The centre of Paris, encompassing the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements is many-sided. Historical, vibrant, eclectic and full of surprises, it concentrates a wealth of architectural and cultural heritage and a wide variety of gourmet food outlets and restaurants.
The centre of Paris concentrates numerous must-see heritage sites. In addition to the legendary Louvre Museum, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, Pompidou Centre and Conciergerie, there are many more – perhaps less well-known but just as remarkable – cultural gems to discover.
The majestic Tuileries Gardens that stretch between the Louvre and place de la Concorde are an oasis of greenery, perfect for a relaxing stroll. They take their name from the tile factory that stood here before the site was transformed into a magnificent 25-hectare French garden, designed by André Le Nôtre. Appreciated by Parisians and visitors alike, the gardens are also an open-air sculpture museum, with statues set against the lawns and flowerbeds. Overlooking the Seine, the Musée de l'Orangerie houses a collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist painting, including Claude Monet’s famous water lilies.
Near to the Halles, the Bourse du Commerce, one of the city’s historic monuments, has been undergoing renovation for several years. It now houses a new museum showcasing François Pinault’s remarkable collection of contemporary art.
Located inside the Forum des Halles, the Forum des Images is an arts centre devoted to the cinema and audiovisual media. It screens short Located inside the Forum des Halles, the Forum des Images is an arts centre devoted to the cinema and audiovisual media. It screens short films, feature films and documentaries, and organises film festivals, children’s events, talks, and other activities.
Closer to the Bourse, near the Grands Boulevards, stands the Opéra Comique. Built more than 300 years ago, it is – along with the Comédie Française and the Palais Garnier – one of the oldest of France’s theatres and music halls. Its aim has always been to promote a repertoire that brings opera to a wider public.
The striking metallic framework and monumental façade of the Carreau du Temple, in the Arts et Métiers district, is a former covered market dating from the 19th century. It was renovated in 2014 and transformed into a 6,500-square-metre arts and sports centre which now offers a varied programme of cultural and sporting events. Patrons can also chill out in the cafe-bar and library area.
Over in the Marais, state archives have been kept the National Archives, housed in the Hôtel de Soubise and Hôtel de Rohan, since the Middle Ages. A selection of about 100 official items and papers, representative of the kinds of documents kept in the archives, are on display in the museum. Exhibitions, concerts, and talks are organised throughout the year, held in the institution or its gardens.
Another jewel in Paris’s crown is the Carnavalet Museum, which has just reopened after years of refurbishment. The history of Paris is recounted through faithful reconstructions of the interiors of private houses typical of the 15th to 19th centuries. The museum’s remarkable collection includes paintings, sculptures, furniture and objets d’art.
In Place des Vosges, you can visit the Maison Victor Hugo, where the famous French author lived for several years on the second floor of the magnificent Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée. Enter the private world of Victor Hugo, and discover his rooms, furniture and decor, and the works of art and objets d’art he loved.
Still in the Marais, the recently created Jardin des Arts–Albert Schweitzer (comprising square Albert Schweitzer and the gardens of the Cité des Arts and the Paris administrative tribunal), offers visitors a pleasant place to relax with its lawns, flowerbeds and tree-lined walks.
The Marais also boasts numerous internationally renowned art galleries showcasing works by emerging talents as well as established artists. They include La Galleria Continua and the Emmanuel Perrotin, Daniel Templon, Marian Goodman, Thaddaeus Ropac, Karsten Greeve, David Zirner, and Nathalie Obadia galleries. Others are specialised in photography, for example the Polka Galerie and the Françoise Paviot, Particulière, Fait & Cause, and Agathe Gaillard galleries.
Experience Parisian art de vivre in a variety of restaurants that celebrate French cuisine as well as culinary influences from around the world. Alongside renowned establishments such as Michelin-starred chef Guy Martin’s Le Grand Véfour and Jòia, the latest of Hélène Darroze’s restaurants to open in Paris, you’ll find Bruno Doucet’s traditional French cooking at La Régalade, sophisticated French cuisine at the Pirouette, and the refined Franco-Asian cuisine of chef Adeline Grattard at Yam’Tcha. Not forgetting the authentic traditional brasserie menu at Chez Janou or the latest specialities at Popolare and Big Love, part of the Big Mamma group.
If you’re looking for something more international, the restaurants in the rue Saint-Anne specialise in Korean and Japanese food, and the rue des Rosiers is famous for its delicious falafel. Rue du Nil may be a small street, but it’s a mine of excellent food shops, including chocolate-maker Plaq and the bakery, butcher’s, dairy shop, grocery and fishmonger’s run by Terroirs d’Avenir – all selling sustainably produced items. You’ll find Grégory Marchand’s signature restaurants Frenchie and Frenchie To Go here too, as well as his Frenchie wine bar and Frenchie wine shop.
World-famous names in luxury and fashion are all to be found in the centre of Paris. Haute couture fashion houses and top brands have outlets on rue Saint-Honoré, while the capital’s most prestigious jewellers are established in place Vendôme.
After years of refurbishment, the Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf offers a superlative shopping experience that combines fashion, beauty and gourmet food. More than just a department store, its 20,000 m2 now comprises a shopping centre, a vast beauty section, cafes, restaurants and a luxury hotel! It’s the go-to shopping venue for luxury items, designer outfits and the very latest in fashion.
Other essential stops on your luxury shopping trip are the exclusive Westfield Forum des Halles, which brings top clothing, homeware, beauty and arts and entertainment brands under one roof, and the BHV Marais where you can find anything from fashion to home furnishings and tableware, and from DIY supplies to arts and crafts materials – as well as five floors devoted to menswear!
Alongside the best-known attractions, the centre of Paris also harbours many other heritage sites and unusual venues that are well worth a detour.
The 19th-century covered passages and glass-roofed galleries, with their boutiques, bookshops, theatres, restaurants and tea-rooms, offer a unique ambiance.
Galerie Véro-Dodat, a stone’s throw from the Louvre, features elegant home furnishing boutiques, while Passage Choiseul, with its shops and restaurants, reflects the vibrancy of the Opéra district. Galerie Vivienne, close to the Richelieu-Louvois site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, delights visitors with its colourful mosaic floors and wide variety of shops and eateries. And neighbouring Galerie Colbert, home to various cultural establishments rather than shops, is worth a visit to admire its splendid glass-roofed rotunda.
Nearer to the Grands Boulevards, the Passage des Princes specialises in shops selling toys, video games and model-making supplies. Heading back towards the Bourse, the glass-roofed Passage des Panoramas is a mix of artisan shops and eateries. In the Sentier district, ready-to-wear garment manufacturers and wholesalers have their outlets in Passage du Caire and Passage du Ponceau. The light-filled Passage du Grand-Cerf, near the Forum des Halles, is home to a variety of attractive artisan, designer and decoration boutiques.
Many of the buildings in the centre of Paris are noteworthy for unexpected and original historical or architectural elements. In the Sentier district, for example, the building at the corner of rue d'Aboukir and rue des Petits Carreaux features the city’s biggest green wall, known as L'Oasis d'Aboukir – a vertical garden 25 metres high!
And number 63 rue Réaumur stands out for its juxtaposition of architectural styles. A mix of art nouveau and neo-Gothic results in a façade, adorned with arched windows, reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral. The impressive clock is decorated with the signs of the zodiac.
A stone’s throw from the Musée des Arts et Métiers, the narrow Passage de l’Ancre is like a quiet piece of countryside amidst the bustling streets. On rue Étienne Marcel you’ll find the extraordinary medieval tower, la Tour Jean-sans-Peur, a vestige of the residence of the Dukes of Burgundy. The house of Nicolas Flamel at 51 rue Montmorency is believed to be the oldest house in Paris. And behind a carriage entrance on rue des Archives, discover the last remaining medieval cloister in Paris – the Cloître des Billettes. However, it is only open to the public when temporary exhibitions are on.
At 59 rue de Rivoli stands an impressive Hausmann building that now houses some thirty artists in residence. A focal point of artistic creation, the façade is eye-catchingly adorned with temporary installations.