7 Lesser-Known Parisian Architectural Wonders You Can Check Out for Free
There are a ton of things to see in Paris, but many of them involve standing in line for a couple of hours and spending some cash. If you don’t want to do that or if you need a break from the crowds of visitors, you can still see some amazing Parisian artwork, and be outside getting some exercise and fresh air while doing so. So, plug these addresses into Google Maps, slip on some comfy shoes, and schedule your visit to Le Louvre for another day, because you’re going to walk around and see some beautiful examples of Parisian architecture you never knew existed — for free.
1. 185, rue Belliard, 18th arrondissement
Although the 18th arrondissement attracts a lot of tourists, this part of the borough does not; rue Belliard is not close to Le Sacré Coeur or Montmartre, and visitors tend to stick to these two big landmarks. But, if you walk a few minutes north, you’ll see one of the most unique and unexpected pieces of architecture in the city at street number 185 of rue Belliard. This large city house, now divided into apartments, was designed by its first owner, architect Henry Deneux, in 1913. The building is a flat-roofed, concrete structure covered with colorful ceramic tiles that are organized to create unusual motifs that are sure to catch the eyes of all passersby. Above the door is a representation of the architect at work, also made of ceramic tiles. If you want to make your Insta feed pop with originality, this will be much more effective than a shot of the Arc de Triomphe.
2. 57, rue de Turbigo, 3rd arrondissement
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Le Marais, a neighborhood that comprises the third and part of the fourth arrondissement of Paris, is a great area to explore on foot. The Jewish Quarters, the Place des Vosges and its park, and the Paris City Hall are all spots that you should take the time to check out on a leisurely walk. And while you do that, you need to keep your eyes wide open, because the beautiful statue of an enigmatic woman on the facade of the building located at street number 57 on rue Turbigo, may just pass you by if you don’t. Although it’s enormous (it stretches up three stories), it’s way off the ground, so those who don’t look up will miss it and miss out. Nobody knows for sure what it represents, but because its creator’s name is Auguste Delange (“from the angel” in French), and because it sports a pair of wings, the statue that supports the balcony of the second-to-last floor with her head is often described as “the angel of Turbigo.” Although it was created in 1851, the angel has been gracing this building since 1859 with her mystic beauty.
3. The Lavirotte building, 29 avenue Rapp, 7th arrondissement
If you can’t imagine a trip to Paris without getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower, do it. But once you’ve had a good look at the view through the safety mesh fence, get down, walk three minutes along the Seine quays towards the Pont de l’Alma, and turn right on avenue Rapp. Locating street number 29 won’t be difficult as it’s the most exuberant house on this avenue. The Lavirotte building is a seven-story Art Nouveau house built between 1900 and 1901 by Jules Lavirotte, an architect clearly inspired by Antoni Gaudí’s work in Barcelona. The top part of the house is covered in colorful ceramic tiles, sculptures of animals and flowers, wrought-iron balconies, arches, and columns, all of them so over-the-top that it’s hard to take them in all at once. The bottom part of the house is dominated by the massive door made of wood and wrought iron that maliciously hides an inverted penis in its design. Around the door, there are sculpted botanical details and two characters that seem to be engaging in some flirtatious behaviour. The facade of this house won the annual Parisian frontage competition in 1901 (this unusual competition stopped in the 1930s).
4. 24, place Etienne Pernet, 15th arrondissement
If you’re visiting Paris and hanging around the 15th arrondissement, chances are you’re either looking for the Parisian Statue of Liberty (yeah, there’s one smack in the middle of the Seine) or wanting to climb the Tour Montparnasse (where you’ll get the best view of Paris). Both of these landmarks are great spots to check out, but there’s more to see in this arrondissement that’s worth taking some detours. One of them is located on the Place Etienne Pernet, a square with a few trees, a small fountain, and a couple of benches that seems rather nondescript until you notice street number 24 — one of the most in-your-face examples of Art Nouveau architecture you’ll find in Paris. Anyone not paying attention would miss this beautiful 1905 building and its ornate curves and organic, interlacing design (that resembles piped buttercream frosting) around the windows, balconies, and above the wrought-iron front door. The architect, Alfred Wagon, included botanical elements (artichokes, pineapples, flower, etc.) all over, so open your eyes wide and play a game of “I spy” to spot them all. Also, while you’re checking it out, think about the lucky people who get to live in such a pretty apartment building, because, yes, it’s inhabited.
5. Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, 9th arrondissement
Although the Galeries Lafayette are very well known and attract a lot of foot traffic, visitors are often more interested by the luxury items for sale in the department store than by its incredible architecture. But the details of the magnificent building are just as fascinating as a visit to any Parisian museum — and there’s no entry fee. Although it is beautiful, don’t spend too much time looking at the exterior of the building because it’s the Paris Art Nouveau style inside that’s the real showstopper. From the massive staircase inspired by the nearby Palais Garnier (the Paris Opera) to the exuberant wrought-iron balconies to the gorgeous 43-foot-high, steel-frame, stained-glass cupola, the place is simply grandiose. So, don’t bother with the fancy jewelry, expensive perfume, and overpriced items of clothing and enjoy the decor instead.
Note that because its window displays, massive Christmas tree, and lights are out-of-this-world amazing, the holidays are the busiest time of the year at the Galeries Lafayette. So if you’re not comfortable with crowds, just avoid the area entirely in December. On a regular day, especially mid-morning, when Parisians are busy at work, you’ll have enough space to admire every detail of the building — and you may even be able to go all the way up to the terrace to check out one of the best views of the French capital.
6. La Cité du Figuier, 104, rue Oberkampf, 11th arrondissement
A 15-minute walk from the famous Parisian cemetery Le Père Lachaise, you’ll find the oddly bucolic Cité du Figuier, a narrow cobblestone dead-end street filled with plants (including one enormous fig tree, hence the street’s moniker). La Cité du Figuier is a strange sight in a busy, urban environment like Paris, but it’s a welcome one. The short, quaint street is lined with quirky artists’ studios and residential apartments, colorful patio furniture, and hundreds of potted plants. One of the buildings in particular is eye catching. Painted bright turquoise and lime green, it’s a beautiful and unexpected pop of color. On the facade, a large strip of sculpted elephants and palm trees make this building even more Instagrammable.
7. Pagoda Paris, 48, rue de Courcelles, 8th arrondissement
Probably the most surprising building in all of Paris, Pagoda Paris is a red, Chinese-style building that looks like it came straight from the Far East. In reality, before Mr. Ching Tsai Loo, a collector and dealer of Chinese and Asian art and antiques, purchased and transformed it in 1925, it was a regular, French Louis Philippe style building. The Chinese theme continues inside with beautiful lacquer panels decorating the rooms. The building was used as an art gallery for Chinese and Asian art and antiques as part of Mr. Loo’s business until 2011. Honoring the legacy of Mr. Loo, Pagoda Paris is still used to host important exhibitions and sales of Chinese and Asian art.