Limpeh’s Personal Guide to Paris part 1: North Paris
Bonjour! I recently worked a contract in Paris and it was wonderful to spend some time in the city that I used to live in 15 years ago. Between finishing my work commitments in Paris and flying off to Hamburg, I had just three days to revisit all my favourite sights in Paris – now clearly, that is not enough so it was a question of prioritizing what I wanted to see. Most tourists actually do spend about three days in Paris when touring Europe, so I have devised a three-day plan to do the best of Paris for you. So here is the first part of a four part series: I will be introducing you to North, West and Central-South Paris it really doesn’t matter what order you do them in. There will then be a bonus part 4 talking about the sights not covered in the first three parts (if you are in Paris for more than 3 days) and a 1-day programme if you are unlucky enough to have only 24 hours in Paris.
I did most of these walking and occasionally used the metro (underground train/tube/subway/MRT) but if you are not keen on walking so much (or if it is raining or especially cold), then I will offer you the possibility to take the metro whenever possible. I do a lot of walking in Paris as you get to experience the city so much more intimately. This route will take you a whole day from about 10 am to 6 pm – I am allowing plenty of time for shopping and coffee/food breaks, so it is not too ambitious. For you non-French speakers, I will also offer an English phonetic approximation of the place names which are hard to pronounce in italics.
Limpeh at Sacre Coeur
Please note that when I say ‘North Paris’, this walking tour is really taking you around the Northern limits of central Paris. Urban Paris sprawls over a total area of 2,844.8 km2 (that’s right, urban Paris is approximately 4 times the size of Singapore) and some of the northern suburbs are decidedly boring since they are mostly residential or industrial. However, since most tourists do not venture out of the most central parts of Paris, I shall call this the ‘North Paris route’. Now this route is based entirely on my local knowledge of Paris and I did do this walk when I was in Paris in November 2014 so you know it is tried and tested.
The North Paris Walking Tour
Start at République (metro station République, lines 3, 5, 8, 9 and 11). – Place de la République (Plus de la Repooblic) is a grand square with a monument just to the north-east of central Paris. There are plenty of photo opportunities in the main square along with a large number of retailers and cafes to distract you there – this is a good place to grab a coffee should you need a little caffeine boost to get you started on this North Paris (mostly) walking tour.
From République, walk in a westerly direction along Boulevard Saint-Martin towards Strasbourg Saint Denis (Strasboog Sain Deni) – this is a fairly quiet Boulevard, quite residential with a number of shops along the way. I actually enjoyed this street because I found a number of clothing and shoe shops at very down to earth prices leading up to Porte Saint-Denis (Port Saint-Deni) – whilst I like shopping, I don’t like being ripped off and a lot of shopping in Paris caters for the super high end luxury market. I’m not made of money and I love a bargain – be prepared to make many stops and pop into shops along the way! Alternatively, you can get the Metro one stop from République, to Strasbourg St Denis (lines 8 or 9) – the walking distance is approximately 0.75 km.
When you get to Strasbourg St Denis, pause to take in the sight of Porte Saint Denis – okay, it is less grand than the Arc de Triomphe but still it is pretty impressive. You now want to turn right and walk down Boulevard de Strasbourg in a northerly direction. Feel free to peel off and explore the other streets in the area north of Porte Saint-Denis: this is an interesting neighbourhood with Tunisian, Algerian, Moroccan, Turkish, Indian and Vietnamese immigrants. You will see restaurants offering authentic Maghreb (North African) cuisine, Asian supermarkets and all kinds of ethnic shops. Take your time to explore this neighbourhood which will give you a glimpse into the ethnic minorities of France.
You want to be heading in the direction of Château d’Eau (literally: castle of water) metro station which is about 0.5 km due north of Porte Saint Denis – I do strongly recommend that you walk this part as it is such an interesting little neighbourhood, the distance isn’t far at all. At Château d’Eau station, this is when it stops being quite so ethnic and it turns back into a more French street. From Château d’Eau, you want to keep walking in the same direction due north on the same street Boulevard de Strasbourg for another 0.35 km and look for the Saint-Laurent church on your left at the big junction with Boulevard de Magenta. It is a quaint and pretty church that definitely warrants a visit and a few pohotos – entry is free and the church is always open to the public for prayer. Even if you are not religious, do take a moment to enter the church and admire the interior.
You are now actually very close to Paris Gare de l’Est (East Paris railway station) but it’s just a railway station, don’t bother with that. As you step out of Saint-Laurent church, you want to hang a right and go up Boulevard de Magenta towards Paris Gare du Nord (North Paris railway station) at the junction where Boulevard de Strasbourg meets Boulevard de Magenta. Now Boulevard de Magenta is a shopping street – we’re talking really nice clothes and shoes at very down to earth prices. Few tourists actually go there but I absolutely adore it because they are mostly catering for a local North Paris clientele rather than tourists so the prices are far more reasonable than in central Paris.
Now the shopping street is pretty long – it is a grand distance of 1.2 km but if you love shopping as much as I do, you would walk all 1.2 km of it and enjoy every minute of it, popping into most of the shops along the way. Now it is not dirt cheap but you will get great value for money here: we’re talking about independent retailers in North Paris who do not have as much overheads as a shop in central Paris, so their mark up is less. Besides, given the large number of stores on this street – competition is fierce and so they drive each other’s prices down! This is my favourite shopping street in Paris and IMHO, the best kept secret amongst locals. Just resist the urge to buy too many things here as you may have to end up carrying them with you for the rest of this North Paris walking tour.
If you are not interested in shopping, then the alternative shortcut is as follows: as you leave Saint-Laurent church, walk into Gare de l’Est and find the metro station there. You need line 4 to go to Barbès-Rochechouart (“Ba-bes Ro-sheh-shuwa”, just two stops away). Like I said, it is a 1.2 km walk but I am going to include two little detours to make it worth your while. Firstly, there is the Saint Quentin covered market (on your left, just past the junction with Rue de Chabrol) this is a really nice food market where you can pick up some of the finest French delights like cheese and wine. Secondly, there is the Saint Vincent de Paul church – another pretty majestic church which lies just about 50 meters from Boulevard de Magenta (near the junction with Rue la Fayette as you get to Gare du Nord). Both the church and the gardens are well worth visiting and of course, it is free to enter.
Now the next stop on our tour is Barbès-Rochechouart and the shopping doesn’t stop: opposite Barbès-Rochechouart station is the famous store Tati. Let me lay it on the line for you: Tati is cheap. Cheap cheap cheap. Most tourists would walk into one of the grand stores like Galeries Lafayette or Printemps and find the whole place full of very expensive branded goods which are nice to look at but are quite frankly out of their price range. Tati is the complete opposite of that – it is a huge departmental store that goes on for blocks. When I was a student in the late 90s, I used to love shopping there and in 2014, Tati is still there, bigger and better than ever before! Just beware you don’t buy too much here as you still have plenty of walking to do!
From Tati, you want to walk in a westerly direction towards Place Louise Michel (Plus Louise Michelle) – it is 0.5 km away and depending on which exit you emerge from Tati (it sprawls over several blocks), it is probably best that you ask for directions to make sure you are walking in the right direction towards the Basilique Sacré-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). This route is clearly sign posted, so don’t worry – you should be able to find it fairly easily. The main tourist attractions in Paris are always clearly sign posted. This is the highlight of North Paris and was featured in the famous film Amelie.
Place Louise Michel marks the entrance to the gardens leading up to Sacré-Coeur (“Sa-kre Kur”) – now I have to issue two warnings here: Firstly, it is a steep climb but it shouldn’t faze most people. However, those with mobility issues (or who are simply too tired at this stage) can always take the funicular railway (known as the Monmartre Funicular) which is located just to the west of the gardens (it is easily visible and sign posted) which gets you up the hill – it is not free and cost as much as a ride on the metro. Most people just walk up the hill though, but if you do so, beware of the many black guys who will approach you and ask you if you speak English. They will be holding a piece of string and all they want to do, is to weave a simple ‘friendship band’ from a few threads around your wrist and then they will ask you for a few euros for it. Some tourists have been pickpocketed as well when they stop and talk to these black guys – if they approach you (and they will, quite a few approached me as I walked up the hill), simply tell them loudly and clearly (in English or French), “NO, LEAVE ME ALONE, GO AWAY!” The moment they saw how adamant I was not to speak to them, they left me alone and preyed on some other tourists who are more gullible.
Sacré-Coeur is one of the most famous sights in Paris, it is free to enter the main church for prayer but you need to pay to go up to the very top of it – but I really don’t see the point. By the time you have reached the top of the hill, you are already rewarded with some pretty amazing views of Paris. There will be loads of black guys (yup, they all seem to be black guys) selling tacky souvenirs of Paris (key chain with the Eiffel Tower seems to be their number one best seller) there – I never bought anything from them but I noted that they are actually a lot cheaper than any souvenir shop in Paris. Do try to bargain with them if you are going to buy something but be very careful when taking out your wallet to pay, there may be snatch thieves about.
From Sacré-Coeur, you now need to make your way down to Boulevard de Clichy (“Clishee”). Follow the funicular railway down the hill (going downhill is due south) and keep walking in a zig-zag manner either going west or south until you get to Boulevad de Clichy. Your walk will take your through the Bohemian neighbourhood of Monmartre and Pigalle, where you will see quaint restaurants, independent boutiques and cute little cafes. This is a good place to perhaps stop for a coffee or lunch – you may probably be quite tired by now and in need of a little rest and fuel in the tank!
When you get to Boulevard de Clichy, you need to turn right and look for the metro station Blanche. The short cut is to descend from Sacré-Coeur directly to Anvers (“Envair”) station (just go directly downhill all the way) and then take the metro two stops to Blanche with line 2. We’re talking about a distance of 1.1 km in total from Sacré-Coeur to Blanche station, so you can decide if you want a romantic wander through this Bohemian neighbourhood or simply take the metro. Mind you, the whole area is a red light district and you will see some sleazy looking sex shops and sex clubs. At Blanche station, you will be greeted by the famous sight of the Moulin Rouge cabaret – now it is actually really expensive to watch a show there but you can at least have your photo taken by the iconic red windmills and have a walk around the lobby (you can get as far as the ticket counter).
|Limpeh at the Moulin Rouge|
From Blanche station, this is where you have the option of either walking 0.85 km to Trinité – d’Estienne d’Orves (“Triniteh destien dorv“) station or getting on the metro (which is slightly less convenient as you would have to go one stop to Pigalle on line 2 and changing there for line 12. Trinité – d’Estienne d’Orves is three stops from Pigalle on line 12.) This is where you will visit the impressive Trinity Church – another massive church which is free to enter and visit. You are now a short walk (0.6 km) from the shopping area known as “Les Grands Magasins” (literally: the big shops) on Boulevard Haussman – this is where the biggest and grandest department stores are in Paris: Galleries LaFayette and Printemps (Pren-taump) are the two most famous French stores that most people visit there. They do cater for the high end luxury market and if that is what you’re after, great. Otherwise, at least do go up to the roof top terrace of Galleries LaFayette (it is free) where you will be rewarded with amazing views of that part of North Paris.
If you are less interested in spending your euros on expensive luxury goods, then you can nip on over to Square Louis XVI (just 0.35 km due west from Printemps) where you can check out the quaint and quirky Chapelle Expiatoire (‘Sha-pell Expiatwa’) Otherwise, you can head due east to L’Opera (0.4 km from Printemps). This is the main Paris Opera houses where the famous book and musical The Phantom Of The Opera is set. The building is impressive and you can spend a while walking around it, photographing it from various angles but unless you’re prepared to spend money to see an opera, I’m afraid the ticket office is as far as you can get.
This is where I must issue another warning: there will be Indian (yup, Indian) women approaching you around the Opera (along with other main tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower), asking you if you speak English. Do not acknowledge them or pretend you do not understand them at all, shake your head and walk away. They are beggars – they will claim to be raising money for an orphanage or some charity in India and they will have a clipboard with them with some information that has been photocopied. Do not give them anything, real charities do not approach tourists in the streets like that. The moment a policeman appeared, all these Indian women suddenly ran away. Once again, there have been reports of tourists being pickpocketed the moment the stopped to talk to one of these Indian women in Paris.
From L’Opera, there is one final stop on this walking tour of North Paris: the Madeleine, an impressive Catholic church. It is 0.6 km away from the Opera in a south-west direction – simply follow the signs (like I said before, all major attractions in Paris are clearly sign posted). Otherwise, simply head south from L’Opera until you get to Opera station, then turn right and head west along Boulevard des Capucines and you can’t miss it, given how grand the Madeleine is! Once you are done with the Madeleine, there are some shops there for you to continue shopping or alternatively, head for the metro station Madeleine (lines 8, 12 and 14) which is located right next to the church to return to your hotel.
I could include far more in this walking tour but this was what I had covered in a period of 10 am to 6 pm, walking at a fairly leisurely pace, stopping a lot to browse in shops and have coffee breaks when I got a bit tired. All in all, the distance is in this walking tour is approximately 8 km (well, it is 7.7 km but it is easily over 8 km when you include all the extra bits such as walking around a grand monument just to take it all in). Now that may sound like quite a fair distance for some of you, but allow me to point out the following as you do this walk:
- The average walking speed is 4.75 km/hr – so if you were to walk this non-stop without actually stopping to take a photo or have a coffee, you would cover it in about 1 hr 40 minutes. We’re spreading the walking out over a period of 8 hours or so.
- Unless the weather is terrible (say you attempt this on a ridiculously hot summer’s day or a very rainy or cold day), you don’t tire as quickly if the temperature is say a cool 12 degrees Celsius. Do not attempt this on a rainy day, you will be wet and miserable.
- You can stop as often as you want – but do bear in mind that certain attractions (like Sacré-Coeur, Tati and Galleries LaFayette) have hours of operation that you should be aware of. I turned up at Galleries LaFayette 10 minutes before they closed the rooftop terrace, so at least I had a bit of time to take a few photos, but imagine if I had turned up 10 minutes later!
- There are plenty of free toilets in Paris – just look out the Sanisette (click on this link here). They are absolutely brilliant – just be warned that in popular tourist areas, you would probably have to queue for them.
- You can do this walk in reverse of course, but I had planned it to finish in the retail district of Opera/Madeleine/Les Grand Magasins so that you can go shopping to reward yourself after having completed this walk! There are shopping places in République too but nothing on the scale of Opera/Madeleine/Les Grands Magasins – heck, this is Paris, the shopping is amazing!
- Have I covered everything in North Paris? Of course not, I know there are bound to be people who are going to say, “hey you didn’t include this place (eg. the Eiffel Tower) on your North Paris route” – to which I have two answers: a) it may be covered on my West or Central Paris route, wait for that please and b) I am restricting myself to 8 km in about 8 hours, I can’t possibly send you to every single place of interest in North Paris within those limits. You’re meant to be enjoying Paris on a fun holiday, not training for a marathon.
- Download a street map of Paris onto your smart phone when you have wifi (say at the hotel) and get a street map if you’re old fashioned (available from any tourist information bureau or your hotel). Otherwise, you can always pop into any metro station and they will always have a map of the local area at the exit for you to orientate yourself.
- Do dress appropriately for an 8 km walk – you will get hot from all that exercise so do not overdress as you do not want to be carrying that heavy coat which you don’t need for 8 hours! And do wear sensible shoes like trainers for the long walk.
I hope you have found this useful – coming up next, my guide to the delights of West Paris! Stay tuned, merci!