A Guided Walk in Paris with Locals: 5 Non-Touristy Things to See

1 Mar 2018

Been to Paris several times? Join me on a guided walk with locals to enjoy Paris' hidden trails.

The City of Lights is the perfect city to lose yourself in on a long walk. Personally, I love how tangible history feels through architecture. Walking through the old streets and markets, I could almost believe I'm walking back through time and it feels enchanting.

Being from London, it's easy to hop on the Eurostar and be in Paris within a couple of hours, so I love popping over there. Whether I'm visiting friends in Paris or on a weekend getaway I tend to skip the main tourist attractions and go for the more unusual things to do. I like to do Paris like a local.

The walk I'm going to share with you still takes you through some majors landmarks without actually getting stuck in the tourist lines.

1. Sail a (Toy) Boat in the Luxembourg Gardens Pond

By xiquinhosilva from Cacau - 57246-Paris, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67416276

Marie de' Medici from Florence became queen of France in 1610. Although her husband Henry IV was not wealthy, she brought her own fortune from Florence and invested heavily in several building projects in France. One of them was the Palais de Luxembourg, which she dubbed Palais Médicis.

We start our walk at the Porte Observatoire (either West or East will do) of the Jardins and walk through the canopy of lined up trees towards the Grand Basin. On any given day you can also explore the grounds, which incorporate English gardens (informal) and French gardens (formal and symmetric), tennis, boules and basketball courts, an apiary, an orchard and much more.

Today we stop by the Grand Basin to watch children as they push their rented toy sail boats. This is a great pastime and tradition - trying to get the boat to the other side of the basin is more challenging than it looks. If you're feeling skilful, give it a go.

When we've done enough people-watching, we check out the Marie de Medicis Fountain and then exit via Porte Edmond Rostand, walking towards the Panthéon.

2. Admire the Architecture of the Panthéon, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and the Church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont

By Marie-Lan Nguyen - Own work, CC BY 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14961970
By Marie-Lan Nguyen - Own work, CC BY 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14961970

As we reach the Panthéon we can see a long queue of tourists waiting to go in, but if you're lucky and you find yourself there during a quiet time see if you can nip in for free (first Sunday of every month and free to EU nationals between 18-25).

Left of the Panthéon (if you are facing its facade) is the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. Its exterior looks plain, but don't be deceived. Inside is a palace for contemplation and learning, a masterpiece in ironwork and masonry. It was built by Henri Labrouste in the 1800s under influence from his previous studies of Roman architecture. It can be visited briefly in many different ways: you can join online and pick up your library card or you can go for Discovery Tours or Heritage visits. These are free - check their website for more details.

Continue on Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève to pop into the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont (the Patron Saint of Paris). Here you can admire the French Gothic architecture in all its glory. When you come out of the church and make a right, check out the steps from Midnight in Paris where Gil sees a 1920s Peugeot at midnight.

As you walk down the Rue, pop into cool record shop La Dame Blanche and pick up an old classic to remind you of your trip or as a souvenir.

3. Spot Secret Remains of Paris' History

By Poulpy - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20344778

We follow the road until it intersects with Boulevard Saint-Germain and take Rue Lagrange to cross Pont au Doble. This brings us in front of Notre-Dame, but we keep walking past it on Rue d'Arcole and take a right on Rue Chanoinesse.

At this point, our friends point to us a red door on number 26. Behind it lies a courtyard featuring one of the most bizarre architectural choices in Paris: the courtyard is paved in gravestones from former churches that closed in the 19th century. Gothic writing can be seen on almost half of the courtyard's pave stones. To see this you'll have to get lucky, however. The courtyard door is mostly closed.

Now we turn around and take the corner on the right - Rue de la Colombe and then another right on Rue des Ursin. As we approach the end of this road my friend points out a marker on the wall. It shows the River Seine's water levels in the 1900s, just on the corner of Rue des Ursin and Rue des Chantres.

The 1910 Great Flood of Paris happened as the Seine got swollen with rainfall from the previous December. People ignored the warning signs as the markers showed the river had risen to 8 meters above normal. Although the river didn't flood Paris through the river banks, it did so through tunnels, sewers and drains.

4. Eat Galettes and Ice-Cream at Île Saint-Louis

By David Monniaux - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92101

We walk on to Quai aux Fleurs next to the Seine to cross Pont Saint Louis to the Île Saint-Louis. This isle is one of Paris' two natural isles (the other being Île de la Cité). It was planned and built in the 17th century and today houses artists and academics amongst its narrow, quiet streets.

This is one of my favourite places in central paris, an oasis of calm away from the masses. When you get here, I suggest you explore it at your leisure. My recommended route is to go down Quai d'Orleans and then a left on Rue des Deux Ponts, not before checking out the facade of Marie Curie's house on 36 Quai de Béthune.

On Rue des Deux Ponts I'll have a savoury crepe (galette) at Crêpe en l'Isle and then devour an ice-cream at Berthillon Glacier - easily the most famous ice-cream in Paris.

5. Take a Long Afternoon Walk to Petit Palais

Now we head over to the 4th Arrondissement via Pont Marie. The sun is beating down as we walk  on Parc des Rives de Seine (the scenic route) and the river glistens as boats go past us.

This is a long, leisurely walk of around 45 minutes, but we're not in a hurry. We pass some antique book stalls, record stalls and artists with their watercolours for sale. I love browsing the goods though I don't often buy souvenirs. I'd love to buy a book but I can't read French. After a few minutes Chris rejoins us with a Bruce Springsteen record - The River - that set him back €10.

The Petit Palais is the City of Paris Fine Art Museum. It's a beautiful building, erected for the 1900 Exposition Universelle and reopened in 2005 after years of renovations. Today, it's free to the public to enjoy - there's art from several periods as well as temporary exhibitions. The architecture itself is fascinating, and features a lot of murals and painted ceilings.

The best-kept secret to this gorgeous place is its cafe, tucked away towards the back of the ground floor. It has seating outside facing the garden, and it's here that we finally all sit down to enjoy an afternoon coffee and some delicious patisserie.

Do you have a secret Paris walking route you love to follow? Share it with us on the comments below!

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