Paris Activities

Establishment neighborhood
Parc de la Villette
211 Ave. Jean Jaurès, 19th
Sited on a former industrial wasteland (the Parc de la Villette had served as a slaughterhouse since the 19th century until its rehabilitation in the '70s), this expansive cultural venue is the perfect marriage of old and new. Many of the original buildings—including the veterinarian hospital—are now exhibition halls, and 10 themed gardens, many of which are devoted to kids, dot the landscape. All-in, the Parc de la Villette now houses the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, three major concert venues, and the Conservatoire de Paris.
Place du Panthéon, 5th
Modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, this giant mausoleum houses the remains of some of Paris's most famous citizens: Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Monnet, Marie and Pierre Curie, Emile Zola, and as of 2002, Alexandre Dumas. And it was under the central dome that Léon Foucault constructed his pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the earth (the original now lives in the Musée des Arts et Métiers). In 2007, Jacques Chirac dedicated a plaque in The Pantheon to the thousands of French citizens who harbored Jews during the German occupation, protecting them from concentration camp internment.
Jardin du Luxembourg
15 Rue de Vaugirard, 6th
One of the prettiest and most popular parks in Paris still feels fairly local. Less traversed by tourists than the Tuileries and with more to do, the Jardin du Luxembourg is where you’ll catch Parisians soaking up the sun in front of the palace, playing chess at public tables, hitting balls on the tennis courts, and challenging one another to lively games of pétanque. And this park really shines when it comes to occupying little kids: Children can sail model boats in the fountains, watch shows at the puppet theatre, or ride donkeys on the vintage carousel. The park sits on the border of the Latin quarter and Saint-Germain—both worth a walk through, but if you have to pick, you should prioritize the latter.
Parc Floral de Paris
Route de la Pyramide, Bois de Vincennes, 12th
At 2,500 acres (about three times the size of NYC's Central Park) the Bois de Vincennes was ample enough to act as the royal hunting grounds in the 13th and 14th centuries, and serve as the site of most of the events during the 1900 Summer Olympics. 17 years later, Dutch spy Mata Hari would be executed in the park's fortress. But we digress: The Bois de Vincenne's Parc Floral de Paris is one of four botanical gardens in the city, home to 3,000 types of plant (including 650 varieties of Iris). There are peacocks, there's a bonsai garden, and there's an annual jazz festival in the park's amphitheater that draws big crowds.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
1 Rue Botzaris, 19th
Opened in 1864, the Parc des Butte Chaumont was actually a giant public works project: It's called after Chauve-mont, which means bleak hill, because before its makeover, it was actually a dump (as well as a site where they displayed the bodies of hanged criminals). After years of terracing, planting, and construction (everything, from the man-made lake to the cliffs, was molded into shape), the park opened to huge crowds. Beyond just being a lovely place to pass the day (particularly when it's spent drinking wine at Rosa Bonheur), the grotto, waterfalls, and Temple de la Sibylle are big draws—along with a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel.
La Pagode (Closed)
57 Bis Rue de Babylone, 7th
Designed by architect Alexandre Marcel in 1896, La Pagode was a gift from François-Emile Morin, the then-director of Le Bon Marché to his wife (she left him for his business partner shortly thereafter). Originally commissioned as a ballroom, its opulent (and stunning) interior—and flanking bamboo gardens—were transformed into a cinema in the '30s. When it was slated for demolition in the '70s, director Louis Malle stepped in: Now, you can see art house films here in what has to be one of the more original cinemas in the world.