Flâneries in Paris: Explore the 19th-Century Covered Passages

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Flâneries in Paris: Explore the 19th-Century Covered Passages
This is the 12th in a series of walking tours highlighting the sites and stories of diverse districts of Paris. The very name of the Grands Boulevards metro station promises stylish shopping with a soupçon of 19th-century charm and just nearby three of the city’s famous covered passages lead into one another. Exactly the place then, to channel my inner flâneuse, wander from one to the next, peruse the window displays and imagine myself back in the mid-19th century, taking refuge from the bustle of the streets outside, safe from rain and mud-spattered streets where horse-drawn carriages clattered past. The entry to the Métro station of Grands Boulevards on Boulevard Montmartre. Photo credit: Paris II by Chabe01/ Wikipedia Commons By 1850, there were well over 100 of these arcades – although there are only about 20 left open to the public today – and they were immediately fashionable. New building techniques, using metal frames to support elegant glass roofs, impressed passers-by who were delighted to find a mix of little shops, restaurants and places of entertainment inside. The leisured classes could shop here, or just browse the ornate window displays, then perhaps have a picture framed, stop off at a salon de thé or watch a puppet show. I wondered what the 21st-century equivalents would be and, starting on the Rue St Marc, went into the southern end of the Passage des Panoramas to find out. Glass roof in the Passage des Panoramas. Photo credit: DiscoA340/ Wikimedia Commons My eye was drawn upwards first, to a jumble of shop signs and old-fashioned lanterns suspended from the sloping glass roof. At least two shops for stamp-collectors were immediately visible, one offering to “buy, sell or give estimates” and I read later that the Passage des Panoramas is one of the best-known places in Paris for those interested in la philatélie. Indeed, a bit further along, there were more stamp shops, as well as a chocolate shop, or ancienne chocolaterie, and an Italian restaurant whose quirky window display included a stuffed fox. One of the little restaurants whose tiny wicker tables spilled out into the walkway offered a set menu whose only choice — braised cheek of beef with mashed potatoes — I could imagine being served in the 19th century and I also came across the Café Zola, a reminder that the author included a scene set here in one of his novels, Nana, published in 1880. Passage des Panoramas. Photo credit: Marian Jones

Lead photo credit : Passage des Panoramas. Photo credit: Bobo Boom/ Wikimedia Commons

More in bookshop, curiosities, Flaneries, Flâneries in Paris, La Cure Gourmande, La Librairie du Passage, la philatélie, Le Bonheur des Dames, Musée Grévin, Paris chocolate shops, passage des panoramas, Passage Jouffroy, Passage Verdeau, Shopping, shopping in Paris, Visitez les Galéries, Zola

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Patricia A Hacker
    2022-12-09 12:49:34
    Patricia A Hacker
    I have been in both Passages, Jouffrey and Panarama so many times, but you left out one of the best parts of Jouffrey, that of the most fantastic toy store I have ever been in, the doll houses, the furnishing for them, just absolutely fantastic. You don't see anything like that here in Calif. If there is a place like that I am unfamiliar with it. Then i also go to Panorama because I collect stamps. the store I go to is Marigany Philatelie. Kathy and Michael Gorsky. Two very nice people and they speak English. I have left a "little" money with them off and on. Now because of age, and declining mobility my fantastic trips to Paris are probably done for, I was going 3-4 times a year. Stayed at a Best Western near the Madeleine. Good group, the employees of that one.


    • Marian Jones
      2022-12-09 02:14:52
      Marian Jones
      Hi, Patricia. I think maybe we both have the same shop in mind? The Pain d'Epices described in the piece - with the tiny period furniture in the window? It was quite wonderful and I think I could probably write a whole piece just on that! And thank you for your other comments, which are likely to be useful to others travelling in your footsteps.