Traveling can be eye-opening, breathtaking, and quite often life-changing, but it can easily become overwhelming, too. Despite its many charms, Paris, with its narrow streets, an abundance of sites and 33 million annual visitors, can sometimes be too much for the tuckered-out tourist. With its typical panache, however, the city provides a varied selection of culturally-rich places for visitors and locals alike to seek refuge. Here are just a few.
This modest spot is often overshadowed (sometimes even literally) by its more famous big brother, the Centre Pompidou. Located in an unremarkable recessed building on the Place Beaubourg, this humble haven is a reconstruction of 20th-century Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s workshop. Having spent his prime creative years in Paris, the prolific artist donated his 15th-arrondissement atelier to the city in his will. Today, it’s just the place to escape the Centre’s hustle and bustle and spend a quiet hour or two among the soothing organic sculptures, drawings, and photographs.
With its sculptural mausoleums, elaborate burial chambers, and a profusion of marble and stone in all styles, this leafy 108-acre burial ground is haunting and beautiful. Ancient cobbled alleys lined with well-tended graves and stately oak, maple, and ash trees give Père Lachaise the atmosphere of an outdoor cathedral. With a sweeping view of the city and benches throughout, this 20th-arrondissement resting place is a welcome respite for tired tourists and locals. See if you can find the resting places of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, or Frédéric Chopin as you stroll among the cemetery’s 70,000 graves.
Across from the Louvre in the 1st arrondissement sits the Palais Royal. Built in 1629 for Cardinal Richelieu (attributed with having uttered the famous line “the pen is mightier than the sword”), this sprawling palace today houses several government bodies, including the Ministry of Culture, the Constitutional Council, and the national library (Bibliothèque nationale de France). And while the Palais Royal’s entrance faces the swank, touristy rue Saint-Honoré, its lesser-known inner courtyard, the Cour d’honneur, is an urban sanctuary. Check out artist Daniel Buren’s much-Instagrammed stunted, striped columns, dubbed Les Deux Plateaux, or grab a coffee and outdoor table at Café Kitsune for a quiet courtyard moment.
Like something out of Harry Potter, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève’s hallowed reading room features soaring ceilings, large glass windows, cathedral-like arches and decorative iron supports. Shelves line the great room’s walls, while row upon row of reading tables, conveniently equipped with lamps, fill the central space. A reverent hush fills the hall, as readers browse shelves, turn pages, or meditate over ancient tomes. While this public library requires visitors to sign up for a lending card (for free), it’s worth the five-minute process to gain entrance to this awe-inspiring building, whose holdings include a hefty literary inheritance from the late Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève. Find it across the street from the Pantheon (5th arrondissement), in the city’s Latin Quarter.
Throughout the years, the gently sloping Buttes-Chaumont have played host to, among other unpleasant things, a dump, an abattoir, and a public hanging site. Today, this one-time no man’s land is one of Paris’s most popular outdoor destinations. Carpeting a 61-acre portion of Paris’s outlying 19th arrondissement, the park’s winding paths feature a panoply of both domestic and imported flora, including ginkgo bilobas, ornamental pears, and Himalayan cedars. Bring a blanket and bask on the park’s grassy knolls, or go exploring and discover the Buttes Chaumont’s Sibylle Temple, limestone grotto, or its lake-spanning bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel.
The triangular Place Dauphine holds pride of place on the western tip of the Île de la Cité, the Seine-bound island on which visitors can also find Notre Dame cathedral. Originally built in the 17th century by Henry IV for his son, the Dauphin, the tree-studded area is a welcome sanctuary on the often overrun island. Come here with a croissant, grab yourself a bench, and spend a quiet moment admiring the surrounding houses’ classic dormer roofs and quaint brick façades.
Opened in 1989 by Canadian Brian Spence, the Abbey Bookshop sits comfortably tucked away on the 5th arrondissement’s rue de la Parcheminerie. Housed in a one-time hotel in a neighborhood that historically brought together scribes and bookmakers of all ilks, the packed bookshop is an ode to Anglophone literature. Duck into this heritage building and get lost among the many titles.
Auguste Rodin, the father of modern sculpture, broke with conventional practice when he began sculpting realistic human bodies, with all their flaws and imperfections. Today, the 7th arrondissement’s Musée Rodin pays homage to the great artist with over 30,000 works, including period antiques, photographs, paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures. Spend a day wandering among the pale forms and neutral rooms of the museum’s regal Hôtel Biron mansion, or head to the seven and a half-acre sculptural garden to wander among the greenery and bronze statues for a spell.
Hiding away in the back alleys of the Marais, Fragments provides a quiet place to indulge in a bite and a killer cup of coffee in peace and quiet. Despite its popularity, the compact café is gloriously calm, with seating options inside and out. Staple snacks like avocado and eggs on toast, daily soups, and the requisite sweet bars and squares provide the ideal pick-me-up for long days spent exploring. Bonus: a colorful poster of Bruce Lee watches benevolently from the wall behind the espresso machine.
Created by Louis XIII’s physician as a medicinal herb garden in the 17th century, the Jardin des Plantes is Paris’s main botanical garden. Since its inception, the garden has grown to include animal and mineral specimens as well: a Museum of Evolution, a Museum of Mineralogy and Geology, a Museum of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology, a Botany Museum, and a menagerie all call the Jardin des Plantes home. Garden-side, visitors can spend a lazy afternoon among the 58 acres flora. It’s a veritable green getaway and undoubtedly one of the city’s most interesting places.
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