Alternative Things to Do in Paris

26 May 2024

We toyed with filling this list with the most popular Paris experiences in a lazy attempt to make some point about mainstream now being alternative or vice versa. Obviously, we didn't do that, although you never know what will creep into the latter parts.

Pay attention, dear reader. We all know those famous Parisian experiences, but that's not really our thing here at IYP. Do you know what is our thing? Alternative things to do, that's what. 

Alternative Paris: 59 Rivoli Squat © Stefan Leijon, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED

Explore a bank turned squat turned gallery 

These are difficult times for squats, although the ethos of such places surely means that the artists wouldn't have it any other way. The curious facade of 59 Rivoli suggests a certain creativity, and for seven glorious years at the start of the 21st century, this old bank was an artist-dominated squat famous for thrilling performances and debaucherous parties. It has lost a little of its edge since being legalised in 2006, but 59 Rivoli remains a thriving hub of creativity in this most creative city.

Knock on a fake doorway

From the outside, it looks just like an ordinary door. On the inside? Well, there's nothing. One of many fake doorways in Paris, the "entrance" for Lés Spécialistes on Rue Chabon is a cheeky piece of art, although we aren't entirely sure of its meaning. Does it need a meaning? No, it doesn't. 

Let a little magic into your life

It's magic! Paris has many museums, but only one of them is truly magical. The Musée de la Magie (Museum of Magic) is housed in the cellars under an old house in the 4th arrondissement, adding another layer of strangeness to a visit. The museum tells the story of magic shows in the city and is a weird visit from start to finish, and probably one to avoid if you aren't fond of creepy faces. We think they are magic, of course.
Alternative Paris: Deyrolle taxadermist © Valdlentin CC-SA-BY-4.0

Taxidermy, taxidermy, taxidermy

We are unashamed taxidermy enthusiasts here at In Your Pocket, so, of course, we're going to recommend a visit to a 19th-century taxidermy shop in Paris. Early 19th century, to boot, as the fabulous Deyrolle opened its doors to would-be taxidermy buyers in 1831. The prices are pretty steep (€30,000 for a polar bear), but there are bargains to be found. A duckling for €100? We'll take it! Deyrolle doubles up as a museum telling its own history, and what a fascinating journey that is. This should be one of the main things to do in Paris, clearly, but maybe we should calm down. Taxidermy! 

Hire a private detective

Of course, we sincerely hope you are never in a position where you need to hire a private detective, but you won't find many in Paris with more experience than those at Duluc Detective. A green neon sign on Rue de Louvre heralds the agency's headquarters, which started its undercover investigations in 1913. Duluc is now running under its third generation of detectives and has an impressive track record of getting the job done. Still, we hope you don't need these services.

Stroll around a park with a dark history

Paris has many parks, and the beautiful Parc des Buttes Chaumont is among the finest. Located in the 19th arrondissement, this 61-acre stretch of green has been open to the public since 1867, but that only tells part of the story. It was here that the Gibbet of Montfaucon was located, where the hanging bodies of the executed were left on display as a warning to would-be criminals. The practice stopped in the late 18th century, at which point it became a sewage dump and a place for disposing of dead animals. Baby steps, you could say. Today, it is a gorgeous park, so maybe focus on that instead of the whole "death" part of its history.
Alternative Paris: Sewer Museum © Shadowgate, CC2.0

Appreciate the importance of sewage management

Sticking with sewage, how about spending a morning at the Paris Sewer Museum? Wait, where are you going? The Musée des Égouts de Paris is a much more pleasant experience than its subject matter suggests, and the history of sewage is genuinely fascinating. Okay, not the history of sewage, but the history of how it was managed. Once upon a time, waste was just thrown out onto the street, which goes a long way to explaining how plagues and epidemics were so common. The museum organises sewer tours to go with the wealth of information it throws up. 

Worship at the altar of pork

The Church of St. Eustache is one of the most fascinating religious structures in the city, bringing various architectural styles together in search of harmony. Of course, we're more interested in the pork, and the Chapel of the Pork Butchers is unlike anywhere else in town. The Corporation des Charcutiers has long held sway in these parts, and sway usually brings structures. Thus, the chapel was constructed, and its interior is a treasure trove of swine-related imagery. If you've never seen stained glass windows depicting scenes of pork butchery, you're in for a treat. Once you've paid homage, head to nearby Au Pied de Cochon for a porky feast.

Take a selfie with a rhino

Rhinos are awesome. Few animals on this magnificent planet of ours are as impressive as the rhinoceros, with its iconic horn and tank-like body, and Paris has long had a completely understandable love for the mighty herbivore. So much so that influential 19th-century sculptor Alfred Jacquemart made a monument to the beast in front of the Musee d'Orsay. The world needs more rhino statues.
Alternative Paris: Rhino sculpture by Alfred Jacquemart © Guilhem Vellut, CC2.0

Get a sandwich from a Renault

There is obviously not enough food on this list so far, so let's embrace our appetite and get ourselves a chunky sandwich and frites from a Renault. That sums up the experience of La Guez Mere, a takeaway joint on Rue de Belleville that combines French and North African ingredients into delicious sandwiches. The Renault part? That'll be the facade of the place.

Visit a brothel

Not an actual brothel, of course, but a building that made its name as a house of hedonism in the first of the 20th century. Named after its address, the One-Two-Two was one of the most popular brothels in the city, no small achievement when you consider what city we're talking about. More than 300 horndogs a day visited in its pomp, including famous names like Humphrey Bogart, Mae West, Cary Grant, and more. It was as much a place to be seen as a place to embrace the business of dirt, although one often followed the other.

Go back in time in Butte-aux-Cailles

Not literally, don't worry. Paris is chaotic at the best of times, but relative peace and serenity can be found in Butte-aux-Cailles, a tranquil neighbourhood in the 13th arrondissement known for its sleepy cafes and gentle slopes. Its cobbled streets are a world away from the mania of the city, although the abundance of street art suggests the creative juices aren't afraid to flow this way. Maybe that juice flowed through the Bièvre River, now covered over and visible only via a collection of golden plaques in the neighbourhood.
Alternative Paris: La Butte aux Cailles © Guilhem Vellut, CC2.0

Shop at Supermarket of Hell

You'll need your imagination for this one, but we're going to assume that yours is plenty active. The Monoprix at 52 Rue Pierre Fontaine may look like your everyday supermarket, but unaware shoppers don't realise that they are actually doing their groceries in hell. Le Cabaret de l'Enfer (The Cabaret of Hell) once stood here, an 18th arrondissement cabaret known citywide for its debauchery and commitment to thrills. Actually, it was mostly known for its facade, a terrifying face welcoming guests into the devil's dancehall. The cabaret was eventually replaced by a supermarket. In capitalism's eternal wisdom, the facade was removed and replaced with the ten-a-penny front we see today. Somehow, that is even more terrifying.

Admire the street art of Belleville

You don't need us to tell you that Paris is an artistic city, but we'll ram the point home until it sticks. The museums and galleries are world-famous, but art runs through the veins of every Parisian neighbourhood, and nowhere is this more evident than in beautiful Belleville. Once an independent commune free of Parisian pestering, formerly working-class Belleville is packed with gorgeous graffiti big and small, from curious space invaders to drunk owls and beyond.

Pay your respects at the boneyard of beasts

Yeah, we feel a bit bad for using that subheading, but here we are. Considered by many to be the first pet cemetery (wait, what) in the modern world, the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (Cemetery of Dogs and Animals) is exactly what it says on the tin. You'll find the final resting place of many beasts here, from dogs to cats via monkeys, horses and even fish, although maybe don't think about it too much. Famous pets, childhood pets, pets of pets, they are all here. The beasty burial ground was established in 1899 and features many a monument, including one for Barry the Rescue Dog at the entrance. Now, the morality of pets is a hot topic in In Your Pocket HQ, but there is something melancholy about this place. People sure do love pets.
Alternative Paris: Jardin des Plantes, Carousel of the Dodo © Flickr, Ruth Temple CC BY 2.0 DEED

Ride the carousel of lost creatures

Sticking with animals, the so-called Dodo Manège isn't your ordinary carousel. What looks like a harmless children's ride is actually a homage to extinct and endangered animals, which you will notice comprise the mounts on this merry-go-round. What do we find? The dodo obviously makes an appearance, as does the horned turtle, the aepyornis, and a giraffe-looking creature known as the sivatherium. There are also gorillas, pandas and lions, reminding riders that many animals are on the edge of oblivion today. The whole thing can be a bit nightmarish, but what is more nightmarish than the complete extinction of your species? The carousel is located in the Jardin des Plantes, near the Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, which makes sense.

Drink in the footsteps of legends

It's not exactly an unknown attraction, but there is something about being drunk and sad in Harry's New York Bar that strikes a different chord. The neon lights on 5 Rue Daunou beckon punters into a world once inhabited by everyone from Ernest Hemingway and Rita Hayworth to Coco Chanel, Sinclair Lewis, Humphrey Bogart and more. Harry's is one of the quintessential spots on tour through early 20th-century Paris. We're not entirely sure about the claims that the Bloody Mary originated here, but hey, when in Paris.

The Final Cry of the Guillotine

This is all getting a little macabre, but that's Paris. Paris and the guillotine go hand in hand (there must be a joke in there), but t all that remains of that famous beheading device are five dents in Rue de la Roquette and Rue de la Croix Faubin. That's it. The five dents represent where the guillotine was held in place for 69 public beheadings in the second half of the 19th century. There isn't much more to say about that.

Declare your love in every language

We can't finish on beheading, alcoholism and extinction, so we will end instead in the only way that makes sense for Paris. The Wall of Love (Mur des Je t'aime, everything sounds better in French) was established in 2000 and contains little more than the words "I Love You," although by "little more" we mean "written in over 300 languages." Nowhere does love quite like Paris. Nowhere does pork, sewage and death quite like the City of Light, for that matter.


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