If you don’t know about the passages, you must learn. I don’t mean to sound professorial, but I made the same mistake—coming to Paris for an embarrassingly long time before I finally made the discovery. The passages are old-fashioned shopping malls from the late 1700s and early 1800s that provided cover from rain, mud and horses for the chic shopping ladies of yesteryear. Let’s not even discuss the city’s open sewers during that era—you can understand why someone had the bright idea to build a passage. They come in all different shapes and sizes, so one will surely strike your fancy. All have skylights, and most have some serious interest for architecture buffs; many have unique shops and all are uniquely Parisian.
Not too long ago I took a tour of the passages with a tour guide—a lovely older lady who made up in kindness for a somewhat thin veneer of knowledge (I won’t offend her by outing her here). We toured the most famous passage, Vivienne, in the 2nd Arrondissement, plus Passage Colbert, Panoramas, Choiseul, Jouffroy, Brady and Verdeau, among others. There is something special about these secret little passageways. Walking into each one feels like you are unwrapping a different gift.
Vivienne is probably my favorite, with its spectacular mosaic tiles and great shopping. Here you’ll find a charming modern art gallery, Martine Moisan, which gives lessons on Saturdays; a fabulous florist, Emilio Robba; a killer tea salon, A Priori Thé; and a bookshop of rare finds. There’s even a bistro (Bistro Vivienne), plus a fine wine shop, Legrand Filles and Fils. (We love that “filles” comes first!) But the crème de la crème is Jean Paul Gaultier’s shop—oh la la, and there’s more. All info on Vivienne here.
Passage Colbert is also quite beautiful, possibly more grand than Vivienne in style, but the only commercial thing there is the brasserie Le Grand Colbert, of Something’s Gotta Give movie fame—remember the romantic scene where Diane Keaton orders the roast chicken? Reviews are mixed, though David Lebovitz loves it—then again, he dined there with the director of the movie. Other tourists are not as keen. It is one of the few independently owned bistros left in Paris, though we think it could use a bit of polish.
Not to be missed is Galerie Véro-Dodat, with the überfamous Christian Louboutin—do I hear a flock of girls running? And as if that weren’t enough, you’ll find cosmetic goddess Terry de Gunzburg’s shop, By Terry, for makeup and a quick redo. Discover antique dolls at Robert Capia’s store.
The funkiest passage we toured was Passage Brady, which is chock-full of Indian and Pakistani restaurants. Some recommend these restos, but we felt they were a bit too shabby for our taste.
Passage du Grand Cerf is home to fashion and was declared the hippest of the arcades by the New York Times back in 2003. It houses Satellite, a costume jeweler we like, as well as Bei Style, a Chinese designer, among other interesting shops. Rickshaw is a fun store for interior accents with a Bollywood vibe. There’s also MX Sylvie Branellec for pearls and PM Co Style for interesting interiors with Buddhas and such.
Passage des Panoramas is the oldest and has many restaurants and cafés, most notably Racines, which was recently sold. But the new owner promises to keep the same spirit—think organic cooking. Another shop of interest is the engraver Stern (profiled here), if you need an invitation engraved or would like to make yourself a proper French calling card. Is there a cooler thing to come home with than your own proper French calling cards?
There’s even an apartment you can rent (described here) in Passage du Bourg l’Abbé, which is in the 2nd with many of the other passages. (They tend to center around the 2nd and the 9th.) This apartment looks wonderful and is priced well, too. Plus, the 2nd is an area we really enjoy above and beyond the passages.
In Passage Jouffroy there’s also a small quaint hotel by the name of Hôtel Chopin. Cheap sleep, a bit shabby chic but affordable in a good and completely unique location, if you can deal with the tiny rooms and dated decor. 76–100 euros a night!
Passage Verdeau has antiques, comics, musical instruments and engravings. Passage des Princes specializes in toys. Jouffroy also has a darling toy store, Pain d’Épices, and a needlepoint shop, Le Bonheur des Dames. Old movie posters, Lebanese pastries and the wax museum of Paris, Musée Grévin, can also be found in Jouffroy.
There are nearly 30 passages, so post and tell us about your favorites. Happy touring!
Addresses here: Passages & Galeries
Tour the passages: Paris 360
Photos of many of the entrances: Paris Connected