If you thought Paris had given up all its secrets, prepare to think again. The museums, parks, galleries and cultural centers on the list below have something for first-time visitors to the city who can’t be bothered with the queues and crowds of its most popular attractions, as well as those who know the city well and are searching for new horizons on its cultural landscape.
For lovers of history, 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 864AD—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 underpromoted 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.
The brightly decorated façade and interiors of Le Louxor are well matched to its colorful past. Opened in 1921 as a chic cinema, an example of Egyptian-inspired Art Deco design at its best, it has been a soft-porn palace, Paris’s largest gay nightclub, and one of its most depressing abandoned places in its lifetime. Saved by the local community, it was reopened for its original use, in all its former glory, in 2013. 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 a place to cycle, run, walk or simply sit and take in the day, one of the least touristy places in Paris that you can pick is the Promenade Plantée. Stretching for 4.7km (that’s 2.9 miles) between Bastille and the Bois de Vincennes, this garden pathway through treetops and apartment buildings is partially built upon the remains of a 19th-century railway viaduct. The project, inaugurated in 1993, was actually 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 neighborhoods, has rapidly become the city’s most vibrant cultural center. 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 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 secret retreat for visitors in the know. The entire mosque complex stretches to over a hectare and contains sections reserved for worship and study as well as a souk, hammam, North African restaurant and café, set in a beautiful tiled courtyard filled with orange blossoms and playful sparrows.
The Villa La Roche and its neighbor 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 the most rewarding artistic experience 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-story 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.