Walking in Paris

Riaan J. George

Ditch the tour buses, put on your walking shoes and absorb the quaintness of Paris through the eyes of a pedestrian

Paris, when seen through the eyes of a pedestrian, is an altogether different experience. Navigating the city’s fascinating boulevards, rues, passages and avenues, sans the ubiquitous transport parisien is like unearthing a treasure-trove of sorts. For every quarter has its own story to tell. Culture vultures, gourmets, art aficionados and fashionistas will each find something they’re looking for, all you need is a free spirit, an open mind, a voracious appetite and, of course, a comfy, but stylish, pair of shoes.

Montmartre`s Culture Trail- Montmartre Sacre Coeur Basilica. Image Courtesy: Atout France

Montmartre’s Culture Trail– The sweeping staircases, winding passages, and steep slopes of this hilly district, crowned by the magnificent Sacré Coeur Basilica, are immersed in history and French culture. Artists such as Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali led their bohemian lives on these very cobbled streets. In almost every lane, you will find metal plaques, indicating cultural trivia or information. Once you’ve experienced the touristy part, replete with portrait artists and accordionists, stroll through the unexplored streets. Shop for your favourite art prints and look for Paris’ tiniest vineyard—the old Montmartre vineyard that still produces wine—on Rue Saint-Vincent. The Montmartre Museum, a few metres away, is a great place to discover the history of this precinct and its inhabitants. Further ahead you will discover the Cabaret du Lapin Agile, the oldest cabaret in Paris, which even today, welcomes tourists to relive the 19th century cabaret era. The Montmartre cemetery, close by, is the burial place of many renowned artists and writers. A Parisian-culture-themed itinerary is incomplete without a visit to Pigalle, the city’s racy red light district, with boudoirs and sex shops, and the historic cabaret Moulin Rouge, where you can catch a performance of the French can can after sundown.

Start your stroll at: Sacré Coeur Basilica

Being Boho-Chic in Le Marais- While strolling through the narrow, intriguing lanes of Le Marais, several...indicate that it was Paris’ Jewish ghetto—stars of David engraved on walls, Jewish street names, kosher delis, a Jewish museum and a massive synagogue. One of Paris’ oldest and most historic areas has now transformed into a hipsters’ paradise, attracting the city’s arty crowd, akin to New York’s Soho. Restaurants and art cafés abound, artisanal chocolate boutiques, the legendary Mariage Frères tea house, the quirky Japanese store Muji and the tiny outpost of fashion brand, Zadig & Voltaire. For a vintage lover and window shopper, Le Marais is a wonderland. Countless chic vintage stores stocking trinkets, shoes, clothes, books and crockery can be seen all over. Besides, the string of independent French fashion boutiques that dot the quarter, you can soak in the buzzing art scene at the many art galleries in the vicinity. On a Friday evening and you can walk into a vernissage (an art opening cocktail), and interact with artists and locals over wine and cheese. Once at L’As du Felafel, the city’s most famous takeaway falafel joint, be prepared to battle a queue of hungry Parisians, and then look for bench or sidewalk garden to sit, enjoy your meal and watch the world go by.

Start your stroll at: Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

The 8th Arrondissement Fashion Trail- Christmas lights in Avenue des Champs Elysees. Image Courtesy: Atout France

The 8th Arrondissement Fashion Trail– No visit to Paris is complete without a call to the heart of Parisian elegance—the 8th arrondissement. The Avenue des Champs Elysées may be an obvious choice, however, its two glitzy offshoots, Avenue Montaigne and Avenue George V, is where you’ll brush shoulders with city’s swish set. Beginning at the gargantuan Louis Vuitton flagship store, walk down the Avenue George V. Bump into a few celebrities at the iconic Hotel George V’s coffee shop, La Galerie. A luxury shopper’s haven with Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Jimmy Choo, and the super famous Montaigne Market multi-brand store, is Avenue Montaigne. Walk past the Dior store, in the building where Monsieur Christian Dior set up his couture house in 1946.

Avenue Montaigne. Image Courtesy: Atout France

The majestic Hotel Plaza Athénée, with flower lined balconies, and a bevy of Rolls Royces and Ferraris, is a sight to behold. If you’ve had enough retail therapy, and Parisian luxe, the avenue goes all the way down to the Seine, where the golden flame memorial marking Princess Diana’s accident spot stands. Here you can hop onto a Seine river cruise and see Paris from, well, under the bridges of Paris.

Start your stroll at: The Louis Vuitton building on the Champs-Elysées

Gastronomic Adventures in St. Germain. A literary cafe in the St Germain. Image Courtesy: AtoutFrance

Gastronomic Adventures in St. Germain – This quarter is home to some of the French capital’s finest restaurants and historic cafés. A must-do, for every visitor is to ask for the table where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had their cerebral encounters in the ‘50s, in Café de Flore. Or walk to the nearby Café des Deux Magots, but besides well-heeled tourists, you won’t see many locals at these cafés.

A well-known bookshop (trading since 1951) in Saint Germain des Pres (6th arrondissement) opposite Notre Dame cathedral. Image Courtesy: AtoutFrance

The tiny lanes of St. Germain, have a slew of local bakeries, gourmet stores, cheese houses and organic markets at every corner. Try out the world famous macaroons of Ladurée or Pierre Herméor or amble through the St. Germain covered market. If you’re in the mood for a decadent French delicacy, try the oysters at the all-oyster restaurant Huiterie Régis, endorsed by Paris’ most renowned gastronome, David Lebovitz.

Start your tour at: The St-Germain-des-Prés Church

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