Paris Less Traveled: 4 Alternatives to the Mona Lisa and the Moulin Rouge
The City of Love… and plenty of alternatives. Image by Sammi Lim.
Paris. Few cities have been so romanticized as the capital of France.
Two months ago I sojourned to the city of my dreams for three weeks. While it was a joy to cross many “Parisian” activities off my bucket list, the truth is, I was slightly disenchanted by the abundance of sell-out tourism.
When one pictures Paris, one hardly imagines the exorbitant prices, the amusement park-like queues outside attractions, or being hounded by souvenir vendors.
Some popular tourist to-dos can easily be substituted for equally authentic pursuits.
For the Art and Architecture Enthusiast
Meeting la Jaconde (the French term for the Mona Lisa) felt not unlike seeing a rock star at a chaotic concert. There was practically a mosh pit in front of the painting! I had to get a boost from my boyfriend to see over the sea of heads.
Visiting Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) or the New National Library of France proved a completely different (and refreshing) experience. Despite this, fewer tourists are likely to pencil BnF into their itineries.
I was thoroughly impressed by the architecture’s mélange of concrete and organic design. BnF is composed of four L-shaped buildings surrounding a lush garden, which evokes the image of open books containing a wealth of knowledge.
The library’s staggering inventory of 14 million publications encompasses manuscripts from Charles V’s collection, dating back to 1368.
Ironically, this state-of-the-art library does not provide WiFi; however, I like the idea of bringing the focus back to print material.
Quai François Mauriac, 75013 Paris, France (13th Arrondisement)
Closest Metro: Bibliotheque François Mitterand OR Quai de la Gare
For the Foodie
Rich in tradition and flavors, French cuisine has a long history of experimenting with ingredients.
But what the French deem conventional might be too adventurous for most palates; for example, escargot (land snails), Cuisses de grenouille (frog legs), and Lapin a la Cocotte (rabbit stew)!
That being said, not all French food is peculiar. Neither do all French favorites originate from France!
A 2011 nationwide poll (conducted by market research group TNS Sofres on behalf of Vie Pratique Gourmand magazine) concluded that couscous, which originates from North Africa, ranks among the top three favorite dishes of the French people. It was introduced to France via colonization.
For a taste of excellent couscous in Paris, head to the Algerian restaurant Les 4 Frères in Belleville. Couscous aside, the flaky byrek (filo-wrapped meat pie) and hearty vegetable stew are highly recommended.
Restaurant Les 4 Freres
37 Boulevard de la Villette, 75010 Paris, France (19th Arrondisement)
Closest Metro: Belleville OR Colonel Fabien
For Those with a Sweet Tooth
Some years ago a particularly palatable blog post brought Fauchon to my attention. I couldn’t wait to get to Paris to gorge myself silly on gourmet confectionary!
But here’s the thing about established Parisian patisseries: One has to fork out a pretty penny for mere mouthfuls. I splurged €7 (about $9.25) on a single Fauchon éclair. All I remember of the pastry is how much it cost.
On the flip side, there’s immigrant food — more Algerian cuisine, to be exact, because it was one of my best discoveries in Paris.
La Bague de Kenza is the stuff sweet dreams are made of. If the window display doesn’t stop you in your tracks, I applaud your self-control.
Step inside and behold silver platters practically groaning under the weight of sweets steeped in rose water and sprinkled with pistachios. Pick a selection to be weighed at the counter. Ten bucks says the total costs less than 10 bucks!
106 Rue Saint-Maur, Paris, France (11th Arrondisement)
Closest Metro: Parmentier OR Rue Saint-Maur
For the Night Owl
Being inside the celebrated nightclub is a different matter. Besides shouldering the hefty cost of €185 for dinner plus entertainment, you’ll have to stomach the crowds; the club is notorious for packing its audiences in like sardines.
Give the Moulin Rouge a miss, and head southwards towards the Seine.
If nightclubs float your boat, Le Batofar, literally a boat turned restaurant; bar; and club, could be your next favorite haunt.
Originally christened LV Osprey, the little vessel was responsible for lighting the seas in formidable conditions.
But 1955 was a lifetime ago. Today, the retired lighthouse boat is one of Paris’s most unique places to dance the night away.
Find Le Batofar “parked” on the Seine between two bridges — Pont de Bercy and Pont de Tolbiac.
11 quai Francois Mauriac, 75013 Paris, France (13th Arrondisement)
Closest Metro: Quai de la Gare OR Bibliotheque François Mitterand
Have you traveled off the beaten path in a major city? Share your suggestions!
Illustrations by Sammi Lim. To check out more of her illustrated writing, visit I Scribe Stories.