The Paris Covered Passages, or Passages Couverts, are architecturally beautiful, historic landmarks. Perfect for free, rainy day exploration in this timeless city.
The Covered Passages in Paris were originally built for functional reasons we can still appreciate today. The Parisian streets of the early 1800s were muddy, narrow, crowded, and generally unpleasant for those on foot. There were few sidewalks and little lighting. Where would a wealthy person shop and be seen? Enter the Passages Couverts.
It is difficult to definitively determine the “first” of the passage couverts. However the now-lost-to-time Passage Feydau (opened in roughly 1790) is sometimes used as that marker. The age of Paris Covered Passages declined after the Passages des Princes, the last to open in 1860. The arrival of the first department store in 1850, and Haussman’s 1853-1870 renovation of Paris signaled the end of the Passages heyday. At the height of this time there were more than 150 covered passages, however only 18 remain today.
Are you looking for something free to do in Paris? Or to something do on a rainy day? Read on, and visit a Parisian covered passage.
Paris Covered Passages by Arrondissement:
Entrances: 19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rue du Bouloi
Nearest Metro: Louvre-Rivoli & Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre
Hours: Mon-Sat 7am-10pm, closed Sunday
Built in 1826, Galerie Véro-Dodat is a beautiful Neoclassical passage. It showcases marble columns, frescoes, gold trim, and a black and white diamond shaped tile pattern. Véro-Dodat was one of the first Paris Covered Passages with gas lighting. And perhaps due to its beauty, also one of the last to suffer neglect.
It its glory days, the French Romantic theatre star Mademoiselle Rachel lived in an apartment in the passage. Mlle. Rachel was the mistress of Napoleon’s illegitimate son, Count Walewski. She was such a sensation that paparazzi-esque behavior at her death lead to the introduction of France’s privacy laws.
In 1965 the passage was name a French historical landmark, and restoration was undertaken 1997. Now the shops lining this somewhat short passage specialize in art books, furnishings, antiques, and fashion – including a Christian Louboutin workshop-boutique. Wear yourself out browsing? Stop in at Le Café de l’Epoque for a nosh to keep you going.
Entrances: 4 rue des Petits-Champs, 5 Rue de la Banque, Rue Vivienne
Nearest Metro: Bourse
Hours: 8:30am-8:30pm daily
Originally called Galerie Marchoux, this passage was built in 1823. Marchoux was the President of the Chamber of Notaries who undertook the project. Later the passage was renamed Galerie Vivienne. Also Neoclassical in style, the standout feature is the colorful mosaic floor, signed by Giandomenico Facchina. Facchina also worked on the mosaics of the famous St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
Visitors came to Galerie Vivienne for the tailor, cobblers, bookstore, restaurant and wine shop. However when George Haussmann’s renovations of Paris created wide strolling areas such as the Champs-Élysées, shops and pedestrians followed.
A fascinating bit of trivia: Eugène François Vidocq lived at No 13 within this Passage Couvert for a time. Vidocq was a criminal-turned-father-of-modern-Criminology, and inspiration to the likes of Victor Hugo, Edgar Allen Poe, and Honoré Balzac. His life is fascinating, definitely check him out.
Galerie Vivienne slowly became more active in the 1960s, and was registered as a historic monument in 1974. Today the passage is filled with shops of gourmet food and wine, old books, and clothing boutiques. Galerie Vivienne even hosts haute couture shows!
Entrances: 40 rue des Petits Champs, 23 rue Saint-Augustin, 40 rue Dalayrac
Nearest Metro: Pyramides & Quatre-Setembre
Hours: Mon-Sat 8am-8pm, closed Sunday
Passage Choiseul was built in 1826-1827 as a continuation of Rue de Choiseul. Rue de Choiseul meets at its entry on Rue du 4 Septembre. Architect François Mazois’s glass and ironwork roof gives plenty of light to this, the longest of Paris’s covered passages. Louis-Ferdinand Céline grew up in the passage,and in early 1900s describe Passage Choiseul in a state of decay. He actually comments on the competing stench of gas lamps, stagnant air, and dog urine. So, ew. That was not the time to visit.
The glass in the roof was replaced 1970s, but the ironwork from 1891 was retained. Then in 1974 the Passage Choiseul was registered as a historic monument. The arrival of fashion designer Kenzo (since reloacted) in the 1970s revived the passage. However it would still take until 2013 for a full renovation and restoration.
Today Passage Choiseul is lined with clothing stores, jewelry stops, restaurants, art galleries and supply shops, and the entrance to the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens. If you love originals/oldests/historic like I do, be sure to stop at Ultramod, the oldest mercerie for sewing notions and details in Paris.
Passage des Panoramas
Entrances: 11 Boulevard Montmartre, 10 Rue Saint-Marc
Nearest Metro: Grands Boulevards, Bourse
Hours: 6am-Midnight, Daily except Holidays
Built in 1799, the Passage des Panoramas is the 2nd oldest remaining Paris covered passage by only one year. It was constructed on the site of the residence of the Duke of Luxembourg. The door to the home became the Rue Saint-Marc entrance. (It has since been “updated” in the gorgeous architecture of the 1970s.)
Fascinating little side-story: Many have noted that the name comes from panoramic paintings of Paris in the rotundas. The interesting part to me was that creating these had been part of a business venture of American inventor Robert Fulton. He was actually in Paris to discuss his latest inventions, the submarine, steamboat, and torpedo, with Napoleon and the French Directory. While waiting for that to happen, he set up these 360-degree panoramas of world cities and charged admission. Napoleon wasn't a big navy guy and felt using a submarine was a dishonorable way to fight, so passed on Fulton's inventions. Fulton moved on, but left behind the panoramas. Sadly these are no longer part of the passage - or hidden extremely well.
In 1817, the first public gas lighting in Paris was installed in the Passage des Panoramas. You can still see one of these lights at No 11. Panoramas had a renovation in the 1830s, and the 1860s version captivates in Zola’s novel Nana. However, as you have read repeatedly a decline began as the 19th century continued. The declining passage was devastated when the nearby Paris Bourse (stock exchange) merged with Euronext. When it relocated, it took thousands of jobs with it.
New life came to Passage des Panoramas in one of my favorite ways – food! When Jancou’s opened his restaurant, Racine’s in 2007, he started a trend. Suddenly, restaurant after restaurant followed, and today the passage is a gastronomic delight. What are you in the mood for? Thai? Moroccan? French, Italian, Japanese? How about nice burger place? Or a two-Michelin-star restaurant? All are at your… well, feet. Wander the this tasty Paris passage couvert and let your taste buds decide.
Passage des Princes
Entrances: 5 Boulevard des Italiens, 97 rue de Richelieu
Nearest Metro: Richelieu-Drouot
Hours: 10am-8pm Mon-Sat, closed Sunday
The Passage des Princes has had its fortunes rise and fall, repeatedly, due to investment woes. Originally, this passage was named Passage Mirès after Jules Mirès, the banker who decided to raise the funds to develop it. Mirès bought the Grand Hôtel des Princes et de l’Europe, and demolished it to make way for the construction. However, soon after he raised the funding, his bank collapsed.
Since funds had been previously secured, construction proceeded, and in September of 1860, Baron Haussman himself signed the decree authorizing the opening of the passage. Yes, that Haussman, who even at the time of signing the decree was implementing his renovations of Paris which would lead to the decline of these very passages. The Passage des Princes would be the last of the Passages Couverts built in Paris. (Walk one street East and you can compare it to Passage des Panoramas, the 2nd earliest – the earliest being not nearly as well maintained – remaining covered passage.)
As recently as 1985 a planned “real estate scheme” led to the complete demolition of this passage. Nothing ever came of the scheme, so the Passage des Princes was rebuilt in 1995. The rebuild looked exactly as it had, even reusing original elements.
Today, this is the passage to indulge your inner child – or bring a child you love and your wallet. If you are looking for video games, scale models, or any toy from old-fashioned marionettes to Legos, this is the stroll for you!
Passage du Caire
Entrances: 2 place du Caire, 237/247 Rue Saint-Denis, 16&44 Rue du Caire, 33 Rue d’Alexandrie,
Nearest Metro: Sentier, Réaumur-Sébastopol
Hours: 7am-6:30pm Mon-Fri, closed Sat/Sun
Here we find the longest, oldest, and narrowest still-functioning, passage couvert in Paris. Built in 1798 during Napoleon’s Egypt campaign, this passage and many other locations in the area retain names testament to the Egyptian craze that resulted. The entrance on Place du Caire is an example of the Egyptian influence on the architecture of the time. Take note of the effigies of the Goddess Hathor with the distinctive cow ears on the façade. The full name was actually Passage de la Foure du Caire (Passage of the Fair Cairo) but my typing fingers appreciate the shortening that has happened over the years.
Interestingly, this passage was built on the site of the Filles-Dieu convent. The convent buildings and gardens dated to the 1300s. It was here that prostitutes who visited for the fresh water from the fountain, were taken into the convent and converted. I found recorded in several places that the tombstones of nuns were even used in the original paving, but if so you cannot tell at all as you walk through.
Most lists of Paris covered passages list Passage des Panoramas as the oldest still functioning in Paris. But when I compare the build dates – 1798 definitely comes before 1799, and Passage du Caire wins that title. My assumption is, no offense Passage du Caire, but you just aren’t so pretty. So most travel/tourist sites just skip over this passage. I decided to include it because it is the oldest, and it shows you how many of the 150 passages were used for decades.
This is a working passage, and even today is largely suppliers to ready-to-wear fashion stores.
Passage du Grand Cerf
Entrances: 145 rue Saint-Denis, 8 rue Dussoubs
Nearest Metro: Étienne-Marcel line 4
Hours: 8:30am-8:30pm Mon-Sat, closed Sun
Passage du Gran Cerf was built in 1825 on the site of the former Hôtel du Grand-Cerf and home of the Roulage du Grand Cerf, thus the name. The 12 meter height makes this passage one of the most spacious and allows for boutiques, workshops, and living space. The current architecture is from roughly the mid 1840s. The passage changed hands repeatedly from 1862 to 1896, at some point winding up in public sector hands. Documents from that time note “the excessive neglect in which the building was left.” In fact when the 20th century rolled it the roof was in such bad shape as to be a danger, and the passage was closed.
In 1985 the buyer the public sector managers had hoped for came forward. In investor hands, major restoration began. Young designers were drawn to the low rents, and those who couldn’t afford to have their own boutique – definitely not in the heart of Paris – began to find a home. The proximity to the Pompidou Centre and the beautiful, cobble-stoned Montorgueil district creates a draw to this passage.
Today, many artisans and designers have shops here. From organic beauty shops to fashion designers, jewelry-makers and even an artisan woodworker call this passage home.
Entrances: 10-12 Boulevard Montmartre, 9 Rue de la Grange-Batelière
Nearest Metro: Grand Boulevards (lines 8&9)
Passage Jouffroy was built in 1836 and was the first Parisian passage to showcase mastery of iron structures, being built entirely of metal and glass. It is also the first passage to use under-floor heating! This passage owes its name to Count Félix de Félix de Jouffroy-Gonsans who commissioned its construction. Jean-Baptiste-Ossian Verdeau, the main shareholder of Jouffroy-Gonsans’s company, had the honor of Passage Verdeau named after him.
The popularity of Passage des Panoramas led to the construction of Passage Jouffroy, which continues directly across Boulevard Montmartre. Jouffroy has benefited from pedestrians wanting to continue their passage exploration and has become one of the most visited of the passages couverts.
One of the more interesting stops within the passage is Musée Grévin. Founder of the newspaper Le Gaulois, Arthur Meyer, partnered with cartoonist Alfred Grévin and created a gallery of wax figures. Musée Grévin’s opened in 1882, and added a hall of mirrors originally created for the 1900 Exposition Universelle.
Passage Jouffroy registered as a historic monument in 1974, and completely renovated in 1987. At this renovation, the beautiful white, gray, and black marble paving was restored. Today, the Musée Grévin and its waxwork models are still part of the passage. The Salon des Miroirs is a gorgeous rental space that turns into club on weekends! The Hôtel Chopin is a unique place to stay, right within the passage. Or you can just wander through the shops displaying old books, specialty paper, fashion accessories, gift baskets, and more.
The Grand Boulevards Paris Covered Passages
From the Grand Boulevards Metro station, it is less that 50 meters west to the Passages des Panoramas. In fact, there on Boulevard Montmartre is between the entrances to the Passages des Panoramas and the Passage Jouffroy. So it is very convenient to explore Panoramas, then return and enter Jouffroy. At the end of Jouffroy, cross rue de la Grange-Batelière and enter the quieter Passage Verdeau. It makes for a perfect change to explore several of the Paris covered passages in one stroll.
If you stroll just a bit farther along Boulevard Montmartre, cross rue Drouot to a left on Boulevard des Italiens, Passage des Princes is right there, too!
Entrances: 6 rue de la Grange-Batelière, 31 bis rue du Faubourg Montmartre
Nearest Metro: La Peletier
Hours: 7:30am-9pm Mon-Fri, 7:30am-8:30pm Sat/Sun
Built in 1847, Passage Verdeau was the second passage couvert in Paris solely of metal and glass. Only decorateive touches in the passage are of wood. Passage Jouffroy just across rue de la Grange-Batelière and built by the same company as Verdeau. It gave the name of Jean-Baptiste-Ossian Verdeau, the main shareholder, to this passage.
Verdeau has found its way along side the Hôtel Drouot auction house that moved in at 9 rue Drouot in 1852. It was then that France was becoming the art market capital of the world. Verdeau road the coattails with antique dealers, artists, and a framing shop. The fortunes became so entwined that the Drouot auction house’s renovations from 1976-1980, almost ended Passage Verdeau.
The Drouot auction house did re-open, and the shops dedicated to the arts slowly returned. Today Passage Verdeau is still be the quietest of the three linked passages of the Grand Boulevards. But it is still proudly home to a framing shop, a transporting gallery, and other shops dedicated to the arts.
Entrances: 46 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 39/41 Boulevard de Strasbourg
Nearest Metro: Château d’Eau (line 4) or Strasbourg-Saint Denis (lines 4,8,9)
Hours: 9:30am-11:30pm Mon-Sat, 6pm-11:30pm Sun
Passage Brady is another very different passage, much as I described Passage du Caire. Passage Brady is a working passage and not the restored ironwork beauty you see in many others. That hasn’t stopped it from being registered as a historic landmark since 2002. It can be hard to spot, especially on rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, so I’d advise going from the Chateau metro stop to the Boulevard de Strasbourg entrance just a half a block south.
Once you are inside, Passage Brady is a delight for the senses. Often referred to as “Little India,” this covered passage is Paris’s go to spot for Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi restaurants, and everything you need to cook these tasty dishes on your own. You can find fresh veggies, fruits, far east spices and incense, and even Hindu statues. If some masala or curry is on your menu for tonight, stop by Passage Brady for the best ingredients you can find.
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