A cliché-free cultural tour of Paris

Paris is one of the world’s most iconic cities when it comes to experiencing high-quality art, fashion, cuisine and cultural heritage. The landmarks are well known, and the standard tourist experiences always seem to include the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame – much-loved and much-praised for their architecture, history and in the case of the Louvre, for its fabulous collection of sculptures, paintings and artefacts. There are some places in Paris, however, that are not quite so well known, and these can give a delightfully authentic taste of the city, its roots and its exotic past. Here are a few ideas to follow up for your next visit.

Charming churches

Within a stone’s throw of the national monument, the Panthéon, you can avoid long queues and visit instead the charming Église St-Etienne-du-Mont. This is the shrine of the patron saint of Paris, Saint Geneviève, who saved the city from an attack by Attila the Hun in 451 AD. With an eclectic blend of Renaissance and Gothic architecture, the enormous Baroque pulpit is particularly impressive, and some of the rare and precious artworks date from the 16th century.

Marvellous museums

Although you will find collections of Impressionist paintings in a number of the more mainstream museums in Paris, such as the Louvre and the Museé d’Orsay, you can also enjoy Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works at the smaller, more intimate (and less crowded) Musée Marmottan Monet. This is one of the secret gems of the city and guaranteed to be one of the charming highlights of your stay in Paris. Impressionist paintings on display include works by Degas, Manet, Pissarro and Renoir.

If sculpture is to your taste, you have probably already visited the Rodin Museum; however, it’s worth taking a look also at Musée Bourdelle – named after Antoine Bourdelle, who taught Giacometti and assisted Rodin. Monumental sculptures and multiple reworkings of the head of Beethoven are among his trademark pieces, and you can enjoy a pleasant stroll through Montparnasse, spotting the north-facing windows of contemporary artists’ studios on your way.

Themed visits

One increasingly popular way of discovering cultural highlights that are off the beaten track is to take advantage of some of the great ‘gift pack’ offers that apply to special themed city breaks. These allow you to go on a voyage of discovery to uncover your favourite cultural, historical and heritage experiences. For example, if you are interested in Parisian cuisine, there are marvellous places to eat that will tempt you with authentic food and fine wines. These are far from some of the city’s rather tacky tourist menus and fare, which is overpriced and under par. Look out for budget restaurant L’Encrier in Faubourg St-Antoine or the relaxed bistro L’Ourcine, serving traditional French food in the 13th arrondissement.

The trick to getting below the surface of any city is to research the details as much as possible before you go, or to go with a reliable, independent company that is familiar with your destination and also with your personal preferences.