Searching For Strange in Paris?
Paris may be known for its high fashion and world-renowned art museums, but it's also a place where you can stumble on the wonderfully weird and eccentric in any number of unassuming side streets. Sometimes, odd emporiums even stand in plain sight on major streets, but too many pass by without noticing.
Unlike many global capitals, where "weird" tends to rhyme with hipster irony and willful kitschiness, Paris' oddest shops-- from curiosity cabinets to rat catchers' and bookshops-- seem to genuinely hail from a different era, and seem earnestly unaware of their potential for cool.
This collection of shops – some old, some new – represents the city's quirkier side, and will surely add some originality to your visit. So while those well-known monuments like the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower deserve your time, these eclectic spots are sure to inspire awe, at times disgust, and perhaps a few giggles. If you're looking for strange and eccentric details in Paris, they're well worth some time.
A word of warning: many of these shops feature items like taxidermied animals, so if you're squeamish or sensitive about such things, you might want to abstain from visiting some of the places on our list. Read on to find out which shops made the cut for what the French like to call les bizarreries.
Deyrolle: Serving Up Strange Since 1831
Founded in 1831, this shop on the west edge of the chic St-Germain-des-Prés area epitomizes the cabinet of curiosities trend from a bygone era-- but its weird appeal endures. Featuring objects of natural history like insects, animals, rocks and minerals, this store offers up a bizarre spectacle. In every nook and cranny, you’ll find interesting (if slightly disturbing) objects, like stuffed kangaroos and warthogs, coral, shark teeth, elaborate butterfly and beetle collections, stuffed birds, and so much more. Many items are for sale, so if you have a bit of savings and are looking for something bizarre to liven up your living room and spark conversation among your guests, there’s no better place to browse than here.
Address: 46 rue du Bac, 7th arrondissement
Metro: Rue du Bac
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 22 30 07
L'Objet qui parle: Paris' weirdest vintage shop?
This vintage store/cabinet of curiosity can feel overwhelming to anyone who's clutter-shy. Jam-packed with stuff -- from antique bottles, colorful flags, chandeliers and kitschy Jesus and Virgin Mary figurines, this bite-sized shop in Montmartre is great for browsing or buying. The items don’t come cheap, unfortunately, but everything here is “authentically French” and high-quality, and one has the impression of landing on one-of-a-kind items. The shop specializes in religious paraphernalia, and the shop owner is always happy to assist visitors looking for specific items. This is definitely worth a detour after an afternoon exploring the arty Northern neighborhood.
Address: 86 rue des Martyrs, 18th arrondissement
Metro: Pigalle or Abbesses
Tel: +33 (0)6 09 67 05 30
Open: Monday-Saturday 1:00pm-7:30pm
Aurouze Deratisation: Grotesque Displays Since 1925
What could be more shudder-worthy than seeing a rat scurry across the platform as you wait for the metro in Paris? Not much. Except, of course, a rat in your home or establishment. Paris is, unfortunately, home to too many rats and other mongrels to count, and local businesses are fighting back.
Exterminator shops can be found around the city, and Aurouze Deratisation, open since 1925 in the area known as Les Halles, is the most famous, having made a true-to-life appearance in Disney's beloved animated film Ratatouille. Since the film came out, the shop has become even more of a tourist attraction than it was before. The shops themselves aren’t really what's interesting – it’s the bizarre way they choose to advertise themselves. Stuffed rats, mice and other rodents sit unabashedly in the windowsills, often posed in odd ways (dancing, eating a morsel of cheese) and looking so real it seems they’ll jump right out at you. Even if you’re not battling any rodent life during your stay, this shop is worth a visit – even just a glance at the window from the street – for the pure "ick factor".
Address: 8 rue des Halles, 1st arrondissement
Metro: Les Halles or Chatelet
Hygiene Premium: Old-Fashioned Exterminator
Can't get enough of the bizarre exterminator shops? A lesser-known shop lies in the northeastern heights of the 19th arrondissement, close to the ultramodern Parc de la Villette. Again, it's not worth more than a quick glance, but in an area that's one of the last in Paris to resist gentrification, this shop testifies to the city's long tradition of independent, quirky commerce.
Address: 22 avenue de Flandre, 19th arrondissement
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 40 76 68
Comptoir General: Bar, Curiosity Cabinet, and More
This hidden gem tucked in a courtyard right off of Canal St Martin is the kind of multifunctional and arty communal space you'd expect to see in Berlin rather than in Paris: it at once serves as a bar, concert space, community center, thrift store and cabinet of curiosities. With hardly any signage to indicate its existence, you may walk right by it on the street – but don’t. Inside, you’ll find tall trees and plants galore, tattered leather couches and retro kitchen tables, where you can enjoy a mint tea or a tropical cocktail. Apart from the two main bar areas, the Comptoir is split into several rooms – one set up like a 1950s classroom, complete with school furnishings from the era; another featuring second-hand books, records and clothing; and a cabinet of curiosities where you’ll find animal skulls, gemstones, magnifying glasses and other fascinating or slightly disturbing old objects. In the evening, Le Comptoir Generale’s small restaurant offers simple Indian dishes like samosas.
Address: 80 Quai de Jemmapes, 10th arrondissement
Tel: +33 (0)1 44 88 20 45
Visit the official website
Open everyday 11am-1am
Nature et Passion: Butterflies and Beetles, Oh My!
Bug collectors unite! This unassuming shop is a wonder to admire – fluorescent blue-winged butterflies and bright green beetles make up this simple collection of insects. Watch the shop owner – a self-trained entomologist – at work, identifying bugs small and large, and pinning them to foam boards along the way. The insects can be simply admired, or purchased in the store or online. It's a bit of a trek up to the hilly reaches of the Gambetta neighborhood, but worth the effort if you're an aficianado/and or are in the area to visit the stately Pere-Lachaise cemetery.
Address: 2 rue Dupont de l’Eure, 20th arrondissement
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 31 50 01
Visit the website
Open Wednesday-Friday 12-6:30pm, Saturday 10am-6pm
Shakespeare and Company: Bohemian Dreams of Old
This much-beloved bookstore, overlooking the Notre Dame cathedral in the center of the St-Michel quarter, is every book lover’s dream. The iconic spot, undoubtedly one of Paris' best bookstores, was opened by the late George Whitman, one of Paris’s literary icons, in 1951 and remains largely unchanged since then. Stacks of old and new reads fill the high shelves, all packed into such a tiny space that you’ll wonder how so many visitors can fit in at once. But fit in, they do. The fairytale-like bookshop has grown so popular recently that you may have to fight the masses for that last copy of Tropic of Cancer. But braving the crowds is entirely worth it. Upstairs, you’ll often find someone playing the resident piano, and you’ll be able to see the beds of young writers, or "tumbleweeds", who swap work in the shop for a free place to stay. Resident cats with considerably dusty coats are often seen sleeping on stacks of books, or lazing around near the registers, where clerks use every available moment of downtime to read. If you’re in Paris for a length of time, do consider taking advantage of free readings by Anglophone authors and creative writing classes held here.
Address: 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 5th arrondissement
Metro: Saint Michel
Tel: +33 (0) 1 43 25 40 93
Visit the website
Open Monday-Saturday 10am-11pm, Sunday 11am-11pm.
Perusing the Puces de Clignancourt (Flea Market)
Located just over the northern border of Paris at the Porte de Clignancourt metro stop, the Puces de Clignancourt, the city's oldest and most popular flea market, offers thousands upon thousands of items, from old books, records, knick-knacks, furniture and home deco items, and countless other objects, many of them weird and harking from eras long gone. It takes lots of sifting to find the gems, but if you're on a tight budget and don't mind the dig, it's well worth the effort. A word of warning, however: be especially wary of Parisian pickpockets while browsing the stalls here.
Elsewhere on the Web: See Manning Krull's Cool Stuff in Paris -- highly recommended for anything in the realm of the weird, wacky, or creepy in the city of light.