By Kate Brumback
There’s nothing wrong with hitting the tourist sights in Paris—the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, you know the rest. But for a day you’ll always remember, why not blow off your itinerary, act like a true Parisian and live the lifestyle of the “flaneur”?
The term—from the French verb flaner, to stroll—was popularized by the 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire, who reveled in immersing himself in the urban crowd. It refers to one who walks the city at a leisurely pace, taking in his surroundings, often with no particular destination in mind.
To spend a day as a flaneur, wandering from Montmartre to the Latin Quarter, grab a street map and follow the route below for an insider’s view of Paris.
Breakfast at Rendez-vous des Amis:
The warm yellow walls and dark paneling of this cafe from 1890—one of the oldest in Montmartre—make it a cozy spot to linger over a croissant and a thimbleful of strong coffee. Photos of the staff and regulars are tacked to the ceiling beams. On a recent morning, the soundtrack from the movie “Amelie,” which was set in the neighborhood, played in the background. Just outside the cafe, climb the steep staircase on the left to the Place du Tertre, where artists paint portraits and street scenes.
Van Gogh’s street:
The serpentine Rue Lepic begins its descent nearby at the Place Jean-Baptiste Clement. At the intersection of Lepic and Rue Tholoze is the former dance hall Moulin de la Galette. Impressionist painters captured the outdoor dances here, as in Renoir’s “Bal du Moulin de la Galette.” Around the bend, at No. 54, is the house where Vincent Van Gogh lived from 1886 to 1888 with his brother, Theo. Farther along, Rue Lepic turns into busy Rue des Abesses, lined with fish, cheese, fruit and vegetable shops. When it dead-ends at Rue des Martyrs, turn right and window-shop along this famous market street that is rapidly becoming a magnet for chic young Parisians, with its boutiques, trendy cafes and gourmet shops full of mouth-watering chocolates, cheeses and caviar.
Stop and shop:
You’re about to reach a favorite hangout of the original flaneurs, who apparently were drawn to a shopping mall prototype. From the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, cross Rue Richer and duck into the Passage Verdeau on the right. Along with the Passage Jouffroy and the Passage des Panoramas, it is one of a trio of arcades built in the 19th century to showcase new industrial materials in the form of steel frames and glass roofs. Peruse the shops that sell old books, prints, antiques, souvenirs and clothing.
Oasis in the heart of the city:
Not far beyond the Bourse de Paris, home to the Paris stock exchange, Rue Vivienne ends at Palais Royal. Built in the early 17th century as a small theater in the residence of Cardinal Richelieu, its main courtyard features a large, peaceful garden with a fountain—a good place to sit, rest and drink it all in. Cross through the inner courtyard, with its black-and-white-striped columns of varying heights, and keep going through the courtyard of the Louvre across the street.
Views on the Seine:
On the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge, artists display their wares, musicians play and Parisians picnic in the summer, admiring the views of the Eiffel Tower and the Île de la Cité. On the other side of the river, cross the courtyard in front of the domed Académie Française, where sages decide which words may officially enter the French language. Pass through the small passageway on the right leading to Rue de Seine.
A painter’s lunch:
Nestled among the art galleries on the Rue de Seine, which runs down toward the heart of the Left Bank, La Palette is perfect for a simple Parisian lunch of croque monsieur, an open-faced toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Named for the artists’ palettes that line the wall above the traditional zinc bar, it is a quintessential French cafe, with its haphazardly mounted paintings. After savoring every bite in the unhurried flaneur mode, continue down Rue de Seine and hang a left on Rue de Buci, which turns into Rue St. Andre des Arts. Wander down this charming, pedestrian-friendly street with its cute shops and packed cafes. At the end, cross the Place St. Andre des Arts and Boulevard St. Michel to Rue St. Severin, a street that leads to a tangle of restaurants and shops.
Books and baguettes:
Halfway down the quaint Rue de la Parcheminerie, a Canadian flag flapping in the wind signals the Abbey Bookshop. In this English-language shop in the heart of the Latin Quarter, expatriates and tourists alike pick their way through piles of new and used books that threaten to topple at any moment. Choose a novel for the plane ride home or read some Baudelaire, while you sip maple syrup-spiked coffee. Continue on to the famed Boulevard St. Germain and, at Place Maubert, turn onto the Rue Monge. Climb this residential street and follow the alluring smells to the Boulangerie Kayser at No. 8, where Parisians line up for award-winning bread.
Walk through the arched doorway at 49 Rue Monge into the Arenes de Lutece. This amphitheater, once the site of Gallo-Roman gladiator matches, was long forgotten until it was excavated in the mid-19th century. Now it’s a place where old men toss steel balls in games of petanque, and adolescents practice soccer moves.
A sweet ending:
Back on Rue Monge, continue to Rue du Puits de l’Ermite and take a left toward the city’s main mosque. With its intricately carved minaret, the white mosque is a striking contrast to the surrounding apartment buildings. In the adjoining garden and tearoom, sit and relax over steaming cups of sugary sweet mint tea and sticky pastries.
Le Rendez-vous des Amis, 23 rue Gabrielle (18th arrondissement). Espresso, 1.80 euros; fruit juice, 3 euros. Hours 8:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
La Palette, 43 rue de Seine (6th arrondissement). Croque monsieur, 6.50 euros; salad, 8 euros. Hours 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday to Saturday.
Abbey Bookshop, 29 rue de la Parcheminerie. Hours 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
Tearoom at the Paris Mosque, 39 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (5th arrondissement). Mint tea, 2 euros; assorted pastries, 2 euros; water pipe, 6 euros. Hours 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily