French novelist Emile Zola named this area – with its vast market halls teeming with traders, craftsmen, and hawkers, animals, sights, sounds and smells– the ‘belly of Paris’. Such activity inevitably attracted crime and debauchery, so not surprisingly the site also housed a court, police headquarters and several prisons.
It remained the commercial centre of the capital until the twentieth century, and is still a lively shopping area today. Arts and leisure activities also feature prominently: two theatres (Théâtre de la Ville and Théâtre du Châtelet), the Rives de Seine Park and Nelson Mandela Garden. Châtelet has never been such a great place for a stroll with family or friends. Discover this fascinating district and soak up history, shopping, and culture. The walk starts at Place du Châtelet.
Did you know?
Before the market was relocated to Rungis on the outskirts of Paris, Châtelet was the heart of the capital’s butchery and meat trade. Many street names reflect these activities: Rue de la Grande Boucherie (butchery), Rue de la Tuerie (slaughter), Rue au Lard (bacon) or Rue du Pied de Bœuf (cow’s trotters). The church – of which only the tower remains (Tour Saint-Jacques) – was known as Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie (Saint James of the butchers).
1 / Place du Châtelet
Busy Place du Châtelet with its two theatres facing each other across the square – Théâtre du Châtelet and Théâtre de la Ville – and featuring lovely nineteenth-century colonnaded façades, overlooks the River Seine. In the centre of the square stands the imposing Fontaine du Palmier, commissioned by Napoleon in 1808 to provide the people of Paris with free drinking water. It also commemorates his victories in battle. The name stems from the palm tree motif on the column.
Did you know? Place du Châtelet hasn’t always been such a pleasant area. Before the square was built in 1858, there was a small castle here, dating from the Middle Ages. In the nineteenth century it housed a mortuary, the headquarters of the Paris police, and a jail in which were incarcerated some of the (in)famous criminals of the time. Its insalubrious state led to the castle being demolished.
Place du Châtelet, Paris 1st
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Théâtre du Châtelet – 2 rue Edouard Colonne, Paris 1st
More info on the Théâtre du Châtelet
Théâtre de la Ville – 2 place du Châtelet, Paris 1st
More info on the Théâtre de la Ville
2 / Rives de Seine Park
Walk down to the riverside, where you can enjoy the Rives de Seine Park. The Voie George Pompidou used to run alongside the Seine here, but it is now an oasis of tranquillity in the heart of the bustling city. The park stretches along 2.3 km and 10 hectares from the Pont de l'Alma to the Pont des Arts on the left bank and from Pont Neuf to the Port de l’Arsenal on the right bank. You can walk, cycle or use a scooter. Relax in the sun or enjoy a game of petanque; there are via ferrata for the kids and other sports facilities. It’s a great place to come, whether on your own, with your family or with friends, whether you want to get some exercise or just laze about!
Parc Rives de Seine – left bank: from Pont d'Iéna to Pont des Arts. Right bank: from Pont Neuf to the Arsenal basin.
More info on the Rives de Seine Park
3 / The Tour Saint-Jacques
A stone’s throw from the Théâtre de la Ville stands an unusual and intriguing monument – the Tour Saint-Jacques. Originally part of the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, this sixteenth-century bell-tower was built in the flamboyant Gothic style. Its gargoyles, statues and bas-reliefs rival those of Notre-Dame. For many years a meeting-point for pilgrims going to Compostela, the tower was used in the seventeenth century by Blaise Pascal for his experiments on atmospheric pressure, and since the nineteenth century has housed a small weather station.
Tour Saint-Jacques – square de la tour Saint-Jacques, Paris 1st. Guided tours and tower climb during the summer months only
More info on the Tour Saint-Jacques
4 / Les rues Saint-Martin, de la Verrerie et Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie
Straddling the Châtelet and the Marais districts, Rue Saint-Martin, Rue de la Verrerie and Rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie provide off-the-beaten-track shopping opportunities, far from the major brand outlets on the Rue de Rivoli. After a few souvenir shops, the start of Rue Saint-Martin features clothing and accessories stores. On the other side of Rue du Renard, in Rue de la Verrerie, second-hand and vintage clothes fans will love Kilo Shop and Free’p’Star. If you’re more interested in design and decoration, check out Fleux in Rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie. With no fewer than three stores at the same address there’s a wide and varied selection!
Rues Saint-Martin, de la Verrerie et Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie, Paris 4th
5 / The Pompidou Centre and Stravinsky Fountain
You are at the heart of Beaubourg, where it’s impossible to ignore Paris’s temple to modern art, the imposing Pompidou Centre, inaugurated in 1977. Its unconventional design – a blend of transparency, colour, tubing and huge air vents – is the work of architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. A key feature of the building is the escalator that climbs the outside of the façade like a giant caterpillar! Jugglers, dancers, buskers and street performers bring the Piazza to life with colourful acts and street theatre. A stone’s throw from Saint-Merri Church, the colourful Stravinsky Fountain or “Fontaine des Automates” designed by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle is a great attraction: passers-by are fascinated by the multicoloured moving sculptures. Lift your gaze and admire Jeff Aérosol’s immense work of street art entitled Chuuuttt. A little further on, another street artist, Monsieur Chat, has left his mark on the roller shutters of the BHV’s men’s store at 36 Rue de la Verrerie.
Centre Pompidou – place George Pompidou, Paris 4th
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Fontaine Stravinsky – place Igor Stravinsky, Paris 4th
More info on the Stravinsky Fountain
6 / Nicolas Flamel’s house
Not far from Rambuteau metro station, at 51 Rue de Montmorency, is the oldest house in Paris. It’s a stone construction, built in 1407, squeezed between two other buildings. Its first owner was Nicolas Flamel, a wealthy bourgeois Parisian. Legend has it that he discovered how to change metals into gold thanks to the philosopher’s stone.
Maison de Nicolas Flamel - 51 rue de Montmorency, Paris 3rd
7 / Passage de l’Ancre
Walk up Rue Saint-Martin and find the Passage de l’Ancre. This quiet cobbled alley, with its beautiful old shop fronts and overflowing flowerpots in front of the houses, is an absolute delight. It’s not easy to see the entrance from the street – it’s tucked in between 221 Rue Saint-Martin and 30 Rue de Turbigo. But it’s also a place scarred by the Second World War: all the inhabitants were arrested in the Vel-d’Hiv roundup in July 1942 and deported.
Passage de l’Ancre, Paris 3rd
8 / The Fountain of the Innocents, the Forum des Halles and Nelson Mandela Garden
Carry on towards Place Joachim du Bellay and the monumental Fountain of the Innocents, which dates from the time of Henri IV (1550). It was rebuilt on the site of the Cemetery of the Innocents, from where the bones were removed to the Catacombs in 1786. Just near the fountain, Rue Berger leads to the Forum des Halles. This shopping centre was built in the 1970s on the site of the former market hall, the Halles Baltard, the largest wholesale market in Paris. Treat yourself to a bit of shopping and admire the huge canopy that covers the Forum. The nearby Nelson Mandela Garden has a children’s play area as well as facilities for playing football, basketball and table tennis.
Fontaine des Innocents - place Joachim du Bellay, Paris 1st
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Westfield Forum des Halles – 101 Porte rue Berger, Paris 1st
More info on the Forum des Halles
Jardin Nelson Mandela – 32 rue Berger, Paris 1st
More info on the Nelson Mandela Garden
9 / La Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection
A stone’s throw from Les Halles, in Rue de Viarmes, you’ll come across a building with an unusual and intriguing geometrical design. It’s the Bourse de Commerce (Commodities Exchange), whose history is interwoven with that of the neighbourhood. Built as a corn exchange in the eighteenth century, only one feature of the original building remains: the sixteenth-century Medici column. In 1889, the circular building with its domed roof was converted into a commodity market. It has now been completely restored by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, and converted into a contemporary art museum. Due to open in spring 2021, it will house billionaire businessman François Pinault’s extensive collection and will feature solo exhibitions and themed displays.
Bourse du Commerce – Pinault Collection – 2 rue Viarmes, Paris 1st
More info on the Bourse de Commerce
Continue via Rue du Louvre, Rue Coquillière and Rue Rambuteau until you reach Saint-Eustache Church.
10 / Saint-Eustache Church
Saint-Eustache Church was built in the sixteenth century on the site of a small chapel to better cater to the needs of an increasingly densely populated area. Inside, admire the breathtaking Gothic nave and numerous stained-glass windows in the transept. Many famous people were baptized here, including Molière, Cardinal Richelieu and Madame de Pompadour. The church is often used as a venue for organ recitals or contemporary classical music concerts.
Eglise Saint-Eustache – 2 impasse Saint-Eustache, Paris 1st
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11 / Rue Montorgueil
You’re just a few paces from the Rue Montorgueil. Do venture into this colourful and characterful street, which includes one of the oldest shops in the city, the Storher pastry shop, dating from 1730. And don’t miss the superb blue and gold façade of the Rocher de Cancale, a bar-restaurant that counted Honoré de Balzac among its patrons. If you want to keep a literary theme to your walk, there’s also L’Escargot, one of Marcel Proust’s favourite establishments.
Rue Montorgueil, Paris 1st
More info on the Rue Montorgueil
Next take a detour to Rue Etienne Marcel to admire the Jean-sans-Peur (John the Fearless) tower. This is a vestige of the Dukes of Burgundy’s town house, built in the fifteenth century. Today it’s the highest remaining medieval tower in Paris.
Tour Jean-sans-Peur – 20 rue Etienne Marcel, Paris 2nd
More info on the Tour Jean-sans-Peur
12 / The Musée en Herbe (children’s art museum)
Retrace your steps along Rue du Louvre, Rue de Rivoli and into Rue de l’Arbre Sec. At number 23 you’ll find the Musée en Herbe – an art museum for children. Its programme includes exhibitions, guided tours, workshops and many other events designed for all ages. A great way of introducing children to art.
Musée en Herbe - 23 rue de l’Arbre Sec, Paris 1st
More info on the Musée en Herbe
13 / Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois Church
Allow yourself some time to linger around the Louvre and admire Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church with its Merovingian foundations and Renaissance architecture. This magnificent building has a tragic association – apparently its bells were rung on the night of 23 August 1572 to sound the beginning of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots. Since the Notre-Dame fire on 15 April 2019, the daily services that used to take place in the cathedral have been transferred here.
Eglise Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois – 2 place du Louvre, Paris 1st
More info on the Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church
14 / La Samaritaine department store
Don’t miss La Samaritaine department store, adjacent to Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois Church.
Renowned for its Art Nouveau and Art Deco style, it was founded in 1870 by Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ, whose art collection can be viewed today in the museum named after them. With a surface area of 48,000 square metres, La Samaritaine is one of the largest stores in Paris. Declining popularity from the 1970s onwards led to the store being closed in 2005. It is now owned by the LVMH group, and is due to reopen in 2021 after a major refurbishment featuring a luxury hotel and a range of retail outlets.
La Samaritaine – 19 rue de la Monnaie, Paris 1st
15 / Pont Neuf
At the point where Quai du Louvre crosses Rue de la Monnaie, you get a glimpse of Pont Neuf. Built at the end of the sixteenth century, this is the oldest of Paris’s remaining bridges. But if it’s so old, you may ask, why is called the Pont Neuf (New Bridge)? That’s because it was innovative at the time – it was one of the first bridges designed with pavements to protect pedestrians from mud and horses, and also one of the few that did not have houses built on it.
Pont Neuf - Quai de la Mégisserie, Paris 1st
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Take Quai de la Mégisserie and browse among the bookstalls selling second-hand books, posters and prints. You’ll come to Pont au Change.
16 / Pont au Change
From this bridge you get a great view of the centre of Paris: the Île de la Cité, Pont Neuf, the Conciergerie, Place du Châtelet and even the Eiffel Tower! Built of wood, in the ninth century, Pont au Change has been destroyed many times when the Seine has flooded. Its current version dates from the second half of the nineteenth century, as can be seen from the initials of Napoleon III carved on each pillar. The bridge’s name is linked to its initial function: this is where visitors from abroad had to exchange their currency with the money changers before entering Paris!
Pont au Change - 2 quai de la Mégisserie, Paris 1st