Undiscovered Paris

I am not going to lie: spending my year abroad in Paris last year was absolutely incredible. But this wasn’t, as some Brits might guess, because of the Eiffel Tower, Disneyland, or even the Louvre. Having explored these attractions on childhood holidays, I was determined to see the other side to the city -– the culture that inspires the Parisians themselves rather than the tourists. Although I did admittedly venture up the Eiffel Tower once last year with visitors, I will always maintain that it is far better seen in its entirety from down below. Furthermore, whilst the Louvre is undoubtedly glorious, it can cast an onerous shadow over other museums that can subsequently be overlooked.

Musée D’Orsay and the Pompidou Centre are -– and quite rightly –- highly-regarded, although to a lesser extent than the Louvre. However, a brilliant art gallery which I certainly hadn’t heard of before last year is the Paris Museum of Modern Art, housed in the Palais de Tokyo on the rive droite and right opposite the Eiffel Tower. Entry is completely free to all, and the works follow the theme of Paris through different eras of art such as Cubism, Fauvism, and Dadaism. With original works by artists such as Dufy, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Duchamp and Chagall, it would be a shame to miss a trip, especially as, from the front of the building, you can get a spectacular view of the river with the tower looming behind it.

And if you’ve had enough of western art, four-year-old Quai Branly Museum offers a diverse and intriguing collection of indigenous art and ethnography from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The interior is absolutely huge -– it took me two hours to cover half of it – and I would highly recommend hiring an audio guide, which provides compelling detail about many of the exhibits. Anyone who is interested in other cultures, portrayed here through the medium of art and artefacts, will find Quai Branly, Paris’s answer to the British Museum, fascinating. Even if this isn’t your cup of tea, the Jean Nouvel’s postmodern architecture of the building is worth a look in itself. Quai Branly is a participant of the new scheme that Nicolas Sarkozy introduced in spring last year, whereby several museums and monuments in and around Paris are free of charge to those under 26. All you have to do is show an International Student Identity Card or Passport, and the world is literally at your feet.

A large part of exploring any city is acquainting oneself with different areas. One of the most charming and picturesque quartiers in Paris is the Marais, which has been the Jewish quarter of Paris since the twelfth century and is now also famous for being the gay quarter. Bursting with history and culture, the Marais can be appreciated by simply strolling around, admiring the architecture and the narrow cobbled streets. One can try a falafel from one of the many cafés on Rue des Rosiers, and sit in the beautiful Place des Vosges, which is overlooked by what used to be Victor Hugo’s house. Spend an afternoon browsing the vintage boutiques in the area, or visit the Museum of Jewish Art and History, the Picasso Museum or the Memorial de la Shoah, a deeply moving tribute to the French Jews who perished as a result of the Holocaust. Just on the edge of the Marais – between St Paul and the river – lies the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, which is devoted to contemporary European photography. Every few months it offers different exhibitions as well as the stunning permanent collection, and entry is free to all every Wednesday after 5pm. I stumbled upon this treasure accidentally, and still can’t believe that it’s not more renowned.

Call me biased, but an area you can’t miss is the one in which I lived last year: the Latin Quarter, so-called because its residents used to speak only Latin. It is now famous for being home to the Sorbonne buildings; it’s obvious you’re in the area as soon as you see students spilling out of inexpensive cafés or queuing at crepe stalls on street corners. The Quartier Latin is in the fifth arrondissement and spreads itself south of Notre Dame Cathedral on the river, reaching the lush greenery of the Jardin des Plantes to the east and as far as the equally charming Jardin du Luxembourg to the west. Like the Marais, the Latin Quarter is a place where you can pleasantly while away the hours by walking around admiring the cobbled market street of Mouffetard or the fountain in the popular Place de la Contrescarpe; a market is also set up at Place Monge every Sunday morning which bustles with locals and is thus an excellent place for people-watching. On a clear day, you could finish off a stroll around the Jardin des Plantes, with a visit to the Paris Mosque next door, which boasts exquisite architecture and a garden café where one can enjoy a cup of mint tea and a pastry, or indulge in traditional hammam. A popular historical site in the Latin Quarter is the Pantheon, which towers majestically opposite the Jardin du Luxembourg and harbours the remains of French heros Voltaire, Zola, and Rousseau. Entry is quite pricy, but it’s just as satisfying to see from the outside.

Just north of the Latin Quarter are Paris’s remarkable islands, Ile de la Cité and Ile St Louis, still standing in the heart of the River Seine after all these centuries. The Ile de la Cité is where Paris began in around 300 BC and is therefore unmissable, providing the city’s oldest buildings such as the glorious Saint-Chapelle and the Conciergerie prison, where Louis the Sixteenth and Marie Antoinette were held. Here also lies the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, whose celebrated gargoyles soar above the rest of the island. If you ascend the spiral staircase inside the tower, you emerge a balcony that provides fantastic views all over Paris. This is one of the “monuments” participating in Sarkozy’s new scheme; hence under-26s climb up for free.

The most obvious rival to the Eiffel Tower for a good view, however, is the Montparnasse Tower: controversial at its time of construction, it is in fact extremely ugly from the outside. Nevertheless, views from the top are far better than those of the Eiffel Tower, mainly because you can actually see the legendary landmark, and the colossal obelisk of Montparnasse is invisible – because it is beneath your feet. From here you can walk to the Montparnasse cemetery, which is a lot smaller and easier to navigate your way around than the busier Père Lachaise, and it’s home to the graves of literary figures Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Charles Baudelaire.

If you’re feeling peckish, the touristy St Michel area boasts a number of restaurants with reasonably-priced set menus, including some that specialise in fondues and other French cuisine. However, the cheap prices are often reflected in the food and one can be easily disappointed. For better quality food at the same price, try Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter. Or if you have more cash to spend, there are many untouristy eateries along the Boulevard St Germain, which spans across no less than three arrondissements.

For a night out, the notorious Social Club, Showcase or Rex are haunts for worldwide DJs and therefore obvious choices, but you’ll struggle to go to one of these clubs for under forty euros on a standard night. Being stingy students, the places my friends and I mostly frequented were grotty but friendly bars rather than classy Parisian-chique – where there wasn’t half the snobbery of what one might call the more classy places. These included Wall bar, in the Latin Quarter’s Place de la Contrescarpe, where every hour is happy hour and a pint or a glass of wine is always three euros (though watch out for the toilets – if you thought Kelsey’s was bad…), and Montparnasse’s Financier, a pub which would suddenly transform into a club at around 11pm when the tables would be pushed back and the ones that weren’t would be jumped upon. Eastern Paris, which is generally the cheapest area, is also home to many student hang-outs such as the bar bizarrely called Alimentation Générale (meaning “general food store”!), and the Hideout pub – literally the most disgusting place I have ever set foot in, but quite possibly also the cheapest in Paris at happy hour, when you can enjoy a pint for 2.50 – has branches all over the city.

Failing this, you can find good deals on websites such as [www.soonnight.com](http://www.soonnight.com) and [www.parisetudiant.fr](http://www.parisetudiant.fr), from where you can print vouchers that give you two for one entry or free drinks at many bars and clubs.

The metro runs until 2am on Friday and Saturday nights, and contrary to everything else in Paris, taxis are extremely cheap, so it’s well worth taking advantage of the capital’s small size to get around. People seem to forget that it’s less than half the size of London and therefore very possible to do a lot in one day; so, if you have an aching urge to go but thought you’d seen it all, hopefully now you have some more ideas!


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