Insiders’ Paris: Rambling Around the Palais Royal

Courtney Traub's introduction to an iconic (but under-appreciated) area

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Helen Twigg

Courtney Traub
HomeAway travel expert


Insiders’ Paris: Rambling Around the Palais RoyalShort quiz: where in Paris can you admire the sun casting a warm glow on the opulent details of a 17th-century palace, browse quaint little boutiques, roam through elegant shopping arcades, and enjoy a glass of wine or gastronomic meal at a restaurant tucked away from the street? Just a block north of the Louvre Museum and its throngs of tourists lies an area that few visitors to Paris ever see: the Palais Royal and its quiet, arrestingly charming corners. Spend an afternoon exploring the area, and you’ll discover why locals prize it—and would prefer to keep it secret.

Getting There and Getting Around: The best way to reach the area is to take Metro Line 1 or 7 to the Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre stop. As you exit the metro onto Place Colette (named after the French writer), admire the whimsical, brightly coloured sculpture reminiscent of transparent glass beads or candy that decorates the entrance, and designed by Jean-Michel Othoniel in 2000. I highly recommend that you take a map of central Paris with you to orient yourself on this itinerary, since it takes you through quiet, winding little streets and passageways; you may well feel disoriented without one.


 

Top things to see and do around the Palais Royal


   

Palais Royal and Gardens (8 rue de Montpensier, 1st) Palais Royal and Gardens (8 rue de Montpensier, 1st)

Completed in 1629 and originally called the Palais-Cardinal, this stunning palace was initially home to the Cardinal Richelieu. Following the Cardinal’s death it was taken over by King Louis XIII and renamed the Palais-Royal. In the late 18th century it became the site of one of Paris’ most important public markets and shopping arcades, and has maintained that tradition, with artisan boutiques and luxury fragrance makers now occupying the square’s “galleries”, and overlooking the elegant formal gardens. Standing in quirky contrast to the regal 17th-century architecture, ultramodern, black and white columns from Daniel Buren jut out at the south end.
 

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Old shopping arcades Old shopping arcades

Exiting the Palais Royal from the north side, you’ll find yourself on the Rue des Petits Champs. From here, at #4, you can access the Galerie Vivienne, a majestic old shopping arcade built in the 1820s that preserves its light, airy elegance and today houses numerous shops, cafés and restaurants. Admire the glass rotundas, spiral staircase, delicate mosaics and other decorative detail here, and browse the shops here and at the adjoining Galerie Colbert, before exiting on Rue de Richelieu.

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Bibliothèque nationale (National library) Bibliothèque nationale (National library)

From the shopping arcades, you’ll spill out onto Rue de Richelieu. Just across the street at number 58 is the Bibliothèque nationale (old National Library), one of Europe’s first public research centres and holding an important collection of rare books and manuscripts still consulted by scholars today. In total, some six million maps, books, and documents are stored here. Temporary exhibits dedicated to book and art history are open to the public.

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Eating and drinking Eating and drinking

For fine French-style dining in the area that won’t break the bank (and, remarkably, offers many vegetarian options) I recommend Macéo, located just behind the Palais Royal at #15, Rue des Petits Champs (Tel: +33 (0)1 42 97 53 85). You can visit their website here. For an extra-gourmet indulgence, you can try to get a seat at Le Grand Vefour, a three-starred Michelin restaurant within the walls of the Palais-Royal—but there’s a long waiting list, so reserve ahead. You can make a booking here. Lunch menus there are far more reasonable, so you might want to consider a midday meal. (17 Rue du Beaujolais, Tel: +33 (0) 1 42 96 56 27)

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Palais Opera Garnier Palais Opera Garnier

Hop on the metro from Pyramides (line 7) to the Opera station, or walk (10 minutes) to take in the splendor of the nearby Palais Opera Garnier. Once home to the Paris opera, it now houses the national ballet, and stages several important performances every year. The opulent facade, featuring numerous sculptures in copper and other materials, was designed by Charles Garnier in the late 19th century. Inside, more sumptuous details await, including a magnificent, seven-ton bronze and crystal chandelier, and a surrealist but soft-toned fresco from French painter Marc Chagall in the main theater.

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Images

Bibliothèque nationale (National library) © Vincent Desjardins
Palais Royal © Julien

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