Whilst spending 24 hours in the 2nd arrondissements as part of our Paris Countdown series, we stumbled across five extraordinary covered passages. Here’s how to find them and what to expect inside.
But first, what’s the history of these passageways?
Much of Paris looks the same and 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 is the covered passages, scattered mostly around the 2nd arrondissement. These passages were a way for people to avoid the often filthy streets and bad weather while shopping and socializing.
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 are only about 20 left.
Here are our favourite of these passages.
1. 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. There’s even a restaurant designed as the interior of a train carriage! 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, 75002.
Open: Monday – Sunday, 6am to midnight.
2. 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, 75002.
Open: Monday – Saturday, 8:30am. – 7:45pm.
3. 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 easily lose track of time in this enchanting alley.
Address: 4 rue des Petits-Champs, 75002.
Open: Monday – Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
4. Passage du Bourg-L’Abbé
The lesser-known and often disregarded passage is actually quite charming, and is filled with old facades framing the shops and tulip-shaped lanterns to guide you through. A perfect glimpse into Paris in the 19th century.
Address: passage du Bourg L’abbé, 75002
Open: Monday – Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
5. 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 peaceful corner of Paris, unlike most of the other passages.
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. And for the film buffs out there, this is where Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton dine in Something’s Gotta Give.
Address: 4 rue Vivienne, 75002.
Open: Monday – Sunday, 7:30am to 11:30pm.
Looking for more?
To discover more of what the 2nd arrondissement has to offer, check out our full in-depth guide here.
The Earful Tower podcast episode
This podcast episode on the 2nd district of Paris includes an interview with Oliver Woodhead from l’Entente, Le British Brasserie and our final score for the neighbourhood out of 100.
Video guide to the 2nd arrondissement
Here’s our visit in video format via our YouTube channel. We have been making these travel vlogs every single week, so be sure to subscribe to see more (you can do it in one click via this link).
And that’s all for now! A big thanks to Augusta Sagnelli for the photos and Katie Garner for the additional reporting.
Next week we’ll be taking you to the 1st arrondissement as part of this Paris Countdown series, where we’ve been spending a day in each Paris district. The season finale!
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4 thoughts on “The five most breathtaking covered passages in Paris”
Wait just a minute. Passage Jouffroy is hands down one of the best passages in Paris! The wood panelling, the wonderful glass ceilings, the tile floors. With Pain d’Épices, Hôtel Chopin, Librairie du Passage, Galerie Fayet and many other great shops. I’ve been to every single one of the passages and this is my favorite. Did you just overlook it or do you not agree?
Aha, yes, but that one is in the ninth arrondissement, these are all in the second 🙂
OK, Oliver, fair enough. But… the article is titled “The five most breathtaking covered passages in Paris,” not “The five most breathtaking covered passages in the 2nd arrondissement.”
Oliver–love the list. Maybe you could do one of your interesting interviews with Monsieur Lulli who has an atelier in Bourg-l’Abbe. I know you’d enjoy talking to him and your readers would enjoy it too. Thanks for all the fun you provide.