If you thought Paris’s secrets were out, then think again. The museums, parks, galleries and cultural centres on the list below have something both for first-time visitors who would like to spend their time getting to know the city rather than in queues and crowds, as well as those searching for new horizons on its cultural landscape.
Monnaie de Paris
If you’re looking for things to do in Paris with a historical bent, then there’s plenty to be gained from the Monnaie de Paris, France’s longest-serving institution and the oldest enterprise in the world. The Paris Mint has been issuing coins since AD 864 – that’s more than 1,150 years – and its collection of ancient currency, medals and other items of metalwork is a national treasure (no pun intended). But this strangely under-promoted museum has an altogether different side. Its temporary exhibitions, three or four held each year, feature contemporary art to rival anything you’ll see at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris or the Centre Pompidou.
Opened in 1921 as a chic cinema, Le Louxor’s brightly decorated facade and interiors match its colourful past perfectly. An example of Egyptian-inspired Art Deco design at its best, the building has been a regal palace of cinema, Paris’s largest gay nightclub and one of the city’s most notorious abandoned places. If you can’t get a seat at its rooftop bar, just head across the road to the effortlessly cool Brasserie Barbès.
If you’re looking for activities in Paris that involve cycling, running, walking or simply sitting and taking in the day, head away from the masses to the Promenade Plantée. Stretching for 4.7 kilometres (2.9 miles) between Bastille and the Bois de Vincennes, this garden pathway that cuts through treetops and apartment buildings is partially built upon the remains of a 19th-century railway viaduct. The project, inaugurated in 1993, was the inspiration behind New York’s much more famous (and crowded) High Line in Chelsea.
Le Centquatre is the place to go if you enjoy discovering the unexpected. This massive converted municipal mortuary, located in one of Paris’s least affluent neighbourhoods, has rapidly become the city’s most vibrant cultural centre. Drop by any day of the week and you’ll find musicians, dancers and performance artists rehearsing in its wide-open spaces, as well as a diverse mix of shows in its temporary exhibition spaces. There are also shops, cafés and food trucks so you can really make a day of it.
Despite its grandeur, architectural and cultural significance, and its prime location on the edge of the Latin Quarter, one of Paris’s most talked-about and visited districts, the Grande Mosquée de Paris remains a relatively unknown retreat even for those who know Paris well. The entire mosque complex stretches to more than a hectare and contains sections reserved for worship and study as well as a souk, hammam, North African restaurant and café, all set in a beautiful tiled courtyard filled with orange blossoms and playful sparrows.
The Villa La Roche and its neighbour, the Maison Jeanneret, are must-visit sites for architecture buffs and, in particular, appreciators of the work of Modernist master Le Corbusier. These residential properties were the Swiss architect’s third Parisian commission. Along with the Immeuble Molitor in the 16th arrondissement and the Villa Savoye in the suburb of Poissy, they were recently included in a new transnational UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, the Villa La Roche houses a museum dedicated to Le Corbusier, containing more than 8,000 drawings, photographs and notes.
In the past couple of years, 59 Rivoli has emerged as one of the most rewarding artistic experiences on Paris’s rue de Rivoli, which is saying something considering it shares an address with the Louvre and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. This converted squat is a great place to see contemporary art and, without bankrupting yourself, to buy it. The six-storey building, every inch of which is painted, is divided into studios for 30 artists. You can chat with these artists as you try to find the perfect piece to take away with you.
Much is said about Paris being the capital of fashion, both as a destination for the industry’s elite for seven days of catwalks and cocktails, and for shoppers of every style and budget. In all the commotion surrounding the newest concept stores, boutiques and vintage treasure troves, it seems like Paris’s Palais Galliera, a museum specialising in the history and genius of clothing, has been sidelined. But it’s well worth the visit.