Paris is filled with secret places, witness of the story of the city. Discovering them help you understand the past of the French capital better. For instance, Paris covered passages. In the 19th century, thanks to Baron Haussmann’s major urban transformation plan, the capital included over 70 of these passages!
Their purpose was to protect the well-off inhabitants from the mud and the hustle and bustle of the streets, providing them passages protected from the bad weather thanks to beautiful glass roofs and gathering many stores and restaurants in one place.
Today, Paris only features 21 covered passages open to the public. With the following guide, you can create your very own self-guided tour of the Parisian covered galleries. There’s nothing difficult about it since the most beautiful covered passages are almost all set in the same area: the 2nd and 9th arrondissements. An architectural curiosity taking us back to the same atmosphere as in the 19th century.
Set a stone’s throw from the Louvre, the Galerie Véro-Dodat is listed as historic monument since 1965. On the floor, a beautiful marbled tiling with black and white rhombuses to give some depth to the gallery. Look up and admire the beautiful glass roof and engravings. From its creation in 1826, the gallery houses many chic stores: home décor, furniture, art, shoes with Louboutin… You can purchase nice things should you have the means!
10 rue Saint-Marc / 11 boulevard Montmartre / 38 rue Vivienne / 151 rue Montmartre
Open: every day, 6 p.m. to midnight
Built in 1799, the Passage des Panoramas is Paris’ first covered passage and also one of the most famous in the French capital. This explains why it’s always crowded. Stamp collectors, you should know that it’s the main place for philately in Paris with the many stores devoted to collector’s stamp sale. When walking around the Passage des Panoramas, you can keep your walking tour in the Galerie des Variétés that links the Passage des Panoramas. For the record, the Passage des Panoramas owes its name to two “panoramas” these lit rotundas housing a trompe-l’oeil mural, at the main entrance of the passage, Boulevard Montmartre. The two works have been unfortunately destroyed in 1831.
With its neo-classic Pompei-inspired décor, its elegant glass roof, its huge cupola, its colorful mosaic flooring and its many paintings and sculptures, the Galerie Vivienne is one of the most elegant galleries in Paris. Inaugurated in 1826, it has been housing many luxury ready-to-wear stores and indoor design stores, as well as cafés and bookstores selling ancient books just so that you can relax between two shopping sprees. It found its glory back when major luxury brand settled in between its walls (Kenzo even organized a fashion show there in the 70’s and Jean-Paul Gaultier settled in there for a while).
Open in 1825 in leu of the Hôtel du Grand-Cerf, the Passage du Grand-Cerf not always looked like this. As a matter of fact, it’s only in 1845 that it got this wonderful glass roof that does all its charm. Inside, many designer stores, indoor designer stores, artisan stores, fashion stores and so on rub shoulders. And for the cultural record, it’s in the Passage du Grand-Cerf that a scene from the Zazie in the Metro movie by Louis Malle has been shot. Bitcoin connoisseurs, please also note that since 2016, about twenty storekeepers in the passage has been accepting this mean of payment.
The Passage du Caire is the Parisian covered passage of all records: the oldest passage still open (built back in 1798 during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt), also the longest one (360 meters or 1181.10 feet from one end to the other) and the narrowest. Well, we must confess these are the only three characteristic that can be noticed for this passage. Set in the Sentier area, it’s now stormed by wholesalers, fabric manufacturers and mannequin stores. But you can still admire the 3 statues embodying the Hathor goddess, with cow ears, adorning the entrance, and get out by the western exit to enjoy a nice cup of coffee at the discreet Place du Caire.
The Galerie Colbert is Galerie Vivienne’s rival for the most beautiful Parisian gallery award. Don’t give it any second thought and go discover its magnificent rotunda topped with a glass cupola and its statue depicting dying Eurydice, in the middle of the rotunda. This beautiful gallery has been bought by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France [France’s National Library] and now houses several institutes (including the institute of the history of art and the heritage institute), as well as many research laboratories and schools related to the history of art. Rumor has it that in 1830, composer Berlioz starts singing La Marseillaise from his window, in an arrangement he has just created. The crowd gathered under his window, covers the lyric in unison, and Berlioz is said to have fainted.
The Passage des Princes is a very small covered passage in Paris 2nd arrondissement. It was the last covered passage built in Paris when Baron Haussmann was still alive. Admire its beautiful glass window, erected on metal arches, creating arabesques, its lovely 30’s inspired cupola and its width, incredible. And even though what you see isn’t the original passage, the Passage des Princes has been destroyed in 1985 for a real estate operation, but luckily it has been rebuilt again 10 years later exactly as it was! Today, the Passage des Princes houses a famous child’s toy factory that – in order not to damage the style of the passage – has scattered its different stores in the former stores of the Passage des Princes.
Covering a 190-meter length or 623.35 feet, the Passage Choiseul is one of the longest in Paris (even if far behind the Passage du Caire and its 360 meters!). Since its opening in 1827, the Passage Choiseul has lost a bit of its charm with Parisians. And despite setting up a Kenzo store in 1970 (now moved to the Place des Victoires), the Passage Choiseul hasn’t got its former enthusiasm back. Well, if you decided to go there when Parisians are working, you’re not likely to be moved around. You can discover chiseled wooden walls, marbled pilasters and arches filled with light bulbs to replace the former gas lamps. Writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline even lived there during his childhood, between 1899 and 1907 when his mother was running a store in the passage.
As you can imagine it, the Galerie de la Madeleine is set not far from the Church of the Madeleine and the Place de la Madeleine. Designed by architect Théodore Charpentier in 1804, the Galerie de la Madeleine has been inaugurated in 1846 and houses – back in the days – many small stores and artisans. Now, luxury has taken over the passage and countless luxury stores have settled in. if you don’t have the budget to buy anything, you can still admire its glass roof divided into panels, its elegant flying buttresses and most of all, its two beautiful caryatids framing the entrance porch, by the Place de la Madeleine.
The Passage Jouffroy has been built in 1836 as an extension of the Passage des Panoramas in order to enjoy the Parisian population tapped by the latter. Since then, it’s one of the most crowded passages in Paris. The Passage Jouffroy used to be the place to be for many architectural revolutions: it was the first to be heated by the ground. The floor of this beautiful covered passage is covered with black, grey and white tiles. It’s in this very passage that you can find the exit of the Musée Grévin, you definitely can’t miss it if you’ve decided to pay a visit to the famous wax figures! The Passage Jouffroy has been entirely renovated in 1987, 13 years after being listed historic monument and now houses many ancient book stores.
The Passage Verdeau is set as an extension of the Passage des Panoramas and the Passage Jouffroy. It’s actually why it has been quickly deserted, Parisian people preferring the neighboring passages. Yet, this lovely covered gallery owns a beautiful and high glass roof in two parts (like a fish bone) and a beautiful metallic frame structure so that the passage can get fresh air in spring and summer. The Passage Verdeau houses many antique dealers, ancient bookstores and art dealers (it’s set very close to the Drouot auction house) and attracts collectors of all kinds.
Originally, the Passage Brady used to link the Faubourg Saint-Denis to the Faubourg Saint-Martin. But in 1852, the creation of the Boulevard de Strasbourg cut the passage in two. The part linking the boulevards Saint-Denis and de Strasbourg is now covered and houses several Indian-Pakistanis, Mauritian and Reunion stores and restaurants. If you are craving cheese naans or butter chicken, you know where to go! As for the part linking the Boulevard de Strasbourg to the Faubourg Saint-Martin is in the open air and many costume renters have settled in.
Enjoy your walk!
From 14 August 2018 to 31 December 2018