Filled with concert venues, theatres, cafés and restaurants, the Grands Boulevards area has long been popular with Parisians as a place of enjoyment and relaxation. There are many treasures to be uncovered here: grand architecture, places steeped in history, covered passages that have retained their old-world charm, and unusual museums.
1 / Palais Garnier
Begin by standing on Place de l’Opéra and admiring the magnificent Palais Garnier, Charles Garnier’s architectural masterpiece. Commissioned by Napoleon III and completed in 1875, this building alone is proof of the sheer splendour of the Second Empire.
The façade of this theatre dedicated to opera and dance is richly ornamented with marble arches and colonnades, grotesque masks and gilded statues. The interior is no less opulent. Frescoes, gold leaf, mosaics and sculptures adorn every room – the Rotonde des Abonnés (subscribers’ vestibule), the Grand Staircase with a double stairway, the Grand Foyer and the Rotonde du Glacier. The lavish auditorium (Grande Salle), all red velvet and gilded mouldings, has a ceiling painted by Marc Chagall in 1964.
Did you know? The Palais Garnier provided the inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. The book mentions a subterranean ‘lake’ created by the architect to stabilize the building’s foundation. There is indeed a water tank beneath the building, but it is off limits to the general public.
Palais Garnier - place de l'Opéra, Paris 9th
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2 / Opéra Comique
Turn into Boulevard des Italiens, then continue along Rue Favart until you reach the small square called Place Boieldieu, where you will see one of France’s oldest theatre and music venues: the Opéra Comique, built in 1714 during the reign of Louis XIV. The building’s striking façade features caryatides, pillars and statues. There is a profusion of elaborate stucco reliefs and frescoes as well as marble, bronze and gilded decorations in the vestibule, the Salle Favart and the Foyer. The programming focuses on opera buffa: musical comedies mixing spoken word and song.
Did you know? The Opéra Comique has its own workshop for designing and making costumes, and for dyeing them using natural pigments.
Opéra Comique - 1 place Boieldieu, Paris 9th
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3 / Boulevard des Italiens
Return the way you came to the Boulevard des Italiens. The boulevard derives its name from the theatre where Italian actors performed commedia dell’arte. The Comédie Italienne, as it was known, later merged with the Opéra Comique. In the 18th century the boulevard was transformed into a tree-lined promenade where Parisians could enjoy a leisurely stroll. It remained a lively entertainment centre until the 19th century. These days it is the headquarters of some major banks.
Numbers 17, 19 and 21 formerly housed the headquarters of the Crédit Lyonnais bank. The façade resembles the Pavillon de l'Horloge (clock pavilion) at the Louvre. Inside, there is an imposing double helix staircase inspired by the one at the Château de Chambord, with huge glass panels making up the domed ceiling.
Le saviez-vous ? Go around the building to see its second façade: a building called Le Centorial, overlooking Rue du Quatre-Septembre. You will see damage from the explosion of a bomb dropped by a German plane in 1918 on the exterior wall across from Rue de Choiseul.
Stop to admire the art deco exterior of the BNP Paribas building at Number 16. The beautifully preserved façade at Number 20 (note the gilded balconies) originally belonged to the Maison Dorée, a famous 19th-century restaurant frequented by the elite of the time. It is believed that the chef Casimir Moisson created the recipe for Tournedos Rossini here as a tribute to the composer Gioacchino Rossini, who was one of the restaurant’s regular customers.
Make a detour via the elegant Passage des Princes at Number 5 to get to Rue de Richelieu. Built in 1860, this passage has black and white tiled flooring and is surmounted by a sloping glass ceiling with a magnificent dome.
Boulevard des Italiens, Paris 9th
Passage des Princes – 5 boulevard des Italiens, Paris 9th
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4 / Hôtel Drouot
At the intersection of Boulevard des Italiens and Boulevard Haussmann, go up Rue Drouot until you come to the Hôtel Drouot, a must-see for art lovers. Walk in to attend an auction, or simply to browse the paintings, antiques and items of furniture that are displayed here before they go under the hammer.
Hôtel Drouot - 9 rue Drouot, Paris 9th
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5 / Passage Verdeau
Turn into Rue de la Grange-Batelière to reach Passage Verdeau. Built in 1847, it is lined with quaint shops selling all kinds of oddities and vintage items. Admire the old-fashioned shopfronts and enjoy browsing for an offbeat souvenir, then continue on into the Passage Jouffroy.
Passage Verdeau - 6 rue de la Grande-Batelière, Paris 9th
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6 / Passage Jouffroy
The Passage Jouffroy was built in 1836 and is today a popular spot filled with shops, restaurants and cafés. Take your time strolling through the passage to admire the attractive window displays. This covered passage leads to the romantic Hôtel Chopin and to the Musée Grévin, the wax museum. While you’re here, stop off at the delightful tea room Le Valentin for some tea and pastries.
Passage Jouffroy - 10-12 boulevard Montmartre, Paris 9th
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7 / Musée Grévin
The Musée Grévin on Boulevard Montmartre offers visitors a unique and entertaining opportunity to come face to face with 200 wax figures of celebrities. This may be the closest you will ever get to big names in show business and sport and famous historical figures. Here is your chance to take a selfie with your favourite star, be it Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe or Leonardo DiCaprio.
The lively Passage Jouffroy adjoining the museum has a plethora of shops, restaurants and cafés.
Did you know? The Musée Grévin, which opened in 1882, was an overnight success. The journalist Arthur Meyer came up with the idea of a wax museum, and enlisted the help of the cartoonist, sculptor, costume designer and stage decorator Alfred Grévin to turn it into reality.
Musée Grévin - 10 boulevard Montmartre, Paris 9th
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Passage Jouffroy - 10-12 boulevard Montmartre, Paris 9th
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8 / Passage des Panoramas
Directly opposite is the Passage des Panoramas, built in 1799 and hence the oldest of Paris’s covered passages. It is located next door to the Théâtre des Variétés, and today boasts a number of food shops, craft shops and restaurants.
Did you know? In the 19th century, people would come to the Passage des Panoramas to admire the panoramic paintings of cities exhibited in the two large rotundas outside. This is how the passage got its name. The rotundas were later demolished.
Passage des Panoramas - 11 boulevard Montmartre, Paris 2nd
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9 / Palais Brongniart
Take Rue Vivienne to get to Place de la Bourse and the impressive Palais Brongniart, named after the architect who designed it. Inaugurated in 1826, it was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to group together all stock market activity under a single roof. The monument housed the Paris Stock Exchange until 1998.
Palais Brongniart - 28 place de la Bourse, Paris 2nd
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10 / Le Bouillon Chartier
The Bouillon Chartier is located on Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, near the intersection of Boulevard Montmartre and Boulevard Poissonnière. This art deco-style restaurant is nothing short of a Paris institution, serving traditional French fare at affordable prices. The large dining room is listed, and the place has lost none of its nostalgic appeal.
Bouillon Chartier - 7 rue du faubourg Montmartre, Paris 9th
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11 / Cité Bergère
The Cité Bergère directly opposite is well worth a closer look. Built in 1827, this L-shaped arcade sheltered from the noise of the street is entered through a beautifully sculpted arched doorway. It is home to some elegant hotels with entranceways made of glass and wrought iron – vestiges of belle époque Paris. The composer Frédéric Chopin lived for a short time at Number 5.
Cité Bergère - 6 rue du faubourg Montmartre, Paris 9th
Time for a break: Step into the Hard Rock Café to enjoy a drink or a burger in a lively atmosphere with some great music playing.
Hard Rock Café - 14 boulevard Montmartre, Paris 9th
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12 / Theatres on the Grands Boulevards
There are a number of theatres along Boulevard Montmartre and Boulevard Poissonnière presenting vaudeville farces and comedy shows.
The legendary Palace is located on Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, near the Cité Bergère. Built in 1912, the Palace has been a theatre, cinema and nightclub at various points in its history. It has now returned to its original function as a show venue.
Head back to Boulevard Montmartre for a look at the elegant façade of the Théâtre des Variétés next door to the Passage des Panoramas. This theatre built in 1807 now mainly presents comedy shows.
Did you know? The Théâtre des Variétés was opened by a woman named Marguerite Brunet, who became known as ‘La Montansier’ after she took her aunt’s name as her professional name. She went on to manage several French theatres.
A little further on, on Boulevard Poissonnière, you will see the Théâtre des Nouveautés, known for putting on light comedies and vaudeville shows. The Théâtre du Gymnase, which opened in 1820 on Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, has staged performances of pieces by the likes of Marcel Pagnol, Jean Cocteau and Sacha Guitry.
Le Palace - 8 rue du faubourg Montmartre, Paris 9th
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Théâtre des Variétés - 7 boulevard Montmartre, Paris 2nd
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Théâtre des Nouveautés - 24 boulevard Poissonnière, Paris 2nd
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Théâtre du Gymnase Marie Bell - 35 boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, Paris 10th
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13 / Grand Rex
Continue walking until you reach the Grand Rex.The 35-metre-high art deco tower of this cinema, concert and show venue certainly catches the eye, especially when its flashing neon sign comes on at night.
Take a guided tour to learn about the history of this remarkable building, or the Rex Studios audio-guided tour for a journey behind the scenes into the world of cinema.
Did you know? No fewer than 3,300 guests formally attired in dress suits and evening gowns came to see the building and the scintillating shows staged for the Grand Rex’s inaugural night on 8 December 1832.
Le Grand Rex- 1 boulevard Poissonnière, Paris 9th
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14 / Musée du Chocolat
Now head to Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle to visit the Musée du Chocolat – an invitation to sample this most indulgent of treats and meet chocolate makers. An immersive exhibition, chocolate making workshops and tasting sessions will teach you all about the history of chocolate and the sheer range of exquisite chocolate flavours.
Choco Story Paris - Musée du chocolat - 28 boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, Paris 10th
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15 / Le Manoir de Paris
Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis will lead you to Rue du Paradis. Number 18 is home to the Manoir de Paris, a house of horrors. Prepare to bump into monsters right from the moment you’re queuing up to enter, and to be scared out of your wits during the interactive shows held in a truly spooky atmosphere. The shows have a variety of themes, from ‘Legends of Paris’ to ‘Halloween’. Not for the faint-hearted!
Manoir de Paris - 18 rue de Paradis, Paris 10th
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16 / Les Folies Bergère
The last stop on this tour is the Folies Bergère and the beautiful golden reliefs on its art deco style façade. Many great entertainers have performed at this legendary music hall and cabaret over the decades, among them Josephine Baker, Mistinguett and Charlie Chaplin.
Folies Bergère - 32 rue Richer, Paris 9th
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