Non-Touristy Things to do in Paris

Knowing some non-touristy things to do in Paris to help you slow down and really absorb the atmosphere of this timeless and modern city.

When you are in Paris, part of your visit will always be to visit the big sites.  You’re not going to skip the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées, or the Louvre!  (Ok, maybe you will, I skipped the Louvre in favor of the Orsay until my third visit!)  Anyway, you probably will, and should, do some of the big touristy things.  There’s a reason so many want to see these things.

Taking some time for the more non-touristy things in Paris will give you more of a feel for what the city is all about. Similar to when we took time time for some non-touristy things to do in Madrid, the atmosphere of the city and energy of those who call it home will have the chance to become more real.  So here are a few idea for your day or afternoon of non-touristy Paris.

Relax in Luxembourg Gardens

Non-Touristy things to do in Paris: Luxembourg Garden view

The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris is where the locals go to prop their feet up, soak up some sun, read a book, chat over a glass of wine, or even take a nap.  So to do non-touristy Luxembourg Gardens, here’s the thing: You cannot be in and out in 30 minutes.  Pull up a chair, read a book, take some cheap watercolors and give it a shot.  Definitely get a glass of wine at the La Terrasse de Madame or even a bit of lunch.   Wander over to the Medici Fountain, a great little Paris hidden gem tucked into the north east corner. Slow down and soak up the beautiful park.

Marché de la Création: Artists Market

A non-touristy thing to do in Paris that also supports local artists – it’s win-win!

Marche de la Creation for some non-touristy, local artist displays & shopping.

I would have never found the Marche de la Creation if I hadn’t been my chatty self and struck up a conversation with a watercolorist set up near the Seine.  I bought an easily-packable little watercolor from her, and she was telling me about this market where local artists set up stalls on Sundays.  You can walk through what amounts to individual galleries of original creations.  The artists themselves are in the booths, very friendly, and happy to talk to you about their process and work. It is a relaxing and interesting way to spend an hour or two and talk to local artists.  And I bought a gorgeous hand-painted silk scarf that constantly gets compliments.

Where is the Marché de la Création Artists Market

  • Arrondissement: 14th
  • Location: 56 Blvd Edgar Quinet, (down the middle of the blvd.)
  • Metro: Line 6, Edgar Quinet stop is right at the Marché de la Création
  • Hours: Sundays, 10am-7pm

Go Food Market Shopping for Groceries

Non-touristy things to do in Paris:  Cheese counter in a covered market.

This is on my list for almost every city I visit.  I love any open air market, and food markets the best.  I love comparing the foods that show up fresh in the markets near my home to the market in Barcelona, the market in Madrid, and the market in Venice.  It’s also a learning experience to determine the correct vocabulary (English and hand gestures is often just fine, a smile helps) and what measurement is used.  Often there are to go options that are wonderful for whatever next meal you want to eat out of your daypack as you walk, or from your room that evening.  Marjorie Williams has some great shopping tips for Paris markets. Two markets to explore:

Marché Couvert Enfants-Rouges

  • Arrondissement: 3
  • Location: 39 Rue de Bretagne
  • Metro: Temple or Filles du Calvaire
  • Hours: Sunday morning; Tues-Sat 8:30 am-1 pm, 4 pm-7:30 pm

Marché Couvert Saint-Quentin

  • Arrondissement: 10
  • Location: 85 bis Boulevard Magenta
  • Metro: Gare de l’Est
  • Hours: Sunday morning; Tues-Sat 9 am-1 pm, 4 pm-7:30 pm

Try a French Recipe

Working on a French recipe while in Paris, what could be more French?  This one works best if you have some form of kitchen in your suite or flat.  If so, you can combine this with your food market shopping trip and enjoy an authentic Parisian home-cooked meal.  Try this recipe for Croque Monsieur, or this delicious French salad.

If you don’t have your own kitchen, stop at a grocery store and pick up something freshly prepared and take it home.  It’s close enough, gives you the experience of a French grocery store, and an inexpensive meal to top it off.  Not a bad combination.

Picnic at Versailles Gardens (Skip Versailles)

View of the Versailles Gardens, much less touristy than the Palace.

This one comes from our own experience of taking our kids to Versailles.  We went with Fat Tire Bike Tours which took us to a food market (Yay!) to purchase items for a picnic.  Then we biked through the grounds of Versailles and picnicked at the far end of the Grand Canal.  It was so enjoyable, and easily one of our favorite memories from the trip.

Then we went for our tour inside Versailles, and I cannot tell you how much we couldn’t wait to leave.  It was so enormously crowded that people were often pressed against us on all sides and we had to hold on to each other.  So my advice has always been: Yes, go to Versailles. Just don’t bother going inside.  It’s not worth it for that one picture of the Hall of Mirrors (beautiful as it is).  Stop in at the food market, walk the grounds, picnic and relax.  You still saw Versailles, and had a lovely day. 

Sit by the Seine and chat: a Non-Touristy Thing to do in Paris – and great for your tired feet!

View of Ile de la Cite at sunset with people lounging along the Seine.

Even in the heart of the city you can find non-touristy things to do in Paris.  Sometimes all it takes is slowing down and taking in your surroundings.  You’ll notice that there are often groups of people just hanging out on the banks of the Seine.  Talking, laughing, sharing food & music.  Tourists are always hurrying to the next thing, checking off things on their list.  Instead, take a restful break and enjoy even the bustle of the city around you.  Sunset is a favorite time for locals to take some time out of their day relax here, and it’s a time of gorgeous light through the city.  So take advantage!

Find a Non-Touristy café

View of a non-touristy cafe in Paris.

There are so many historic and famous cafés in Paris, you could honestly dine in one for every meal you are in the city.  I love them, have had a meal in several of them, and that’s great.  But it’s also a great idea to find a quieter, smaller, out of the way café, too.  There are a ton of café’s and restaurants in Paris. You really can walk down the street and just pick one.  As our friends told us, “It’s Paris.  Even when the food’s bad, it’s still pretty good.” So it’s hard to be too disappointed.  I found that finding a few options near each other outside the super-busy areas of the city, and then walking by and looking at posted menus worked well.  If you see people who look like locals chatting away with the owners and servers, you’ve probably found a winner.

One out of the way spot we found was Boca Tapas Restaurant in the 9th arrondissement. It was quieter, obviously populated by a more locals, and delicious. We liked it so much, we went back two days later!

Shop a Sale at Galeries Lafayette

Interior of Galeries Lafayette

The Galeries Lafayette is really just a mall, which may seem like a strange choice. But this shopping hub is still one of the places locals go to shop. Especially sale season which is Jan/Feb and June/July in Paris. It gets a big crazy, and is really fascinating to wade into. Plus, the Galeries Lafayette is just beautiful inside, so it is completely worth the stop whether you are shopping or not.

Galeries Lafayette Roof for a FREE Amazing View: A Non-Touristy (well, less touristy, which is pretty good considering the view) thing to do in Paris.

Rooftop view of Galeries Lafayette

If you take the escalators all the way to the 8th floor in Galeries Lafayette, it leads you to this rooftop view. It’s free, no problem, just go on out. You can look out over the rooftops, and even see a great view of the Eiffel Tower. When it’s warm, you may even find a rooftop restaurant.

  • Hours: 10am-8pm

Some Non-Touristy Advice

Non-Touristy thing to do in Paris: Walk the City

When you are going a reasonable distance, just walk.  Paris is very walkable if you cross at crosswalks and follow the lead of those around you.   There is so much of the city that is missed as you zip from sight to sight.  Walk the city and little details, architecture, street art, will jump out at you.

Use the Metro Like a Local

View of a Paris metro train coming into the station.

Paris locals, the ultimate non-tourists in Paris, use the metro as the primary way to get around. Using it first time is not as intimidating as you might think, and it quickly becomes second nature with just a little practice.    The ticket vending machines can all be switched to English, so do that and just read along. Know the line you are looking for, and the final stop for the direction you want to travel in, and just start following signs.  Once you are comfortable with it, the metro will open up the city and make exploring so many new places and neighborhoods quick and easy. It’s worth that bit of initial investment! 

The Final Non-Touristy Thing to do in Paris: Explore Away from the Seine

Related to that metro thing, explore outside the immediate Seine area!  Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot in the bustling center of Paris that I love, and you can find quiet spots.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t go there.  But there is so much more to Paris see more than just that

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Paris, France:  Non-Touristy things to do in Paris, in the heart of the timeless city and beyond.

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