Passages of Paris
While we all know the more famous spots of Paris, I want to tell you about a little secret that you may or may not know of - the Passages of Paris.
These passages were actually created as covered shopping arcades during the early 1800s. The boom of the Industrial Revolution brought about a larger middle class, and with it came more shops catering towards their needs and prices. The shopping arcades were the perfect place for such. They were built in-between buildings and would connect one street to another, so that it was easily accessible from both sides. Shoe shiners were placed at both entrances to clean the shoes of people coming into the Passage from the muddy street outside. The passages were known for their narrow corridors and highly ornate and beautiful glass ceiling structures. Since many shops lined the passageways, many pedestrians would stroll through the passages to do some leisurely shopping.
The first of these passages to be built, and one of my favorites, was the Passage des Panorama. This passage was built by a private individual in 1799 to showcase panoramas of major multiple cities at that time including Paris, Rome, and Jerusalem to name a few. The passage became an instant success, and soon many other entrepreneurs and investors began building other passages throughout the city. As late as 1850, there were over 150 passages within Paris. So why don't we know more about these passages?
Today there are only about 20 arcades left, all located on the right bank of the Seine River. The main reason there are so few of these passages left are due to reconstructions and new builds, as well as the popularity of department stores. Today, the remaining passages are still very charming, each with their own unique character. Shops lining the corridors carry everything from stamps to gloves, to artwork. However, these passages shouldn't only be used for those wanting to do some retail therapy. The passages are beautiful and hidden just enough from the main tourist-crowd, making a stroll through the arcades quite a memorable experience. As all of these passages are covered, it makes for a perfect rainy day itinerary!
So, what is the best way to see the Passages in Paris?
This is the map I used when I started my passage journey (credits to telltaleblog.com). You'll notice that this map only has nine passages listed, but there are still others in the city to explore. This walk covers roughly 2 miles, or 3.4 km, and can be completed within 1 hour; however, I suggest taking a little extra time for some window shopping or grabbing a bite to eat. So let's begin!
Passage des Princes
This is one you can pass through more quickly, unless you have kids. This shopping arcade is lined with children's boutiques and toy stores. The Passage is usually empty, making it easier to appreciate the architecture of the passageway. Since there are fewer people here, it's also a great place to take a picture or selfie without crowds of people.
Pronounced 'Ver-doe', and now we're talking! You'll need some more time passing through this arcade. Built in 1846, Passage Verdeau is one of the most elegant and quaint arcades, and another favorite of mine. The narrow corridor is topped with an ornate ceiling made of glass and iron and is sprinkled with signs from the different shops located within the Passage. Most of these signs are for antique shops and artisans and fit aesthetically with the architecture of the corridor. This truly charming arcade deserves more than just a glance.
The Passage was opened in 1845, right across from the popular Passage des Panoramas, and shortly after connected Passage Verdeau and Passage des Panoramas. Since it was built almost 50 years after Passage des Panoramas, Passage Jouffroy was able to incorporate some newer innovations to their arcade including one of the first Parisian arcade ceilings to be made completely of glass and iron, starlights in the ceiling to help with air ventilation and heated floors due to better use of the cellar's ventilating system. These innovations together with it being well illuminated made it a popular destination for people to meet.
Strolling through this corridor, one can find an array of shops for books, jewelry, antiques, gifts and more. Also located within the passage is Hotel Chopin, which has been opened since 1846. All in all, this passage is absolutely beautiful, so don't be afraid to explore.
Side note - If you have ever seen the movie The Tourist, featuring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, the movie starts in Paris. In the first 10 minutes, Angelina Jolie's character uses Passage Jouffrey to attempt to throw-off the men who are following her.
Noteworthy shops and hotels: M & G Segas cane shop, Librairie Paul Vulin bookstore, and Hotel Chopin.
Passage des Panoramas
This shopping arcade will most likely slow down your tour in the best way possible. As stated earlier, the Passage des Panoramas is the oldest remaining passage. Built by an American inventor in 1799 to showcase panoramas of multiple major cities at that time including Paris, Rome, and Jerusalem to name a few. It's clear as soon as you step across the threshold that the passage has hardly changed since its grand opening.
I still remember how captivated I was by the feeling that I had stepped back in time. Only my smartphone reminded me that time had indeed passed. This corridor is home to vintage stamp collectors and postcard shops; therefore, it's easy to see why this passage seeps character. If you fall in love with this corridor as I did, I suggest grabbing a bite to eat here. There are a variety of options!
Noteworthy shops and cafés: Prins Patrick for vintage postcards, Noglu for gluten-free meals, Restaurant Victoria Station (a.k.a. the Wagon restaurant) for those wanting a unique experience) and Passage 53 for you foodies (it's earned 2 Michelin Stars).
Passage Choiseul is the longest covered passage in Paris also topped with a glass ceiling and lined on the first floor with shops and restaurants. You won't find any antique or luxury shops here though. These are more modern day, convenience stores. If you take a walk through the passage, you'll notice that there is another level above the shops, which have always been residential spaces.
Inside this corridor, you will find a theater called Théâtre des Bouffres Parisiens. This is a notable and beautiful theater, and if you get the chance to look inside, don't miss it.
Some would say this is the most luxe of the passages, and I would agree. Galerie Vivienne can be recognized by its mosaic floors, arched glass roof and wider corridors. It is also the hub of fashion shops. After Jean Paul Gautier opened up a shop there in 1986, it has continued to flourish in its fashion-based cliental. Overall, this passage is actually quite peaceful. If you don't stop for a break in Passage des Panoramas, I would take a break here.
Noteworthy cafés: Bistrot Vivienne and Legrand Filles et Fils for are perfect for a stop to enjoy a glass of wine.
Unlike the other remaining passages, the Galerie Véro-Dodat was built in the neoclassical style and does not have a glass ceiling. Instead, the ceiling of this arcade has many frescoes of landscapes. To give the pedestrian a greater sense of depth, the floor is done in diagonal black and white checks. Inside, you will find more high-end designers including the flagship store for Christian Louboutin.
Noteworthy off-the-path café: While it's not inside the passage, it can be found just across the street and around the corner. Café Kitsune Palais Royal. Breakfast is suggested and takeout is available!
Passage du Bourg l'Abbé
Definitely one of the more forgotten passages. This can be seen from the missing people within the corridors. Many offices seem to fill the shop areas and it's not as near as lively as the other passages. However, it's not too terribly out of the way to Passage du Grand Cerf.
Passage du Grand Cerf
The last, but certainly not least, stop on this tour of passages: Passage du Grand Cerf. This passage is one of the highest covered passages in Paris. Renovated in the 1980s, its narrow corridor and 3-story high glass ceiling is simply a pleasure to walk through. Besides its high ceilings, it is also well-known for its shops. Unlike the other passages and their antique stores, Passage du Grand Cerf is home to many original shops, artisans and boutiques.
Now that you know a little more of the hidden Passages of Paris, I will leave it to you to go out and explore!