Originally a village perched on the side of a hill, Belleville was annexed to Paris during Haussmann’s large-scale renovations in 1870, but has retained its picturesque charm. Leave the bustle of the city behind as you explore this district straddling the 19th and 20th arrondissements, where you will see neighbourhoods with a village feel, attractive row houses and some beautiful views. Start your getaway at the Pelleport metro station.
1/ Villa du Borrégo
From the Pelleport metro station, walk up the street of the same name, then turn right into Rue Saint-Fargeau and left into Passage Gambetta, soaking up the atmosphere of the district – a combination of greenery and modernity – as you go. On sunny days, the trees provide welcome shade to pedestrians. When you come to the end of the passage, you’ll see the Villa du Borrégo – a cul-de-sac some fifty metres in length, lined with picturesque red brick houses. A timeless atmosphere reigns here, as in the other dead-end streets in the area.
Continue walking along the Rue du Borrégo and on into Rue de la Duée. You will find yourself in front of the Jardin Saint-Simonian, where the cherry trees produce an amazing profusion of blossoms in spring. Walk along Rue de Ménilmontant, then turn right into Rue des Pyrénées. Keep an eye out for the Place du Guignier on your right, with its pastel-coloured buildings, kiosk-like stone building serving as an entrance for municipal sewer maintenance workers, and an inviting bench.
Villa du Borrégo - 33 rue du Borrégo, Paris 20th
2/ Villa de l’Ermitage and Cité Leroy
Villa de l’Ermitage, a private street leading off from near Number 315, Rue des Pyrénées, harks back to a bygone era. Lined with individual houses and artists’ studios, this quaint little passage filled with lush vegetation – palm trees, roses and wisteria – is a far cry from the never-ending bustle of Rue des Pyrénées.
A little extension at Number 19 leads into the Cité Leroy. This 60-metre-long passage is bordered by charming little houses, some of them hidden from view by greenery-swathed metal gates. Here and there you will see a flowerpot filled with blooms, or a cat basking on the cobblestones. A residents’ association called Leroy Sème has started a community garden bursting with colour and fragrance.
Did you know ? The houses here were built over former gypsum quarries, with a network of underground access tunnels. As a result, the soil cannot take the weight of tall buildings, and the area has managed to preserve its ‘village’ atmosphere.
Villa de l’Ermitage, Paris 20th
Cité Leroy - 19 villa de l’Ermitage, Paris 20th
From the Villa de l’Ermitage, take Rue de l’Ermitage to come out on Rue de Ménilmontant, then turn into Rue des Cascades.
3/ The Saint-Martin manhole over the Belleville aqueduct
Evocatively-named streets such as Rue des Cascades (waterfalls) and Rue des Rigoles (streams) offer hints to the area’s history. Belleville’s elevation made it one of the city’s largest water reservoirs in times past. Rainwater was collected here and then distributed using aqueducts. A short climb will lead you to a vestige of this era: the ‘regard’ (manhole) Saint-Martin, which once covered the Belleville aqueduct. This stone construction dating to the 18th century provided access to the underground tunnels.
Regard Saint-Martin - 42B rue des Cascades, Paris 20th
Walk up the street and turn left into Rue de Savies (the district’s former name), where you will spot another oddity from the past: the bouteroues, or wheel guards, that kept carts from grazing the walls. Now turn into Rue de la Mare (if you wish, you can make a small detour for a glimpse of the Petite Ceinture – a disused railway line that has been returned to nature), then left on Rue Henri Chevreau to get to the Parc de Belleville. Turn right and walk down Rue des Couronnes, to Number 81. Cut through the narrow Passage Plantin, then turn left on Rue du Transvaal and keep on walking until you reach the belvedère (panoramic viewpoint). You might want to refill your water bottle at the Wallace Fountain at the top of Rue Piat – you’ve still got some walking to do.
Did you know ? The Wallace Fountains were donated to the City of Paris by a late 19th-century British philanthropist to enable its inhabitants to quench their thirst. The cast-iron fountains are veritable sculptures, and there are four different models.
Parc de Belleville – 47 rue des Couronnes, Paris 20th
More info on the parc de Belleville
4/ Belvédère de Belleville
This viewpoint at a height of 108 metres provides one of the most sweeping views of the capital, from the Eiffel Tower to Jussieu. From here, you will be able to spot the glass-domed roof of the Grand Palais, the dome of the Invalides, the Pompidou Centre, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Tour Montparnasse and Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Belleville viewpoint has been named after Willy Ronis (1910-2009), the well-known humanist photographer, who included a photograph of it in an album titled Belleville-Ménilmontant. Artists working in a variety of media have left their mark along the entire length of the guardrails. You might even spot one of them hard at work in front of the view.
The vines you will see just inside the park are evidence of the hill’s wine-growing past.
Belvédère Willy Ronis - 27 rue Piat, Paris 20th
5 / Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville
Having taken your fill of the magnificent view, carry on along Rue Piat until you reach the junction with Rue de Belleville. Make a small detour here into Rue Rébéval to take a look at the eye-catching building at Number 80: a prime example of the 1920s art deco movement. This building with a curvilinear orange-brick façade was once the headquarters of the toy company Meccano. It now houses the Paris School of Urban Engineering.
Return the way you came and walk along Rue de Belleville – perusing the little shops and the restaurants serving world cuisines as you go – until you reach the Jourdain metro station, which marks the boundary between the 19th arrondissement (on the side with even numbers) and the 20th (on the odd-numbered side).
Push open the large doors of the nearby Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville church and go inside to admire its sculptures, beautiful frescoes and stained-glass windows. With its soaring nave, pointed arches, clustered columns and ribbed vault, it is a typical example of Gothic revival architecture – one of the first churches in Paris to be built in this style.
Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville - 139 rue de Belleville, Paris 19th
More info on the Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville
6 / Place des Fêtes
Continue along Rue de Belleville, then turn into Rue du Pré-Saint-Gervais, which will lead you to the Place des Fêtes. This large esplanade hosts flea markets where people enjoy browsing for eccentric items, and a thrice-weekly food market. Major renovation work began here in 2019 as part of current plans to redevelop the city, and will make the esplanade greener and more liveable, with two new plant-filled terraces – one with a viewpoint – on the cards.
Tucked away a stone’s throw from the esplanade is the Villa des Fêtes, one of the area’s many pleasant tree-lined streets. From here, walk back along Rue Compans to Rue de Bellevue and enter the network of tiny residential streets opening off from Rue de Mouzaïa.
Place des Fêtes, Paris 20th
Place des Fêtes food market: 7am to 2.30pm on Tuesday and Friday; 7am to 3pm on Sunday.
More info on the Marché de la place des fêtes
7 / La Mouzaïa
The Mouzaïa neighbourhood off the eponymous street is a little maze in which you can pleasurably lose yourself on sunny days. It is made up of charming little houses with wrought-iron gates, and narrow pedestrian-only streets and cul-de-sacs lined with buildings of a modest size. The row of pretty houses comprising the Villa des Lilas, the colourful exteriors along the Villa Alexandre Ribot and the lush vegetation along the Villa Claude Monnet are indicators of a more relaxed pace of life. You will spot many delightful details as you wander the area.
Did you know ? Mouzaïa is sometimes called America’s district because of a long-held belief that some of the gypsum quarried here was sent to the United States. This wasn’t the case, as it turned out, but the name stuck.
Quartier de la Mouzaïa - 3 rue de Mouzaïa, Paris 19th
More info on quartier de la Mouzaïa
8 / Saint-Serge de Radonège Russian Orthodox church
From Rue de la Mouzaïa, take Rue du Général Brunet to get to Rue de Crimée. Continue on until you reach the Église Orthodoxe Saint-Serge de Radonège.
The striking red and blue wooden sculpted door of this place of worship is not the only unusual thing about it. Originally built as a German Lutheran church, it was abandoned, and subsequently confiscated, during the Second World War. It was later transformed into a Russian Orthodox church. The frescoes and icon screen by the artist Dmitri Semenovich Stelletsky alone make a visit to the church worthwhile. Check the timings if you are interested in attending a Russian Orthodox service here.
Eglise Orthodoxe Saint-Serge de Radonège - 93 rue de Crimée, Paris 19th
More info on Paroisse Saint-Serge
Return the way you came and go into the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.
9 / Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
There is practically no remaining trace of the gypsum quarries on the Buttes Chaumont hill. In 1860, Napoleon III decided to have the area transformed into a 25-hectare park in the English style. Every single one of its features, from the lake to the rocky cliffs, was created from scratch by the engineer Adolphe Alphand. The park was inuagurated during the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867.
After a pleasant wander through the tree-lined walkways, head to the lake, fed by water from the Canal de l’Ourq. Go over the suspended footbridge (a Gustave Eiffel masterpiece) to explore the Île du Belvédère, perched 30 metres above the waters of the lake, where the main attraction is the Temple de la Sybille, a copy of the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy. Another bridge known as the Pont des Suicidés leads you out of the park and into Rue Manin. A staircase at Number 17 takes you up to the Butte Bergeyre.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont - 1 rue Botzaris, Paris 19th
More info on the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
10 / Butte Bergeyre
Although it is not as well-known as Paris’s two bigger hills, Montmartre and Buttes Chaumont, the Butte Bergeyre is well worth the effort, offering the feel of a village perched up above the city. Nestling at a height of 100 metres, it provides a spectacular vista of Paris and a bird’s-eye view of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and the Eiffel Tower. Finish up your walk with a leisurely stroll around the streets on the slope of the hill, admiring the houses draped in grapevines and the community gardens. Stay and watch the sunset from here if you can before you make your way to Colonel Fabien metro station to return to the city’s tumult.
Butte Bergeyre – 76 rue Georges Lardennois, Paris 19th
More info on butte Bergeyre
To enjoy a gourmet walk in Belleville with a guide: Paris a Dream