One of the reasons I love Paris so much, is for how elegant and spacious it feels, despite being a huge capital city. Compared to places like New York and London that are so crammed in, the centre of Paris has sweeping boulevards, a beautiful symmetry, that fabulous layout spanning off from the Arc de Triomphe, and a grandeur that comes with it’s ornate buildings, fountains and public spaces.
This was exactly what Napoleon III had in mind when he commissioned Georges-Eugene Haussman to take on the task of renovating Paris. He was instructed to bring light and air into the city, and he certainly did that.
However, some of the most incredibly beautiful streets of Paris are found in the cities oldest quarters, dating back to medieval times, and they still hold that romantic Paris charm so many long to find in the city of love and light.
Here are some of my favourites, where to find them, and what you can expect if you take the time to explore a little further around some of the most iconic tourist spots in the world.
Ile de la Cite is the name given to the island in the middle of the River Seine where Notre Dame is located. It is the most historical part of the city, and one that is worth spending the time exploring, not just for Notre Dame itself, but for the ancient streets that can also be found here.
In comparison to the sweeping boulevards and grand tree lined streets of other areas in Paris, the streets here have kept their medieval feel, quaint and cobbled. Just a stones throw away from Notre Dame is the beautiful Rue Chanoinesse.
Compared to the crowds and bustle that surround Notre Dame, it’s hard to believe this street is in such close proximity. It is so quiet, complete with the occasional residential house and scooter parked up outside, as well as one or two boutiques and bistros. Wandering along, the tiny side streets give the occasional glimpse of the Notre Dame spires looming overhead.
At the far end of Rue Chanoinesse is a bistro that you might recognise, given its Instagram fame. Au Vieux Paris is completely adorable, with tiny purple tables, and quirky bird displays hidden among the trees that creep up its walls. There’s so much going on for such a small cafe, and despite its popularity I managed to get a table, where I sat and enjoyed some mussels and a glass of wine for dinner, watching the world go by, and listening to the guitar player.
Rue des Ursins
In the same area near Notre Dame, Rue des Ursins is another gorgeous little street, displaying a typically Parisian scene of French shutters, tiny balconies, old ornate street lamps, and of course the occasional tiny cafe.
You can tell its a historical quarter, with the occasional building still showing off more medieval style windows, and the cobbled road that has been there for centuries.
It’s hard to believe when walking among these streets, that there’s so much going on so close by. Maybe most tourists just go to Ile de la Cite for Notre Dame, because it was so quiet, and really is worth a stroll through.
Rue des Barres
Found in the Marais area of Paris, Rue des Barres is another street with an old Paris feel to it. Dating back to the 13th century Le Marais was an area once filled with nobility and elegance, so has plenty of important buildings and history attached to it.
The pedestrianised Rue des Barres is a small stepped street, that runs almost from the river back into the district, and it’s lined with so many typically French, bustling cafes and outdoor seating. While it may be full of chatter and the clink of wine glasses now, the street gets its name from being the place of old mills.
On one side the old church, Église Saint-Gervais still stands, despite dating back to the 7th century, and Hotel des Barres, a mansion that was once home to Louis de Boisredon, who is believed to have had an affair with King Charles VI wife, in the 14th century until the King found out and chucked him in the Seine!
I really loved the character of this street, and you’re spoiled for choice as to which cafe you choose for a croissant and a coffee, or a bottle of wine and conversation with the locals. There’s no traffic to spoil the atmosphere either.
Rue des Rosiers
I have absolutely no clue on this planet how I have visit Paris so many times and never come across this street until now. When you think of the most romanticised version of Paris, with independent trader boutiques, bakeries, cafes, houses full of character, and french windows up high above this street is the realistic version of that image.
On a summer evening it was absolutely buzzing with people, spilling out onto the streets, enjoying a drink after work, trying to cool of with an ice cream from the Gelato shop, and the queue for the falafel shop literally taking up half the street.
It’s in the Marais neighbourhood, and gets its name from the rosebushes that once lined the street. If your heart didn’t break for it before now then knowing the name surely will? That or the fact that each little facade is different from the next, one is pink, there’s an old bookshop, and like others in this area is pedestrianised so you can frolic along to your hearts content.
Rue Francois Miron
While you’re in this area, a visit to Rue Francois Miron is also worthwhile, for two of the oldest houses in Paris, complete with half timbered exterior, and on a stretch of road that dates back to Roman times. The two houses here are names Maison du Faucher, and Maison du Mouton.
Along with each little street I’ve mentioned so far, both of these houses survived the rebuilding of Paris by Haussman.
Any street in Montmartre
I can’t talk about the prettiest streets in Paris without venturing up to Montmartre. With it’s steep streets, giant stairways lined with lamposts, side streets with steps that seem to go nowhere, little squares, and plenty of viewing points over the city, Montmartre is just stunning year round.
Usually filled with tourists, a visit at 6am when the only people about are those using the steps as a gym session, and the bakers, will allow you to explore this incredible maze of streets and appreciate just how beautiful it is bustle free.
Rue de l’Abreuvoir
Rue de l’Abreuvoir is one of the most popular, and tends to get visitors to the top end, where you will find the unmistakable pink house that sits at no. 2.
During the day, people snap their photo of the famous spot and then venture back towards the main square, but a wander down the street will take you to even more adorable residential houses, and locals peering out from behind the shutters to see who’s made it down that far.
If you do take the time to visit Montmartre early, even the main square and streets around Sacre Couer that are usually packed with tourists have a very calm, pretty grace about them that disappears as soon as the tourists arrive.
I really can’t recommend getting up earlier than usual to head up there and experience it, and you will be first in line for a warm croissant when the bakery opens.
Rue de la Harpe and Rue Saint Severin
I wasn’t initially going to mention these two streets, located in the Latin Quarter, behind the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, and close by to Notre Dame. They tend to get quite loud and touristy due to so many traditionally French fast food eateries, including creperies, cheese places, and traditional sweet shops.
On a quiet day though, particularly in winter the character of the streets themselves can be seen, another two that date back to the 17th century and that weren’t touched too heavily by the Paris renovation.
At the far end you will find yourself on Boulevard Saint Germain, where the modern day Paris can be found again.
These are just some of my favourites, of the less common but just as beautiful streets that offer a glimpse into an alternative Paris.
Of course if you want more sophistication, fashion, and grandeur, then you should be heading to the Champs Elysees, Rue Cambon, Rue du Rivoli, Rue Royale and Rue Saint Honore’s of the city. But thats another blog post…
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