An Alternative Valentine’s Weekend in Paris

An Alternative Valentine’s Weekend in Paris

PARIS, France – The City of Light. The most romantic city on earth and just the place to go for a Valentine’s weekend. Unless, that is, you’d prefer a Valentine’s weekend in Paris that’s not a cliche. Then what do you do? How do you spend a weekend in Paris without slip-sliding on the rose-coloured mush of it all? Fear not, I have le answer.

Whilst some romantic weekenders may choose to sashay through Paris’s leafy boulevards hand-in-hand, others – let’s call them the anti-Valentine’s weekenders – can use my alternative Paris weekend itinerary to step into Paris’s darker side.

But be warned: this is a side of Paris that is strictly not for the romantically-hearted…


Valentine's Weekend in Paris



Do this | Catacombes de Paris

20 metres below the Paris you know and recognise, is a labyrinth of tunnels that stretch into maddening darkness, known as the ‘Empire of Death’.

These are the Paris Catacombs, former quarries that were turned into a mass charnel maze in the 18th century when Paris’s graveyards were overflowing with the city’s dead. And within their darkness lies the silent bones of some six million Parisians.

Join a guided Viator Catacombe Tour tour of the Paris Catacombs for a sobering reminder of the fragility of life – but touch nothing: dead bones do not forgive their robbers. (1.5hrs, from £38.)

The Paris Catacombes - An alternative weekend in Parsi


Eat here | L’Hotel, Left Bank

Retreat into the handsome Left Bank quarter, St Germain Des Pre, and steal away down the Rue Des Beaux-Arts. Stowed here, almost invisible to passers-by, is one of the city’s most infamous hotels: L’Hotel.

It was at L’Hotel in room 16 in 1900 that Oscar Wilde breathed his last – famously remarking, “I am dying beyond my means”.

The room is still accepting paying guests today, but, understandably, off bounds to casual observers. Sit yourself down in L’Hotel’s opulent restaurant for Afternoon Tea (€40 per person).

Could Oscar Wilde have sat where you are? Jim Morrison, perhaps? Or how about Princess Grace, another of the hotel’s legendary patrons who died too young?

The thrill is in knowing and not knowing.

L'Hotel Paris - An alternative Valentine's Weekend in Paris


Go see | Gargoyles at Notre Dame

Wait until the sun has withered into darkness and then head to the ultimate gothic Parisian icon, Notre Dame.

In the moonlight, the stone snarls at you in the form of grotesque gargoyles and chimera. Half man, half beast, some with eagle’s wings and lion’s tails, these fantastical bent creatures adorn the gutters like a macabre string of pearls, thirstily guzzling the rainwater that collects on the Cathedral’s roof to prevent it from damaging the masonry.

Seeing them at night is as eerie as it gets, especially if you sidle away from the Valentine’s crowds who gather in front of the Cathedral, to a quieter side spot.

There are around 5,000 gargoyles barnacling Notre Dame. Their dead stares have watched the crowning of Mary Stuart, Emperor Napoleon and Henry VI of England. Tonight, they watch you.

Notre-Dame Paris - An Alternative Valentine's Weekend in Paris



Head here | Père Lachaise

Slip into the city’s most famous (and the world’s most visited) cemetery, Père Lachaise. Make sure you take a map or a guided tour, however: Père Lachaise covers 44-hectares and is a melange of towering tombs, ornate headstones and ghosted pathways – it’d be easy to lose yourself amongst those at rest and never find your way out.

Amongst the graves are some of the most famous writers, musicians and artists the world has ever known, including…

Chopin, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and French writer, Proust.

Tales of love and loss also abound here. One such tragic tale is that of the 147 federalists who fought an all-night battle in Père Lachaise on May 27 1871. Their fight was in vain and in the morning they were lined up against a plain wall, now known as The Wall of the Federalists (Mur des Fédérés) or Communard’s Wall, and shot by government forces.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris


Eat at | Dans Le Noir

Keep it dark, very dark, with lunch at Dans Le Noir. This quirky Parisian restaurant has a pitch-black dining room where waiters with visual impairments serve you meals you cannot see.

There’ll be no making eyes at one another over the table, but there will be an explosion of the senses as you taste and touch your way through the surprise menu.

Only after you’ve eaten do you know what you’ve been served, although this is nothing to fear: the menu is traditional French food. A 2-course meal (excluding drinks) costs 43€ and the 3 course meal costs 49€.

Dans Le Noir Restaurant, Paris



Do this | Ghosts, legends and mysteries tour

Step into the hush of the night for a guided tour of The City of Love’s turbulent history. With an English-speaking guide leading the way, you’ll slip down dark alleys going behind the romance of the city’s famous spots to explore mayhem and madness.

You’ll see the 7th century church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, where around 30,000 Huguenots were killed in the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, as well as learn about the sordid side to the Palais de Justice – where those found guilty by the court were executed before live audiences.

Believe me, it’s a unique and entertaining tour, which takes you off the beaten track and away from the Valentine’s crowds. Plus, it’s friendly on the purse too: £19.53 pp with City Wonders.

Dark Heart of Paris Tour

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind Valentine’s Day – I just like to do it in my own way, without the schmaltz. How about you? Is this the sort of alternative Valentine’s weekend you’d be tempted to try? Or are you a sucker for romance?


  1. February 14, 2017 / 7:01 pm

    Catacombs, gargoyles, a ghost tour, and a meal in the dark? This sounds right up my street! Who needs flowers and chocolates, eh? 😉

  2. February 14, 2017 / 11:22 pm

    This is Valentine’s Day for goths & emo couples….and people like me ;-). Give me macabre over mundane any day! I’ve never been ALL that drawn to mainstream Paris (I know, *gasp*, right?), but this has given me a new and tempting perspective.

    • February 19, 2017 / 3:28 pm

      That’s good news! I’m the same as you – I enjoy the edges of life rather than the centre!

  3. February 16, 2017 / 9:51 am

    I’d be happy with either kind of Valentines, in fact, mixing up the two extremes would be perfect for me. Twice now I’ve tried to visit the catacombs. The first time we turned up on one of the very few days of the year it is shut. The second time we queued for ages, only to be told that they were now closed with just one person left in the queue in front of us. At least we have it to look forward to next time we visit.

    • February 19, 2017 / 3:27 pm

      Oh no, what a shame! Perhaps book onto an organised tour and see if you can get a ‘skip the line’ ticket? It’s a must-see in my book.

  4. February 19, 2017 / 4:04 pm

    I would love to go to Dans le Noir! L’hotel looks fab too – great recommendations! We visited the catacombs a few years back and it really was fascinating, I would go again!

    • February 21, 2017 / 1:19 pm

      Me too – you need two visits to take it all in!

  5. February 19, 2017 / 11:21 pm

    I’m so not a Valentines person so this is much more up my street! Love the Catacombs and Père Lachaise so it might have to be the ghost tour next time I’m in Paris.

  6. June 11, 2017 / 4:12 pm

    Paris is a truly romantic and outstanding! Definitely a great destination!

  7. June 30, 2017 / 12:27 pm

    Purposeful travel is definitely my favourite way to explore! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  8. January 12, 2018 / 1:06 pm

    Paris is a truly romantic and outstanding! Definitely a great destination!
    thank you.

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