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Top (Semi) Secret Paris Neighborhoods

Get Off the Postcard Track

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Have you basked to your heart's content in sights like The Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Champs-Élysées? Looking to see something unexpected in the City of Light? You're in luck. While Paris remains the world's single most-visited city-- an estimated 28 million tourists strong in 2008-- there are plenty of nooks awaiting those willing to venture off the postcard track. The semi-secret Paris neighborhoods profiled below are so well-loved by Parisians, there may even be some reluctance to share!

 

The Canal Saint-Martin Neighborhood

©2005 Atlant Used with permission under Creative Commons license.

With its footbridges arching gracefully over a canal that feeds into the Seine River, the Canal Saint Martin area offers equal parts greenery, lyricism, and urban grit. Don't miss the Canal Saint-Martin for activities like strolling, picnics, offbeat shopping, and scenic biking.

This unusually relaxed corner of Northeastern Paris is a hotspot for fashion-conscious bohos and parents in search of a little repose. It has also made famous appearances in movies like Amélie and Hôtel du Nord.

The Rue Montorgueil Neighborhood

©2007 Courtney Traub.
Right in the city center, only minutes from the Saint-Eustache Cathedral and the Centre Georges Pompidou, is a quaint, marble-paved pedestrian area whose main thoroughfare is Rue Montorgeuil. One of Paris' oldest streets, Rue Montorgueil is a vibrant, cheery quarter bursting with some of the city's finest food markets and pastry shops, not to mention a good mix of ultrahip and ultraclassic bars, cafes, and eateries. Impressionist painter Claude Monet depicted the street in an 1878 painting.

La Butte aux Cailles

©2006 Agnès Durvin.

Nestled between Montparnasse and Chinatown on the left bank is a hilly, well-hidden quarter whose narrow, winding streets, tiny houses, and art nouveau architecture recall a Paris of another era. La Butte aux Cailles is one of Paris' best-kept secrets, and for good reason. It is one of the only Paris neighborhoods where chain stores have not set up shop and where you can stumble on ivy-covered art deco townhouses. Come explore the Butte aux Cailles for gorgeous ambling, convivial dining and drinking.

The Grands Boulevards Neighborhood

©2007 K Tylerconk. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.
Dotted with theaters, clubs and cafes, the wide sidewalks in this lesser-known Paris neighborgood are perfect for people-watching, strolling and leisurely nursing cafés crèmes on heated terraces. Browsing the nearby 19th century arcades is a must for shoppers looking for that authentic and chic Parisian gift.

La Chapelle - Little Sri Lanka

The Ganesh Festival is a popular summer event in Paris's La Chapelle district.
©2008 Luigi Morante. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons license.

Sometimes referred to as “Little Jaffna,” this neighborhood is bursting with activity, culture and color. Here, you’ll not only find shops and restaurants reflecting the prominence of Sri Lankan and South Indian culture; you’ll hear the Tamil language bouncing around you on the streets. Being in La Chapelle feels like getting out of Paris, and you’ll be very glad to have done so once you get to know the city well and are looking for unusual jaunts. Make sure to save time for chai tea, samosas and sari window-shopping.

The Père-Lachaise/Gambetta Neighborhood

Place Gambetta is tucked in a corner of Paris that is little-known to tourists.
©2009 Besopha. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License.

Tucked in a little-trampled stretch of northeast Paris, the Père-Lachaise/Gambetta neighborhood is protected from the hullabaloo of the city center, but remains in close enough reach of major attractions. In the area loosely defined by the metros Gambetta, Pere Lachaise, Porte de Bagnolet and the Rue de Menilmontant, you’ll find quirky, family-owned cafes and bars, Birkenstock-donning couples pushing strollers, and an authentic residential feel. During the day, the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery is worth a half-day trip, while a smattering of bars and clubs in the surrounding Gambetta and Menilmontant area are packed at night, home to a dynamic independent music scene. If you’re taxed out from power touring, reward yourself with a relaxing stroll or nightset in the Père Lachaise/Gambetta quarter.

Belleville

The Belleville neighborhood in Paris in around 1900.
Public domain.

Welcome to Belleville – home to one of Paris’s lively Chinatowns, a burgeoning artist quarter and a dizzying array of cultures. Belleville has always been a working class neighborhood, with immigration generating much of the area's zest. What started in the 1920's with Greeks, Jews and Armenians led to waves of North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans and Chinese immigrants settling here. Cheap rents have also led artists to flow into the area, making it an ideal spot for their ateliers. Belleville may not provide a typical experience of Paris, but its energy and diversity are certainly worth checking out.

Passy

Visitors often get close to this charming nook of the 16th arrondissement, hitting sights like the Trocadero Gardens and the Palais de Tokyo, but never experience its quiet elegance firsthand. Get off at metro Passy and explore the verdant, residential district, boasting some of the city's best small museums, fine dining, and top-rate shopping. 

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