A New City: Paris by Bus (Not the Tourist Kind!)
You’ve been to Paris a few times, and like all good travelers who want to get around fast in a big city, you bought metro tickets, got on the metro and never looked back. Now, every time you visit Paris, you buy a carnet of tickets, or a Paris Visite pass, and descend the stairs at the nearest station.
I did the same on every trip to Paris over the last 20 years. It was just what you did, if you weren’t walking somewhere. But 4 years ago, something different happened.
My new husband and I had decided to go to Paris for our honeymoon, because he had never been and wanted to see the city I talked about endlessly. When we arrived, we bought Paris Visite passes to use on the metro. When we left our hotel the next morning, a bus zoomed by us. Innocently, my husband asked if the passes also work on the bus. And so it happened: after 20 years a new way to see Paris was born.
Here’s a favorite itinerary on bus #91, from the Bastille area to the 6th Arrondissement, that may reveal something new to you.
Start at the bus cul-de-sac just off the Bastille circle (on the side of the Bastille opera house) on rue de Lyon. Wait for the #91 bus there, which is the route’s starting point. Some shelters have an electronic display that tells you when the next bus will arrive. When you get on the #91, try to sit on the left-hand side as you face the front (trust me on this).
The bus will head down rue de Lyon and pass one of the most interesting parks in Paris, the Promenade Plantée, which is built on top of an old Roman viaduct. The spaces under the viaduct are now home to various arts and crafts stores, furniture shops and art galleries, collectively known as Le Viaduc des Arts.
Next you’ll pass Gare de Lyon, in the 12th; notice the several brasseries across the street from the station. One, Les Relais d’Alsace–Taverne Karlsbräu (corner of rue de Lyon and blvd Diderot) has a great selection of unusual beers, plus sidewalk tables perfect for people watching. You’ll also want to check out Epicerie Fine, the gourmet store around the corner, at 5, rue de Lyon. It has everything you could want for a picnic lunch or a train ride, including an amazing selection of chocolate.
Turning right along the river, you’ll see a beautiful modern building (corner of boulevard Diderot and quai de la Rapée) that looks like the front of an ocean liner. As you cross the Seine into the 13th via the pont d’Austerlitz, you’ll enjoy a view of the Jardin des Plantes before trundling by the side of Gare d’Austerlitz. This area is mostly residential, with some hotels but not many tourists.
After the bus veers right on boulevard St.-Marcel, hop off at the second stop, which is St.-Marcel–Jeanne d’Arc. Walk down rue des Fossés-St.-Marcel, and on the right you’ll see L’Agrume (15, rue des Fossés-St.-Marcel, in the 5th; 01 43 31 86 48), which has been hailed by critics as one of the best restaurants in Paris right now. Serving lunch and dinner, it has the added advantage of reasonable prices. My foodie friend Sean pronounced his meal there divine.
Farther down the street, you’ll come to a small square with no less than four restaurants, including Les Poliveau, the local café/tabac. Walk back to boulevard St.-Marcel on rue Geoffroy-St-.Hilaire and stop in the Titli Bijoux boutique-atelier (14, rue Geoffroy-St.-Hilaire, in the 5th; 01 44 59 89 17), which has a unique selection of handcrafted gold and mother-of-pearl jewelry, as well as children’s schoolbags.
Turn right on boulevard St.-Marcel and next you’ll see a major intersection, Les Gobelins. This is a good time to stop for a prelunch aperitif, so try to grab an outdoor table at Les Carons des Gobelins brasserie on the corner. Hungry? If you didn’t already eat at L’Agrume, you will be happy to know that another of Paris’s best restaurants is a five-minute walk away. Head west on boulevard Arago and turn right on rue Broca, where you’ll see L’Ourcine (92, rue Broca, in the 13th; 01 47 07 13 65). A small, intimate restaurant, L’Ourcine has a lovely atmosphere and delicious, reasonably priced meals.
After lunch, walk north and take the stairs up to boulevard de Port-Royal, and head toward Port-Royal. The Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki stocks a lovely selection of macaroons, teas and unusual cakes, such as an Earl Grey–flavored miniloaf. A block farther on, a lilac storefront screams for attention—it certainly got mine when I saw it was Lilas Decoration (72, blvd de Port-Royal, in the 5th; 01 43 31 65 09), an art and antiques shop with a wide variety of armoires, bar carts, chairs and other furniture.
Catch the bus again (sit on the right side this time) at the Port-Royal RER train station, where you’ll have a southern view of the Luxembourg Gardens. The road turns into boulevard Montparnasse, and you will see several small stores scattered under the apartment buildings that line the street. At Arte Casa Carrelage (141, blvd du Montparnasse, in the 6th), you’ll find those Surrealist bathroom tiles you’ve always wanted.
Bus #91 continues to Gare Montparnasse, but I like to get off in front of Le Dome, at the corner of boulevard Montparnasse and boulevard Raspail. Behind Le Dome, at 29–31, rue Delambre, you’ll find Juliette, a small depot vente (consignment shop) that always has well-priced Chanel bags and Hermès scarves. There’s also Garance, which looks like a junk store but has some amazing antique jewelry.
I never thought much about food from Alsace-Lorraine until I discovered, a block away from Le Dome, Winstub au Bretzel (1, rue Léopold Robert, in the 14th; 01 40 47 82 37). I thought the Germanic influence on the region’s food meant it would be heavy and potato laden. Not so here—I had a salad starter and a good-size charcuterie plate that was delicious. Ask the owner, Jean, or the chef, Georges, to recommend a few dishes to try.
I still take the bus on every trip, every chance I get. Sometimes we just hop on a bus that’s going in our general direction, because we are sure to find something new and wonderful along the way. Try it—you won’t be disappointed in what Paris reveals.
Before You Go
The Paris Visite pass is on sale at all metro and RER stations, bus terminus sales windows, SNCF suburban train stations, Paris airports and Paris tourist offices. Outside France, you can buy it from travel agencies and tour operators.
Paris bus map
Print it out! (PDF)
Paris bus lines and routes
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP)
RATP is the government agency that runs transport in Paris and the surrounding areas. On their site you’ll find information about Paris Visite passes, prices and tips on how to use the transit system, plus transit maps.
Editor’s note: Smart vs. not-so-smart ways to tour Paris: download the Girls’ Guide DIY e-tours (smart), or lug a heavy guidebook around and look like a full-fledged tourist (not so smart). Take your pick! Download your insider tour here.