By Jim Ferri
Paris is a city that’s made for walking and to feel its heartbeat you need to take to its streets and boulevards on foot.
A Paris walk is really the only way to enjoy the culture, charm and beauty of the city and to see how Parisians live, work and relax. Walk about Paris and you’re following in the footsteps of countless writers, artists, philosophers and intellectuals who once made the city their home.
Walk along the Seine, visit the city’s beautiful parks and join the crowds on some of the grandest boulevards in the world. But also leave yourself time to wander about aimlessly, strolling down little alleyways and going into cafés where there’s no other travelers. That’s the way I’ve unearthed countless surprises and little treasures all over Paris.
To help you unearth your own, here are eight wonderful walks I’ve taken in Paris over the last few years. None of them were really planned; I just started out wandering about an arrondissement and let my curiosity lead me along. I’ve always found it’s the best way to see any city.
Île de la Cité
The famous island in the center of the Seine, Île de la Cité is the cradle of Paris, the place where the Romans first set up camp in 52 BC. Today it’s the city’s religious and judicial center, with such jewels as Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie.
Despite the millions of travelers who visit Île de la Cité every year, most come to visit only Notre Dame and, possibly, Sainte-Chapelle. But the rest of the small island is a wonderful place to wander about to admire its historic grandeur and old mansions.
Many travelers visit Notre Dame and then head off for another area of the city without realizing there’s another treasure close by: another island adjacent to Île de la Cité that’s connected to it by a small bridge directly behind the cathedral. It’s a wonderful place visited by relatively few travelers, which is why it remains such a quiet neighborhood right in the center of the city.
Île Saint-Louis, one of Paris’s most expensive neighborhoods, is an oasis with no Metro station (and only two bus stops), which keeps it very peaceful and serene. Wander its little lanes and you’ll find artsy boutiques, good restaurants and gourmet food shops.
Jardin des Tuileries
Named after the tile factories that originally stood on the site, originally formed the front grounds of the old Tuileries Palace (destroyed in 1871) that was built by Queen Catherine de Medici. They were landscaped by André Le Nôtre, who also created the gardens at Versailles.
These formal gardens, among the most famous in the world, link the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre. They’re a great place to walk either before or after a visit to the Louvre.
The Left Bank
Many Sundays you’ll find Parisians walking along the Seine’s Left Bank where the sidewalk along the quay is still lined, as it has been for centuries, with second-hand bookstalls. Most of the books you’ll find here are written in French but there are also stalls selling postcards and other tourist items.
But it’s not postcards people come here for, but the beautiful views of the city all along the river’s edge. It’s one of the most romantic and beautiful walks you’ll find anywhere.
Set high on a hill looking out over Paris, Montmartre is dominated by the basilica of Sacre Coeur and still retains its small-village atmosphere, which makes it feel quite different from the hustle of Paris below. Here you’ll find one of the best views across the city.
Place du Tertre, the small square at the high point of the city, is filled with artists selling their canvases, and lined with restaurants and tourist shops. But go beyond the square and visit the Montmartre Museum, in the oldest building in the village, where several famous artists lived at different times. It was here that Auguste Renoir painted his Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette and The Swing.
The Boulevard St-Germain stretches through one of the most picturesque and famous areas of Paris. Since it extends roughly from near Notre Dame to near the Musée d’Orsay on the Left Bank, if you’re walking between the two it’s the perfect alternative if you’d rather not walk along the Seine.
It was once known as a bohemian area filled with artists and intellectuals. Today though, it’s one of the most expensive and stylish areas of Paris, with the street home to high-end boutiques such as Louis Vuitton and Armani, as well as such famous and historic cafes as Brasserie Lipp, Les Deux Magots, and Cafe Flore.
Jardin du Luxembourg
While the Luxembourg Gardens are worthy of a tour by themselves, you can easily combine it with a stroll along the Boulevard Saint-Germain. It’s located on the border between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter. The incredibly beautiful 60+ acre park, inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence, is split into French and English gardens with more than 100 statues spread about them. Many chairs line the paths to allow people to relax or read a book, and there are many activities for both adults and children, including sailing boats in the pond in from of Luxembourg Palace.
Around Paris there are several arcades or passages that are 18th-century predecessors of today’s shopping malls. They are actually tiny towns within the larger city, private streets lined with boutiques and bistros with glass ceilings to let the light in. They were originally built to provide Parisians respite from the weather and the unsanitary conditions that plagued the streets of the city.
Although there were about 150 or so of them originally, only 20 or so remain today and continue to provide to provide those who seek them out a glimpse into a Paris of centuries ago. You can learn more about them in The Hidden Passages of Paris.