The top things to see in Paris, not on the usual top 10 lists

 

Time to explore Paris is the ultimate luxury.  But deciding how to spend that precious time is always the challenge.   You can visit the iconic monuments,  Mona Lisa at the LouvreEiffel Tower, and Notre Dame, wade through the crowds and click them off your list.  Or you can take a slightly different road map and experience the history of this great city through some less visited, yet equally ( in  some cases more so)  impressive sites.   The list below is highly subjective but has been honed during my 25 visits in the past 15 years.  These are the sites I return to time and time again and still find I am awed,  inspired and enlightened on each visit.  I would love to hear your favorite, non-top-10-sites that you return to in Paris.  I know it will help me go even further afield when I return in March!

1. Vaux le Vicomte

The model for Versailles and so much more tasteful. Vaux is a short 45 minute drive from Paris so a good one-half day side trip. Built from 1658 to 1661 by Nicolas Fouquet, Minister of Finance to Louis XIV, but its perfection was Fouquet’s downfall. Upon completion, Fouquet threw a lavish party for the King to see his treasure. Louis loved it but was seething that his Minister should have something so much nicer than his own Versailles. Fouquet was thrown into prison and the fabulous trio of designers who had created Vaux, architect Louis Le Vau, landscape architect Andre le Notre and painter and designer Charles Le Brun were quickly requisitioned to work on Versailles. But many agree, they never again found the perfection in design that can be found at Vaux le Vicomte. Be sure to visit on a clear day so you can spend time in the magnificent gardens.

2. Musée Carnavalet

While most tourists flock to the Louvre or the Musée D’Orsay, hidden in the Marais, close to the Place des Vosges is my favorite Paris museum. The Musée Carnavalet showcases the history of Paris from prehistory to the present in two adjoining medieval mansions. Many of the rooms recreate private homes from different periods, including the rooms occupied by Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their family in the Temple Prison. Seeing history through the period furniture and day to day objects presents a very different perspective than that often seen in museum displays. Also not to be missed is Fouquet’s art nouveau jewelry shop, relocated here from Rue Royale.

3. Conciergerie

A former royal palace and prison that has beautiful medieval vaulted ceilings, but is most noted as the place from where nearly 3,000 people were sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution. This included Marie Antoinette and you can see the cell she occupied here which is much more barren than the earlier rooms at Temple Prison as shown at the Musée Carnavalet.

4. Le Grand Véfour

This historic restaurant near the Louvre is the oldest restaurant in Paris still operating on its original site. If you are looking to splurge on a fine meal, this should be your choice. Both for the food and the history. You could sit in the same seats once occupied by Napoleon and Josephine or Victor Hugo. Both are marked with brass plaques.

5. Napoleon III Apartments

At the Louvre, Richelieu Wing, 1st floor, but be sure to ask directions as they are very confusing to find. These rooms recreate the most extravagant, exuberant examples of royal and aristocratic living in Paris during the reign of Napoleon III (1852 to 1870) who was “the” Napoleon’s nephew, also the grandson of Josephine. Less crowded than Versailles but every bit as opulent.

6. Galeries Lafayette

Right behind the Opera Garnier is this magnificent large department store which was completed in 1912. The exquisite stained glass dome and art nouveau staircase belong in a museum. Shopping here is great for everything from designer goods, to cutting edge fashion to food halls (gourmet shop)  that I like better than Harrods. They make it all so easy with an efficient tax refund department downstairs. For superb views of Paris go to the rooftop and enjoy a cafe or ice cream cone while looking over all of Paris.

7. Café de Flore and LesDeux Magots

Return to 19th Century, bohemian Paris on the Left Bank by spending an afternoon over coffee at either or both of these iconic cafes. Present day writers and artists still frequent these favorite spots for Picasso, Hugo and Sartre.

8.  Grand Palais

A classic Beaux-Arts building, the Grand Palais is worth seeing for the impressive glass vault with iron and steel framing.  But beyond the building, you usually can find extraordinary contemporary art exhibitions in this space.  Contemporary art in Paris is prevalent in almost every public space, but the exhibitions in the Grand Palais are always two steps beyond the cutting edge.

What are your must see, always return to, sites in Paris?  Top ten lists aside, it is Paris, so creativity in spending your luxurious days is demanded!

Jean Newman Glock is Director, Global Relations of Connoisseur Travel Ltd.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Comments (14)

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  1. Jason Baum says:

    I would definitely add Musée Marmottan to the list. A converted hunting lodge on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, the tiny gallery includes the painting for which the movement was named, “Impression, Sunrise”. It is basically the Monet family collection and an island of calm in the frenetic island that is Paris.

  2. Great addition, thanks. I will definitely add Musee Marmottan to my March touring list. I also love the Musée Jacquemart-André at 158 Boulevard Haussmann, but thought I had enough of my decorative arts passion in the article. Glad to add it here. Best Jean

  3. Kevin Fu says:

    I will also add Moulin Rouge. It is an interesting place to check out. The Moulin Rouge area was very lively at night and great for a night walk around.

  4. Sofia says:

    Great list! I’ve only spent a couple of days in Paris and only had time to see the most popular places, but next time I go there I’ll check these ones out for sure.

  5. Meg says:

    We’re planning a long weekend in Paris sometime soon. We’ve already done the “must-sees” so it’s nice to have a curated list of some lesser-known treasures. Thanks!

  6. Jean Glock says:

    Thanks Meg and Sofia–let me know what you find and would add to this list. Safe travels.

  7. Jean Glock says:

    Yes! To Moulin Rouge, great evening and fun area. Thanks

  8. Melanie G says:

    I absolutely love Vaux le Vicomte, and would hurry back there when next in Paris.. my other great pleasure is visiting la Place des Voges in the Marais district, ambling around Le Marais, and then walking along the Seine with Notre Dame in view … for another nice day out from Paris try the Chateau de Compiegne as well..very historic if you can get to the forest where the Armistice agreement was signed nearby as well..

  9. Arnold r. Fleek says:

    I was lucky enough to have lived and worked in Paris and can think of two places not mentioned. One is the home of Napolean and Josephine, the Chateau de Malmaison, in the town of Rueil Malmaison west of Paris. The other is the Sainte Chapelle. When you climb the stairs from the lower level of the Sainte Chapelle and walk out into the chapel on the next level the stunning beauty of the floor to ceiling stain glass windows and all the myriad colors displayed on the floor of the chapel in the sun light is dazzling. Paris ville de merveilles!

  10. Nicole says:

    loved the Galeries Lafayette. I could lost in there for days with all the shopping. I don’t think my wallet would like it, though…

  11. German says:

    I think in a lot of places: the Pantheon, the top of Sacre Côeur,.. but if you have a time to wander I will suggest you to walk on the left bank, rive gauche. Start walking in the park Jardin de Luxembourg a beautiful place to spend a morning, go east the Boulevard Port Royal, keep going until the bridge over the Rue Brocca, descend the stairs and follow that street north until it gets renamed as Rue Mouffetard, excelent place for lunch (breakfast, dinner, some drinks, ice cream,…) and get lost in the student crowd of the near by universities.

    I can live in the left bank around Université De La Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter.

  12. Julie says:

    I love Paris! One of my favorite things to do here is just walk around the city and look at the beautiful architecture. Thanks so much for sharing this post!

  13. Marisela says:

    I would add two gorgeous museums not to be missed: MUSEÉ ALBERT KAHN,MUSEÉ ZADKINE and a spectacular park:PARC DE BUTTES CHAMONT

  14. Marisela says:

    Paris has so many charming streets and sites that it’s not easy to mention them in a comment! Go to the Butte-aux-Cailles a lovely neighborhood in the 13th arr. near Place d’Italie, rue de Buci,rue Cler,Rue Daguerre,place Dauphine, Square G. Pierné with its book shaped benches,la Grande Mosquée de Paris, le Viaduc des Arts and Promenade Plantée. Too many things to see and enjoy in this spectacular city!

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