The area around the Place de la Bastille is one of Paris' most exciting and diverse neighborhoods. It's a prime spot for nightlife, featuring both dance clubs that have been popular to ages and trendy new addresses such as "speakeasy"-style cocktail bars. It's got plenty to offer anyone interested in history, art and urban architecture, too: revolutionary monuments, leafy parks with rooftop views and local street art are but a few of the other draw cards in this area. Fantastic food markets and quirky boutiques are still others. Get off at the Bastille metro stop, cross the sprawling, busy square and explore some of the places we recommend below. It's a complex, buzzing neighborhood that's almost sure to expand your understanding and appreciation of the city.
See the Colonne de Juillet, Symbol of Revolutions
Of course, a visit to this area warrants at least a quick look at the imposing Colonne de Juillet that looms at the center of the enormous Place (Square) de la Bastille. The "July Column" was erected in July 1840 as a symbol of the revolutionary war ten years earlier, known as "Les Trois Glorieuses". This was a war that brought the French king Louis-Philippe to power, following a bloody conflict that claimed many victims. The column was inaugurated to commemorate their memory; a golden statue referred to as the "Spirit of Liberty" crowns the top.
The site is also important to revolutionary history for two other reasons. First, this is the former site of the infamous Bastille Prison, which was set afire by revolters at the onset of the French Revolution of 1789 and remains a potent symbol of that first upheaval.
Secondly, the July Column was nearly destroyed during yet another revolt in 1871, this time the botched revolution known as the Paris Commune. Come here to revel in how far France has come from that tumultuous period, before heading out into the narrow little streets beyond the square to explore the wider neighborhood.
Admire the Bastille Opera (and Take a Guided Tour)
The gleaming steel and glass building that dominates the Place de la Bastille is home to the National Opera-- an important landmark for anyone interested in art, culture and architecture. Inaugurated in 1989 and designed by Carlos Ott, the Opera Bastille is worth admiring, both inside and out.
If time allows, consider taking a guided tour of the theatre and backstage area to marvel at its elaborate layout, all designed to produce acoustic consistency and beautiful sound. And if you're an opera fan, why not buy tickets for an upcoming performance and enjoy the site to the fullest? From Verdi to Berlioz and Mozart, the opera season offers plenty of choices for music lovers.
Browse Boutiques & Shops on Rue de Charonne
If you're in a shopping or gift-buying mood, head east from the Place de la Bastille to the Rue de Charonne, where you can browse or window-shop in some of the area's best little boutiques.
On this decidedly trendy street, up-and coming designers peddle men and women's clothing and accessories. You'll also find home design and jewelry shops, art bookstores, an old-school record store and artisan workshops, all punctuated by cool cafés and sprawling terraces.
We especially recommend Repetto (20 rue de Charonne), famous for its ballet shoes and trendy women's footwear designs, as well as for quality leather accessories; Patate Records (57 rue de Charonne), a quirky purveyor of vinyl both new and old; and Sessun (34 rue de Charonne), a trendy concept store that also includes a section dedicated to artisan jewelry and design objects made by local artists.
Taste Local Produce at a Nearby Food Market
The area around the Bastille is a prime spot for sampling delicious local produce and traditional French goodies. In addition to the bustling open-air food market that runs down Boulevard Richard-Lenoir twice weekly (Thursday and Sunday from roughly 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), there's another market just a few minutes away on foot that's beloved by locals: the Marché d'Aligre.
Known as one of the city's finest markets, it's actually composed of two: an open-air strip that runs down the busy Rue d'Aligre, flanked by top-quality bakeries, butchers, cheesemakers and wine bars; and a covered market called the Marché Beauvau. Both feature vendors selling produce, cheeses, fresh flowers, fish, breads, and other traditional goodies that are delightful to behold —and eat, of course! For suggestions on how to enjoy this market to the fullest and a little visual inspiration, see our complete guide. You can get to the market from either the Bastille or Ledru-Rollin Metro stops.
Opening Times: The open-air market is open from Tuesday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., as well as on Saturday and Sunday between 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The Marché Beauvau covered market is open Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 am to 1:00 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It's also open from 9:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, and from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Stroll on an Above-Ground Promenade
Little-known to tourists, the Promenade Plantée (literally, "planted stroll"), is a one-mile path built above a defunct Parisian railway and lined with colorful flowers and plants. The world's first above-ground park, it affords interesting and elegant views of Parisian rooftops and architectural details, and makes for a very pleasant walk.
Climb up from the dedicated entrances via stairways found just a few feet to the right of the Bastille Opera house, on Rue de Lyon. From there, amble through charming green trellises, admire odd street art, gaze up at statues adorning the elegant buildings flanking the path, and stop for a picnic at the sprawling lawns of the Jardin de Reuilly.
The Michelin-starred French chef Alain Ducasse is also a master chocolate-maker, proffering everything from crunchy pralines to creamy ganaches and rich dark chocolate bars in his numerous boutiques around the city.
If you're craving something indulgently gourmet after a meal or a long walk, pop into the mouthwatering shop on Rue de la Roquette to indulge in some high-quality sweets. This is also an ideal spot for gift-shopping in the area.
The Bastille area is, as previously mentioned, one of the best places for nightlife in the capital — and this extends to backroom, speakeasy-style cocktail bars. Moonshiner is a throwback joint with soft lighting, vintage furniture, and expert bar staff mixing creative house cocktails as well as a large selection of whiskies and other quality libations.
Head over to the Da Vito pizzeria on Rue de Sedaine and beeline to the back to access the bar — or enjoy a pizza in the front before retiring to the bar for an after-dinner drink or two.
Go Dancing at a Local Club, from Latin to Hip-Hop
Last but certainly not least, and if energy allows, enjoy an exciting nightcap near Bastille. The area is teeming with bars and dance clubs, and is one of the best spots in the city for nightlife.
You're spoiled for choice, but there are a few we recommend: La Balajo (9 rue de Lappe) is coveted for its Latin dancing, salsa and Cuban music nights, while Le Red House (1 bis, rue de la Forge Royale) is a hip-meets-kitschy Texas-themed bar and club where DJs spin eclectic sets, from hip-hop and electro to indie rock.