Have you seen Notre Dame? Been up the Tour Eiffel? Wandered around Montmartre and you’re wondering what’s next? Well, the Parisian arcades are time-warp galleries of vintage shops and brasseries dotted across the French capital. Here’s a guide to the best of the secret covered passages of Paris!
The Paris gallery, otherwise known as the ‘Passages Couverts Parisiens’ in French has since become such a staple of Parisian life that many pass by the few that remain on a daily basis, without so much as blinking an eye. However, whether you’re in search for off-the-beaten-path Paris, seeking some shelter from the rain, or simply want an alternative place to shop, be sure to check out the hidden arcades of Paris…
A history of the Covered Passages of Paris
Largely dating back to the 18th and 19th-centuries, the covered passages of Paris were constructed so as to serve as shopping arcades filled with bookstores, independent boutiques, and eateries. Unfortunately, the mass overhaul of the retail industry by department stores saw the demolishment of many of the passages and today only a handful survive.
Between Grand Boulevards and wide terraced streets, the charm of the Parisian passages is not lost on the casual passerby, never mind the curious explorer. Largely constructed during the 19th-century, by 1850 there were some 150 passages, all stained glass windows, steel frames, and ornate decor. A throwback to the Belle Epoque, there is perhaps no better rainy day activity in the city than traipsing through these whimsical walkways…
#1 Passage du Grand Cerf
Named for the wooden cerf (stag’s head) hanging in the entryway to a pub at the end of the walkway, there’s no denying that Passage du Grand Cerf is one of the capital’s more luxurious passages. Built on the site of the former Hôtellerie du Grand Cerf, no one knows quite when this gallery was opened to the public.
#2 Galerie Vivienne
The sumptuous Galerie Vivienne is rather hard to miss… Thanks to its glittering lights, mosaic flooring, and a handful of upscale shops, this must-see Parisian attraction is easily the most famous of the 2nd arrondissement passages and has famously been in competition with the nearby Galerie Colbert.
Built in 1823 at the behest of the President of the Chamber of Notaries, the passage was originally named Marchoux. Swiftly changed to ‘Vivienne,’ the covered walkway soon attracted a whole host of tailors, confectioners and more. Now, you can still visit the gallery, which is close to Bourse, for free.
#3 Passage des Panoramas
Of all the Passages Couverts of Paris, Passage des Panoramas is likely my favourite. And not just because this bustling arcade is the oldest arcade in the French capital. A must-see for philatelists, once under the domed stained glass, you’ll soon discover a wide array of stamp collecting shops, vintage postcard stalls (I highly recommend Prins Patrick), and a good selection of eateries, including the gluten-free, Noglu.
#4 Passage Jouffroy
For those wishing to book a stay in a covered passage, you need to look no further than Passage Jouffroy in the 9th arrondissement of the city. After all, it’s here where you’ll find Hotel Chopin, a well-reviewed accommodation midway along the covered walkway (check prices and availability here).
Elsewhere along Passage Jouffroy, which was constructed in the 1840s and is unique in that it is formed by two long passages connected by a right-angle turn, you’ll soon find one of the oldest bookshops in Paris, a toy shop, and the entrance to the wax museum, which is the oldest of its kind in Europe.
#5 Passage Choiseul
Moving on to the lesser-known and more offbeat les passages of the city, Passage Choiseul is a continuation of Rue de Choiseul, a charming street in the second arrondissement of Paris. Constructed between 1826 and 1827, where the site now stands was once four former Hotel Particuliers.
For those with an interest in French literature, it’s worth noting that iconic writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline resided in Passage Choiseul during his childhood. And it must have made an impression on Céline, for he went on to mention the passage in two of his more famous works, Death on the Installment Plan, and Journey to the End of the Night.
#6 Galerie Vero-Dodat
Built in 1826, Galerie Veró-Dodat was one of the first covered passages to receive gas lighting, an incredibly modern technology at the time. All black and white tiling and moulded ceilings, the passage is best-known for its many antique stores. In 1997, the gallery was renovated, restoring Galerie Vero-Dodat to its Neo-Classical heyday.
#7 Passage Brady
Nicknamed locally as ‘Little India in Paris,’ wander through Passage Brady and you can expect to find a large selection of Indian, Pakistani, Maurition, and Reunion shops. One of the best walkways of Paris, Passage Brady is unique in that it is one of the only passages to be split into two parts; one half is covered, the other can be found on the other side of Rue Strasbourg and is in the open air.
#8 Passage Verdeau
A must-see for anyone looking to purchase an antique or two while in the city, Passage Verdeau is the place to go. Built in 1847 and characterised by its mosaic tiled flooring, high glass ceiling, and wooden storefronts, the passage is also home to several stamp collecting shops, vintage postcard vendors, and even some camera sellers.
#9 Passage du Caire
The longest and narrowest covered passage in Paris can be found in the form of Passage du Caire, which stretches an impressive 360 metres. Rather unique in the fact that the arcade forms a fishbone shape in its layout, walk inside and there are dozens of fashion retailers and places to purchase clothes. Named for the Egyptian capital city Cairo, Passage du Caire features three statues of the Ancient Egyptian god, Hathor.
#10 Galerie Colbert
In constant rivalry and competition with nearby Galerie Vivienne since its construction in 1826, Galerie Colbert ended up being rather less successful than its down-the-same-street counterpart. Today, there are no stores within this covered arcade, meaning that it’s one of the lesser-known of the Paris covered passages. Instead, you can expect to find l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art and L’Institut National du Patrimoine and lots of Neo-Classical architecture.
#11 Galerie de la Madeleine
Close to the iconic Eglise de la Madeleine, Galerie de la Madeleine can be found in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. Named for the nearby square and church, this elegant arcade was built in the 19th-century. Today, the covered passage remains home to a series of boutique stores and food vendors. When entering Galerie de la Madeleine, be sure to check out the ornate cariatydes which flank either side of the entryway.
#12 Passage des Princes
Little-known and away from the beaten tourist track, Passage des Princes is close to the Opera Garnier Opera House and not far from the ever-so-famous Galeries Lafayette flagship store. A must-see for anyone who wants to experience vintage toy stores, the true quirk of this passage is that although it was constructed in around 1860, it all but burned down in 1985! Nevertheless, the passage was faithfully reconstructed, detail for detail, and was reopened to the public in 1995.
#13 Passage Vendôme
In the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, Passage Vendôme can be found just off the ever-popular Place de la Republique (i.e. the largest pedestrian square in Paris). Though almost everyone passing through Paris goes through Place de la Republique on a regular basis, few even know of Passage Vendôme’s existence. Unfortunately, this once grand walkway has fallen into a state of disrepair, though still several commercial stores.
#14 Passage Puteaux
The shortest covered passage of Paris is that of Passage Puteaux. Opened to the public in 1839, the walkway measures just 29 metres and is named for the passage’s financer, Louis Puteaux. Secret and away from the crowds that inevitably flock to the rest of the 8th arrondissement, the commercial aspect of Passage Puteaux soon failed, though the arcade itself is still in existence. Today, I would not prioritise this of all the Paris passages.
#15 Passage du Bourg l’Abbé
Close to the Etienne-Marcel metro station, Passage du Bourg l’Abbé is an escape from the hustle and bustle of the crowds of the second arrondissement of Paris. Located between the Passage du Grand Cerf and Passage de l’Ancre, the arcade was modified in 1828 so as to add a glass roof which would protect shoppers from the rain and wind during bad weather.
#16 Passage du Prado
Boarded up, neglected, and largely forgotten about by Parisians at large, Passage du Prado is in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. Built in 1785, the passage is named for the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. Many of the shops in the passage de Paris have closed up shop, and there’s an ongoing petition by local residents to restore the gallery to its former glory.
#17 Passage du Ponceau
Local restaurants and authentic stores can be found in Passage du Ponceau, a hidden passage in the 2nd arrondissement of the city. While everyone flocks to the Arts et Metiers museum, and its similarly beautiful metro station, few tourists venture inside Passage du Ponceau.
Built in 1826, Passage du Ponceau was then shortened in the 1840s to incorporate the new Boulevard de Sébastopol. Abandoned for decades and used as a storage facility, the passage is once more open to the public, albeit in an altered state. After all, the glass ceiling and many other original features are simply gone, meaning its one of the least historic of the alleys in Paris.
#18 Galerie de Montpensier & La Galerie des Proues
Located in the Palais Royal, not far from the breathtakingly beautiful Jardin des Colonnes (Colonnes de Buren), Galerie de Montpensier, La Galerie des Proues, and several other covered walkways are sheltered from the elements on three sides of the Palais Royal Complex. Sheltering a number of shops, boutiques, and eateries, the most famous of these is probably Café Kitsuné, i.e. where you’ll find the best matcha latté in the city.
#19 Passage Sainte-Anne
Located in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, Passage Saint-Anne is 47 metres long, making it one of the shorter covered passage of the city. Named for a nearby road, which in turn gets its name from Queen Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII, the covered arcade dates back to 1829, when it was built on the site of a former convent.
#20 Passage Ben-Aïad
Part of the Passage du Saumon in the 2nd district of Paris, Passage Ben-Aïad is so-called after General Mahmoud Ben-Aïad who lived during the 19th-century. On the place where the covered passage now stands, the Passage du Saumon was built in 1763, albeit without a covered rooftop. Though the passage is private, it can still be admired from the road, through metal iron grates.
#21 Passage Moliere
Unlike most of the passages of Paris featured here, Passage Moliere is an open-top walkway, albeit still from the 19th-century. A cobbled lane with picture perfect storefronts, this is one of the few ancient walkways still remaining from Paris of old.
#22 Passage de l’Ancre
Though not technically a covered passageway of Paris, Passage de l’Ancre (Anchor Passage) can be found in Le Marais and is home to hidden gems like the oldest umbrella repair shop in Paris. Often thought to be the oldest passage in the city, wandering through this tangle of overgrown plants and cobblestones feels akin to stepping back in time.
Lost Paris Passages
Of course, while there were dozens of passages de Paris once upon a time, today only a few remain. As such, many of the quirkiest of the Passages Couverts de Paris have been lost to the ages of time. Here’s a glimpse of some of the lost arcades and alleys of Paris:
Passage de l’Opera: Constructed in 1822, the Parisian arcade was barely up for more than a century before it was destroyed in 1925. The passage was named for a nearby opera house, that of Opéra Le Peletier, which is sadly also no longer standing. Galerie du Baromètre was one of three branches of the lost passage and would have linked rue Drouot with rue Le Peletier.
Tips for visiting the Passages Couverts in Paris
Whether you’re visiting the city for the first or fifth-hundredth time, check out my very best Paris travel tips. Each of the Parisian galeries has a different opening time, especially when it comes to festivals, bank holidays, and the like. As such, be sure to check what time the passage you’re planning to visit before you head out.