During the Belle Epoque, the area around the Palais-Royal and the Opéra Garnier – with its theatres, beautiful squares and town houses – was a favourite haunt of Parisian high society. The results of Baron Haussmann’s programme of public works, aimed at making the city healthier and more attractive, are particularly in evidence here. Starting from the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre metro station, discover the area’s rich history, its art and architecture, luxury fashion – and some amusing anecdotes.
1 / Le Kiosque des Noctambules
Be prepared for a surprise as you come out of the metro at Palais-Royal on Place Colette. Instead of the typical Parisian Art Deco metro entrance (the ones designed by Hector Guimard) this entrance is framed by a contemporary artwork. Entitled Le Kiosque des Noctambules (The night revellers’ kiosk) it was created in 2000 by Jean-Michel Othoniel using 800 beads of Murano glass.
Kiosque des Noctambules - 12 place Colette, Paris 1st
2 / The Comédie-Française
Opposite you, still on Place Colette, stands the Comédie-Française. This is more than just a theatre; it’s a national institution. Founded in 1681, the Comédie-Française was initially simply an association of several troupes of actors who performed in various theatres across Paris. It was not until 1799 that the association commissioned the building on Place Colette. The SalleRichelieu, where plays are performed, is a typical example of the Italian style of theatre design with its horseshoe shape, balcony boxes, and cupola.
Did you know? Although it’s affectionately known as the “House of Molière”, in fact Molière never actually performed on stage here. He died in 1673, well before the Comédie-Française was even founded. His name is associated with it because his troupe was one of the founding members
La Comédie-Française - 1 place Colette, Paris 1st
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3 / The Palais Royal
Continue your walk through the Palais-Royal and its gardens, adjacent to the Comédie-Française. The royal palace was built in 1628 by Cardinal Richelieu, and has been the theatre of some significant events in French history – Louis XIV lived here as a child, for example. The architecture and use of the palace buildings evolved over time, and the arcades were added in the eighteenth century. These housed a variety of traders, retailers and cafés, as well as gambling dens and other disreputable haunts. The palace’s notorious reputation in the nineteenth century is history now, and the garden with its avenues of lime trees is today a delightful place for a stroll.
Contemporary art has been a key feature here since the 1980s, with the installation of Daniel Buren’s “Les Deux Plateaux”, commonly known as the Buren columns, and Pol Bury’s kinetic mirror ball fountain “Les Sphérades”.
Domaine national du Palais Royal – place Colette, Paris 1st
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4 / The galerie Vivienne
Join Rue Radziwill where you can glimpse the “Golden Gallery” of the Banque de France. Booking is required for a visit, but you will be able to admire the magnificent fresco, paintings by the grand masters, sculptures, and gilded carved woodwork.
Next, walk up towards Rue des Petits-Champs and turn into the Galerie Vivienne, a coveredpassage built in 1823 as a shopping arcade for the rich and fashionable. With its impressive glass roof, its arcades and its floor mosaics, it is – like the other passages in this area – definitely worth a visit. Take a quick look at the next-door Galerie Colbert, if it’s open, to admire its magnificent glass-domed rotunda.
Galerie Vivienne - 5 rue de la Banque, Paris 2nd. Open every day from 8.30 am to 8.30 pm
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Galerie Colbert - 4 rue Vivienne, Paris 2nd
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5 / Place des Victoires
Come back to Rue des Petits-Champs and carry on to Place des Victoires. This royal square was built in 1685 in honour of Louis XIV, and features an equestrian statue of the king in its centre. Eighty metres in diameter, the square is impressive not only on account of its elegant proportions but for the fine architecture of the buildings, nearly all of which are listed as historic monuments.
Did you know? Place des Victoires, Place des Vosges, Place Dauphine, Place Vendôme and Place de la Concorde are all royal squares. They were built to showcase a statue of a king, usually on horseback, in celebration of his victories. Most of them were commissioned – in all modesty – by the king himself!
Place des Victoires, Paris 2nd
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6 / The Richelieu building of the National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale de France)
From Place des Victoires, retrace your steps along Rue des Petits-Champs to the Richelieu building, the original site of France’s national library. The building itself is worth the detour just as much as the priceless collections it houses, which include rare manuscripts, drawings, and old maps.
Bibliothèque nationale de France, site Richelieu - 58 rue de Richelieu, Paris 2nd. Guided tours only (in French), booking required.
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7 / Passage Choiseul
Further along on your right is the longest of Paris’s covered passage (190 metres) – Passage Choiseul. Less busy than the neighbouring passages, it’s full of colour and offers a fine perspective. It also provides a short cut through to the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens – well known for its comedy productions – and the Rue Sainte-Anne, where you can enjoy the best Japanese food in Paris.
Passage Choiseul - 40 rue des Petits Champs, 23 rue Saint-Augustin et 40 rue Dalayrac, Paris 2nd
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8 / The Palais Garnier - Opera House
Not far from Passage Choiseul stands one of Paris’s architectural gems: the Opéra Garnier, also known as the Palais Garnier. The Opera House was designed by Charles Garnier, who managed to blend the different styles and influences inspired by his Mediterranean travels. It was inaugurated fifteen years later, and 150 years on its splendour remains undiminished. Take time to admire the majestic Grand Staircase and the Grand Foyer – reminiscent of the hall of mirrors at Versailles – and finally the Italian-style theatre itself. The gaze of theatre-goers is drawn irresistibly upwards to the dome ceiling with its impressive eight-metre chandelier and paintings by Marc Chagall.
Did you know? There is an artificial lake underneath the Opera House! Building work had already begun when Charles Garnier and his teams encountered a serious problem: soft ground and groundwater seepage. Their solution was to build a huge concrete cistern. It is used today for underwater training by Paris’s fire-fighters!
Palais Garnier - place de l'Opéra, Paris 9th
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Stand for a few minutes on the Place de l’Opéra, overlooking Baron Haussmann’s signature wide boulevards. From here you have a perfect view down the Avenue de l’Opéra, Boulevard des Capucines and Rue de la Paix, the latter renowned for its luxury jewellery stores. Stop for a break if you like at the Café de la Paix with its pavement tables, the legendary venue frequented by Emile Zola and Guy Maupassant among others, before walking up to the department stores (Grands Magasins) on Boulevard Haussmann.
Café de la Paix - 5 place de l'Opéra, Paris 9th
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9 / Galeries Lafayette
First head for the world-famous and renowned Galeries Lafayette, with its 45,000 sq. metres devoted to fashion. Emblematic of French style and sophistication, this is the place to come to check out a selection of prestigious and luxury brands; and there are speciality foods and sweet delights in the Gourmet section. You can also admire a panoramic view of the city from the rooftop terrace. The highlight of your visit will be the stunning Art Nouveau neo-Byzantine dome and wrought-iron balconies.
Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann– 40 boulevard Haussmann, Paris 9th
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10 / Printemps Haussmann
Another Parisian department store whose name is known the world over is the Printemps Haussmann. Built in 1865 and now listed as a historic monument, it is easily recognisable with its magnificent Art Deco cupola, Hausmannian facades and sumptuous window displays. More than 44,000 sq. metres are given over to fashion, beauty, luxury goods and home decor. The Printemps du Goût is a gourmet food hall and eating area extending over two floors, ideal for lunch or a quick sit-down during your shopping expedition. Don’t miss out on the spectacular panoramic view over the rooftops of Paris from the roof terrace.
Printemps Haussmann – 64 boulevard Haussmann, Paris 9th
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11 / Musée du Parfum - Fragonard
From the Galeries Lafayette, reach the Musée du Parfum - Fragonard. The famous perfume house, founded in 1926, has opened its doors to the public to share its expertise in this new temple of fragrances. As well as presenting a step-by-step explanation of the different stages in the making of a perfume, the museum showcases a unique collection of items that retrace the history of perfumery from antiquity to the present day. Take a guided tour with a specialist guide who will let you in on all the secrets.
Musée du Parfum – Fragonard - 3-5 square de l'Opéra-Louis Jouvet, Paris 9th
Museum open from Mondays to Saturdays, from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm. Free entrance and free guided tour
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12 / The Madeleine church
Come back to Boulevard des Capucines, then walk down Boulevard de la Madeleine to the square of the same name. In the centre of the square, admire the monumental Madeleine church, built – rather unusually – in the style of a Greek temple. The church’s atypical architecture stems from the fact that the intended use of the building changed over time. It took a long time to build too – nearly 80 years, between 1763 and 1842.
Famous French people who have lived in the elegant townhouses around the square include composer Camille Saint Saëns, poet and playwright Jean Cocteau and the actor Jean Marais. Today these buildings house luxury goods and fine food shops or pâtisseries such as Café Pouchkine, Mariage Frères and Caviar Kaspia.
Did you know? The funerals of many celebrities, including Chopin, Édith Piaf, Joséphine Baker and more recently Johnny Hallyday, have taken place at the Madeleine church.
Eglise de la Madeleine – place de la Madeleine, Paris 8th
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13 / Place Vendôme
Retrace your steps and walk along part of the famous Rue Saint-Honoré. It’s nearly two kilometres long in total, and this is where you’ll find outlets of some of Paris’s top luxury brands.
You can’t miss, on your left, the legendary Place Vendôme. Its vast size and the impressive column in its centre make it unique among the squares of Paris. Louis XIV commissioned it as a royal square, but the statue of the king was replaced by Napoleon with the column, made from the melted-down bronze of enemy canons. A symbol of his power, it is topped by a statue of Napoleon as Cesar. The buildings around the square house prestigious jewellery brands, the Ministry of Justice and the luxury Paris Ritz hotel.
Did you know? All the townhouses around the square were built to the same model and their facades have since been listed as historical monuments.
Place Vendôme, Paris 1st
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