A different Paris

From La Villette to the François Mitterrand library, a walk to discover a different, little-known part of Paris

Make a start at La Villette by exploring the Cité des Sciences, its exhibitions and interactive centres. Once your brain cells have been exercised, take yourself for a walk along the Canal Saint-Martin and appreciate the opportunity to catch up on a former working-class area now newly fashionable. The banks of the canal are lined with cheerful bistros where you can stop for lunch. Setting off from the place de la République situated a little further south, you will find yourself in Beaubourg and the Pompidou Centre in just a handful of metro stops, for a look at the latest must-see exhibition. Then drink in the special charm of the banks of the Seine River with a stroll as far as the Institut du Monde Arabe and, a little further on, bring the day to a close with dinner at the water’s edge at the threshold of the new ultra modern district around the National Library.

1 Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie - Universcience

Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie © OTCP - Marc Bernard

Behind its steel and glass exterior, this futuristic giant, surrounded by water, offers a multitude of activities that make science and technology fun and accessible. Talks, aquarium, 3-D cinema, Cités des Enfants, des Métiers, de la Santé, exhibitions, media library, planetarium, workshops, etc. Difficult to fit everything in at one go!

2 Stroll along the Saint-Martin Canal

Bateau-mouche, Canal Saint-Martin, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Destined to disappear at the start of the 70s, as part of President Pompidou’s plans to locate a four-lane motorway on this very spot, the Saint-Martin Canal was luckily spared such a fate. Today, it offers visitors a pastoral setting in which to enjoy a relaxing stroll.

3 A few steps away from République

Ave Maria restaurant, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

The bustling crossroads of rue Oberkampf and rue Saint-Maur, as well as rue Jean-Pierre-Timbaud, are full of cosmopolitan crowded bistros, cafe theatres and small bars. In this little area, you’ll find music and everything you could want to nibble, sip, whistle and mix right through the night.

4 The Centre Pompidou, a modern classic

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris © Thinkstock

In the heart of Paris, in the Marais district, the Centre Pompidou, which opened in 1977, is one of the best examples of modern architecture in Paris. Very (or too much) ahead of its time, its construction caused a scandal in the 1970s! Breaking with the museum aesthetics of the time, ‘Beaubourg’ marks a turning point in the history of traditional museums. Here, the architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano wanted to break with the solemnity of cultural institutions of the time. Features include: bright colours, visible exterior structures (large external pipes: green for water, blue for aeration, yellow for electricity) and transparent surfaces that show what is happening inside. The Centre Pompidou seeks to be a vibrant open place with a playful vibe, where art is not sacred.

5 Institut du monde arabe

Institut du Monde Arabe © OTCP - DR

Arab-Muslim civilisation is showcased at the centre of timeless Paris in this superb glass and steel building, designed by Jean Nouvel and Architecture Studio, and built in 1987. Behind the mobile moucharabiyah screens that regulate the amount of sunlight entering the building, tradition and modern technology work together to set the tone. An ultra-modern oriental gentleness reigns over the museum, exhibition rooms, auditorium, library and media library for young people, language centre, bookshop, restaurant and literary cafe. One can also enjoy temporary exhibitions, mint tea and concerts, dance and cinema, conferences, sugar-covered shortbread crescents, art workshops and more.

6 The BnF, cultural grandeur

Bibliothèque Nationale de France © OTCP - David Lefranc

Direction the south-east of the capital to the Tolbiac district in the heart of the 13th arrondissement. This is where the majestic Bibliothèque Nationale François Mitterrand. The library houses part of the collections of the historic Bibliothèque Nationale (national library), on rue Richelieu. Designed by the French architect Dominique Perrault, this monumental building celebrated its 20th anniversary in March. The building is aesthetically sleek and minimalist, in keeping with the ‘less is more’ trend of the famous German architect Mies van der Rohe. The building consists of four corner towers in the shape of open books: a nice reference for a library! The towers are free standing without any surrounding walls or fences and are therefore easily accessible to everyone. The emptiness of the interior space is occupied by a magnificent garden. The construction of the BnF was followed by the development of a new Parisian neighbourhood around it, on both sides of the Seine linked by the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge (Feichtinger, 2006).