French Language Blog

4 Surprising Sights in Paris That Most Tourists Don’t Know About Posted by on Dec 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

Even after living there several years and returning every summer, Paris continues to surprise me.

Just this past summer, we took my son – obsessed with les animaux – to the Bois de Vincennes, where there is a small working farm that uses organic techniques (les techniques biologiques), as well as an educational petting zoo for the kids (une ferme pedagogique). It’s a pretty amazing place, situated in the richest suburbs (les banlieues) of Paris, where parents bring their young children and where anyone has the opportunity, every weekend, to work on the farm.

Surprises like this abound in Paris. It might not be a surprise to someone who grew up in Paris, but the Ville-Lumière has so much to offer that even Parisians cannot know everything about their home city.

When I lived in Paris, I would go for solitary walks and discover my favorite locations that were not found in any typical guidebooks. These sights were places of serenity – like the Parc Montsouris, surprising discoveries – like the working beehives (les ruches) and small vineyard found in the small park, named after French singer Georges Brassens, around the block from where we lived, and, of course, historical sites of tragic past events – like the site of the razed Vélodrome d’hiver (a vélodrome is an indoor track and stadium, used for bicycle racing among other things). Although this building has since been destroyed, 13,152 Jews were held there in deplorable conditions in 1942 before being transferred to concentration camps. In such an old and populated city, it is inevitable to stumble upon these secrets, whether they are serene scenes of nature or memories of a tragic past.

So, while many of you have visited the magnificent landmarks of Paris, including la tour Eiffel, le Louvre, and la basilique du Sacré-Coeur – here are some other, more secret and intimate areas that you may have missed out on. Of course, if you have a favorite off-the-beaten-path sight of Paris, please feel free to share – as long as you don’t mind sharing your secret with an audience.

I’m going to start off with a not so secret location, but still a landmark that is overlooked in favor of other and, in my opinion, less impressive structures. La Sainte-Chapelle is a hidden royal medieval chapel, commissioned by King Louis IX, and nestled behind the Conciergerie on the ile de la Cité. This little chapel is without a doubt one of the most incredible churches I have seen and I recommend it to all friends who have plans to visit Paris. While lines can be long during holiday seasons, many tourists miss this because it is not visible from the street. Don’t miss out on it. It’s worth its reputation as the crown jewel of Capetian architecture.

Would you believe me if I told you that you can hike under a large waterfall in Paris? Well, you can. Located in the enormous Bois de Boulogne, on Paris’ southwestern border, is the grande cascade. The Bois de Boulogne is a public park, consisting of over 2000 acres, and created during the reign of Emperor Louis Napoleon. Make sure you spend enough time to wander around Boulogne’s two lakes, eight ponds, and three streams (all man-made yet still breathtakingly beautiful).

Paris is known for its ubiquitous cinémas. Movie going in Paris is such a part of life that you can buy unlimited movie membership cards for surprisingly low monthly fees. And don’t ever feel ashamed to see a movie tout seul – the French take their movie watching seriously; it’s not just a social affair, but an integral part of living well. While there are plenty of cinémas in Montparnasse, check out the under-the-radar La Pagode in the 7th arrondissement instead. It’s an incredible theatre located in an antique Japanese pagoda. Come early and enjoy green tea in the oriental garden.

And I’ve saved the best for last: It might not sound too appetizing, but you can visit les égouts de Paris. What are les égouts? Sewers, of course! The Paris sewer system covers 1300 miles underneath the city and parts of it date back to 1300. There’s even a museum down there, where you can discover the fascinating history of Paris’ underground tunnels. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard from other tourists not to be afraid of the smell – it’s not much worse than the smell of a crowded wagon de métro.

Do you have any favorite areas of Paris that are not main tourist attractions? Tell us what they are and why they are so special.

Keep learning French with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!


  1. Keith Larsen:

    We love this walk – Old rail trail converted to greenery and flowers also goes between two building and over a park. Lots to see but it takes time 4.8 K took us about 4 hours and then more time at the Lake in the Bois de Vincennes area.

    I think the name changed though.
    Promenade plantée – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaée‎
    Promenade plantée is located in Paris … The Promenade plantée (French for tree -lined walkway) or the Coulée verte (French for green course) is a 4.7 km (2.9 …

    • Elizabeth Schmermund:

      @Keith Larsen Thanks, Keith! That sounds like another beautiful sight — there are so many gems in and around Paris!

  2. Gilly:

    I discovered the sewer museum by accident when I had a couple of hours to spare, and have recommended it many times since. It is a fascinating insight into a subject which affects us all. Not to be missed!