“Paris is always a good idea!”
Audrey Hepburn knew what she was talking about. It’s a magical city full of sights, smells, and sounds unlike anywhere else. There’s history and culture to experience everywhere you turn, whether you’re navigating the tunnels of the metro or strolling along the Seine.
But, let’s face it, some of the historic, culturally-rich places in Paris lose a bit of magic when you’re being jostled by loud, pushy tourists vying for a spot in line or that perfect photo for Instagram. Even relaxing under the Eiffel Tower with a croissant in hand can be a challenge when street vendors follow your every move, hawking selfie sticks and trinkets.
So if you’re crafting your Paris itinerary and are looking for something less crowded, here’s a list of alternatives to the iconic Paris sights that can give you a more authentic view of the City of Light.
Instead of Notre-Dame, Try Sainte-Chappelle
Located only a few blocks from Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chappelle offers a more intimate, up-close look at one of the most colorful churches of the Middle Ages.
Built in 1248, the church was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to serve as a site to house religious relics, including the Crown of Thorns. The chapel was built in a Gothic style, but its 15 stained glass windows are a sight worth seeing. Unlike Notre-Dame, which is fairly dark and drafty, Sainte-Chappelle is washed in light and color. Spanning more than 6,600 square feet, the colorful windows depict over 1,100 scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Although entry to Sainte-Chappelle will run you 10€, the fee is truly worth it. For me, being able to get up close to the windows and statues was an experience I didn’t get at Notre-Dame, and it was much less crowded. You can also get in for free with a Paris Museum Pass.
Hit the Palais Garnier instead of Versailles
You don’t have to be a diehard Phantom fan to enjoy a trip here (but it does add some bonus geek points if you are). The Palais Garnier was built in 1875 to house the Paris Opera but came to be called the Opera Garnier after its architect Charles Garnier. The landmark became known worldwide after Gaston Leroux‘s novel, and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s subsequent musical interpretation, was set in this opulent building.
I’m not saying visiting the Opera house turned me into a prima donna, but I definitely kept dramatically whispering “That’s all I ask of youuuuuuu,” to my husband, who didn’t duck out and leave me in the theater, although I could have happily stayed forever.
The Palais Garnier is nothing but opulent. It’s no wonder architects copied the design in Poland, Ukraine, and even part of the Library of Congress in D.C. If you’re lucky, one of the balcony boxes in the theater will be open and you can get a view of that famous chandelier (still intact).
Forget the Pantheon, check out Place de la Madeleine
If you’re hungry for some Roman-style architecture in Paris, you can get a much less hectic view at Place de la Madeleine, also home to the church of the same name.
Built in the Neo-classical style, l’Église de la Madeleine was supposed to be modeled after an old Roman temple located in Nîmes, France. The church has a seriously impressive bronze door with scenes picturing the Ten Commandments and some colossal columns that wrap all the way around the building. Inside, you can spot Jules-Claude Ziegler’s fresco with some cameos of Napoleon, and a unique altar with Mary Magdalene, the saint the church is named after.
Travel down to the basement of the church to the Foyer de la Madeleine, which offers a three-course French meal to those who want to subscribe to the service. Even if you’re just visiting for the day, the price is well worth it – for a 5€ fee, plus 8.50€ for the meal, you can dine on some delicious food under the basement’s vaulted ceilings. Bet you didn’t know a church could have its own restaurant!
Try the Rodin Museum instead of the Louvre
It might not boast the famous glass pyramids, but the Rodin Museum has some masterpieces from artist Auguste Rodin you can enjoy en plein air.
Located in the historic Hôtel Biron, the real jewel of the Rodin Museum is in the sculpture garden. Here, visitors can wander the garden paths, away from the hustle and bustle of Paris, and enjoy Rodin’s pieces in the shade of the trees and well-manicured shrubs.
Rodin focused on expression and emotion in his pieces, which you can experience firsthand in the gardens, such as his well-known works, “The Burghers of Calais,” “The Gates of Hell,” and, of course, “The Thinker.”
For a more relaxing and — bonus! — less expensive afternoon of art, The Rodin Museum can be a great alternative to the busy Louvre.
That concludes my guide to a more authentic visit to Paris! Stay tuned for more stories and tips about France travel — I’ve got plenty!