Are you done with Paris’ tourist crowds, major monuments and exorbitantly priced coffees?
What you need is a visit to the Belleville neighbourhood in the city’s north-east. It’s the spot for cheap and cheerful cafés, gritty street art, cobbled laneways and a good pho!
Belleville straddles the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements. It’s a relaxed and easy-going part of the city, and is home to large Chinese and Vietnamese communities — along with a North African population (evident on Tuesday and Friday mornings at the lively outdoor markets). Originally a working class area, Belleville is now quite hip. Welcome to the Paris melting pot!
This Paris self guided walking tour of Belleville will introduce you to many of the area’s hidden gems. Give yourself a few hours to do the walk, and enjoy the unusual sights, sounds and tastes along the way.
Follow the Google map provided below. Remember to print the map beforehand (or keep this page open!) if you don’t have Wi-Fi. Bonne balade!
Exit the metro at Belleville metro station and walk up rue de Belleville. Aux Folies is a grungy and colourful cafe. It’s a local institution and the perfect place to stop for a noisette (short black coffee with a splash of milk). The café is on the corner of rue Denoyez, which is plastered with colourful street art. Wander down and peek into some of the tiny art galleries and artists’ studios.
When you’ve finished your coffee, continue up rue de Belleville past the many Chinese and Vietnamese eateries. If you’re feeling peckish, pick up a Vietnamese sandwich (a Belleville street food favourite amongst the locals) at Chez Yu to eat later in the park. They’re about 3 euros and they really hit the spot. Choose from chicken or beef with cucumber, carrot, coriander, chilli-if-you-dare and a delicious sauce, served in a half baguette.
Pass Place Fréhel and Culture Rapide bar and cafe. Take in the enormous urban art work that sits above the square (you can’t miss it!). Up the hill on your right is 72 rue de Belleville — the supposed birthplace of Edith Piaf (who is said to have been born here under a street lamp!). The legendary singer grew up in Belleville.
Humming La Vie en Rose, stroll back downhill a few metres and take rue Piat to the left. Then go through the gate into Parc de Belleville. Find a nice spot on the grass to enjoy your sandwich. Once you’re done, continue your leisurely stroll through the park. Gasp at the panoramic view of Paris.
Once you leave the park, take Passage Piat (opposite Moncoeur restaurant and cafe). You’ll pass local vegetable patches and grape vines reminiscent of the vineyards that once grew in the area.
Swing to the left and cross rue des Couronnes into rue Henri-Chevreau. You’re now in the lovely, local backstreets of Belleville, which are brimming with small theatres, cafés, restaurants and street art. Look up to the left to see a mural by Némo — an artist whose original stencil paintings of black cats, boats and red balloons for his children in the 1980s inspired his later street works.
Take a left turn into rue de la Mare, then right into rue de Savies (the old name for Belleville), and right again into rue des Cascades, with its cobblestones, coloured buildings and cafés spilling out onto the street. When you come out at rue de Ménilmontant, you’ll get another impressive view over Paris to your right. Opposite, covered in posters for concerts, is the old Miroiterie. This one-time squat was famous for Sunday night jazz jams until the building was sold.
Walk uphill a few metres and turn right into rue Boyer, passing the Centre Momboye for African dance, and La Bellevilloise — a cool four-storey arts and music complex (check out the terrace bar if it’s open).
Turn left into rue Laurence Savart and climb up the small lane with vines and rose bushes (and probably a cat sunning itself). Take a right into rue du Retrait and keep walking past the Theatre de Ménilmontant until you reach rue des Pyrénées. Turn right, and head downhill. You pass the trendy Aux Ours café, bakeries, green grocers and florists before you arrive at the Gambetta town hall and metro station.
Walk around the roundabout and take avenue du Père-Lachaise towards the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery. Here you can visit Proust, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Marcel Marceau and Edith Piaf. Write a note, be pensive, or feel poetic. Linger for as long as you like. If you’ve missed opening hours (the cemetery closes at 5.15pm in winter and 5.45pm in summer) and you can’t get through — don’t worry. Turn right and follow the cemetery wall through a park, until you get to Père Lachaise metro station. Pick up the map there.
Exit the cemetery and turn right into boulevard de Ménilmontant. If you’re up for it, this is your chance to try the Vélib’ public bike share scheme. Download the free app. It’s 1 euro 70 for under half an hour (which is all you’ll need), but be aware that the 150-euro deposit on your credit card can take up to a week to be reimbursed.
From here, head straight along the boulevard (by bike or on foot) until you arrive back at Belleville metro station. You may want to take a detour to the Musée Edith Piaf (open by appointment at 5 rue Crespin du Gast, so make contact first!) or historic Notre Dame de la Croix — which opened in the late 1800s.
By now you should have built up quite an appetite, so a Vietnamese meal is in order! Return your bike at Belleville metro station and head along rue Louis Bonnet. Tin Tin or New Hawaienne are good options for a pho. Wash it down with a Tsingtao beer or jasmine tea.
For those who are keen to kick on and experience Belleville after dark, Place Sainte-Marthe is home to wine bars, cafés, restaurants and a relaxed local ambience. Santé!
Ruby’s new book — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris (White Owl Books) — is now available in bookshops and to order online.
Have you travelled to Paris? We would love to hear your tips for a self guided walking tour of Belleville. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Shutterstock. Additional images: Bigstock
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia. Ruby has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing — and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond.