Top 5 unique things to do in Paris: discover the best off-the-beaten-path secret spots and unusual attractions you will love!
This will not be another one of those typical Paris travel tips posts.
When you’ve already seen the Eiffel Tower and Louvre and don’t fancy revisiting the popular tourist spots, you are in the right place as this article reveals some of the most unusual things to do in Paris.
There are a lot of hidden gems in Paris, but I have picked the coolest five you will ever find. So here’s your complete guide to the top 5 most unique things to do in Paris!
Top 5 Unique Things To Do In Paris
Paris is one of the most beautiful European cities and has much to offer.
Have you visited these ten best viewpoints in Paris with the most beautiful panoramic views of the city skyline and the Eiffel Tower?
The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Moulin Rouge, Disneyland, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysées, Notre-Dame… the list goes on!
It’s one of the most popular European city break destinations.
But what if it’s not your first visit to Paris, and you have already seen all the popular attractions?
Well, I have good news for you as there’s much more to Paris than just the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. There are some truly amazing secret spots in Paris you wouldn’t know existed!
I have compiled a list of the top 5 most unique things to do in Paris. These are some of the hidden gems in Paris that you simply must see, as they are the coolest and most unusual spots you can ever imagine!
Without further ado, let’s dive into these unique things to do in Paris!
1. Auberge Nicolas Flamel
The oldest stone house in Paris, the former home of the most famous alchemist, and a fine restaurant all in one!
It’s definitely a must-see location for all the visitors interested in the unique things to do in Paris.
Every Harry Potter fan knows very well who Nicolas Flamel was. Auberge Nicolas Flamel is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Paris, as it combines history, magic, and fine dining.
Nicolas Flamel developed a reputation as an alchemist believed to have discovered the philosopher’s stone and to have thereby achieved immortality.
He supposedly succeeded at the two goals of alchemy: that he made the philosopher’s stone, which turns base metals into gold, and that he and his wife, Perenelle, achieved immortality through the “Elixir of Life”.
Flamel was born in Pontoise in 1330. After receiving a thorough education, he moved to Paris and became a notary and librarian.
His life changed when one day a man sold him a book, “The Manuscript of Abraham the Jew”, supposedly containing the secrets of the philosopher’s stone, also known as the sorcerer’s stone.
Nicolas Flamel became an alchemist and dedicated his life to searching for the philosopher’s stone. Over the next few years, Flamel and his wife allegedly decoded enough of the book to successfully replicate its recipe for the philosopher’s stone.
According to his testimonies, he discovered the secret of the philosopher’s stone, eternal life, and the ability to transform base metals into gold on April 25th, 1382.
Nicolas Flamel and his wife Pernelle lived modest lives and used their wealth to help others. He financed fourteen hospitals and built three chapels, seven churches, and houses.
Flamel, after the death of his wife Pernelle, commissioned the house in 1397 and built a three-story house at 51 rue de Montmorency, which was completed in 1407.
He made the house into an Inn for the poor and homeless, designed to provide shelter. In exchange, he would ask for prayers, as is inscribed in old French above the front entrance: “We, ploughmen and women living at the porch of this house, built in 1407, are requested to say every day an ‘Our Father’ and an ‘Ave Maria’ praying God that His grace forgive poor and dead sinners.”
The original inscriptions were restored at the beginning of the 20th century.
Flamel officially lived into his 80s (which was unusual as the average lifespan at the time was 45).
In 1410, Flamel designed his own tombstone, which was carved with arcane alchemical signs and symbols. It includes images of the sun and a man, along with two others as saints with a key and a book.
His death was recorded on March 22, 1418. His tombstone is still on display at the Musee de Cluny.
The tombstone originally covered Flamel’s grave in the Cemetery of Innocents, but as his gravesite became the target of robbers, the tombstone was moved.
Apparently, the first grave robber was shocked to discover there was no body underneath the tombstone, supporting the legends of Flamel’s immortality.
Rumour has it that Nicolas Flamel never actually died and is still alive today.
Over the centuries, many people have claimed to have seen Flamel. Witnesses reported seeing him in 1761 at an opera in Paris, and one witness claimed to have seen him wandering outside his window in 1986.
Flamel was featured in the best-selling novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and its film adaptation, as well as in the 2018 spinoff film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Flamel and his philosopher’s stone are also a focus of a great horror movie, “As Above, So Below” (available on Netflix). It follows a young female archaeologist who devoted her life to finding Nicolas Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone.
When she learns that the stone is supposedly hidden in the Catacombs of Paris (see attraction number 2 on my list), she assembles a crew to guide and document her mission. As they descend into the uncharted sections of the City of the Dead, they enter their own personal hell…
L’Auberge Nicolas Flamel is today the oldest house in Paris, a historical monument, and a fine dining restaurant serving traditional French dishes with a contemporary take.
The food is spectacular – it’s delicious, top quality, and greatly presented. Highly recommended!
Call the restaurant in advance to reserve a table or book online.
Address: 51 Rue de Montmorency, 75003 Paris, France
Opening hours: Monday-Sunday: 12 – 2:30 PM, 7 – 10:30 PM
The closest subway stations: Rambuteau or Arts et Métiers
2. Catacombs Of Paris
The creepiest sight in town! It’s both spooky and fascinating.
“Stop! This is the empire of the dead”- reads the sign greeting visitors at the entrance to the two-kilometer-long tunnels filled with the bones of more than six million people.
The Catacombs of Paris are underground ossuaries and Europe’s largest communal burial grounds. They were created at the end of the 18th century to eliminate the city’s overflowing cemeteries, which caused major public health concerns.
Today, these tunnels filled with macabre arrangements of bones and strange sculptures are among the eeriest attractions in Paris.
Although the ossuary comprises only a small section of the underground quarries, approximately 200 miles of tunnels dating back to Roman times are believed to exist. The exact map of the tunnels does not exist.
The quarries that are not part of the official Catacombs have been deemed unsafe by Parisian officials. The only official entrance is by the Denfert-Rocherau metro station.
However, the size and length of the tunnels make it difficult to keep secret societies, thieves, artists, and the curious public from entering the off-limits sections of the network of tunnels through the secret entrances hidden in old basements, canals, churches, and graveyards.
The Catacombs are a place of many legends, and they hold secrets much stranger than the bones stacked within them.
Visitors have reported hearing voices, seeing orbs and strange shadows in the tunnels, as well as being touched and pulled by unseen forces.
The Catacombs are said to be one of the world’s most haunted places and have appeared on many ghost-hunting TV shows.
In 2004, Parisian police conducted a training exercise in a previously uncharted part of the Catacombs beneath the Palais de Chaillot.
When entering the catacombs through a drain, the officers came across a sign that read “Building site, no access,” and further in, a camera recording images of those who passed. As they approached the camera, a recording of barking dogs was triggered.
The officers descended deeper into the tunnels and discovered a 500-square-meter cavern with a fully equipped cinema.
It included a giant cinema screen, projection equipment, chairs, and a handful of films, from film noir classics to modern thrillers. This abandoned underground cavern had been turned into a secret amphitheater with strange symbols painted on the ceiling.
In the next “room,” they discovered a fully stocked and furnished bar and restaurant.
Three days later, police returned with some experts from the French Board of Electricity to investigate the professional installation of electricity and three phone lines discovered at the scene. The cables had been cut, and they found a note on the floor saying: “Do not try and find us.”
I would recommend taking a special type of tour with an expert guide in a small group, with access to the parts of the Catacombs usually closed to the public.
Not only will you skip the notoriously long entrance lines, but you will get to step off the well-worn tourist path and go behind locked gates to see special rooms – areas like a small chapel that until recently hosted religious ceremonies. Along the way, you’ll learn the improbable history of this enormous burial ground.
As it’s a popular attraction and the wait to get in is often over an hour, make sure to book your tickets online in advance to avoid long queues.
Special access tour website: https://www.takewalks.com/paris-tours/paris-catacombs-tour/
Address: 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France
The closest subway station: Denfert-Rocherau
Opening times: Tuesday-Sunday 10 AM – 8:30 PM (closed on Mondays)
3. Le Manoir De Paris
A walk-through haunted house!
Le Manoir de Paris is the first haunted show in France. This unique interactive experience takes place whilst you walk through a haunted mansion.
Set in a prestigious building in the heart of Paris, it brings to life the dark legends of Paris with the help of over 30 professional actors.
In this three-story mansion spread over a surface of 1500 square meters, visitors discover an interactive show of scary Parisian legends in impressively realistic settings.
The attraction’s permanent show, The Legends of Paris, lures the guests into the darkest history of the “City of Light” on two floors.
In the dark, you will come across numerous frightening creatures. You know they are coming but never know when, where, or how!
If you happen to survive all the monsters, you will become a guest of a very unusual hotel, the Royal Hotel Paradis, based on the third floor, and meet those hiding in the shadow of its corridors.
Visiting Le Manoir de Paris will allow you to discover Paris as you have never seen it before, forever haunted by its mysteries and legends.
What’s special about this attraction is that whilst haunted houses are common, theatre productions within haunted houses are unheard of.
The experience lasts approximately 45 minutes, much longer than other “haunted house” attractions. The mansion is very big, and there are a lot of rooms to go through. The level of detail in terms of the props and decor, as well as the makeup and costumes worn by the actors, are super impressive.
Is it scary? YES! You WILL scream. This is a must-see attraction for all thrill-seekers and a truly unforgettable experience.
Le Manoir de Paris offers an English-speaking option for non-French visitors.
You can buy your ticket for the Manoir de Paris on-site during the opening hours or online in advance, which is highly recommended in order to minimize your waiting time (which can be up to 1 hour on Fridays and up to 2 hours on Saturdays/Sundays/holidays).
Address: 18 Rue de Paradis, 75010 Paris, France.
The closest subway stations: Poissonnière, Bonne Nouvelle, and Gare de l’Est
Opening times: Friday 6 – 9:30 PM, Saturday & Sunday 3 – 6:30 PM
4. Marche Au Puces De St-Ouen
Shopping in Paris is often the main purpose of the trip for tourists, and it attracts millions of visitors every year.
There are many fabulous shops in Paris, but if you are looking for a unique experience, you should visit the largest antique market in the world!
The term “Marché aux puces” translates to “flea market”.
The largest Paris flea market, located in St. Ouen, was established around 1870. It earned its name because of the ostensibly flea-infested furniture and wares sold at the market just outside the city’s northern fortifications.
Years later, Pablo Picasso walked the markets looking for inspiration. More recently, Woody Allen’s popular film “Midnight in Paris” sent its characters here searching for hidden treasures.
It’s a real gold mine for vintage lovers and antique hunters. The Saint Ouen Flea Market covers seven hectares and hosts 15 markets that offer an authentic and unique atmosphere.
Some markets are covered, while others are out in the open. They offer a wide variety of goods from all periods and countries.
Some sections of the market look more like an art gallery than a flea market. You can also find some really weird stuff there.
If you need a break, you can step into one of twenty cute and trendy restaurants and cafés where you can often listen to a band playing live music whilst you eat.
The Saint Ouen Flea Market receives more than 5 million visitors each year, including a lot of foreigners as well as celebrities.
Since 2001, it has been recognized as a “Zone for the Protection of Architectural, Urban, and Landscape Heritage (ZPPAUP)” thanks to its unusual ambiance and atmosphere.
Address: 99 Allée des Rosiers, 93400 Saint-Ouen, France
The closest subway station: Porte de Clignancourt and Garibaldi
Opening times: Saturday 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Sunday 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Monday 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Reduced activity from the 1st to the 15th of August.
I would advise visiting on Saturday or Sunday because some of the dealers are not open on Mondays.
5. Human Zoo – Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale
Often described as one of the darkest secrets of France, Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale is an eclectic attraction well worth a visit for anyone interested in dark tourism.
In the early 20th century, the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale was home to a human zoo. From 1907 until 1931, the zoo displayed captured people from French colonies in Africa and Asia in “native villages”. The human zoo was a popular tourist attraction, drawing in thousands of visitors each year.
While the zoo has long since closed its human exhibitions, the history of the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale human zoo offers a fascinating glimpse into Europe’s colonial past.
The Jardin d’Agronomie tropicale was founded in 1907 by Dr. Albert Demangeon. Demangeon was an administrator in French Guiana and an avid collector of plant specimens. When he returned to Paris, he used his collection to create a display at the Jardin Botanique de Paris.
The display was so popular that Demangeon decided to expand it into its own facility. He envisioned a living museum where people could learn about different cultures through immersive exhibits. To that end, he convinced the French government to fund the construction of a “village des indigenes” at the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale.
The first “exhibits” arrived at the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale human zoo in 1907. They were 20 Bamiléké people from Cameroon who had been brought to Paris for France’s Colonial Exhibition. The Bamiléké were put on display in a replica of their village, complete with huts and livestock.
Over the next 24 years, more than 400 other “exhibits” would be displayed at the human zoo. They came from all over France’s colonial empire, including Vietnam, Madagascar, Algeria, and Indochina. Most were on display for a few years before repatriation, but some remained at the zoo for decades.
In total, an estimated two million people visited the human zoo during its 24-year run.
The human zoo has been highly controversial since its inception. Critics argued that it reinforced racist stereotypes and promoted colonialism.
When Vietnam declared independence from France in 1945, several Vietnamese “exhibits” chose to stay in France rather than return home. They argued that they would not be treated as equals in their own country after being displayed as novelties in a foreign land. It wasn’t until 1956 that Vietnam officially repatriated all of its citizens who had been put on display at zoos around Europe.
The story of the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale human zoo is complex and fascinating. Its mix of historical significance, controversy, and heart-wrenching personal stories offers a unique window into Europe’s colonial past – and a reminder of how far we’ve come since then.
Today, Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale is a neglected botanical garden with many of the abandoned pavilions from colonial villages still there. Upon entering the park, you can feel the eerie presence of ghosts from the past.
Address: 45 Av. de la Belle Gabrielle, 75012 Paris, France
The closest subway station: Nogent-Sur-Marne
Opening times: daily 9:30 AM – 6:30 PM
I hope this article has inspired you to create an awesome itinerary for your next trip to the city of love!
If you have more time to explore France, check out this awesome two-week France itinerary.
Thanks for stopping by!
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