We love regular trips by train to Paris to catch up with the latest exhibitions (and restaurants). Consequently, we never need an excuse to visit but this time we had one, seeing our football team OGC Nice play against Nantes in the French equivalent of the FA Cup final.
We travelled up on Thursday morning arriving – how fortuitous – in time for lunch. We opted to stay near to Gare de Lyon at CitizenM, a small hotel chain we often frequent. Its style is not dissimilar to OKKO though its provenance is Dutch rather than French.
We spent our first afternoon fully exploring 12th arrondissement on foot which extends from the extreme eastern city limits and includes Gare de Lyon, the thriving Bercy neighbourhood, and the very famous market street, Rue d’Aligre.
You may be surprised to learn that 12th is home to plenty of monuments and hidden treasures. Bois de Vincennes is the biggest park in Paris, with romantic lakes and a giant zoo. Place de la Bastille hosts one of Europe’s supreme opera houses. Lively museums are found in Bercy and Porte Dorée. Le Train Bleu – you know how we love lunching here – is a Belle Epoque historic restaurant. Here are a dozen good reasons to Explore Paris’ 12th Arrondissement.
1. Opera de la Bastille
The famous opera house was built to commemorate 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in 1989. Located on Place de la Bastille, the modernistic opera house can accommodate thousands of happy opera-goers. Before or after the show there are plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby, or wander into the neighbouring Le Marais Together, old and new happily coexist in Paris.
2. Chic Shopping at Bercy Village
Bercy, a quartier in 12th Arrondissement, was previously famous for the warehouses used by wine sellers for storing their liquid gold. In recent years there’s been a renaissance in culture and commerce including the modern and pleasing Parc de Bercy, home to many French brands including Fragonard Perfumes, Eric Kayser, FNAC, and Oliviers et Co.
3. Gare de Lyon – A Belle Epoque Wonder
Built for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, the Gare de Lyon is considered a classic example of Belle Époque architecture. The large exterior clock tower bears a striking resemblance to London’s Big Ben. The high-speed TGV train station serves routes to southern and eastern France, as well as Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Spain. It’s also a hub for regional trains, an RER line and the Gare de Lyon Metro station.
4. Marché d’Aligre
Marché d’Aligre is three markets in one. First, it’s a market street filled with stores like boulangeries, cheesemongers, fish sellers. Second, Aligre also features a daily street market with booths filling the road in front of the stores. Third, Aligre holds one more secret — one of the few remaining covered markets in Paris, with specialty butchers and other delicious food stalls.
Trust me, this is must-see (and must-shop) if you’re interested in food. There’s a vast selection from sausages to shoes, cheeses to poultry, even a roasted pig on a spit. Marché d’Aligre is located on Rue d’Aligre, east of Bastille, between Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and Rue de Charenton.
5. Walk the Promenade Plantée
This tree-lined walkway follows an abandoned railway line. Starting just behind Opera Bastille, it rises 10 metres (30 feet) above ground to afford a great view. Beneath its arches are stores and workshops filled with impressive arts and crafts in a shopping strip called Viaduc des Arts. Over the past few years pedestrian bridges have been built above parkland, plantings and arbors have been added along the path, buildings have “sprouted” on either side of the promenade (more of which next week).
6. Bois de Vincennes
2,500 acres of parkland make Bois de Vincennes the largest public park in Paris. To give this some perspective, it’s three times the size of NYC’s Central Park. Thanks to the initiative of Emperor Napoleon III (in mid 19th century), it’s an important hub of leisure activities, with the recently refurbished Paris Zoo, four lakes, a botanical garden, a horse-racing track, a velodrome, a 14th-century castle (Chateau de Vincennes ) and Parc Floral de Paris, one of four botanical gardens in Paris, and the Jardin Tropical de Paris.
7. Jardin du Bassin de l’Arsenal
At the lower end of Canal Saint-Martin (between the Place de la Bastille and the Seine, where the canal comes up from underground) is Bassin de l’Arsenal, built on order of Napoleon Bonaparte. Because it links to the Seine, it’s used as a harbour for yachts and excursion boats. In 1983, the City of Paris developed the east bank of the Arsenal into a very pleasant garden park, promenade, and lively green space.
8. Lafayette’s Tomb at Cimetière de Picpus
Cimetière de Picpus is the largest private cemetery in Paris. It was created from land seized from the Catholic Church during the French Revolution. Just minutes away, at Place de la Nation, a guillotine was set up and kept very busy — the cemetery’s 1,306 victims were executed between 14 June and 27 July, 1794. Only descendants of the original victims are eligible to be buried here.
Here you can visit the tomb of Marquis de Lafayette (1757 to 1834), a French aristocrat who fought in the American Revolutionary War. His close friends were Thomas Jefferson, Alexandre Hamilton and George Washington. An American flag always flies here (thanks to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution). Although Lafayette died of natural causes, his sister-in-law and mother-in-law were beheaded during the Reign of Terror.
9. Palais de la Porte Dorée & Aquarium
It’s a palace, it’s a museum, it’s an aquarium all rolled into one. Originally built for the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931, the Palais de la Porte Dorée now houses the History of Immigration Museum as well as a tropical aquarium. There are intricate bas-reliefs on the exterior of the Palais that portray scenes from man and nature, complete with antelopes, elephants and zebras. While the Dorée Tropical Aquarium features 5,000 creatures in an array of tanks.
10. Concerts at Bercy Arena
Its official name is AccorHotels Arena and we’ve seen a number of artists here, including Lenny Kravitz. This large indoor sports arena and concert hall has a distinctive pyramid shape, and its exterior walls are covered with a sloping lawn. This is the venue where many big concerts and sports events take place in Paris.
11. FunFair Museum – Musée des Arts Forains
Bon vivant and antique collector Jean Paul Favand has filled a museum with his amazing collection, dating from 1850 to 1950 and including restored carousels, retro fair stalls, and hundred-year-old bicycles. Here you can watch an Italian opera performed by automata in a Venetian setting or go for a ride on a gondola merry-go-round in the Venetian Lounges.
The Fairground Art Museum is a tribute to 19th century funfairs.It’s all part of what’s called Les Pavilions de Bercy, set in former wine warehouses.
12. Musée de la Cinémathèque
Lastly a museum whose building was designed by the iconic, sometime controversial, Canadian born architect, Frank Gehry. The Museum of Cinema celebrates the French love of film with thousands of posters, drawings, photos and films.
More than enough to keep us busy for a couple of days………….