Paris Tips: Haunting the Passageways

Get Surreal and explore the passageways in Paris ( Photos by Theadora Brack)

Popping tags at the Galerie Vivienne

Popping tags outside Galerie Vivienne

By Theadora Brack

Confession: I’ve got a new obsession in my life. Following in the footsteps of the Surrealists and the late writer and historian Walter Benjamin, I am also now carrying a big torch for the 19th century shopping arcades in Paris, (a.k.a., “dream houses”). Whenever I can’t seem to find my supernatural powers, I beat the blues with a breathy jaunt to the passageways in Paris. Adding hustle to my bustle, it does the trick every time.

So this week, let’s roll out some soft focus stills, and pay homage to a few of my favorite passages couverts. Come on, Bébe, light my fire.

Winding back the clock

Ever since Louis XIV cried, “Let there be light,” tourists have been flocking to Paris. Under the reign of the Sun King, Paris became the first city in the world to illuminate its streets after dark, which helped turn it into the Number One tourist destination practically over (a well-lit) night.

The invention of the folding waterproof umbrella in 1709 and the appearance of the passages in 1800, sealed the deal. Providing gas lighting, luxury goods, and heated shelter from rain and mud, the shopping mall was born. Linking streets and boulevards, the passages couverts offered new shortcuts and flâneur-flavored promenades.

Desperately Seeking Nadja at the Galerie Vivienne

Desperately Seeking Nadja at the Galerie Vivienne


Here’s Eduard Devrient’s 1840 description, as recorded in Walter Benjamin’s “The Arcades Project” (1927-1940).

Rain showers annoy me, so I gave one the slip in an arcade. There are a great many of these glass-covered walkways, which often cross through the blocks of buildings and make several branchings, thus affording welcome shortcuts. Here and there they are constructed with great elegance, and in bad weather or after dark, when they are lit up bright as day, they offer promenades—and very popular they are—past rows of glittering shops.”

Paved Paradise

Sadly, only about twenty of the original 150 arcades survived “Baron” Haussmann’s sweeping supreme makeover in the 1850s-60s, improvements in transportation, and the dramatic arrival of the Parisian grand magasins (department stores).

On the bright side: The shopping meccas that remain are still very much worth a look-see. Flooded with natural light, their narrow tiled halls are smartly dressed in glazed roofing, cast iron, mosaics, and marble pillar columns, along with sculptures and frescoes, giving a whiff of old-fashioned Parisian glamour. Hives of activity, here you’ll find art galleries, book shops, antique stores, shoe cobblers, boutiques, cafés, bars, and discount bookshops.

Stop. Is that Bel' Occhio Virginia's bike at Galerie Vivienne?

Stop. Is that Bel’ Occhio Virginia’s bike at Galerie Vivienne?

Even Émile Zola tumbled flat. Here’s his nostalgic description of the Passage des Panoramas in his 1880 “Nana.”

“She adored the Passage des Panoramas. The tinsel of the Article de Paris, the false jewelry, the gilded zinc, the cardboard made to look like leather, had been the passion of her early youth. It remained, and when she passed the shop- windows she could not tear herself away from them.

It was the same with her today as when she was a ragged, slouching child who fell into reveries in front of the chocolate maker’s sweet-stuff shows or stood listening to a musical box in a neighboring shop or fell into supreme ecstasies over cheap, vulgarly designed knickknacks, such as nutshell workboxes, ragpickers’ baskets for holding toothpicks, Vendome columns and Luxor obelisks on which thermometers were mounted.”

Trekking to Paris? Interested in time travel? Don’t miss the passageways. Here’s how to set the mood: Visit on cold, rainy day. Perhaps spin a little Satie as you throw on your thick tights, hooded cloak, and twelve flouncing horsehair linen petticoats in black, of course. Don’t forget the parapluie.

Kick-off your tour with a glass a red wine at the Pâlais Royal, and then slowly, slowly saunter over to the Galerie Véro-Dodat. As you make your entrance, keep one eye peeled for the spirits flitting high between the globe lights, having a dandy of a good time. Bon Voyage!

Le Musée Grévin (Paris Wax Museum) at the Passage Verdeau was founded in 1882

1. Galeries du Palais Royal
Place Colette
Métro: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre

2. Galerie Véro-Dodat (1826)
19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau – 2 rue du Bouloi
Métro: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre

3. Galerie Colbert (1826)
6 rue des Petits-Champs – 6 rue Vivienne
Métro: Bourse

4. Galerie Vivienne (1823)
4 rue des Petits-Champs, 5 rue de la Banque, 6 rue Vivienne
Métro: Bourse

5. Passage des Panoramas (1800)
11-13 boulevard Montmartre – 151 rue Montmartre
Métro: Grands Boulevards

6. Passage Jouffroy (1847)
9 rue de la Grange Batelière – 29 Passage Jouffroy
Métro: Grands Boulevards

7. Passage Verdeau (1847)
6 rue de la Grange Batelière – 31 bis rue du Faubourg-Montmartre
Métro: Le Peletier

Clipping from Walter Benjamin’s masterpiece again: “I hear they want to roof all the streets of Paris with glass. That will make for lovely hothouses and will live in them like melons!” Now, let’s take a stroll!

Hotel Chopin at the Passage Verdeau (1847)

Hotel Chopin at the Passage Verdeau (1847)

BRACK Arcades 00


BRACK Arcades 51

Passage Verdeau at l’heure bleu

BRACK Arcades 200

Feeling peckish? Stop by Le Valentin Patisserie for a sweet, Passage Jouffroy (1847)

Passage Verdeau (1847)

BRACK Arcades 4

Pretty in Pink at  Galerie Vivienne (1823)

Galerie Vivienne (1823)

BRACK Arcades 83

More Treats at Le Valentin Patisserie, Passage Jouffroy (1847)

BRACK Arcades 57

Mosaïque au sol by Giandomenico Facchina Galeries Vivienne (1823)

BRACK Arcades 56

With a little pre-planning, you’ll be able to arcade hop with ease

Let there be light at the Passage au Havre!

BRACK Arcades 55

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101 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Haunting the Passageways

  1. Oh Theodora, you know I love Walter Benjamin! It’s ages since I’ve been to Paris and have been curious for a long time about the passages. They look incredible! Perhaps my fave blog yet.

    • AH! YES. You recently wrote a nod to Walter Benjamin! I thoroughly enjoyed your “Monologue: Reading Material” post. Witty. I’m still working my way through Benjamin’s “The Arcades Project.” I love his passion. Here at the arcades, past and present are still dancing in the dust. It’s true. I plan to visit the other arcades. Now I’m also obsessed with Benjamin and the passageways. I’d also like to read his essay on Proust.
      You’d love the arcades! So many bookshops!
      (Also, D.H. Lawrence’s Etruscan Places is another interesting travel read!)

    • Merci! Did you make it to the passageways during your recent jaunt to Paris? You’d love the little shops, cafés and pâtisseries. Back in the day, Folks were smitten with design elements. Reaching again from Walter Benjamin’s book, here’s a description of the Passage Véro-Dodat.

      “One cannot praise this arrangement too highly—the purity of its lines; the picturesque and brilliant effect produced by the gaslight globes, which are placed between the capitals of the two double columns bordering each shop, and finally shop partitions, which are set off by reflecting plate glass.”

      (Enjoy the weekend!)

  2. It is I, Thedora, I that adore the tinsel of the Article de Paris, the false jewelry, the gilded zinc, the cardboard made to look like leather…………it is I that continue to fall into supreme ecstasies over cheap, vulgarly designed knickknacks, such as nutshell workboxes, ragpickers’ baskets for holding toothpicks, Vendome columns and Luxor obelisks on which thermometers were mounted (these perhaps are my very favorite)…………I want them all, I treasure them all……….covet, really. Oh you have set me into motion…….a motion that will not be stopped. You and Virginia best each grab an arm and drag me into the sunlight quickly!

    • Yoo-hoo! I’m back. I backtracked to the 19th century, looking for you, Tin Man. Goodness. Gracious. Where are you? From sunrise to sunset, I raced though the arcades. I thought I spotted Virginia’s bike near the Galerie Vivienne, along with our favorite Oswald (the gentleman rabbit). He was holding court in a vitrine at the Passage Jouffroy. Did you make it to the sunlight? Did you survive your experience in passageways? T. (I also tumble flat for false jewelry and gilded zinc!)

    • Click. Click. Click. It’s true! Especially with Walter Benjamin by my side. I’m hooked. Hooked, I tell you. Books are great friends, eh? T.

  3. Those passages look so inviting and I knew you wouldn’t forget the treats. :-) I’ve been waiting for my next trip to Paris and it was worth the wait. Or was that Worth?


    • Worth, indeed, Janet! Yes, you’d love Le Valentin Pâtisserie. They have tables. Great place to people-watch! Also, the oldest chocolate shop in Paris is located near the Passage Verdeau. A la Mère de Famille” has been making candy since 1761! Frozen in time. Fabulous vitrines.

      Enjoy your weekend! Any markets on the weekend agenda?

      • Our older daughter will be here and I imagine we’ll get to the farmer’s market. They only go until the end of October, so not long now. How I’ll miss the year-round one in Cleveland!! Oh, well. Made four batches of applesauce on Monday after scoring a great deal on wonderful apples at a nearby grocery store. I freeze what we don’t eat right away and it’s lovely to have fresh applesauce year ’round.

        What’s on your weekend agenda?


      • Enjoy the weekend visit with your daughter! Do take your camera to the market! Applesauce. Applesauce. Now I’m craving applesauce. The power of suggestion! I’m off now to find an apple! T.

  4. The early morning sun had just touched the tops of the mountains when I heard the whisper of bicycle wheels on the driveway. The panniers were covered with silver dust. I could see they had been stuffed to over-flowing but now they only held an empty wine bottle and a crumpled shopping bag from Jean Paul Gaulthier I spun the wheels. Words tumbled from the wheels and fell to the ground. TIN MAN the letters spelt. GALERIE VIVIENNE. THEADORA. Tin Man has been shopping for gilded treasures and sharing a bottle of bubbly. The Magic Bicycle twirled its pedals, closed its handle bar eyes and slept.

    • Virginia, I’m still on the hunt for the Tin Man! All that glitters! In the passageways, I’ve searched high and low. I thought I spotted Oswald (the gentleman rabbit) conducting an orchestra in a vitrine at the Passage Jouffroy (kitty-corner to Le Valentin Pâtisserie). I will post a photograph! Perhaps Oswald borrowed your bicycle? A crumpled shopping bag and an empty bottle of wine? Intriguing evidence! T. (Now it’s time for a nap. It was a bumpy flight from the 19th century. Happy to get out of my crinoline!)

      • I’ve discovered the whereabouts of the elusive Tin Man. He and his wonderful Significant Other have traveled with The Flying Monkeys to Vermont – to tie the knot. Such a celebration we will have. I’ve ordered a case of Moet and Chandon and two pounds of Russian Caviar. V.

  5. Theadora, I always look forward to your posts. I so enjoy your writing style. Each topic and tour of a piece of Paris is always so exquisitely described through your detailed text and photographs. I love how you seem to talk to your readers as if we are sharing a cup of coffee and I love learning something new each time about this city. Bravo! ~Thea

    • Goodness, Thea! Yesterday’s comment disappeared! So here’s take two. Thank you for such thoughtful words. You made my week! Heck, you made my month! I feel the same way about your work. And again, Bravo to you! I hope Martha Stewart reads your letter! T. (Enjoy the weekend!)

  6. I’ve been giving tours of these passages for some time, and I’m so glad I do because it forced me to really delve into their history & splendor. They’re really a snapshot of 19th century Paris; it doesn’t take much to imagine the top hats and petticoats strolling though them back in the day.

    There’s a lot of talk about hidden gems in Paris, but these covered passages truly are. It’s a shame that more first-time visitors don’t hear about them…but then again, having something special to discover on your second or third visit is nice too. :)

    • Twelve flouncing petticoats! :) I agree with you, Corey! All visitors should roll through the passages. Perfect people-watching spots. Especially during the weekends. Do you have a favorite covered passage? Are you currently giving tours?


      • Yes I give a tour of the passages which includes Véro-Dodat (perhaps my fav), Vivienne, Panoramas, and Jouffroy. I show folks the Palais Royal as well; you may already know that it’s there that the idea of the covered passage began. They’re a wonderful slice of Parisian history for sure.

  7. Fantastic labyrinths of dream, history and unexpected findings… A wonderful perspective of hidden treasures in the beautiful city: lovely work dear Theadora <3

  8. Dearest Theodora
    What sumptuous snaps!
    Now The Dandy new all about the covered alleys around the Palais Royal, having used them as a short cut to get to Richelieu (the library not the man, I’m not quite that old), but the ones near the Bourse? Who knew? Another ‘look-see’ added to the list for the next visit.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Dear Perfumed Dandy,

      Oh, how I love your wit. What perfect timing! I was recently given an old bottle of Chanel N°5. I just opened it. Another sumptuous snap. Another way to time travel!

      YES. Galerie Vivienne is worth the trek.

      Here’s my tried and true route: Start your tour at the Pâlais Royal near the corner of Rue de Petits-Champs and Rue de Vivienne with Galerie Colbert, Galerie Vivienne, then go a few blocks north to behind La Bourse and wander into Passage Panoramas. At the other end, cross Boulevard Montmartre and enter Passage Jouffroy, which then connects to Passage Verdeau.


      • Dearest Theodora
        Now lucky, lucky you… some old Chanel 5, how lovely!
        And lucky Dandy too, for I have copied and pasted that little walk and will be sure to take the route when I’m next in The City of Light, for the Soldes after Christmas I think.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • I wish, wish, wish I could!
        Perhaps I’ll just make do with watching a Bette Davis movie instead.

      • Great flick! I love it when literature collides with film. Now, Voyager. 1942. Bette Davis. Paul Henreid and Claude Rains!

        “And will you be happy, Charlotte?”

        “Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”

  9. Your photographs are stunning, T! I adore the shot with the bicycle. What a shame so many arcades were swept away – linked arcades seem so much more futuristic than department stores :(

    • Richard. I know. I know. They are futuristic. The Surrealists and the Situationists loved the passages. I’ve been on the hunt for old photographs of the covered passages. I thought Eugène Atget shot a few windows. So far, no luck. I’ll keep looking! Say, you should visit the passages with your camera. You have a knack for capturing the meshing of past and present. Your photographs are always stunning. Futuristic. And timeless, to boot. T.

    • Here’s another confession: I really, really wanted the Yuki Torii pink trench coat. I love the pockets. Oh, la la.
      (Cobbler Minuit moins 7 located in the Passage Véro-Dodat is also worth a visit. Perhaps you’ve been there. It’s a super cute shop. And they do great work. This is where Monsieur Louboutin takes his very own shoes!)

      • Oh, I think I’ve seen a report on this Christian Louboutin’s favorite address a couple of years ago on French TV, but I didn’t remember the name of the shop ! PS : The pink trench-coat is oh la la indeed ! X

  10. Oh, you’ve made me want to walk the streets of Paris in the cool rain and then go inside a pub or eatery and people gaze. Beautiful as always, T — you bring your readers in — as close as we can to being there.

    • Brigitte, you’d love Anna Joliet’s music box shop! Located at the Pâlais Royal, her hand-cranked music boxes are adorable. (I’m thinking of the music you feature on your site.) I played with Edith Piaf, Debussy, Chopin, Charles Trénet, Mozart, Beethoven and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yes, “Memory” and “La Vie en Rose” are her top models! T. (And thanks for you sweet words!)

  11. I have often wondered why Paris was known as ” The City of Light “. Being the first city to have street illumination at night never occurred to me. Now days, it is just something you would take for granted, but with all the cut backs and red ink that plague cities in the present times, illumination at night might just be a luxury in your respective towns. Thanks for all of your enlightenment … I can honestly say I learn something new every time I read your blog. Please keep it up … Frank

    • Thank you, Frank! And speaking of light, last year, I got see the “Gaz à tous les étages” exhibition at the Bibliothèque Forney in the Hotel de Sens, located in the Marais. It was very interesting. Named as a nod to the little blue enamel signs that can still be spotted on buildings throughout Paris (“All floors have gas”—a 19th century boasting), the exhibit recounted the history of gas in Paris. Great slogan!

      The exhibition featured photographs, antique lighting and cooking equipment, gas company uniforms, and a stellar collection of advertising posters along with a 1920s kitchen and hair salon, an Art Nouveau bathroom, and Frédéric Kastner’s weirdly entrancing gas organ. One of only two in the world. I think you would have enjoyed it!


    • Merci, Karen!

      Here’s another Walter Benjamin quote. On writing! And it’s a beauty.

      “Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.”

      • Oh Theodora, I love that quote. In fact, I’m working on those three levels now with my novel writing, and appreciate your sharing this beautiful writin insight with me. Karen

  12. Love your blog all over again. Always beautiful and delicious. I’m sending this link to my son and family who are in Paris for a month from San Francisco. thanks for all your posts.

    • Rhonda, Thank you for helping spread the word! I appreciate it. Yes, I highly recommend the passageways. Le Valentin (Passage Jouffroy) is a fabulous patisserie. Also, the oldest chocolate shop in Paris is located near the Passage Verdeau. And the music box shop at Pâlais Royal is also worth the trek! T. (And thank you for your sweet words!)

    • Thanks for running wild with us! Before your rest, here’s one more passage about the passages from Zola’s “Nana.” It’s another beauty: “White globes, red lanterns, and blue transparencies!”

      “Under the windows, white with reflected light, the pavement was violently illuminated. A perfect stream of brilliancy emanated from white globes, red lanterns, blue transparencies, lines of gas jets, gigantic watches and fans, outlined in flame and burning in the open. And the motley displays in the shops, the gold ornaments of the jeweler’s, the glass ornaments of the confectioner’s, the light- colored silks of the modiste’s, seemed to shine again in the crude light of the reflectors behind the clear plate-glass windows, while among the bright-colored, disorderly array of shop signs a huge purple glove loomed in the distance like a bleeding hand which had been severed from an arm and fastened to a yellow cuff.”

  13. Really enjoyed this little tour Theadora! After reading all the comments as well I feel breathless as if I have been on a wild ride with Alice’s white rabbit. Thanks. Now for a rest.

  14. AHA !! Excellent piece Theadora, you are speaking to me now ! Love the mysteries of the expressionists, please hunt down the meeting places of Jean Paul Satre’s secret club meetings ! What a lovely way to be lost, saving this for my next visit !!!

    • AHA, indeed!! Jean-Paul Sartre. I love the assignment. Thank you for the mission! So stay tuned . . .

      (And thanks for spreading the word about the passages. I appreciate it!)

      “Objects should not touch because they are not alive. You use them, put them back in place, you live among them: they are useful, nothing more. But they touch me, it is unbearable. I am afraid of being in contact with them as though they were living beasts.”
      ― Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

  15. What an adventure, Thea! I love the photos you took. The angles you gave them too! Clever and creative! Loved it. I a,ways have this knowing sensation inside me when I see photos of Paris. She’s calling on me to visit!

    • YES. Paris IS calling you!! Thanks for your kind words. It was a fun post to create, of course. Shooting and sampling sweets is one of my favorite activities in life. It’s true! I’m currently working a second post about Paris haunts. It’s a spooky one. ’Tis the season! T. (Enjoy the week!)

    • Thank you, Paul! Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (another surrealist hang-out) is next on my list. I’ve been spending time with Louis Aragon’s Paysan de Paris (1926). Beautiful descriptions! Aragon wrote, “We went into the Parc like conquerors, so keyed up and prepared for anything, it made us high.” It’s such a great-looking park! T.

  16. Now thats a “passeggiare” to look forward to when next we visit the city of light. And that sandwich at CAFÉ PALAIS ROYAL – well I could take it right off the virtual page and eat it.

    • Ha! YES. Add the passageways to your list. You will not be sorry. And that sandwich was photogenic, affordable, AND tasty. The Café Palâis Royal has terrace seating. Another prime people-watching spot. Especially on a weekend afternoon, I say! Pack your camera! T. (Enjoy the week!)

  17. Hi, T! Very wonderful article! You make me crave Paris, but heading to Barcelona for the holidays. Maybe in spring? Oh, and I want those shoes, btw. :)

    • Hello, Anita! Barcelona? Excellent choice! I think the site has some great tips. Regina Bryan is a fabulous correspondent.
      And the shoes! Of course, they caught your eye. They’re from the Spanish marque Zara! (Lucky you! I think there are three Zara locations in Barcelona!)

  18. I love time travel! Thank you for bringing me back to such a glamorous time in Paris with those beautiful mosaics and glass ceilings. I love your photo of the inside of the Galerie Vivienne and almost walked right into it!

    • Thanks, Sheila! Galerie Vivienne is a stunner. T. (And speaking of garb and time travel, I was able to score some beach pajamas for the street. They’re so comfortable!)

  19. AS ALWAYS………….your fun and sometimes funny BLOG makes me smile. xox

  20. Love love this. I have woven les galeries under the guide of my study abroad program director back in 2011, even raved via my blog :) Your post makes my heart happy as you’ve told the world how to feel/experience Paris and the history of the modern shopping mall! Ps galerie de Vivienne looks very similar to an old US mall in Asheville, NC, where my family and I visited Biltmore this summer, another French copycat! Glad to have stumbled across your blog!

    • Thank you! So you’ve spent time strolling in the galeries and passages of Paris? Do you have a link to your post? Do share! I’m also a big time fan of Asheville! Grove Park Inn (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s former temporary haunt) and Biltmore are worth a peek! Where is the old mall in Ashevlle? I’m curious. Thanks! Theadora

  21. Hi, Really nice photos here, I really need to take my wife to Paris next year, here is hoping and thank you for sharing, Graham, YourHobby…..

  22. Great post! I only discovered the wonders of the Parisian passages after I had moved from Paris to Brussels. Like you said, it’s exceptionally pretty when it’s sunny outside and the light passes through the arcade roofs. It’s great that you can walk from one passage to another, end to end almost, in some parts of Paris.
    My favourite is Passage du Grand Cerf – have you been there?

    • Thanks for your swell words and link! What a lovely nod to the Passage du Grand Cerf. Your photographs are beauties. I plan to check out the “Dear” shop. AB-FAB lead! Theadora (I also spotted your vintage clothing in Brussels post. The beaded bag is spectacular.)

      • Hi Theadora, You’re most welcome. I think “Dear” boutique is no longer in operation though – the last time I went by, about six months ago, they had converted the space into an atelier. Nonetheless, the Passage du Grand Cerf is a beauty, so definitely worth a stroll through.
        Glad you like the vintage post in Brussels :) Angelina

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