Offbeat Paris for Offbeat Families
February 14, 2012 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Our family (with early teens) is travelling to Paris for a week in mid-March this year, and after perusing the many threads about Paris and France, we have settled on getting a Museum Pass and found suitable accommodations. We are now looking for some more offbeat Paris activities to round out our trip.

Any suggestions for unusual, far-out, local, one-off, awe-inspiring, and/or otherwise special ideas for things to see and do would be appreciated. These might include stores, events, shows, food, parks, architecture, or any other assorted weirdness that our fellow globetrotting Mefite family may have encountered and enjoyed. Additionally, any tips on hidden nooks and crannies accessible via the Museum Pass would also be most welcome.
posted by fairmettle to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (23 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
You gotta go to the catacombs. See?
posted by likeso at 5:21 AM on February 14, 2012

posted by PercussivePaul at 5:25 AM on February 14, 2012

(Museum! Here's their site.)
posted by likeso at 5:25 AM on February 14, 2012

I LOVE this place: it sometimes features fairly traditional chansons and others showcases wildly off the wall avant garde madness. That said, some of the more out there shows could potentially be not suitable for kids (I saw one that involved a lot of very humorous nudity once). In order to guarantee getting in, call ahead and make a reservation for dinner. They offer a prix fixe dinner menu that is relatively inexpensive and almost always amazingly good. You could try just showing up as the shows are usually free and first come first serve, but that has never worked for me. It's almost always full starting very early on.

Also, make sure to get a hot chocolate from Angelina. That stuff will blow your mind and give you a serious sugar coma.
posted by telomere at 5:26 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

My ! wasn't in response to Paul, heh. Couldn't figure out the pronoun for catacombs. Go towards closing time, and almost get locked in, like I did.
posted by likeso at 5:28 AM on February 14, 2012

I think you want this. Easily accessible by Metro.
posted by troywestfield at 5:41 AM on February 14, 2012

Quite short train ride from Paris (50min?) is Versailles Palace. The gardens are beautiful and the scale of it all is just jaw dropping... bring a picnic basket.
posted by j03 at 5:58 AM on February 14, 2012

One thing I found when I was there in September - a hot air balloon in the Parc Andre Citroen. It was closed when I was there, but the park itself is cute and it's a nice walk from there back up to the Eiffel Tower, especially if you want to stop and see Little Liberty.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:07 AM on February 14, 2012

Seconding Versailles.

If you do it 'backwards', with the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon first, you avoid the KILLER crowds in the main palace at the start of the day. They open a bit later, too. Last time I was there, I lucked into a backstage tour of the Petit Trianon just because there was no-one else around, and got to see Marie Antoinette's private opera and such. And then when you're done, the main palace has emptied out, and you can really have a good look at it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:21 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Parc Asterix is a lot of fun. It may not be what most people have in mind for 'Parisian vacation', but it's so very well done. Shuttle bus runs from the city, I believe. Chariot races? Sure! These Gauls are crazy!
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:34 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife and I also purchased the museum pass when we visited Paris. We used it for the Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Orsay, Pantheon, Picasso, and the Rodin (my wife was an art-history major and her interests have rubbed off on me). There are many more places the pass can be used, but out of the ones I listed, the best were the Arc de Triomphe, Orsay, Rodin, and Versailles. The Louvre, at the time we visited, is a tourist catastrophe with tons of people, hip to hip, taking trophy pictures of themselves with the art. It is worth the visit, but the experience was a let down.

The Orsay was great (no pictures policy). Rodin museum was spectacular with the outdoors sculptures. The Arc de Triomphe is worth it just for the great views. Go there on a clear day.

If you even moderately inclined, I highly recommend renting one of the cheap bicycles in the Versailles gardens. Riding around the Versailles paths and canals was one of the highlights of our trip.

Finally, the museum pass gives you the ability to not wait in line for entrance at many of the supported pass venues (Versailles you have to stand in line even with the pass, so get there early). However, the French museums don't have multiple entrances for this sort of thing. You have to cut the line to enter. My wife and I were happy to cut in front of 200-300 people to get into the venues quickly with the pass. However, since there is only one entrance for visitors, we also got the glares of all others waiting in line, feeling like quite the queue-cutting assholes even if it was policy of the pass/museum venues to do so.
posted by seppyk at 6:37 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about a bike ride in the countryside just outside of Paris with a guy (American) who gives tours. He lives locally and knows lots of the back roads in that area. He has biked as far as Chartres. Check out his trip reports. Great photos and commentary.
posted by sevenstars at 7:03 AM on February 14, 2012

Are there any classical musicians or classical music fans in your family?

When you arrive in Paris and first hit the Latin Quarter and Ile de la Cité, keep your eyes peeled for posters. They will be everywhere, but primarily in and around churches which double as concert venues. The concerts are usually pretty accessible - not crazy contemporary experimental classical music. Just the old favorites, performed in pretty unforgettable venues. I saw The Four Seasons performed in Sainte-Chapelle and I saw Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers performed in Notre-Dame. It was pretty sublime.
posted by jph at 7:14 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a soft spot for Musee des arts et metiers, also pretty damn cool is the basement of BHV a big big department store over by the 'Hotel de Ville."

Lastly, there's "Dragons Elysees" an ok Chinese restaurant with an aquarium for a floor. So you're, like, walking on fish and turtles. Which the kids thought was pretty damn cool.

Make reservations at restaurants you want to go to. And if your kids are big enough to ride the Velib bikes, rent bikes!
posted by From Bklyn at 7:34 AM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Musée Dupuytren might actually be too offbeat, but there it is.
posted by theodolite at 7:59 AM on February 14, 2012

There's also a museum of tiny antique models of forts at Les Invalides that I'm dying to go to, but that's a particular geekiness of mine that may not be interesting to anyone else.
posted by theodolite at 8:03 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Jacquemart-André museum is not exactly unknown, but it's well worth a visit. France Miniature is around 40 minutes outside of central Paris, but certainly odd and quirky. Aquaboulevard is another possibility, especially if it is cold and gray, as it often is in Paris in March.

Some of my earlier suggestions on what to do in Paris are here, here, and here.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:40 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, by the way, most French restaurants in Paris don't start serving dinner until 7:30 or 8 pm. (Pizzerias, Chinese and Indian restaurants, etc. often start dinner earlier.) With early teens, that might be a problem. Also, restaurants that are open for lunch usually close the kitchen down by 2:30 or 3 pm, sometimes even 2. Brasseries tend to serve non-stop (service continu) from lunch to 11 pm or later, and cafés will often (but not always) have things like the croque-monsieur (toasted cheese sandwich) available.

The larger brasseries, such as Bofinger, Chez Jenny, Brasserie Flo, etc. will have the full menu available throughout the day, which is good to know if you are ravenous at 6 pm and don't want to wait two hours for dinner.

If you haven't traveled to France before, the rhythm of a French restaurant meal might be odd. Don't expect a basket of bread to be brought out before your appetizers; you might, though, get an amuse-bouche, depending on the restaurant. Ordering an apéritif (before-dinner drink) will slow the meal down, because the staff will presume that you want to enjoy it before you then move on to your food. Apologies if this is already familiar; I've known a lot of Americans who go to a Parisian restaurant about ready to die of hunger, who are then shocked to find that their food doesn't arrive until 20-30 minutes after they order. (Also note: never ask for a doggy bag. It's just not done.)
posted by brianogilvie at 9:48 AM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely do the Catacombs.
posted by andraste at 11:58 AM on February 14, 2012

Have a picnic somewhere, along the Seine, in a park, by the Eiffel Tower, wherever! It's fun going to a supermarket, getting food and just sitting around chilling. Definitely have a raspberry tart - it's so good!

Also, do the Catacombs. They're so cool. Eerie, but fun.
posted by cyml at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2012

Catacombs for sure. Pere Lachaise, also.
posted by Decani at 4:54 PM on February 14, 2012

Definitely the Museum of Hunting and Nature, about the relationships between humans and the natural environment over the last few centuries.

Incredible art, guest photo exhibits and the mounted heads of nearly every animal (incl. polar bear, lion, tiger, cheetah, fox, rhinoceros, bison, water buffalo).
posted by lukez at 6:11 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's tough to do the offbeat in Paris, because nothing is off the beaten path. My favorite things in Paris tend not to be particularly locations or activities, but neighborhoods and places that give off a certain ambience:

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

Canal St. Martin

Coulee Verte

Also, ride bikes.
posted by benbenson at 7:40 PM on February 14, 2012

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