The Best Kept Secrets in Paris

Last year, Paris was the second most visited city in the world (after Bangkok), attracting around 19.1 million tourists. Crowds come for the attractions – such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower – and the city’s romantic atmosphere. For Paris is a city steeped in romanticism, whether you’re wandering along the banks of the Seine, exploring the cobbled streets and shady parks of the Marais neighbourhood or having a candlelit dinner in a quiet bistro.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “secrets travel fast in Paris.” But we’re not sure that he’s right. Despite the city’s popularity, the city still has plenty of hidden gems. We’ve visited again and again over the years, and there’s always something new to explore. Even if you’ve already seen the major sights in Paris, don’t disregard it as a destination. From its hidden bars to its secret parks, here are our favourite spots in the city.


WHAT TO DO

The Promenade Plantée
Paris is known for its manicured parks. But its most unique green space is the city’s best- kept secret. The Promenade Plantée is the world’s first elevated park walkway, built across an abandoned viaduct. It stretches five kilometres, beginning behind the Opéra Bastille (at the crossroads between Rue de Lyon and Avenue Daumesnil) and extending for around five kilometres to Square Charles Péguy, near Bois des Vincennes.

Most of the walkway is elevated around 10 metres above street level, giving you panoramic views of city rooftops. There are staircases and lifts dotted along the route. We recommend making a stop at The Viaduc des Arts, around 500 metres from the starting point. You’ll find 37 artisans showcasing their art, jewellery and other crafts in the arches and vaults of the disused viaduct. There are plenty of galleries, shops and showrooms to peruse – and this being Paris, plenty of nearby restaurants.

WHERE: 1 Coulée verte René-Dumont, 75012 Paris
WEB: www.francedigitale.com

Arab World Institute
As well as its parks, Paris is also renowned for its world-class museums and art galleries. But where do you go once you’ve visited the Pompidou, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay? We highly recommend stopping off at the Arab World Institute, established to act as a cultural bridge between France and the Arab world. It promotes all facets of Arab culture through its museum exhibitions, cinema screenings and regular cultural performances. The institute is a pioneering example of contemporary architecture – a particularly innovative design element is a photo-sensitive metallic screen, with geometric motifs replicating the traditional mashrabiyya design.

WHERE: 1 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 75005 Paris
WEB: www.imarabe.org

Piscine Joséphine Baker
During the summer months of July and August, many Parisians desert the city to holiday on the coast. But if you’re in Paris during warm weather, there are plenty of outdoor pools where you can go for a dip. One of our favourites is Piscine Joséphine Baker, a swimming pool housed in a giant barge on the River Seine. During summer, the glass roof opens to reveal a large sundeck. And in the winter months you can keep warm in the saunas, hammam and jacuzzi.

WHERE: Quai François Mauriac, 75013 Paris
WEB: www.piscine-baker.fr

Canal St Martin
One of the city’s trendiest spots for a stroll is the Canal St Martin, a picturesque canal bisected by iron footbridges and fringed with tree-lined walkways. As well as exuding Gallic charm, the canal is also lined with some of the city’s hippest bars and arts venues. Point Ephémère – a large, grafittied warehouse which holds art exhibitions and concerts – is a popular hangout spot among the Paris art crowd.

WHERE: Canal St Martin, 10 th Arrondissement
WEB: www.parisinsidersguide.com/canal-saint-martin-paris

Lavomatic
Talking of places for drinks, Paris also houses several secret bars. They’re hidden from plain sight, accessed only by those in the know. Our favourite is Lavomatic. By day, it’s a functioning laundromat. In the evening, slip behind one of the washing machines and descend a staircase into a colourful, pop-art inspired bar with swings and great cocktails.

WHERE: 30 rue René Boulanger, 75010 Paris
WEB: www.lavomatic.paris



WHERE TO EAT

Marché des Enfants Rouges
Hidden behind an old, wrought iron gate in the Haut Marais area is the oldest market in Paris. Its name is translated as “market of the red children” – it’s a reference to the 16 th century orphanage that used to occupy the site, as the children were given red clothes to wear. Built in 1615, this covered market hit hard times in the 1990s and was scheduled for demolition. Locals banded together to save it. Finally, after six years of lying unused, the market was renovated and reopened. It’s now one of the best food markets in Paris, with hundreds of stalls selling everything from Japanese bento boxes to Lebanese mezze platters. There are also plenty of artisan stalls selling local cheeses and wines.

WHERE: 39 rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris
WEB: www.timeout.com/marche-des-enfants-rouges

Benoit
In Paris, there’s a bistro on practically every corner. Every beautifully written menu promises classics such as French onion soup and steak tartare; every wood-panelled interior looks equally welcoming. So how do you choose where to eat? We recommend Benoit, the only Michelin-starred bistro in Paris. It opened in 1912 and was owned for nearly a century by the Petit family – in 2005 it was bought by the Alain Ducasse team.

The restaurant has a typically Parisian, old-world ambiance, with red velvet and brass benches, marble columns and glass and wood panelling. The bistro serves French classics – dishes currently on the menu include parsnip velouté, leg of rabbit with mustard and seasonal fruit tart. Visit for lunch, when the tasting menu is particularly reasonably priced. Make sure you book online in advance.

WHERE: 20, rue Saint Martin, 75004 Paris
WEB: www.benoit-paris.com

Pho 13
If you’re getting tired of French cuisine, head to the Quartier Asiatique (Asian Quarter) in the 13th arrondissement. In the triangle made by Avenue d’Ivry, Avenue de Choisy and Boulevard Masséna you’ll discover Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Cambodian restaurants to name but a few. One of our favourites is Pho 13, which dishes up authentic, unpretentious Vietnamese dishes. Its specialty is pho – a Vietnamese rice noodle soup – but we also recommend the Bánh cuốn, fermented rice pancake rolls served with barbecue pork, fresh salad and herbs.

WHERE: 66 Avenue d'Ivry, 75013 Paris
WEB: www.pho13.com



WHERE TO STAY

COQ Hotel Paris
Over the years, we’ve stayed in plenty of budget to mid-range hotels in Paris, and COQ Hotel Paris is by far and away our favourite. It’s a boutique, 4-star hotel that’s bursting with character. The rooms are decorated in palettes of navy blue and moody grey, featuring vintage furniture, industrial-style lighting and comfortable beds. There’s a small outdoor garden with a chicken coop (the hotel will serve you fresh eggs for breakfast) and a dining room serving gourmet cuisine. In the early evening, the hotel offers a free glass of wine for guests, which you can savour in the comfortable lobby next to a roaring fire.

WHERE: 15 Rue Edouard Manet, 75013 Paris
WEB: www.coqhotelparis.com

Hotel des Grands Boulevards
Hotel des Grands Boulevards is an elegant, unexpected hotel located at the end of a leafy passageway, set back from a bustling boulevard. Built shortly before the French revolution, it has a pared back, Louis XVI style with rustic vintage touches. Fifty bedrooms are sumptuously decorated with rustic linen, wooden furniture and bronze light fixtures. It also boasts a beautiful, glass-canopied dining room and a cocktail bar, The Shell, that’s popular with locals in the know.

WHERE: 17 Boulevard Poissonnière, 75002 Paris
WEB: www.grandsboulevardshotel.com