Everyone knows about the most famous sights for a holiday in Paris: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe. It's true that no trip to France's capital should pass up the big sights, especially if it is your first visit. But there's more to Paris then just these big five – it is a city that rewards careful exploration with a number of hidden highlights. As a Paris airport transfer driver, I've been all over the city, and hear plenty of visitors talking about the highlights of their trip. Away from the major sights, there are some hidden gems that people consistently rave about (when they can find them!): Here are five of the best unusual sights to see on a holiday in Paris.
Tucked away down a tunnel in the center of the Jardin des Plants, the Jardin Alpin is a miniature valley and microclimate filled with over 2000 different types of mountain plants, a small stream and tiny waterfalls. There are plenty of benches to sit on and little nooks and crannies to explore. It's a real hidden gem amongst the parks of Paris – my shuttle passengers always seem to be raving about the Jardin Alpin!
The Catacombs of Paris
Beneath the streets of Paris is another world – the Catacombs of Paris. Originally a vast series of mines and quarries, part of the Catacombs became an ossuary (a place where the bones of the dead are stored) in the 18th century after the cemeteries of the poor were filled to the point of overflowing. During the Second World War they were used by both the French Resistance (as a way of moving around the city) and by the Nazis (as a military bunker.) Today, you can take a tour of the Paris Catacombs, visiting rooms stacked to the ceiling with skulls and bones – a creepy and fascinating experience!
La Maison Rouge
The Louvre may contain some of the most famous art works in the world, but there are plenty of other galleries in the city. Paris is home to a thriving modern arts scene, and La Maison Rouge is one of the best contemporary galleries in the capital. With international guest curators and a reputation for controversial shows, this is an essential stop off for culture vultures in Paris.
It may sound morbid, but many of my passengers on their Paris airport transfers rate the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery as a highlight of their trip. It is the resting place for numerous famous historical figures: Chopin, Moliere, Balzac, Prost and Oscar Wilde are among the many famous people buried here. Many of the tombs are spectacular to look at, and the beautiful rolling parkland of the cemetery is great to walk around.
Located at the very center of Paris, this chapel was built on the cemetery that holds Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and a further 3000 people who were killed during the revolution. It is small but beautifully designed gothic chapel, and is somehow rarely visited by tourists in Paris. It is a peaceful place at the heart of the city, and a great way to escape the busy streets for a little quiet contemplation.