Alternative things to do in Paris

Ask your friends for their Paris tips

Murray checked with his brothers for Paris tips and came up with gold. One suggested the Louis Vuitton Foundation for art and Rue Montorguiel for pantry supplies; the other pointed us to the Rodin Musee and Fish La Boissonerie (which turned out to be our best Paris eating experience). And our daughter Phoebe suggested venturing up the Arc de Triomphe for a panoramic view. If we hadn’t asked, we wouldn’t have visited these amazing places – they don’t usually feature in the ‘top 10’ lists. This tip leads to the next the three tips…

High places that aren’t the Eiffel

Queues at the Eiffel Tower are almost as long as the tower is high. While you might have your heart set on ascending this icon for a big view of Paree, there are alternatives. We climbed the Arc de Triomphe – 280 steps to a magnificent view from the centre of Paris’s hub. The best thing about this view? It has the Eiffel Tower in it – something you can never achieve from the tower itself.

From the top of the Arc de Triomphe you get a view of Paris that includes this Meccano monstrosity

Musee Rodin – statues in the jardin

The Louvre is intimidating – such a huge collection and so many tourist buses full of lookers. It’s also a little too obvious for my liking; often a tick-box experience for bucket list travellers. But Musee Rodin is the opposite. It’s small, focused and perfectly formed. You get to learn about the father of contemporary sculpture while wandering a gorgeous rose garden and historic mansion house. This guy was a legend – he went beyond the brief to change the face of sculpture, even if it meant pissing off his clients. You’ll find the Gates of Hell here too – a highly believable portal to the dark side.

Rodin’s Gates of Hell – the creation that kick-started his controversial career

Frank Gehry creation for the Louis Vuitton Foundation

This is architecture that looks like it’s been consuming a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. Or taking party pills. Or both. The fact that there weren’t any gallery exhibitions on when we visited the Louis Vuitton Foundation didn’t matter a jot. The building itself is a work of art on an astounding scale. In the words of Murray’s brother, “It must have cost a bomb to build”. Several bombs I think.

Architecture without limits – the Louis Vuitton Foundation building designed by Frank Gehry
Inside, the LV Foundation building is even more extraordinary

The Fork app for easier eating

By my reckoning, there are more restaurants per capita in Paris than anywhere else in the world. The city is saturated with eating places; filled to Mr Creosote bursting. The choice is overwhelming, which makes finding the right place for dinner a significant challenge. Fortunately I discovered The Fork (aka La Fourchette), a mobile app that greatly simplifies the task of identifying a decent restaurant from reliable reviews, then making a booking. It also overcomes the language barrier. My French sucks.

Walk out, metro home

Why are Parisian’s so svelte? I think it’s because they walk everywhere – at pace. A lot of them smoke too, an unhealthy but proven way to increase metabolism by about 10%.

Walking as quickly as a Parisian is an excellent way to discover Paris and work off last night’s crème brulee. Plus you’ll feel less like a cliched tourist than you will on the HoHo. However after a couple of hours on the hoof, energy begins to flag (even if you paused for a macaron or two), so catching the metro home is a foot preserver.

The Paris metro is fast and efficient, and the automatic ticket machines speak perfect English. All rides cost the same – $1.90. You can buy tickets individually or several at a time. We found the best deal was a batch of 10 tickets for €14.50.

To find the perfect metro formula for every trip, download Citymapper from your app store – it does a magnificent job of Paris. We also used it for London and Lisbon.

A chic morning tea in Paris – fuel for walking

Brunch at La Recyclerie

Our Airbnb host Sebastien told us about the disused railway that circles Paris, known as La Petite Ceinture. It’s a skinny green belt for walking, cycling and gardening. While checking out this refreshing strip of lushness we discovered Paris’s most hipster of restaurants – La Recyclerie in Boulevard Ornano. Located in an old railway station, this eating place is an exercise in sustainability.

To quote their values blurb: La Recyclerie is a third-party leisure center focused on the new practices of everyday life, bathed in a universe that emphasizes low-tech, tangible, manual, transmission and reappropriation of useful traditions.

Eating brunch here gives you hope for the planet. Check out their website.

La Recyclerie; hipster happiness with a smaller carbon footprint
Hipster dessert at La Recyclerie – lots of nuts and no sugar. Actually very delicious.

Notre Dame during mass

Our address at Rue Saint-Martin was within earshot of Notre Dame’s bells; not visiting would have been downright rude. While there was a queue to see the interior of this behemoth of a church, it was only because security checks were required – and that’s fair enough. The French are looking after their gorgeous old stuff by ensuring visitors are tourists, not terrorists.

Our visit coincided with mass at high noon. It did seem somewhat intrusive to be sightseeing while others were praying, but the chanting and singing brought Notre Dame to life. What an awesome pile of bricks. Religion’s not my thing, but I appreciate the architecture and art it inspires.

Notre Dame is an epic convergence of art, architecture and supernatural stories