“Errer est humain, flâner est parisien.”
To err is human, to stroll is Parisian.
– Victor Hugo
These words were true in the 19th-century and they’re true today. Nothing is more quintessentially Parisian than spending a lazy hour or two strolling through Paris’s streets, gardens, or along the banks of the Seine with no aim other than to take delight in the special details the city offers.
In France, we call a person who strolls in this manner a flâneur (flah-nuhr). If you want to really slip beneath the skin of Paris, we encourage you to become one for a little while.
Of course, there are thousands of places to for leisurely strolls around Paris. But in winter or during rainy season – and especially at Christmas – a wonderful place to flâner is through Paris’s historic covered passages.
Les passages couverts (pah-sahj coo-vairt) are covered passageways built in the 18th and 19th-centuries as elegant shopping arcades for the Right Bank bourgeoisie. Characterized by glass-and-iron roofs, gorgeously patterned tile floors, and distinctive decorative details, the passages were a genteel escape from the grit and grime of the city beyond.
Today, there only about 20 passages left from the original 140+. Their conditions range from shabby to impeccable, but each one still evokes a sense of stepping into another era when you pass through their iron gates. Original boutiques, art galleries, toy stores, cafés and other unique shops make the passages wonderful place to find special items and knick-knacks that don’t smack of globalization.
But even if you don’t spend a dime, it’s sheer pleasure to simply flâner, admiring the offerings in les vitrines (shop windows) and revel in the Paris that was – and, thankfully, still is.
If you can’t get to the real thing – right now – come take photographic Christmastime stroll through three of our favorites:
The Passage Jouffroy is a bustling passages crowded with locals and tourists alike. It’s home to the Musée Grevin, Paris’s waxworks museum, the lovely 19th-century Hotel Chopin, and dozens of interesting boutiques and shops, where you can buy anything from a gold-tipped cane to a 1950‘s child’s music box to an adult-sized silver crown. Don’t forget to have tea and patîsseries (pastries) at the lovely teahouse, Le Valentin. (Tip: For a more cozy, intimate environment, ask to be seated in their room upstairs). Address: boulevard Montmartre or rue de la Grange Batelière, 75009, Metro: Grand Boulevards or Richelieu-Drouot.
This is Paris’s most dazzling passage. Luxury boutiques abound here, from Jean-Paul Gaultier to Nathalie Garçon to the famous wineshop Legrand Filles et Fils . The adorable toy shop Si Tu Veux will make you wish you were a kid again and the bookstore, F. Jousseaume, is full of fragile old French tomes that look so rich with knowledge that you’ll be tempted to buy one, regardless of the subject matter – but they’ve got intriguing modern books as well. Lunch at the elegant Bistrot Vivienne. Address: Entrances on rue des Petits-Champs, rue de la Banque or rue Vivienne, 75002. Metro: Bourse.
PASSAGE DES PANORAMAS
Passage des Panoramas is the oldest passage, built in 1799. It has decidedly different atmosphere than the two mentioned above. Slightly run-down and always busy, the passage is inevitably filled with locals, usually there to dine at the down-to-earth Indian and Asian restaurants or at the trendy gluten-free restaurant Noglu, or any of the other street-food style eateries. Peppered between food places are interesting little shops, such as a store that sells signed autographs, art galleries, philatelists and old postcard shops, and jewelry and clothing boutiques. Address: boulevard Montmartre, 75009, Metro: Grand Boulevards or Richelieu-Drouot.
Joyeux Noël from French As You Like It, your French language school in Paris!