Parisians take their leisure time seriously, which to be honest, is one of the many reasons I love living in this city. There are over 420 public parks and gardens spread out across Paris, and when the weather is nice, they are all packed. For visitors, most people make a point of going to see places like the Tuileries Gardens, the Champ de Mars, and the Luxembourg Gardens. This is understandable, as they are all beautiful and well worth a visit. That being said, if you’re looking for something off the beaten track, I suggest you set your sights to the northeast and head to the Parc de la Villette. It may have taken me almost a year after I moved to Paris to discover this hidden gem, but once I did, it quickly became one of my favourite places in Paris.
From Meat Market to Contemporary Park
The Parc de la Villette used to house the slaughterhouses and meat markets of Paris. Not exactly the most auspicious beginning to a public park, but nevertheless, these abattoirs stood in this location for over 100 years until they were relocated in 1974. By that point the French government had decided to redesign the area, and French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi was given the task of turning the so-called City of Blood into a contemporary public park. The Parc de la Villette officially opened in 1987, and today draws over 10 million visitors every year.
This is because there’s so much to see and experience at the Parc de la Villette. Interestingly enough, in a city as packed with museums as Paris, this park is home to one of the largest concentrations of cultural spaces in the city. The Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie is the largest science museum in all of Europe, and directly in front of it sits La Géode, an IMAX theatre housed in a massive geodesic dome. The park is also home to the Philharmonie de Paris, the Cite de la Musique, and the Zenith concert venue, among numerous other performance spaces. And finally, the Grande Hall de la Villette is a must-see. Originally built in 1867, this building is one of the few to survive the redesign of the area. What was once a live cattle market now plays host to trade shows, exhibitions, and cultural events, all under the building’s beautiful cast-iron and glass structure.
Time to Visit Year Round
The Parc de la Villette also is home to numerous events throughout the year, so there’s always something new to see. Every summer, the park hosts the Cinéma En Plein Air, an open air cinema that screens a wonderful mix of international and French films under the open sky. In addition to its concert schedule, the Philharmonie presents musical themed exhibitions throughout the year, as well as a museum of musical history. And every spring, the park is home to the 100% Festival, a months long cultural event featuring dozens of performances by artists from all over France.
At present, the event at the park currently generating the most excitement is the upcoming exposition of the treasures of King Tut of Egypt. This exhibit will be taking place in the aforementioned Grande Hall, and will feature over 150 Egyptian treasures. It’s been announced that these treasures are on their last international tour before they return to Egypt permanently.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also dozens of architectural follies to admire, contemporary modern art to appreciate, and playgrounds for children to climb over. Not to mention kilometres of running trails, acres of fields for sports, and the Canal de l’Ourcq for boat rides. There’s even canal cruises for those who have travelled the River Seine one too many times. Have I convinced you to visit yet?
Truly a Hidden Gem of Paris
If you can squeeze in a visit to the Parc de la Villette the next time you are in Paris it will be well worth your time. Especially if you’re looking for something off the beaten track. In fact, “villette” means “little town” in French, and I can’t think of a more appropriate name for this little oasis of contemporary architecture among the Haussmann buildings of Paris. If you do get a chance to visit, I hope you will love this hidden gem as much as I do.
Getting to the Parc de la Villette
The Parc de la Villette can be accessed by lines 5 (Porte de Pantin) and 7 (Porte de la Villette) on the Metro, as well as by Tram line 3b (Porte de Pantin). The park is open seven days a week from 6AM to 1AM.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.