Behind tall wrought-iron gates and tucked away in alleys that wouldn't typically earn a second glance from tourists are the hidden passageways of Paris. These are not hidden in the sense that most people think of; there are no shady underground tunnels here, no passageways that are lined with missing bricks leading to strange, dark places. Rather, the hidden passageways of Paris are quite the opposite: they're beautiful.
Narrow stone walkways filled with light thanks to the glass atriums above, with quiet spaces that seem so foreign compared to the bustling streets of the city are the reality of these secret spots. The Galeries of Paris are worth seeking out, and here's how to find them.
The Purpose Of The Galeries In France
While these might be reminiscent of the glass elevator from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in their ornateness, the Galeries throughout Paris once served a very practical purpose. During the 18th century, the streets of Paris looked entirely different from what they are now. Ducking into a café or boutique was not always an option to escape the rain, thus these alleyways provided protection via the glass ceiling that covered them. Additionally, the streets of Paris were far from sanitary - without the disposal methods for waste that we have today, Galeries provided a reprieve from a sidewalk that was often less than cleanly.
At that time, roughly 150 Galeries could be found throughout the city and they were used quite often. However, as Paris underwent a Renaissance of its own and saw new plans for a proper, elegant upgrade in 1860, these passageways fell into disuse and many were destroyed during the revival process. Today, only about 20 of them still exist, according to Never Stop Traveling.
Galerie Viviene, a Restored and Opulent Alley
It doesn't exactly take a treasure map in order to find the most popular hidden passageway in Paris. Rather, it takes a keen eye and a person knowing what to look for, and, even then, it's not all that challenging. Not every French Galerie resembles the elegance that is Galerie Viviene, nor does every passageway hold the same surprises, but this is one that should not be missed.
The first thing most people will notice is the design that greets them at their feet. The mosaic tiling that's original to its Neoclassical design only serves to add to the charm that this passageway exudes. As if that weren't enough, lining both sides of the passage are boutique shops and small eateries that serve the most classic French dishes. One place travelers must stop into, if nowhere else in this passageway, is Librairie Jousseaume, which is one of the original storefronts that made a home in Galerie Viviene.
- Entrance: Off Rue des Petits-Champs
- Tip: Entrances to Bistrot Vivienne will be on either side of its entryway
Passage des Panoramas, The Oldest Original Passageway In The City
If finding Galerie Viviene is on the itinerary, then finding Passage des Panoramas should be, as well, since it's only a short walk away. At this point, it's the oldest Galerie in Paris and also the oldest that featured a glass ceiling. Its age, while evident in the architecture and worn details of the passageway, gives it a charming and welcoming feel, akin to walking through an old home that has been well-loved.
Rather than the antique and vintage-looking shops in Galerie Viviene, Passage des Panoramas features more small businesses such as hairdressers and boutique clothing shops. Visitors can find an antique shop or two here, as well, along with Bistrot des Panoramas, which is responsible for the outdoor dining that can be found in the alley during the warmer months. The size of the passageway is smaller in comparison to many others in Paris but it's no less attractive; small eateries give way to delicious scents that fill this small hall, and signs attached to the wall serve to guide shoppers to their destinations.
What's so magical about this passageway is probably its window displays - each boutique shop has a small window in which to feature its goods, which completely changes the definition of 'window shopping.' Everything about his hidden walkway is alluring to a newcomer, and even those who call Paris their home have managed to fall in love with the hidden passageways they pass on the regular.
- Entrance: Found at 10 Rue Saint-Marc
- Tip: Walkway is only about 12 feet wide, and less when outdoor tables are set up