volunteer for a chance to experience a hidden part of Paris that is special to them.
There’s no one-size-fits-all walk here, so for a few hours, it feels like you are meeting up with an old friend.
Our greeter was a retiree who had lived in the Marais his whole life. As we walked the streets of the 3rd and 4th arrondissement he showed us gardens and museums we would have missed – and a small market hidden away that is only frequented by locals. He also helped us understand some of the customs and traditions that are part of life in Paris.
2 – Visit Père Lachaise Cemetery
Visiting a graveyard in romantic Paris may not seem the most obvious choice. But this city of beautiful architecture also has some pretty beautiful cemeteries. The biggest is Père Lachaise: the world’s most visited cemetery and home to some ornate and even ostentatious tombs and headstones.
3 – Explore Les Catacombes
Even stranger than a graveyard is the city’s other must-see resting place, Les Catacombes. The renovated tunnels and caverns have been open to the public since 1874, and are definitely one of the more unusual things to do in Paris.
The catacombs are home to about six million skeletons. Many of the bones and skulls have been arranged into patterns and structures which make really interesting viewing.
READ MORE: Check out these hotels in Paris for ideas on where to stay!
4 – Vintage Shopping and Flea Markets
Paris is one of the most famous cities for shopping; rammed full of designer stores and beautiful boutiques. But for something more unusual, you should seek out some of the city’s numerous markets for some vintage shopping and antiques-hunting!
Belleville’s open-air market is very cool, while lovers of antiques and vintage fashion should check out Les Puces. These vintage street markets covering seven hectares are perfect for shoppers. Be sure that you take note of the flea market opening hours before you visit the area.
TOP TIP: Non-EU travellers, which now also includes British tourists, can get extra savings by shopping tax-free in Paris! Download the Airvat tax-free app to claim 20% VAT refund on all your purchases, whether you’re shopping in a luxury store like Galeries Lafayette or a small souvenir shop!
5 – Take a Street Art Tour
Home of the “French Banksy” C215, Paris is an incredible place to spot street art. Belleville is considered a great place to find it – but you can spot incredible pieces all over. Christian Guémy (aka C215) recommends the Vitry-sur-Seine neighbourhood for international street art.
Find out more in this book about Paris street art, or book one of these tours to learn all about the Parisian street art scene with the help of a local guide:
6 – Watch the Crazy Horse Strip Show
Everyone’s heard of the Moulin Rouge, and it’s where every tourist heads for a taste of Paris’s saucy side. But for a more “authentic” experience head to the Crazy Horse in the chic 8th arrondissement – along with a horde of locals! You’ll be rewarded with a show that combines wonderful showmanship and beautiful dancers with a little of the raunchiness Paris is famous for!
7 – Delve into the Paris Sewers
If you didn’t get enough of the underground at the catacombs, you could always head down into Les égouts de Paris – aka the sewers of Paris.
Yes, that’s right; you really can visit the Parisian sewer system! It’s a masterpiece of architecture that follows the exact road plan of the city. This is a really interesting tour that will give you an eye (and nostril)-opening education of the city’s history.
8 – Walk La Petite Ceinture
La Petite Ceinture is a must-see for anyone with an interest in the city’s rich history. More than that, it’s also a beautiful place for a walk. The tracks of an ancient railway which once circumnavigated Paris have been reclaimed, creating a stunning walkway.
Some parts of La Petite Ceinture, like the 15th arrondissement, are now gentrified green spaces popular for jogging and strolling. Others are wild wastelands rich with urban biodiversity, including everything from wildflowers to foxes.
9 – Dine or Cook with a Local
Paris is all about the food! One of my favourite things to do in any city is to take a food tour or a cooking class. It’s the perfect way to travel a little deeper. Paris is full of so many incredible foodie experiences that you’re spoilt for choice, so I’ve listed a few recommendations below:
- Market Visit and Cooking Class with a Parisian Chef
- 2-Hour Behind the Scenes Bakery Tour
- Marché d’Aligre: 2-Hour Market Tour
- Pure Chocolate Walking Tour
- French Pastry Cooking Class in Paris
- Macaron Cooking Class
10 – Enjoy the Rooftop Views from Galeries Lafayette
Recommended by: Noel, Travel Photo Discovery
If you are visiting Paris and enjoying all the lovely attractions of the city, make sure you also have some time to visit the iconic Galleries Lafayette. One of the most spectacular department stores in the city, the windows outside are stunning, while the gorgeous interior stained glass centre is a show stopper. And visiting the rooftop deck outside is a must-do.
The views from the roof to the opera house and the surrounding area are really amazing and just enjoying the views of the city below is such a treat. It’s nice to enjoy the city from above.
Late in the afternoon, a bar is opened up and it is definitely a “see and be seen” activity for the locals and visitors to enjoy the views and lifestyle of Paris.
If you’re looking for more fun and free activities around the city, check out my post on free things to do around Paris here for inspiration and tips on what to see and do that are absolutely free.
11 – Join the Pari Roller
Recommended by: Matej, Czech the World
If you like sports and active movement, one of the most unusual things to do in Paris is to try the Pari Roller. It’s a nighttime inline skate ride through the Paris city centre and it’s an absolutely amazing event!
Police close major boulevards and let people ride there on in-line skates. It happens every Friday from 9:30 PM till 1 AM. And it’s huge! Usually, more than 10,000 people participate.
What makes this event so special is that you ride around all the famous Paris monuments like Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe, which are lit up at night, creating an amazing atmosphere.
Everyone can participate. The whole ride is usually around 22 km long but if that’s too much for you, you can join on just part of it.
If you’re a speed skater, trust me, the front of the ride is very fast! If you’re a slow skater, you can just enjoy the slow pace at the back of the ride. Don’t have inline skates? You can even ride on a bike or scooter.
12 – Explore Belleville
Recommended by: Coni, Experiencing the Globe
Belleville is one of the most underrated neighbourhoods in Paris, but the perfect place to experience the city. Go to Belvédère de Belleville to get incredible views of Paris, including an unexpected open view of the Eiffel Tower.
On your way down from the park, a must is to stop in Rue Dénoyez. This alley stretches for less than 200 meters, but it’s packed with street art. If you’re there in the morning, stop for a coffee in the cool Café Le Barbouquin, or in the evening for an aperitif at Aux Folies.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Belleville Street Art Tour with an Artist
13 – Walk the Coulee Verte
Recommended by: Elisa, World in Paris
Paris boasts more than 450 parks and gardens but if you are looking for unusual things to do in the city, the Coulée Verte is the place to go.
The Coulée Verte in Paris 12 is one of the most scenic walks in the city and also the most original. It shares a small section with the Petite Ceinture (mentioned above), then heads from Paris 12 to Paris 11 in the city centre.
What we like about the Coulée Verte is that each section is different and unique so it is very entertaining. Sometimes the path goes below the street level, through trenches and old tunnels. Sometimes it’s an elevated parkway, the first in the world of this kind! There’s even a place where the path crosses a building!
14 – Discover Saint Chapelle
Recommended by: Lauren, Always find Adventure
St. Chapelle is one of the hidden gems in Paris, located on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine. The gothic-style church was consecrated in April 1248, with the intention to house precious relics from the Passion of Christ – including Jesus’ crown of thorns.
Some say the design looks like a jewellery box, especially with the gorgeous 15-meter-high stained-glass windows arranged across 15 windows.
The stained glass windows truly make this attraction worthwhile, depicting 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments. It’s a great, smaller alternative to Notre Dame Cathedral.
15 – Sit Down with the Locals at Square Barye
Recommended by: Clemens, Travellers Archive
Paris can be super crowded and full of tourists at times. We found the perfect spot to spend an evening on your own and enjoy some laid-back, local vibes. Square Barye is a lovely park on a tiny island in the River Seine, near the Pont de Sully.
It’s located opposite the Institut du Monde Arabe and is the ideal spot for a sundowner. Simply bring some cheese, wine and music and watch the tourist boats pass by while you have a chilled and oh-so-French evening on your own. It’s the best!
16 – Sail an Electric Boat Along the Parisian Canals
Recommended by: Norbert, France Bucket List
Everybody knows about the boat cruises along the Seine River, but if you’re looking for unusual things to do in Paris, head to Canal de l’Ourcq for a fun day on the water.
Marin d’Eau Douce is a local company that rents electric self-drive boats for 5, 7 or 11 people. The boats are easy to sail so there’s no need for a license. Only a sense of adventure is necessary!
Sail your own boat along Canal de l’Ourcq and Canal de la Villette, whilst having fun. In some places, it is possible to moor the boat and explore the surroundings on foot. Marin d’Eau Douce also offers picnic baskets, the perfect complement for a day out in the canals.
17 – Have a Seat in the Arènes de Lutèce
Recommended by: Ivan, Mind the Travel
Located near Monge in the 5th arrondissement, Arènes de Lutèce is a Gallo-Roman arena dating from the first century AD. It was once an amphitheatre that could seat up to 17,000 spectators.
This former Gallo-Roman amphitheatre lies at the centre of a small public park, with grassy slopes, flowering plants, and lots of trees. Locals love this place since it offers the opportunity to picnic on the beautiful historically important grounds – and to stroll and wander through the gardens.
Few tourists visit the site as it’s hidden from street view in the Latin Quarter. Arènes de Lutèce is a great place to relax, soak up some sun, and experience life like a real Parisian.
18 – Explore the Museum of Romantic Life
Recommended by: Kate, Our Escape Clause
Located in the 9e, at the base of the hill that Montmartre rests on top of, rests a small museum whose quaint exterior looks more like it belongs in a small countryside village than in the heart of Paris.
This is the Museum of Romantic Life, a museum dedicated to romantic art, particularly that of George Sand.
In addition to the small museum, there’s also a lovely garden with a cafe attached; the perfect place to catch your breath from sightseeing in Paris.
The museum’s permanent collection is free to visit, making it a great stop for even budget travellers in Paris, and is a delightful hidden gem.
19 – Visit the Vampire Museum
One of the most unusual things to do in Paris is to pay a visit to the Musee des Vampires (Museum of Vampires).
This quirky private museum showcases the macabre collection of Jacques Sirgent, a slightly eccentric – but expert – scholar on the undead. You’ll find everything from Dracula toys and movie memorabilia to antique books and a genuine vampire killing kit!
20 – Discover Paris’ Public Pools
Recommended by: Elieen, FamiliesGoTravel
One of the most surprising local experiences we had in Paris was going to the public pools. The city has nearly 40 pools. They vary in size and age, and some of the changing rooms were a bit dreary. But more often than not they were a pleasant surprise.
The Aquatic Center at Neuilly-Sur-Seine was the nicest, with a deck for sunbathing, an indoor-outdoor pool, whirlpools, a kids’ water play area with a slide, and an area for lap swimming. It’s worth going out of your way for.
The Art Deco Pontois and Hebert pools have sunroofs, as well as private changing cabins where you can lock up your things. The Keller Pool is one of the few that’s outdoors and has a fun summer-in-the-city vibe on hot days. Josephine Baker is also a worthwhile detour: it’s on a barge along a waterfront with funky outdoor cafes and bars.
The Paris Piscines app is the best way to find a pool near you. Figure on about 4-5 Euros per adult in most of the pools.
21 – Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy
Part of the French National Museum of Natural History, the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy is certainly one of the more unusual museums in Paris. The Gallery of Comparative Anatomy houses a staggering collection of over a thousand skeletons of all kinds of creatures. Crammed wall-to-wall, this army of skeletons includes extinct prehistoric beasts like mammoths and giant sloths.
The Gallery of Palaeontology also features a skeleton collection, of dinosaurs this time, alongside a vast array of fossils. Both galleries are housed inside ornate halls. Whether you’re interested in palaeontology or not, these impressive collections are a fascinating stop on a tour of Paris’ hidden gems.
22 – Face your Fears at Le Manoir de Paris
For the most unusual – and creepy – things to do in the French Capital, head to Le Manoir de Paris. A walk-through haunted house and immersive show, complete with live actors, this attraction is not for the faint of heart.
The actors can welcome (aka terrify) guests in both French and English. Discover the dark history of Paris, and meet some local legends along the way! Alongside the permanent show, Le Manoir de Paris offers various special events and shows. They also have the first escape room in France, Skeleton Key, if you fancy a challenge!
23 – Get Exclusive Access to the Foreign Affairs Ministry
Recommended by: Pauline, BeeLoved City
If you are looking for a truly unique activity in Paris, visiting the foreign affairs ministry is for you! This unique Napoleon III Empire-style building is a beautiful example of what the French do best in terms of architecture, art, gardens, and politics.
It was built in 1844 and has been home to every French foreign affairs minister since.
Wait a second, I hear you say, if this place is so amazing why don’t we hear about it more often? Well here’s the thing. The Hotel du Quai d’Orsay is only open to the public on European Heritage Days. They are held on the third weekend of September, every year. This means you can only visit it during these 2 days per year.
How to Visit
If you are in Paris during the third weekend of September, here’s how to get there. Head to 37 Quai d’Orsay, the ministry is located right by the Musee d’Orsay and faces the river Seine.
The doors will be open, you just need to walk in. From there you can either walk around the property and gardens by yourself or wait for one of the free walking tours. The guides will explain what each room is used for.
The Hotel d’Orsay is a beautiful mini-version of the Palais de l’Elysee (not open to the public). It’s also a wonderful opportunity to discover one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris, for free! More importantly, it’s a complete hidden gem in Paris. Even the Parisians themselves don’t know about it!
Map of Unusual Things to do in Paris
Unusual Things to do in Paris: the Quicklist
- Free Walk with a Paris Greeter
- Pere Lachaise Cemetery
- Les Catacombs
- Vintage Shopping and Flea Markets
- Street Art Tour
- Crazy Horse Strip Show
- Paris Sewers
- La Petite Ceinture
- Dine or Cook with a Local
- Rooftop Views from Galeries Lafayette
- Pari Roller
- Coulee Verte
- Saint Chapelle
- Square Barye
- Electric Boat Rental on the Paris Canals
- Arenes de Lutece
- Museum of Romantic Life
- Vampire Museum
- Public Swimming Pools
- Gallery of Paleantology and Comparative Anatomy
- Le Manoir de Paris
- Foreign Affairs Ministry (only on special access days)
As you can see, there are a LOT of interesting, unique, and cool things to do if you step away from the main tourist attractions.
From leafy walks and peaceful parks to colourful street art and quirky strip shows… there’s something for everyone in the City of Light.
Do you have a great tip for unusual things to do in Paris and places to get off the beaten path? Scroll down to leave a comment and share it!