Uncovering the Hidden Beauty of Paris as a College Student

By Cameron Wacker


There is nothing quite like waking up in Paris. Sun glistens over zinc Haussman rooftops, boulangeries prepare their baskets of baguettes, and cobblestone streets flood with people (and of course… pigeons). Lucky enough for me, I got to fall in love with Paris every day for four months.


While everyone knows the “must-visit” places in Paris, living there for months revealed the city’s hidden charm. Reflecting on my semester abroad, I am excited to share what Paris looks like through my eyes. 


Eiffel Tower view from the back of Place Vendôme


The Louvre and Musée d’Orsay both offer wonderful collections, the Louvre containing thousands of works up until the mid-19th century, and d’Orsay’s collection spanning from the mid-19th century till the early 20th century. While I loved the many days I spent at both museums, I truly fell in love with the non-touristy Parisian museums. 


A glimpse into Musée Cognacq-Jay’s interior


A Polish-style bed from Versailles on display in Musée Cognacq-Jay


One of my favorites, Musée Cognacq-Jay, is a quaint museum hidden in the heart of the Marais. The museum collection is displayed in a hôtel particulier, a historic townhouse for French families, allowing visitors to intimately connect with the art. Offering works from the 18th century, Cognacq-Jay features many pieces that highlight the bourgeois lifestyle and life in the private sphere. The hôtel particulier is adorned with wall moldings and embraces its creaky, wooden floors, making it feel as though you are walking through someone’s home. Outside the museum walls, there is also a beautiful private garden to enjoy after your visit. 


The outside of Musée de Montmartre


The last remaining vineyard in Montmartre


A recreation of Suzanne Valadon’s artist studio


Montmartre, a beautiful district in the 18th arrondissement, is home to the famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica and has one of the best views of the city. While visiting this area is a must, many people miss the Musée de Montmartre. The private museum explores the history of Montmartre and its rich culture, filled with stories of famous artists who lived in the area. The museum building itself was once home to incredible French artists such as Maurice Utrillo and Auguste Renoir. One of my favorite rooms in the museum is a recreation of Suzanne Valadon’s artist studio, who also lived in the museum’s building, inviting visitors to enjoy the famous French painter’s creative hub. The museum is also placed directly next to the last remaining vineyard in Montmartre, a truly amazing sight. 


Rue Mallet-Stevens displaying incredible Modernist architecture and design


The 16th arrondissement is home to some incredible Modernist and Art Deco architecture, from architects such as Robert Mallet-Stevens and Le Corbusier. Rue Mallet-Stevens, finished by the architect in 1927, is decorated with a few modernist homes. The modernist architecture, characterized by sleek lines and geometrical shapes, embodies the Modernist movement. The buildings’ white walls adhere to the simplistic and functionalist principles of Modernism, almost resembling a blank canvas. This peaceful street, secretly tucked away in the 16th, is a must-see. 


Frescoed walls in Le Petit Lutetia


While I spent most of my days wandering through the museums and streets of Paris, my dinners at dim-lit brasseries might be my favorite part of Parisian culture. One of my top restaurants, Le Petit Lutetia, is a great place to end a long day exploring the city. The simple menu offers many delicious French classics, but the ambiance is what makes the restaurant so charming. Of the many dishes I tried there, my favorite dish was their chicken breast “cocotte,” a chicken rich with flavor and dressed in a creamy mushroom sauce. 


The talented Jazz band at Caveau de la Huchette


As David Sweet mentioned in his wonderful piece last week about his family’s trip to Paris, Caveau de La Huchette is one of many hidden gems in the Latin Quarter. Parisians and tourists alike dance the night away in this small jazz club, a magical glimpse into the jazz culture of the past– Don’t miss this spot!


On your next trip to Paris— which I hope you’re ready to book as my story comes to an end— explore everything that Paris has to offer. Stroll along the Seine, enjoy the Mona Lisa, and of course, watch the eiffel tower sparkle (truthfully, I did this as often as I could). But don’t forget the hundreds of non-touristy spots that unveil the hidden beauty of Paris.