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Most Unusual Cultural Gems to See in Paris and How to See Them

Paris is one of the most visited cities on the planet. But once you’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower, spent hours in awe at the Louvre, and eaten all the croissants you can muster, what’s left?

Here’s what’s left: plenty. Paris and the immediate surroundings have plenty to offer, even when you’ve already been there several times.

Any art lover will have a field day at 59 Rivoli, situated in one of the central shopping districts of Paris. This artist squat was once a Crédit Lyonnais bank but was claimed by the KGB artist group (Kalex, Gaspard and Bruno!) in 1999. Even though the structure was littered with waste and dead pigeons, the artists stared hosting exhibitions and performances under the name “Chez Robert, électrons libres.” Though the space was illegally occupied for many years, it still managed to draw over 40,000 visitors per year, making it the third most visited center for contemporary art in Paris. Finally, in 2006, the city of Paris acquired 59 Rivoli to bring legality and safety to illegal artist squats. It was completely renovated, and in 2009 30 studios were rented out to artists for minimal rent. This unique six-story building is now free to visit and open to the public. The exhibits are constantly changing, but something will always catch your eye. 59 Rivoli is easily accessible on the métro. Just jump off at Châtelet and walk a couple of blocks while keeping an eye out for the électrons libres sign.

Most Unusual Cultural Gems to See in Paris and How to See Them

More interested in books than in art? We’ve got just the thing for you. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has one of the most impressive collections of printed material in the world. It can trace its origins back to 1368 when it was founded by Charles V. Even though it was relocated several times and has had large portions of its collections dispersed throughout France and the rest of the world, it remained the largest library in the world until the late 1800s. Despite having lost the title, it still contains over ten million titles on the arts, law, economics, languages, and so much more. The library also includes over 5,000 ancient Greek manuscripts and an extensive collection of antique coins from Greece, Ancient Rome, and France. Enjoy the library as an opportunity to take a break from site seeing and read a few books while resting your feet. Be sure not to miss Louis XIV’s globe collection. Take the métro to Quai de la Gare and walk a couple of blocks southeast.

Most Unusual Cultural Gems to See in Paris and How to See Them

On that same topic, have you been in France for a while and are missing home? Take the edge off by browsing famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company, located a stone’s throw away from Notre Dame de Paris. This is the largest English language bookstore in France and is a massive hub for tourists and expats alike. Enjoy the used and new book collection and advantage of the comfortable sofas to chill out and have a whispered conversation with a stranger. Shakespeare and Company had a sister store in Berkeley, California for quite some time until it closed a couple of years ago.

Paris ultimately has a great deal more to offer than the overrun tourist sites of the central districts. It’s worth stepping off the beaten track to wander down an alley, and who knows, maybe you’ll find some gems of your own. Feel free to share them in the comment section!

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