These lesser-known but special Paris attractions can enhance your itinerary
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Paris is home to some of the world’s most admired monuments, and beyond those are a bounty of Paris hidden gems to explore.
Paris is my favorite city, and I love leaving room in my Paris itinerary for making unexpected discoveries. The next gem may be waiting around the corner; that’s the magic of Paris. The special places I’ve listed here are ones I’ve especially enjoyed. Consider mixing a few into your Paris itinerary. And comment below if there’s a Paris gem you’ve especially enjoyed on your travels. No doubt you’ll discover some unique and special places as you explore the city of light.
The Panthéon of Paris
The Panthéon is a beautiful neoclassical building where many of France’s most beloved historical figures are buried in a basement crypt: Voltaire, André Dumas and Victor Hugo among them. The American-born singer, dancer and actress, Josephine Baker, was also inducted into the Pantheon in 2021.
The interior of the Pantheon is stunning, and its small size allows it to be an add-on to an afternoon of touring the Left Bank. If you purchase the Paris Museum Pass The Panthéon is among the Paris hidden gems included.
Napoleon III Apartments at the Louvre
Long before it became a museum, the Louvre was a palace. You can experience a slice of palace life with a visit to the Napoleon III Apartments, which remain almost exactly as they were in 1861. They are located in the Louvre Museum’s Richelieu Wing, a quiet contrast to the bustling Denon Wing, where the Mona Lisa is located, so it’s easy to miss this Paris gem.
As of 2023, the Louvre is reducing daily capacity, so you must make an advance timed-entry reservation. If you are also visiting the Denon Wing and you are entering early, it’s best to see it first, as the Richelieu Wing will be much less crowded. Note the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
Les Puces Flea Market
Les Puces flea market in the north of Paris is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world and offers a treasure trove for antique hunters looking for hidden gems to bring home. This weekend market has everything from vintage French posters to antique carpets and baskets brimming with sterling silver flatware.
On a recent trip, I bought a vintage ice bucket and a set of five champagne coups (five was what the vendor had available). I loved my experience at the Paris Puces and plan to return on a future trip. Most vendors did seem to take credit cards.
Pro tip: if you are on the hunt for anything breakable, such as dishes or glassware, bring bubble wrap from home. The vendor will likely wrap your breakables in newspaper, which may not be enough to protect them during your travels.
Napoleon III was the first President of France from 1848 to 1852, as well as its last Emperor. Crime was quite rampant in 19th century Paris, and Napoleon wanted a quick and safe jaunt to the opera house from his palace (the Louvre), so he had one built a short carriage ride away.
The stunning architecture and opulent interior were the work of Charles Garnier and completed in 1875. I highly recommend a visit to this Paris gem. You can take a self-guided tour or a guided 1.5 hour for only about 18 euros. Book ahead for a guided tour as capacity is limited.
You can also purchase tickets to see an opera, ballet or symphony here, immersing yourself in the splendor of this Paris gem. (Be sure when you are booking that the performance is staged here, not the Opéra Bastille, the modern opera house in the 12th arrondissement.)
There’s so much to admire about this stunning building including the theatre ceiling painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. It caused quite a stir — visit and find out why.
The garden at the Rodin Museum in Paris features more than 300 works by the world’s most celebrated sculptor. The sculpture “Three Shades” is pictured here in the foreground with the stunning Hôtel Biron beyond. It dates to 1732. Rodin created a workshop here in 1908 and it was home until his death in 1917.
The work of the famous French sculptor is beautifully showcased in a sprawling garden and historic mansion. Admission is included in the Paris Pass and typically does not require a reservation. The line was very short when I visited on a Wednesday afternoon in autumn. I also thought the gift shop had some lovely things. Museum gift shops are one of my favorite places to shop for souvenirs to bring home. My husband Sean greatly admires Rodin, so I was able to buy him a few things and buy myself an adorable Rodin Tote Bag.
The Luxembourg Gardens are my favorite green space in Paris. It is a beautiful respite from the city streets and worth visiting the gorgeous Luxembourg Palace from the 17th century, which now houses government offices.
It’s easy to miss the garden’s hidden gem which is tucked beyond the Palace: The Medici Fountain. Built in 1630 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV, it is one of the most beautiful fountains in all of Paris. It was restored in 2021 so this gem is even more sparkling and beautiful than in this photo (taken before the latest restoration).
Pictured at the end of the fountain is the sculpture “Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea”, by Auguste Ottin. It was added to the fountain in 1866. The quiet, leafy setting is a lovely place to relax or read a book, and it’s an excellent place for photos.
Places des Vosges
The Place des Vosges is a historic gem of green space in the popular Le Marais district of Paris. It divides the 3rd and 4th arrondissements.
It was inaugurated in 1612, making it the oldest planned square in Paris, and a perfect spot to sit under the shade of the chestnut trees and watch Parisians enjoy time in the park.
It’s also a chance to admire the remarkable architecture. The house fronts were built exactly the same: red brick with stone accents and pitched slate roofs over vaulted arcades. It reflects the vision of King Henry IV, who was fastidious in the urban planning of his capital. He also oversaw the building of La Place Dauphine, another of my Paris gems, listed below.
The arcades surrounding Places des Vosges are now filled with shops and cute cafés. Stop by Carette for tea and a palmier (25 Pl. des Vosges). Sometimes flea markets are held in the park as well. Note that you are very nearby the Musée Carnavalet. It’s he next gem on our list.
This free museum offers a unique insight into the city as it tells the story of the history of Paris. The exhibits are varies and creative offering a different perspective on Paris. After exploring the museum, relax in the pretty courtyard garden and enjoy a drink or light bite.
Tucked away in Le Marais, the garden is a hidden gem in its own right. It’s free to enter; feel free to relax here even if you don’t order anything. My friends and I enjoyed a drink and some time in the garden on our recent trip. It was a lovely experience. I also thought the gift shop was especially charming so save some time to have a look around. It’s located at the edge of the garden, near the exit.
I adore this historic public square which dates to 1610. This gem is an archiectural time capsule, built two centuries before much of the rest of Paris which features Haussmann architecture. Place Dauphine is tucked away in the heart of old Paris, on the Île de la Cité. It’s the perfect place for lunch or a Kir Royale on a warm day. I like the restaurant La Rose de Paris which is open all day. I visit Place Dauphine on every trip to Paris; it’s such a special place. It’s also an ideal place for a drink or bite before or after visiting Sainte Chapelle, the next Paris gem on my list.
This 13th-century church is a must-see in Paris. Its stunning stained glass panes have survived intact for centuries, and depict scenes from the old and new testaments. The Sainte-Chapelle was built in seven years, remarkable for that time period. Its style is Gothic and its located in the oldest part of Paris, Île de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century. It was originally built to hold important religious relics including the Crown of Thorns. Visit in the morning or late afternoon to see the chapel aglow with color as sunlight streams in from the east or the west.
Note that Sainte Chapelle is located around the corner from another Paris gem, Notre Dame. It is closed after a catastrophic fire, but is expected to reopen in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Pont Alexandre III
The most beautiful bridge in Paris is easy to miss if you zoom over it in a taxi, so take the time for a leisurely stroll across this Belle Époque beauty, admiring its incredible detail. It’s especially nice at sunset, when its sculptures are lit with a golden glow, and you can admire the Eiffel Tower in the distance. The tower begins to sparkle at dusk each evening and continues to do so on the hour, until its final show at 1 am.
2023 is a special celebration of the Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso who spent the formative years of his career in Paris. A charming museum dedicated to his work is found in Le Marais area. I think it’s worth a visit just to see the the stunning Hotel Salé which houses the museum (and is included in the Paris Pass).
Special exhibitions are planned for this year, beginning in spring. Check the Picasso Museum website for timing of special exhibits, which may require advance tickets due to demand.
The Wallace Fountains
I always travel with my own water bottle and especially love to do so in Paris — it gives me an excuse to seek out this beautiful gem, the historic Wallace Fountains. They were designed by the French sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg and installed throughout the city between 1872 and 1892. They provided clean drinking water to the city’s residents, who previously had only contaminated water sources.
There are 108 water fountains in Paris with this distinctive design: four caryatids (sculptures of women) supporting a canopy. Find the locations at the Water of Paris website.
The fountains do not operate in the winter months.
Marché Raspail (Farmers Market)
I loved visiting the Marché Raspail (farmers market) in the 6th arrondissement; it’s open Tuesday, Friday and Sunday mornings. Paris is filled with delicious markets so inquire with your hotel about nearby options, and when they are open. Enjoy your French fare with a picnic on the banks of the Seine — don’t forget the wine, it’s permitted. Or take your picnic to a park such as Luxembourg Gardens, another Paris gem mentioned above, or the beautiful Tuileries located next to the Louvre.
Buying the Paris Pass for Exploring Hidden Gems
Five of the Paris hidden gems I’ve highlighted here are included in the Paris Museum Pass: Napoleon Apartments (at the Louvre), Musee Rodin, Picasso Museum, Sainte Chapelle and the Pantheon, so it’s worth considering whether to purchase it.
The pass is available in 2, 4 and 6 day options and permits you to reserve your museum visits ahead. That allows you to skip the line for tickets upon arrival. I purchased the 6-day digital pass on my most recent trip and it worked well. Note that it gives you the option of monument visits on 7 days as it’s based on a 24-hour clock. The pass is activated at the time of your first entry, rather than on calendar days.
I will say that each museum has its own website and reservation system and requires you to create an account. That part is a bit of a hassle. Not all museums require a reservation so check for latest info on websites. As of 2023, you should reserve time slots for the Louvre and Sainte Chapelle. For the Pantheon, Musee Rodin, and Picasso Museum, you can visit anytime without a reservation; they tend to be much less busy.
If you are reserving a timed-entry with the Museum Pass, select the option “I already have a ticket” or “free entry”. That allows you to reserve a time without having to pay, because you’ve already paid for the pass. You should bring a copy of the timed entry confirmation, and your museum pass, with you.
Share Your Paris Hidden Gems
I hope this has given you a few ideas to explore on your next trip. Have you discovered Paris hidden gems on your adventures in the city of light that I haven’t included here? Please share in the comments below. I am always looking for new things to explore on my next trip to my favorite city!