Let This Street Art Scavenger Hunt Be Your Guide to Paris

Flash Invaders is your invitation to find over 1,000 renegade mosaics in the city.

The masked artist installs his work at night, and often without permission. In Paris, where the artist lives, 1,485 of his mosaics (and counting) can currently be spotted throughout the city, beckoning both tourists and locals to explore. But his work has marked his travels in international cities since 1998 and even appears on the International Space Station. And for nearly a decade, these tiled pieces of renegade art, made to resemble the pixelated style of the ‘80s video game Space Invaders, have been part of a competitive game themselves—a modern-day scavenger hunt full of twists and turns.

The artist in question goes by the pseudonym Invader. His pieces range in size from that of a coffee table book to that of an actual coffee table, with designs that complement their placement. For example, you’ll find a queen on Boulevard de la Reine in Versailles, and a pretzel in Munich.

In 2014, Invader launched a free app called Flash Invaders. Similar to Pokémon Go, it encourages players to photograph, or “flash,” pieces they find in the wild in order to accumulate points. There is no prize—just bragging rights. I’d know; I’ve been playing for about six years and am currently ranked 3,205 out of over 300,000 players, with pieces flashed in 13 out of 83 territories worldwide. The majority of my points come from Paris, where I live. As a fellow resident of the city, Invader is always adding to Paris’s landscape. He also often “invades” new cities, prompting diehard players to hightail it to the latest addition.

Invader art in Hong Kong
Unsplash/bady abbas

But locating a new Invader piece isn’t exactly straightforward—and therein lies the real difficulty of the game. The artist usually unveils a new piece on Instagram, but he’s careful not to reveal too much of the background, so it can be hard to recognize the mosaic’s surroundings. Every so often, when Invader does a gallery show, he’ll release a physical map that can go for upwards of €350 on eBay, but even these maps don’t note exact addresses or GPS coordinates. To make it all even more complicated, pieces are sometimes stolen by thieves who think they’ll be able to resell them for profit on the black market, or removed by businesses who didn’t necessarily want a pixelated pineapple outside their restaurant.

Some players, myself included, find joy in just happening upon a new Invader piece. Others, like my friend Amy—who is ranked 964 on the app—create spreadsheets and maps, and set out on walks with a specific piece in mind to find. No matter your method, it’s a creative way to discover art and explore a city. And Paris in particular, with more than a thousand mosaics to find, really lends itself to Invader-inspired excursions. On that note, I will not be revealing exact coordinates for fear of being banished from this insular club of devoted “hunters.” But I will give you a head start on how to locate Invader’s pieces in Paris, along with sites and snack spots to visit near his work.

Mario street art in Paris
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Super Mario (50 points)

Rue du Platre by Rue des Archives
From the corner of Rue des Archives, the Centre Pompidou pops out behind Mario’s head, making a visit to this modern art museum an ideal companion to gameplay when flashing in this part of the Marais. Snap your photo of Mario (code PA_953 on Flash Invaders) and enjoy the museum. Recent exhibits have included Georgia O’Keefe and Alice Neel, but the iconic building is also home to permanent collections that include artwork from Kandinsky and Kahlo. Pro tip: There are tons of Invader pieces nearby, including a huge one by the Stravinsky Fountain and even a small one inside the museum, above the gift shop.

If you work up an appetite with your first few flashes, try some Lebanese ashta ice cream at Glace Bachir. This sweet treat has a milky base with a hint of orange blossom. The line is worth the wait, and don’t forget the chantilly and pistachios.

In the Clouds (100 points)

Outside on the summit level of the Eiffel Tower
Climb Paris’s most famed monument and increase your standing in the game by buying a ticket to go up the Eiffel Tower. Once you’re on the summit level, the Invader piece (PA_1431) can be tough to locate—and not just because of the crowds angling for the best selfie spot 1,000 feet in the air above Paris. Be patient and ye shall see the little mosaic of a figure with his head in les nuages. Just don’t forget to look around and enjoy the view of the city, too!

For a post-Eiffel Tower bite, stop by the floating restaurant Francette. With a roof deck for tapas and cocktails, a cave for wine tastings, and an indoor bistro for more formal meals, the restaurant is perfect for whatever meal strikes your mood, and whatever weather strikes your visit.

Mona Lisa Invader street art in Paris
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Mona Lisa (100 points)

Rue du Louvre between Rue Bailleul and Rue Saint-Honoré
Sure, you can go see the real da Vinci masterpiece inside the Louvre and hope you don’t get elbowed in the face in the process. But if you’re a fan of modern art, admire Invader’s Mona Lisa (PA_1097) on Rue du Louvre and then check out the Pinault Collection located inside a former stock exchange. The sunlit rotunda is stunning in its own right, but the permanent collection features remarkable—and at times surprising—work from the likes of Maurizio Cattelan. Be sure to look for the animatronic mouse on the floor on your way out.

Before you leave the neighborhood, head over to Boutique yam’Tcha, a walk-up window on Rue Sauval that serves the fluffiest fresh bao with a French twist from Michelin-starred chef Adeline Grattard. (Think cherry and stilton cheese and caramelized onions and comté.)

Picasso street art in Paris by Invader
Photo by Sara Lieberman

Picasso (100 points)

Corner of Rue Elzévir and Rue due Parc Royale
Surely it’s no accident that Invader installed this portrait of Picasso (PA_1102) in his famous striped shirt near the Picasso museum, so you might as well follow your flash by popping into the former mansion that houses some of the Spanish artist’s early work. To honor the 50th anniversary of his death, a colorful expo curated by designer Paul Smith is on through the end of August.

Follow your Picasso excursion with a pita sandwich. While most tourists can be found waiting in line for falafel at L'As du Fallafel, the only pita sandwich I ever want in Paris is from Miznon. Try the chou farci (stuffed cabbage) or poisson epicée (spicy fish).

Dr. House (100 points)

On the facade of Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière along boulevard Vincent Auriol
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re clearly a fan of pop culture, so flashing this giant likeness of the TV character Dr. House (PA_1205) should only be an excuse to explore the rarely-visited-by-tourists 13th arrondissement where some of the city’s most prolific muralists—from Shepard Fairey and D*Face to Seth and C215—have painted skyscrapers with their trademark styles. For an even deeper look into the counterculture, make your way to the cobblestoned quarter known as the Butte-aux-Cailles, where the graffiti artist Miss Tic found fame.

While you’re in the area, peek into Paris’s startup incubator Station F, which also happens to house La Felicita, a 48,000-square foot Italian food hall serving spritzes, pizzas, calzones, and more.

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Sara Lieberman is a contributor for Thrillist.