Welcome to the WXO Experience Safari: your guided tour through the best experiences around the world, tailored for experience designers.
Put together using recommendations from WXO Members, each Safari covers our favourite experiences in each destination – plus, why they’re interesting to experience designers, and what they might teach us about creating even better experiences.
The Paris Edition was compiled with contributions from Charlotte-Amélie Veaux and Julien Lifermann. If you’d like to submit your own recommendations – for Paris, or for another destination – fill in our Experience Safari form here.
In the first of our new travel guides, we explore what Paris has to offer the experiential tourist.
While many may flock to the City of Light to picnic under the Eiffel Tower or catch a glimpse of the (surprisingly small) Mona Lisa at the Louvre, bubbling under in the French capital are a wealth of interactive, multi-sensory experiences, from playing detective for the day to chowing down on ramen at an alarmingly accurate recreation of Tokyo’s now defunct Tsukiji fish market.
Read on for our round up of the best immersive events taking place in Paris right now – be sure to bring your wellies if you head to the market.
Experience type: Exhibition, Interactive, Museum
What it is: Renaissances at the Cité des Sciences poses big questions about the future of our planet, exploring possible scenarios of what life on earth might look like in 2023, 2029 and 2045. Running until 6 March 2022, the exhibition blends science fiction with scientific predictions. In a dystopian take on ‘choose your own adventure’ books, the future health of the planet is in visitors’ hands, and the decisions they make along with way determine the survival of life on earth.
Created in collaboration with Paris Dauphine University, the adventure begins with a survival scenario set in a forest in 2023, where visitors are forced to use their instincts and live off the land, finding their own food, water and shelter by scanning elements of the décor via an app downloaded on entry. It moves on to an apocalyptic scenario where a family of four under curfew in a devastated city are forced to live on rations by candlelight. The story unfolds as difficult visitor decisions are made. As its name suggests, Renaissances ends on a lighter note with the prospect of renewal.
Why it’s interesting for experience designers: “See how immersive experience tools including interaction, storytelling and tech are used for better engagement and learning in a science museum.” Charlotte-Amélie Veaux
Experience type: Exhibition, Art, Immersive, Museum
What it is: The first all-digital art museum in Paris, L’Atelier des Lumières is housed in a converted 19th century former iron foundry. The space has run successful immersive experiences on creative titans including Gustav Klimpt, Vincent van Gogh, and French trio Monet, Renoir and Chagall. Rather than peering into paintings, the works are projected onto screens around the room in a multimedia experience akin to a short film, allowing the narrative to unfold in real time.
The immediacy of the medium helps to bring ancient works to life in vivid detail, opening up the art world to a new audience. The atelier is currently showcasing the works of two Spanish greats – Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, most famous for his melting clocks, and Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí of Sagrada Familia fame. Running until 2 January, the Dalí exhibition has, rather brilliantly, been set to a Pink Floyd soundtrack and takes a deep dive into the artist’s magnificent, sometimes menacing mind, while the Gaudí experience will see an imaginary city spring to life to the rousing sounds of Gershwin.
Why it’s interesting for experience designers: “Because it’s certainly the most famous immersive French experience… and profitable! It’s beautiful, family friendly, and perfect for Instagram.” Charlotte-Amélie Veaux
Experience type: Exhibition, Art, Museum
What it is: Némo – the International Biennial of Digital Arts of the Île-de-France – hosts shows, performances and concerts in venues throughout France. Running until 2 January at the CentQuatre gallery in Paris, Beyond Reality explores how art, science and technology are able to reveal the invisible and imperceptible through astrophysical, magnetic, chemical and nuclear phenomena. With artistic direction from Gilles Alvarez and José-Manuel Gonçalvès, the rooms are grouped around themes including: ‘The Wrathful Earth’, ‘You Are Not Invisible’, ‘Unnatural Natures’, and ‘The Bureau of Expertise in Invisible Phenomena’.
As visitors walk through the exhibition, they are taken on a journey that unites science with science fiction, Stephen Hawking and H.P. Lovecraft, and Albert Einstein and Edgar Allen Poe, offering them a fresh perception of the world. Among the more unsettling elements of the show include being shown the long-term effects of radioactivity by observing plants subjected to it, and the chance to walk into a giant computer and see the contents of your smartphone projected onto a screen.
Experience type: Exhibition, Museum, Multisensory, Interactive
What it is: Running until July 2022, as the name suggests, Sensory Odyssey takes visitors on a deep dive into nature, exploring the myriad species inhabiting our planet. Journeying through eight natural habitats, from the Amazon rainforest to the Arctic Circle via the African Savannah, the exhibition combines ultra-high-definition projections filmed in 8K on giant screens with ambient sounds and smells, allowing visitors to experience a series of ecosystems and species in an interplay of scale and time.
Giving visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the sights, smells and sounds of nature, the experience stimulates the senses rather than relying on words. The final room uses interactive displays, illustrated frescoes and natural specimens to allow visitors to interpret their experience and encourage a broader reflection on our role as humans within the living world.
Why it’s interesting for experience designers: “To discover how an immersive exhibition has been designed to be easily displayed in the world.” Charlotte-Amélie Veaux
What it is: This Baroque château southeast of Paris is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, with sumptuous interiors to rival Versailles and a fascinating backstory. Three French greats united to create the castle in the Louis XIV style for owner Nicolas Fourquet: architect Louis Le Vau, landscape architect André Le Notre and painter Charles Le Brun. The story of the château has been brought to life via a new immersive experience where guests get to meet the colourful characters behind the estate, complete with evocative sounds, from rustling garments and chiming clocks to clinking glasses.
Beacons detect visitor headsets when they enter different rooms, activating animated scenes narrated through their headsets. The action covers the plot hatched by Colbert and Louis XIV against Fouquet, a sumptuous party with playwright Molière and Fouquet’s dramatic arrest by d’Artagnan. The aural experience, available in English, French and German, is free for visitors and doesn’t need to be booked in advance.
Why it’s interesting for experience designers: “To see how sound and storytelling can create a new way to visit and discover a castle.” Charlotte-Amélie Veaux
Experience type: Theatre, Immersive, Interactive, Escape Room
What it is: Lovers of CSI take note, as this immersive criminal investigation experience is right up your alley. Taking place in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, The Live Thriller drops you immediately into the heart of the action in the City of Light, where you’re given details of the case you have to solve in the city, inspired by classic thrillers like Seven and The Silence of the Lambs (minus the Chianti). Get ready for brutal interrogations, crime scene investigation and suspect shadowing.
In a two-hour period, you and your team are tasked with unravelling the mystery and solving the crime. Adrenaline junkies should book the experience at night for the full spine-tingling effect. Dark, dangerous and bone-chilling at times, the high production value of the Borderlive Concepts experience and high calibre actors makes it feel all the more real. Without wanting to give too much away, participants have to hunt down the Mannequin Man, an enigmatic serial killer who replaces his victims’ bodies with mannequins. The experience has four possible endings, depending on the decisions made during the investigation.
Why it’s interesting for experience designers: “See how they blend storytelling, interaction, setting and public space.” Charlotte-Amélie Veaux
Experience type: Theatre, Immersive, Multisensory
What it is: Le Manoir de Paris has been the immersive horror show benchmark in France for over a decade. Putting on a host of different immersive events each year, its flagship experience is Les Légendes de Paris, which explores the city’s dark side and features cameos from a colourful troop of characters, including the man in the iron mask, the Phantom of the Opera and Quasimodo. Its Halloween show, meanwhile, is a “horror blockbuster” with a new theme each year. Expect high quality acting, impressive special effects and light shows aplenty in these sense-stimulating experiences that taken in everything from smell and sound to touch.
Experience type: Dining, Immersive
What it is: Named in honour of Japan’s largest fish market, which closed its doors in 2018, expect queues snaking down Rue de Richelieu in the 2nd arrondissement if you want to get your lips around a steaming bowl of seafood ramen. Run by former fighter pilot Jean-Baptiste Meusnier, waiters wear rubber boots to protect them from puddles, and you’ll encounter piles of puffer fish with shocked expressions in gleaming silver trays alongside iridescent eels curled up cosily on beds of ice.
Aiming to recreate the experience of chowing down in Tsukiji market, the décor has been thoughtfully replicated, and transports diners to Tokyo via stacks of white polystyrene boxes, plastic bags hanging from the ceiling and the sound of seagulls piped through the speakers – it’s more movie set than restaurant, though mercifully the smell of raw fish and clammy atmosphere was deemed a step too far. Start with some bream gyoza with a spicy miso dressing to whet your appetite, then move on to one of the seven twists on ramen on offer, from sardine and lobster to scallop, paired with salty slivers of braised Basque pork.
Why it’s interesting for experience designers: “How to put immersion into taste, versus just having a nice Instagram-friendly setting for the sake of it and charging for that.” Charlotte-Amélie Veaux
Experience type: Dining, Immersive
What it is: This achingly hip drinking den on rue Faubourg Saint Martin in the 10th arrondissement has been decked out to look like a vintage Indian train carriage, complete with wooden bag racks. Hidden behind a door at the back of an Indian restaurant, you’ll need a secret password go get in. Following a patchouli-scented passage, once inside the royal blue bar lined with leather banquettes and buzzing with Bollywood tracks, it’s time to hop on the train and enjoy the ride.
In place of windows are screens hanging from the walls that project a series of countryside scenes and create a feeling of movement. Be sure to face forward if you’re of a delicate disposition. At the far end of the bar a big screen projects images of railway tracks, adding to the feeling of forward motion. As for the drinks, expect classic cocktails with a subtly spiced twist served with high-end snacks. Little details add to the atmosphere, from the slow-moving ceiling fans to the cocktail menu, which looks like an Indian passport dotted with stamps. Try the Tajma, a blend of rums mixed with pineapple juice served in a fresh coconut.
Experience type: Dining, Immersive, Escape Room, Interactive
What it is: If you like your cocktails with a side of escapism then Potions & Co is for you. The escape bar created by the Prizoners brand invites guests to solve puzzles, collect vials and create their own molecular cocktails while they’re at it. Located a stone’s throw from the Louvre in the centre of Paris, the two-hour experience aims to take visitors on a journey into the art of alchemy through the ages, and invites them to create molecular cocktails while following the classic principles of an escape game. The bar’s flagship ‘Secrets of the Immortal’ experience centres around ridding one of the master alchemists from an ancient curse, and includes three cocktails.
The WXO Experience Safaris are live works-in-progress. What have we missed? Is there an experience in or near Paris we really should add? Or, is there a destination you know well? The WXO is building the world’s first experiential travel guides, by experience experts for experience experts. To suggest an experience, in this or another destination, fill out our WXO Experience Safari form here and we’ll be in touch.