10 places to find a little peace and quiet in Paris
When you’re in Paris, you’re visiting one of the most exciting and popular destinations in the world. Your feet are tired, and you’re ready for a break.
Throngs of people shove past you, and motorcycles and cars nearly knock you off the sidewalk as they dodge oncoming traffic.
Yes, Paris is crowded and noisy, but I was delighted to learn there’s another side to this city that’s easy to find.
Within nearly every block are lovely little sanctuaries where I can sit and renew myself, away from the mayhem.
Here are some of the best quiet spots that I found.
Square du Vert-Galant
This small public park, at the base of the Pont-Neuf on the western tip of Île de la Cité, was erected in 1884 as a tribute to Henri IV, king of France from 1589 to 1610 and nicknamed the Vert Galant (“go-getter”) because of his many mistresses.
The grassy triangle is surrounded by stone embankments and provides lovely views of the sun setting over Paris’ bridges and the Louvre. The quiet, romantic spot is a great place to picnic and feed the ducks.
Info: Square du Vert-Galant, Place du Pont-Neuf. Nearby attractions: Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Louvre, Conciergerie, Place Saint-Michel
This Beaux-Arts masterpiece consists of a palace, a quiet garden and a courtyard. The palace is the former home of Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), who bequeathed it to Louis XIII, thus making it “royal.”
The 400-year-old arcades provide shady spots for elegant boutiques, galleries and cafes.
Next to the garden is an entry court with an unusual modern-art installation. The site-specific creation by artist Daniel Buren is made up of 252 black-and-white striped columns from 6 inches to 3 feet and spaced in a grid-like formation.
“Les Deux Plateaux” has become a favorite of children and adults alike who climb onto the columns and pose for photos.
Adding to the display are pools of water containing large, shiny spheres of steel that reflect the beautiful 17th century buildings surrounding the square.
Info: Palais-Royal, 8 Rue Montpensier. Nearby attractions: Louvre, Galerie Vivienne, Jardin des Tuileries
This beautiful art-filled cemetery opened in 1824 as one of three major cemeteries in Paris. It contains 38,000 graves on 46 acres and is planted with more than 1,000 trees.
Among the notables buried here are Jean-Paul Sartre and his lover Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Constantin Brancusi and Man Ray.
On one grave is a sculpture presumably crafted by the artist buried beneath it. On another, a little stone dog stands next to a poem about the merits of the deceased. And a lovely young girl in marble leans up against her headstone.
Info: Montparnasse Cemetery, 3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet. Nearby attractions: Montparnasse Tower for great views of the city below, Catacombs.
Hôtel de Soubise
Rococo Hôtel Soubise, built in 1705 as the private home of the prince and princess de Soubise, and neighboring Hôtel de Rohan house the National Archives.
The majestic buildings and their formal courtyard are accessed by an archway at Rue des Francs-Bourgeois and Rue des Archives in Le Marais.
Flowered murals that look like embroidery line the interior walls of the cloisters, where benches beckon the weary. Through an opening to the right you will find another quiet treasure, a serene garden with a vine-covered pergola, stone pathways and a tiny pond with a small fountain.
Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air
The outdoor sculpture garden, on the banks of the Seine River between the Pont de Sully and the Pont d’Austerlitz, is magnificent both for its setting and its contemporary artwork beautifully displayed along a landscaped path.
The garden contains more than 50 sculptures by artists such as Brancusi and Nicolas Schöffer. From here you can also view the handsome architecture across the Seine and watch the tour boats as they make their way down the river.
Info: Musée de Sculpture en Plein Air, Quai Saint Bernard-Square Tino Rossi. Nearby attractions: Institute of the Arab World, Jardin des Plantes
Musée de la Poupée
This delightful little surprise in the Marais district can’t help but make you smile, but alas, it is closing soon.
The museum was established in 1994 to display the collection of Guido and Samy Odin and contains about 500 dolls dating from 1800 to 1959.
Four rooms with large glass cases are arranged chronologically with dolls in settings and outfits reflecting the era represented.
There also are furnishings, toy pets and a collection of paper dolls. The museum has a clinic for dolls that are “sick” and a haberdashery for those that need a new wardrobe.
It is at the end of a small alley adjacent to the Anne Frank Garden. Note: The privately owned museum is closing Sept. 15
This hidden medieval village is centered on Rue Saint-Paul in the southern part of Le Marais across the Seine from Île Saint-Louis.
It is dominated by the Baroque Church of St. Paul-Saint Louis, which has Delacroix’s “Christ on the Mount of Olives” in the transept.
The Village is focused on design and crafts, antiques and weekend flea markets. Tucked into the back courtyards are quaint shops that specialize in a variety of goods, including handmade hats, fine stationery and fresh flowers.
Here too are cafes where you can feast on white bean cassoulet, pan-fried foie gras and salads of fresh goat cheese, field greens and roasted spring lamb.
Village Saint-Paul is livelier on weekends when the street market is open, but even then it’s a quiet section of Paris.
Info: Village Saint-Paul, Rue Saint-Paul, Rue Ave Maria.
Parc Monceau is one of the more elegant open spaces in Paris, yet it’s often overlooked by visitors in favor of the better-known Jardin du Luxembourg and the Tuileries.
The main entrance on Boulevard de Courcelles is magnificent, with a large rotunda and gold-tipped wrought-iron gate. It was one of the first landscaped parks in Paris, built in 1789 by the Duke of Chartres, an admirer of English gardens.
Those English influences are reflected in its informal layout, curved pathway and randomly placed statues.
The duke also added follies from different eras and continents, including archways, a pyramid, a bridge and Japanese stone lanterns, and a lily pond half-encircled by broken Corinthian columns meant to resemble Roman ruins.
Monet was so taken with the park that in 1876 he depicted it in a series of paintings.
Info: Parc Monceau, 35 Boulevard de Courcelles. Nearby attractions: Musée Cernuschi, Musée Nissim de Camondo, Arc de Triomphe, Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores
Cour d’Honneur, Les Invalides
The Cour d’Honneur (Courtyard of Honor) is one of 15 courtyards in the large complex of Les Invalides, originally designed as a home and hospital for ill or wounded soldiers.
Today the complex of buildings and courtyards contains a military museum, a chapel, and a large gold dome housing the tomb of Napoleon. There also are areas still in use for disabled veterans.
If you approach through the northern gate near the Place des Invalides, you enter the Cour d’Honneur, the largest of the complex’s courtyards and the one used for military parades.
It is surrounded on all four sides by two-story colonnaded Baroque buildings. Here you can listen to the quiet and admire old cannons and military equipment lined up along the perimeter like soldiers.
Info: Cour d’Honneur, Les Invalides. Nearby attractions: Napoleon’s Tomb, Musée de l’Armée, Rodin Museum
Marie Antoinette’s hameau, Versailles
Visit the grand Château de Versailles where the Sun King and his 20,000 courtiers lived, dined and entertained. But be sure to leave time for the outdoor spaces — the formal gardens, the royal waterways and fountains, and the Petit Trianon and hameau, or hamlet, where Marie Antoinette acted out her desires to be just like everyone else.
In a quiet area of meadowland, ponds, rolling hills and woods, she built little thatched-roof houses, an octagonal belvedere and a classical Temple of Love.
Here on the “farm” she could dress as a milkmaid and feed the sheep and goats.
Info: Marie Antoinette’s hameau, Place d’Armes, Versailles.
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