When going to the shopping mecca of Paris, you should definitely visit some of the 18th and 19th century hidden shopping passages.
The fashion metropolis of Paris has developed a lot during the decades in many ways but especially when it comes to shopping venues. Although Paris glimmers with exciting and modern boutiques and malls, you should really step back in history and visit the hidden passages. You see, at the end of the 18th century, city planners decided to create a labyrinth of hidden passages across Paris. These forerunners to our modern day shopping facilities was mostly arcades covered with glass roofs, and a perfect way to make shortcuts, shop, dine and shelter from the rain in the busy streets outside. They were a symbol of modern life, and many of them beautifully decorated with cast iron gates, mosaic floors, marble pillars and ornate clocks.
These constructions peaked somewhere in the mid-nineteenth century, with a network of more than 140 passages. Several of them were connected to each other. But, as time went by and large department stores popped up, the passages declined in popularity. Many were abandoned and not maintained. Others were demolished as a part of the redevelopment of Paris between 1851 and 1870.
That could have been the last we ever saw of these fantastic beautiful passages, but luckily, as many as twenty of them have survived. A lot of them have been restored. They are now home to numerous upscale, quirky and specialty shops. When in Paris, visit these hidden passages that speak about forgotten times, feel the nostology, and take in these real architectural gems.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Galerie Vivienne – 1873
Galerie Vivienne is known to be one of the prettiest passages in Paris, with its ochre paintwork and mythology-themed mosaics, all in perfect condition. If you are tired and want to rest your legs after a long day of walking, it also offer cosy cafes along the elegant indoor streets.
The galerie has a lot of chic boutiques, so look out for shopping treats like Nathalie Garçon, Jean Paul Gaultier, the special toy store Si Tu Veux and a venerable wine cellar.
2nd, metro Bourse
2. Passage Jouffroy – 1847
Passage Jouffroy is known to be a crowded but fun place to visit. It gives you the genuine feeling on how the passages were in their glory days in the mid-19th century. Here you’ll find Musée Grévin, which is Paris’ version of Madame Tussauds. It is always packed with people, so make sure you’re there early to get tickets.
Other places to visit here are the wonderful old-fashioned toyshop, Pain D’éspices, or the peculiar, yet amazing, Segas which specialises in antique walking sticks.
10 boulevard Montmartre, 9th, metro Richelieu-Drouot
3. Passage du Caire – 1798
The oldest surviving covered shopping arcade is the Cairo Passage. It was built at the same time asNapoleon held a military campaign in Egypt, hence its name. This is maybe not the typical old, but cosy place. However, despite its deplorable state and lack of chic boutiques, it is definitely worth a wander through. Stop and take in the facade of the building in the Place du Caire. Instead of the usual toga draped statues, there is a sculpture of the Egyptian God, Hathor, set between lotus-shaped columns.
2 place du Caire, 2nd, metro Sentier
4. Passage de Panoramas – 1800
The second oldest of the shopping passages in Paris is the Passage de Panoramas, off Boulevard Montmartre. Named after the panoramic paintings depicting Paris and Toulon, that originally decorated the entrance, it was the first passage to be equipped with gaslights. The construction is maze-like, with numerous entrances and full of surprises. You find several peculiar shops, but also plenty of hip wine bars.
2nd, metro Grands Boulevards
5. Passage Molière – 1791
The beautiful Passage Molière is named after Theatre Molière, and was to serve as an entrance for the artists. The theatre presented many great French plays and actually still exists, under the name La Maison de La Poésie. In contrast to many of the other passages, the small lane is not covered apart from the entrances on each end. It is a cosy little street lined with a lot of unusual shops, tiny restaurants and cafés with lovely terraces.
161 rue Saint-Martin, 3rd, metro Rambuteau
6. Passage du Grand Cerf – 1825
Passage du Grand Cerf opened in 1825 on the site of the Hôtel du Grand Cerf, which closed shortly after the French Revolution. At the end of the 19th century it was in a really bad state of repair, and another century passed before it was restored to its former glory. Today, it is one of the most beautiful passages in Paris, with a breath-taking ceiling and beautiful tiled floors. It is filled with fun boutiques, selling antiques and new creative stuff alike. Check out the small designer and jewellery shops for high-quality wares at reasonable prices.
145 rue Saint-Denis, 1st arrondissement, metro Etienne Marcel
On your way through Paris, sightseeing and exploring all the city has to offer, keep your eyes open for the narrow openings of the secret passageways. To stumble upon them by chance is like opening a mysterious present. What you find in here is always a fun surprise. Enjoy your coffee in the small cafés, bring some antique items home with you or just walk around in the unique shops. For convenient and comfortable accommodation ideal for exploring these hidden gems of Paris, the Radisson Blu Hotel, Paris Boulogne is the ideal choice.