The Parisian covered passages are a world apart from the crowded museums or busy Grands Boulevards in Paris. By the end of the XVIIIth century town planners created a labyrinth of hidden commercial galleries across the city with beautiful stained glass ceilings, mosaic works and iron latticework, all bathed in natural light. Apart from its dominating merchant role, they were also the new bourgeois’ favorite stroll, the place to show up and socialize in its endless cafes, restaurants or small theaters.
Over the years only few passages survived. Restored to its former glory they are nowadays real Art Nouveau / Neoclassical architectural gems and if you know where to look you will find delightful ancient boutiques, cute tearooms and other curiosity shops. These charming passages, totally free to visit, are the perfect shelter for a rainy day but also a trip back in time to the wonderful Belle Époque.
Luckily most of these galleries are in the second and ninth Parisian districts so you can go from one passage to the following one by foot. With few exceptions, they open from Monday to Saturday, during the business hours. Here are our favourite ones :
1. GALLERIE VIVIENNE – THE MOST ELEGANT
Built in 1823, this gallery is considered the most beautiful, elegant and exquisite passage in Paris. If you have time to visit only one covered passage, choose this one. Today Gallerie Vivienne gathers luxury boutiques, bookshops, fabric shops and lovely bistrots. Don’t miss its elegant architecture and the original mosaic floor with the names of the former shops at the entrance of them.
Our must-sees: check the world reputed Wolff & Descourtis (#18) for its cashmere shawls and fashionable fabric designs. Legrand Filles et Fils (1 rue de la Banque) is considered the best wine shop in Paris (more than 3000 labels). Librairie F Jousseamme (#45) is a famous bookshop, also selling beautiful ancient postcards.
The perfect break: Bistrot Vivienne (rue des Petits Champs), a typical Parisian bistrot with quality traditional cuisine. A Priori Thé (#35) is an elegant Parisian tearoom, perfect for your afternoon tea.
Location: 4 rue des Petit-Champs 75002 Paris ; M. Bourse L3 or Palais Royal –Musée du Louvre L1, L7, Vélib Post #2009.
2. GALLERIE COLBERT – THE ETERNAL RIVAL
Its entrance is on the same street than Gallerie Vivienne so it is impossible to get lost! Actually Passage Colbert (1826) was built to be in competition with Gallerie Vivienne but it was less successful than its rival. Don’t miss the richness of its architecture and neoclassical decoration and of course its 15-metres diameter rotunda, its main feature. This gallery is mainly orientated towards culture so there are no shops here. It hosts l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art and L’Institut National du Patrimoine.
The perfect break: the restaurant Le Grand Colbert (2 rue Vivienne), with its unique Art Nouveau atmosphere, for a nice meal or an excellent hot chocolate in the afternoon.
Location: 2 rue Vivienne 75002 Paris ; M. Bourse L3 or Palais Royal Musée du Louvre L1, L7, Vélib Post #2009.
3. PASSAGE DU GRAND CERF – THE HIDDEN GEM
One of the most beautiful passages in Paris, not easy to find though. It was built in 1825 on the site of the Hôtel du Grand Cerf, from which it took its name. Its pleasing interior has many curious crafts, artisan shops and high quality jewelries. Don’t miss its spectacular 12 metre-high structure made of metal and wrought iron with a beautiful glass roof and its flourished balconies on the first floor.
Our must-sees: Eric et Lydie (#7), contemporary jewelry designers. Pour Vos Beaux Yeux (#10) specializes in vintage eye-wear. Rickshaw (#7) sells curious objects from all around the world.
The perfect break: Le Pas Sage (#1) is a wine bar perfect to finish your shopping in style.
Location: 145 rue de Saint Denis 75002 Paris ; M. Étienne-Marcel L4, Vélib Post #1102.
4. PASSAGE DES PANORAMAS – THE OLDEST
Built in 1799 along two arrondissements, this is the oldest of the surviving covered passages in Paris and the first one illuminated with gas lamps in 1816. Its name comes from the two large rotundas built at the entrance of the passage (disappeared today) to display panoramic paintings of Paris, Toulon, Rome, Jerusalem, and other famous cities. This labyrinthine passage is home to the Théâtre des Variétés which entertains Parisians since 1807. Most of all Passage des Panoramas is known for its philately shops. Therefore if you like old stamps, postcards and coins, this is the place to go.
Our must-sees: the French engraving and printer Henri Stern (#47) set up shop here in 1834. Today the shop is working as a fancy café but you still can see original details of the former shop. The Artists’ entrance to Théâtre des Variétés (#17). Tombées du Camion (#44) has interesting (sometimes weird) collectibles.
The perfect break: Restaurant Noglu (#16), one of the few gluten-free eateries in Paris. Les Racines (#8) specializes in trendy natural wines. La Crêperie (#62) proposes yummy crêpes and ice creams.
Location: 11 boulevard de Montmartre 75002 Paris ; M. Richelieu-Drouot L8 and 9 or Grands Boulevards L8 and 9, Vélib Post #2108.
5. PASSAGE JOUFFROY – THE MOST GENUINE
If you want to know how theses passages looked like during their mid XIXth century heyday, Passage Jouffroy is the place to go. Crowded and packed with quirky boutiques, this covered passage is always fun to walk. This is also the most touristy passage thanks to Musée Grevin, the Parisian version of Madame Tussaud’s, which has the exit inside this passage. Don’t miss its structure, this is the first Parisian passage built entirely of metal and glass with the only exception of the decorative elements in wood. We also like the floor, paved with a geometric pattern composed of white, gray and black squares.
Our must-sees: Pain d’Épices (#29) and La Boite à Joujoux (#41) are two old fashioned toy shops which are worth a visit inside. Quirky Segas (#34) specializes in antique walking sticks. Librairie du Passage (#48 ) proposes second hand books and beautiful vintage posters.
The perfect break: stop at Café Zéphyr (12 Boulevard de Montmartre) to enjoy a nice Art Déco atmosphere and some French pastries. And why not sleeping inside the passage? Stay at charming Hôtel Chopin (#46) for a fashionable sleep, with good deals if you book in advance.
Location: 10 boulevard de Montmartre 75009 Paris; M. Grands Boulevards L8 and 9, Vélib Post #2108.
6. PASSAGE BRADY – THE MOST EXOTIC
It is easy to understand why people call this passage “Little India”: this colorful and perfumed passage is full of of Indian, Pakistan, Mauritian and Reunion curry restaurants, spice shops and bazaars. Built in 1828 by the merchant M. Brady, Passage Brady was originally a beautiful passage with an elegant rotunda to compensate its irregular design. In 1854 the passage was cut off to let the new boulevard de Strasbourg pass. Today only the part linking rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis to boulevard de Strasbourg is covered. Don’t miss the beautiful Art Nouveau inscription with the name of the passage at the entrance. The view from the eateries’ first floor deserves a lunch or dinner here.
via flickr CC @koronis.at
Our must-sees: Épicerie Velan (#87) to buy Indian and Pakistani specialties (and any kind of species).
The perfect break: La Reine du Kashmir (#80), restaurant awarded with different Indian gastronomy prices.
Location: 43, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin 75010 ; M. Chateau d’Eau L4 or Strasbourg Saint Denis L4,8 and 9, Vélib Post #10002.
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