Paris’ "Grands Boulevards" district is legendary for its old-world style and cosmopolitanism. Originally comprising the wide network of roads that span from the Madeleine church in the 9th arrondissement to Bastille in the 11th arrondissement, the opening of the Grands Boulevards metro station in 1998 means the area has since been mostly associated with the enormous street stretching between the Metro stations Bonne Nouvelle and Richelieu Drouot.
Dotted with countless theaters, clubs and cafes, the boulevards’ wide sidewalks are perfect for people-watching, strolling and leisurely nursing cafés crèmes on heated terraces. Browsing the nearby 19th century "arcades", or covered passageways, is a must for shoppers looking for that authentic and chic Parisian gift. The area, seemingly timeless, still remains impossibly steeped in the turn-of-the-century urban glamour that made it famous in the first place.
Orientation and Transport
Main streets: Officially eight boulevards (Madeleine, Capucines, Italiens, Montmartre, Poissoniere, Bonne Nouvelle, St Denis, St Martin)
Getting There: Metro: Richelieu Drouot, Grands Boulevards, Bonne Nouvelle (line 8, 9)
Structurally speaking, Paris remained a medieval city until 1852, when the transformation of the capital was ordered by the then emperor, Napoleon III. To carry out the immense project, Napoleon III appointed Georges Haussmann, making him “prefect of the Seine”.
Hausmann restructured the boulevards, giving them their characteristic form: long and straight with wide sidewalks that were unprecedented until the advent of modernity. The boulevards’ new structure made them a center for theater and café culture in Belle-Epoque Paris.
Entertainment and Theaters
Le Grand Rex
1 boulevard poissoniere
With a string of accolades under its belt (the biggest auditorium in Europe, the oldest movie theater in Paris), the Grand Rex is well aware of its legendary status.
The Rex's lush interior and large screens make for a memorable cinematic experience (although most movies are dubbed into French). This is also one of the city's most coveted concert venues.
Read related: Best Movie Theaters and Cinemas in Paris
32 rue Richer
Tel: 0892 68 16 50 Established some 150 years ago, this music hall was a symbol of Parisian life, and today boasts an eclectic program of music and dance.
Read our full review of Les Folies Bergère
Read related: Best Traditional Cabarets and Revues in Paris
Activities with Kids in the Neighborhood
Musee Grevin (Paris Wax Museum)
10 boulevard Montmartre
Tel: +33 (0)147 70 85 05
Paris' equivalent of Madame Tussaud’s is one of the oldest wax museums in Europe, boasting 300 amusing works depicting various celebrities. The current collection features life-size wax renderings of figures from Napoleon to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, while contemporary international celebrities like Bono and Michael Jackson also people the museum, which kids will find intriguing.
Read related feature: Top Weird and Quirky Paris Museums
Eating Out and Shopping
If you need to stretch your euros that bit further, check out this Parisian institution for cheap fare in a beautiful and vast 19th century setting.
You won’t get haute cuisine at Chartier, but at 2 euros an entrée, who’s complaining? The heady mix of tourists, locals and students makes the ambiance convivial.
23 boulevard poissoniere
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 39 01 54
This chain of Irish pubs in Paris has built up a solid reputation due to its cozy atmosphere, hearty meals and party atmosphere. The heated terrace in Corcoran’s is also a big draw card. If you’ve had your fill of rich French cuisine, Corcoran’s plain-but-tasty main courses are the perfect antidote, with staples such as homemade burgers, Irish stew and bangers and mash. Happy hour cocktails are generous and a bargain at around 5 euros.
Le Café Zephyr
12 boulevard Montmartre
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 70 80 14
Coffee lovers will appreciate this belle époque-style and relatively tourist-free hang-out.
Whether seated indoors or on the terrace, the atmosphere is bustling and cabbage-heavy specialties from the Auvergne region of France are served up swiftly.
Bored with shopping in chains? Or simply need to get out of the rain? Whatever the case, be sure to browe the gorgeous nineteenth-century arcades along the boulevards. With glass roofs and tiled floors, quirky shops and restaurants, it’s like a time warp. And aside from the odd discreet tour group, your shopping trip is guaranteed to be peaceful.
On your right if coming from Grands Boulevards metro, this attractive passage way is home to old-style tea rooms, antique bookstores and the exit to the Musée Grevin. The perfect place for gift shopping and finding belle-époque Paris memorabilia.
Passage des Panoramas
Directly opposite is Passage des Panoramas, whose decorative entrance leads to a series of alleyways, known for their selection of 19th century stamp collector shops.
La Galerie Vivienne
Take a left further down to rue Vivienne and discover what is perhaps the most stylish and well-preserved of the legendary arcades. Worth the detour, La Galerie Vivienne is a sight to behold with its elaborate mosaic floor and upmarket shops. The sheer beauty of the place make its art and craft stores seem intimidating, but staff are surprisingly friendly and helpful. Try having lunch or dinner at the adjoining traditional brasserie, Le Grand Colbert: the ambience may be degrees more exciting than the (solid) food, but it will plunge you into Paris of an entirely different era.