Now that the weather is getting a little cooler (and a lot rainier!), it’s the perfect time for indoor exploring. But when you’ve had your fill of museums, why not take a stroll down some of the city’s incredible covered passages, as contributor Katie Garner discovers.
Have you ever noticed that much of Paris looks the same? As many of us history fanatics know, we have the Haussmann renovation of Paris to thank for that.
During the late 19th century, Napoleon III ordered an upgrade for the city, widening the streets, adding parks and making the buildings more uniform. This meant that a large part of old Paris was demolished – but not everything.
One artefact that remains are covered passages, scattered mostly around the 2nd arrondissement. These passages were a way for people to avoid the often filthy streets and bad weather.
City planners created long pathways, lined with shops and restaurants, and covered with glass ceilings that allowed the light to flow in. Before the Haussmannian renovation, around a hundred of these passages existed, but now there is only about 20 left.
After a detailed exploration of these passages, I recommend these five, and all are quite close to one another, and easily possible to visit in one day.
1) The Best Place to Grab a Bite: Passage des Panoramas
Built in 1799, Passage des Panoramas is the oldest covered passage in Paris. You can definitely notice this in its more weathered walls and floors, but they only add to its charm. The history is only half of it; Passage des Panoramas is an exciting and bustling environment with a great choice of dining options.
This is the place to be on a weekday during lunch hour, with options including Italian, Chinese, and savoury burgers. And the less formal environment comes with lower prices than you’ll find in some of the other passages, which often house fine-dining options.
Address: 11 boulevard Montmartre. Open Monday – Sunday, 6am to midnight.
2) The Most Breathtaking: Galerie Colbert
Galerie Colbert is unique because it is not home to many shops or restaurants. Instead, you will find the Institut national d’histoire de l’art. It is a quiet and peaceful place, which is quite the opposite of many other passages, making it a great break from the bustling streets of Paris.
From small details on the walls to its grand glass rotunda with a statue of Eurydice being bitten by a snake in the center, this is the best art you’ll see in any of the passages. You can also sit down for a meal at Le Grand Colbert restaurant, which serves seafood and French staples like escargot at €19 a dozen.
Address: 4 rue Vivienne. Open Monday – Sunday, 7:30am to 11:30pm.
3) The Most Luxurious: Galerie Véro-Dodat
The Galerie Véro-Dodat is the only passage in the first arrondissement, conveniently sitting just blocks away from the Louvre and the Jardin du Palais Royal. You’ll spot shops like Louboutin among the high-end offerings, which included everything from perfume to home décor.
Shopping aside, it is well worth a stop even just to admire the passage’s classic look – black and white tiled floors, wooden walls with golden details, and spectacular artwork on the ceilings.
Address: 19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Open Monday – Saturday, 7am to 10pm.
4) The Most Whimsical: Passage du Grand-Cerf
The Passage du Grand-Cerf stands out for its small and playful details. From the occasional piece of taxidermy on the walls to the cartoon swimmers on the ceiling pool – there is plenty here to catch your eye.
Inside, you will find some high-end and artisan stores, where you can buy fabric, antiques and other fun knick-knacks. And if this place looks familiar, you maybe caught this passage in the film Zazie dans le Metro.
Address: 145 rue Saint-Denis. Open Monday – Saturday, 8:30am. – 8:30pm.
5) Best Overall: Galerie Vivienne
With its Pompeii-inspired tile floors, high-glass ceilings, and engraved pastel walls, the Galerie Vivienne is one of the prettiest passages by far. The storefronts offer extravagant displays and the boutiques make it feel like an elegant mall.
From high end clothes, jewellery and home décor, to used books, postcards and children’s toys, you could spend hours shopping here. Or even just visiting.
Address: 4 rue des Petits-Champs. Open Monday – Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
That’s it! Happy walking. And if you liked this story, be sure to check out The Earful Tower’s bucket list of 100 things to do in Paris. How many have YOU done?
By Katie Garner