Whoever looks into the depths of Paris gets dizzy. Nothing so
fantastic, nothing so tragic, nothing so superb.
This area is full of history, and features some great specialty shops. Savor the blend of traditional and modern, where old and new architecture and shops will vie for your attention. The journey will draw you back to another era with lovely palace gardens; if you are tired of picturesque Paris, though, this walk also shows you around a grittier part of town.
1. We begin this walk at one of the best-decorated Métro stations in Paris, Louvre-Rivoli. With a few statues on loan from the museum above, this secret underground entrance (you have to use the west exit) to the Louvre lobby provides an excellent way to bypass the long security lines filing through the more public glass pyramid at ground level, if you’re ever in the mood to get your Louvre on. Today, however, we will exit to the (hopefully) sunny streets above.
Just outside the Métro station exit, the small church of the Oratoire du Louvre across from the massive Louvre is worth a look.
Out front, a statue commemorates admiral Gaspard de Coligny. More about him below.
2. Now turn south and head down Rue de l’Amiral de Coligny. On your left, you’ll pass the office of the mayor of the 1er arrondissement along with Église Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, the exact geographical center of Paris and once the royal parish church for the kings of France when they migrated from Île de la Cité to the Louvre in the 14th century. It’s known for its flamboyant Gothic porch, which dates back to 1435. One of its less inspiring historical moments was the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, in which the aforementioned Amiral de Coligny and thousands of Protestant Huegenots who had gathered for a wedding were slaughtered by the Catholic king of the time, Charles IX (truthfully, though, by his none-too-calm mother, Catherine) in revenge for an uncovered plot to assassinate him. On a more pleasant note, the Maison Cador at No. 2 houses the Pâtisserie Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, a salon de thé (tea salon) that dates back to 1867.
3. When you get to the river, turn left and stroll along Quai du Louvre. Across the Seine, the Academie looms over the picturesque Pont des Arts.
From the rooftop of the department store La Samaritaine at No. 2 Quai du Louvre (if, that is, the new owners ever deign to reopen it, currently scheduled for 2011!), take in a spectacular panoramic view (the same one Jason Bourne used to spy on his setup meeting in the remake of The Bourne Identity), or go to the ninth-floor terrace bar to soak it in with a drink. Although not the highest point in town, the store is well-positioned and offers helpful explanations of what you’re looking at.
4. Head along the crowded, pet-shop-lined Quai de la Mégisserie to Place du Châtelet, the wide, sunny plaza on this side of the Pont au Change. On the square is the historic Théâtre du Châtelet. Feel free to join the natives in cooling your feet in (or splashing your face from) the tall fountain in the center of the place.
5. Then head north, up Rue Saint-Denis to Place Sainte-Opportune. Laguiole, a world-famous knife shop, is at No. 1. Fittingly enough, King Henri IV was assassinated during a traffic jam at the intersection with Rue de la Ferronnerie in 1610. Talk about opportune....
Over at No. 12 Rue de la Ferronerie is Papeterie Moderne, the antique shop specializing in the city's trademark signs. They can also make custom ones for you.
Now that you’re well-armed courtesy of Laguiole, you can feel safe day or night continuing north past the Fontaine des Innocents, just next to Les Halles.
6. The city’s central market occupied this area for centuries, but “the belly of Paris,” as Emile Zola called it, moved to a suburb in the 1970s, making way for today’s trashy underground mall, where you can find electronics galore during the day and hooligans galore after dark.
If you feel like a detour, Pharamond (at No. 24 Rue de la Grande Truanderie, just one block north of Les Halles) is a great café that dates back to 1832. If you don't, head out back of the mall to the much more pleasant greenery; the Bistrot d'Eustache to the south on Rue Berger is also a popular hangout.
7. Cross this pleasant garden space along Allée Saint-John Perse, heading along its northern edge to Saint-Eustache, which dates from the 16th century and is more impressive inside and out than its small size might lead you to expect. The small church is Elizabeth's favorite in Paris, and we'll return to visit it another day. Circle the church to the northeast and take a peek at the comical Impasse Saint-Eustache (any dead-end street—and there are a lot of 'em here—is an "impasse") and Le Cochon à l’Oreille at No. 15 Rue Montmartre (another ancient café, "The Golden Pig") before circling back around to Dehillerin at No. 18 Rue de la Coquillière, another exceptional culinary equipment shop. (Hooligans, remember...you may need more than one knife.) L'Alsace aux Halles, at No. 16, is an all-night seafood bar, while nearby Le Coq-Héron is an amazingly tucked-away budget restaurant.
Over to the southwest is the domed Bourse du Commerce (not to be confused, by the way, with the other Bourse trading floor, which we'll see in the next walking tour), where the grain exchange of old has given way to the modern electronic commodities exchange of today.
8. Behind the Bourse, we travel southwest down Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau for a short distance. A quick detour through the nearby Galerie Véro-Dodat provides an excellent excuse to window-shop; Robert Capia has an interesting curio shop at No. 26.
9. At the end of the galerie, we will find ourselves on Rue Croix des Petits-Champs; turn right and head north toward the Place des Victoires. Along the way, you will pass the Banque de France on your left. Make the block, heading west down Rue des Petits Champs.
10. At Rue Vivienne, take a left and head down to the Jardin du Palais-Royal, lovely and very hidden, despite its central location.
Also tucked away nearby is Le Grand Véfour at No. 17 Rue de Beaujolais, a luxurious old café, and the Fontaine Molière on the site where his house once stood, on the western side of the Palais-Royal, as well as the "incredibly" cheap bistro L'Incroyable, at No. 26 Rue de Richelieu.
Although the palace itself (once Richelieu's, and later a den of iniquity) is now government offices and closed to the public, you can still stroll the length of the arcades, taking in the eclectic array of shops and galleries and the goings-on in the central garden, where locals meet at lunch to play pétanque.
Not with these balls, though. That would be a tad rough on the rotator cuff.
You may want to stop at Muscade, at No. 67 Galerie de Montpensier in the northwest corner, for lunch, or at No. 95 to see Anna Joliet's collection of music boxes.
Decide for yourself what to make of the prison-evoking modern black-and-white-striped columns in the Cour d’Honneur, at the southern end...
...then relax in the lovely flower garden and indulge in some people-watching.
11. Heading down the western side of the Palais-Royal, we come to the delightful Théâtre de la Comédie Française, home of France's national comedy troupe, at No. 2 Rue de Richelieu, whose boutique is full of reprints of comedy sketches, old-fashioned puzzles, playing cards, and other theatrical memorabilia.
Nearby, the delightful store Boutique du Palais-Royal has an impressive selection of miniature figurines, from Napoléon's army to the Smurfs. (They're still huge in Europe.)
12. Here at Place du Palais-Royal, we head down Rue Saint-Honoré along the immense length of the Louvre. Dating back to 1880, Café Verlet at No. 256 is a cozy lunch spot pungent with the aroma of freshly ground coffee. It beats the aroma coming out of À La Civette, a cigar shop at No. 157. Peek in at Colette at No. 213; featuring eclectic clothes and accessories, this hip boutique is the style mecca of Paris and perhaps best known for its basement water bar, where customers sit at large, spare tables and order from the extensive water menu. Don’t worry—there’s food too. Lost in the immensity of the Louvre is the Museé des Arts Decoratifs, a (much) smaller museum located on the outer edge of the Richelieu wing shown here. Not accessible in the usual way from within the Louvre, it's a sight you have to be willing to seek out. Across the street from it is the Museé du Louvre des Antiquaires, a half-museum, half-shop that sells antiques.
As one of the ritzier neighborhoods in Paris, the 1er arrondissement contains apartment buildings that are just a bit fancier than ours. Must be nice.
Continuing along the Rue de Rivoli, you'll also pass Saint-Roch, a remarkably narrow 17th-century church which is also oriented along an unusual north-south axis. Should you need official advice or booking assistance, the Office de Tourisme has been recently moved from its old site on the Champs-Élysées to No. 25 Rue des Pyramides.
13. Turn right, up Rue du Marché Saint-Honoré. In the midst of all this modern shopping-mall architecture, Le Rubis, at No. 10, is a wine bar famous for how little it has changed. Here, amid dust-covered bottles of wine, one feasts on hearty lentils with ham hock, cheese, or salami sandwiches and puckery lemon tart.
At the north end of the Place du Marché Saint-Honoré, visit a branch of the famous Parisian bakery Poilane at No. 42 for a pastry, and Philippe Model at No. 33, where fabulous hats as colorful as Easter eggs perch delicately.
14. Continue north, veer left onto Rue Danielle Casanova, then left again at Rue de la Paix, where the world’s most renowned jewelers have set up shop. Window-shop your way down to Place Vendôme, home of many of the bankers and wealthy elite, and where the Audrey Hepburn-Gary Cooper film Love in the Afternoon was filmed in 1957. The 143-foot (22.8-liter) Colonne Vendôme is an imitation of the emperor Trajan's column in Rome; the spiral bronze relief, forged from 1200 captured cannon, tells the story of Napoléon's victory over the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz.
The sumptuous Ritz (from which Princess Diana and Dodi El-Fayed left on their final night in Paris) and its swank Ernest Hemingway bar is at No. 15...
...while No. 13 has an copy of France’s official measure of the meter carved directly into the wall there beneath the windowsill.
(Hey, I teach math.)
"Jolly Hotel Lotti, get your adverbs here...." Wait, I'm getting mixed up.
15. Continuing south, we turn right to return to Rue de Rivoli. At the corner are two noteworthy hotels: the Intercontinental Hotel, designed by Opéra architect Charles Garnier, and the Meurice hotel used by the Nazi occupiers as their Paris headquarters. For a selection of English-language books, you can always browse the shelves of W. H. Smith at No. 248 Rue de Rivoli.
A quick detour off of Rue de Rivoli to the right at No. 36 Rue du Mont Thabor takes you to Le Soufflé, an old cozy restaurant that specializes in just that; or, you could opt for a hot chocolate at the pretty salon de thé Angelina at No. 226 Rue de Rivoli.
Either way, you can savor the sights of the Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption at the nearby intersection of Rue Duphot and Rue Cambon. A Polish church, its favorite son is honored in a recent shrine out front.
Across the intersection from the church is—apparently—the Musée des Lunettes et Lorgnettes, a museum dedicated entirely to spectacles and sunglasses. I think it's located somewhere above this optician's shop (that would be fitting...), but I can't be certain, as I've never actually found the museum, search though I might.
Maybe I need glasses.
16. Ol' crazy Robespierre kicked up his feet in front of a roaring fire after a long day of executing people at his home at No. 398. After making sure you don't get snared in any long-long-postponed roundup of the usual suspects, turn left onto Rue Saint-Florentin. If you find yourself in need of some serious modern-day sanctuary (more than the local churches can provide), the American Embassy is tucked away near the corner of Rue de Rivoli and Rue Saint-Florentin. Maybe they're just trying to keep a low profile for times when the locals don't love us so much, but it's not exactly a secret, and there's always a few people waiting in line to get through security. Fear not, we got the Marines.
17. At Place de la Concorde, turn left to head into the entry of the Tuileries gardens.
As you enter the Tuileries, note the Jeu de Paume building on your left. Formerly a royal tennis court, it now houses temporary exhibits. The Librairie des Jardins, to the north of the gate, specializes in garden books and accessories.
The Musée de l’Orangerie, to your right, houses Monet’s vast panels of water lilies.
18. Continue east through the Tuileries, stopping at Dame Tartine or one of the other cafés beneath the leafy chestnuts.
Savor the elegant lines of this formal garden, with its symmetrical fountains and rows of trees...
...and the grand axis that aligns the palace with the Place de la Concorde’s obelisque, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, and the contemporary Grande Arche de la Défense.
Along the northern edge is Place des Pyramides, in which can be found a gilded statue of Joan of Arc that is the focus of pilgrimage for royalists even today.
19. Continue across the gardens and under Napoleon's slightly more modest Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel toward I. M. Pei’s controversial pyramid.
You have now technically entered the grounds of the Louvre, whose astonishingly grand Denon and Richelieu wings run along both sides of the courtyard; it is in these immense galleries that most of the works of the Louvre are housed.
Descend beneath the pyramid (where today, folks from all over the world seem to enjoy doing the exact opposite of the reverent genuflecting of The Da Vinci Code) to the Place du Carrousel.
Aside from housing the museum entrance, it is lined with shops. The Café Marly has a prized location on the north side of the square, under the arcades with a view overlooking the esplanade. (You will pay dearly for the privilege of drinking here.)
20. Returning to ground level, proceed east through the Sully building, where you will come to the Cour Carrée. This is the oldest part of the Louvre, dating to the early 16th century. Though impressive by day, it is more luminous and ethereal in the evening. This marks the end of the walking tour; upon exiting through the far side of Sully, we have returned to the Louvre-Rivoli Métro station.
The Other Paris