From Concorde to Opéra – 5 Fun & Alternative Things to Do
Whether it is your first time in Paris or not, chances are you will go to both Place de la Concorde and Place de l’Opéra at some point. Vibrant hearts of the Right Bank, these two very different squares are only one kilometer apart.
Between them, the luxurious neighborhood of Saint-Honoré is renowned worldwide for being the home of many French luxury-brand flagships. Only a few steps away from the core of French power – the Elysée Palace – these visibly high-class streets have a lot to offer.
Before getting to five original things you can do in this area, let me introduce to you the neighborhood a little bit.
Across the old walls
As we may soon cover in another article, Paris grew through its 2000+ years of existence in a roughly concentric way, starting from the Île de la Cité/Saint-Michel area, progressively encompassing the surrounding neighborhoods.
No less than 7 successive walls circled the city, as it grew bigger.
In the early 17th century, under the reign of Louis XIII, the center of the city was circled by a first defensive wall built under Charles V (16th century) whose western edge roughly terminated at the current Palais Royal, and by an extension to this first wall, ordered by king Louis XIII. This wall extension followed the current Boulevard des Capucines and Rue Royale.
Therefore, in the early 17th century, a wall separated the current neighborhood of Saint-Honoré in two parts: the Eastern part (today located East of Rue Royale) was the Parisian neighborhood of Saint Honoré (part of Paris itself), while the Western part (West of Rue Royale) was a marshy outskirt of Paris, named Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where soldiers and the king’s musketeers where housed and were training.
If you look closely, you may notice that Rue Saint Honoré takes the name Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré after it crosses Rue Royale. There once was a city gate at this exact corner.
The following king, Louis XIV (the one who built the Versailles Palace), decided that, thanks to his numerous acts of war, France and Paris were no longer threatened. He had the walls taken down and replaced by large promenades we now know as Grands Boulevards (“Boulevard” being originally a word to describe the flat area on which were built defensive walls). The city started expanding beyond the old walls and Saint-Honoré and the Faubourg Saint-Honoré were reunited.
The birthplace of French fashion
More than 150 years later, from the mid-19th century on, the neighborhood became the birthplace of many fashion brands such as Lanvin, Hermès, and later on, Chanel.
Foreigners love to walk the streets of the Saint-Honoré area as they house most of the greatest and most renowned luxury brand’s iconic stores.
If you wish to see these stores, a good start is by heading to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and walking all the way to the Elysée Palace.
Also, do not miss the original Chanel flagship at 31, Rue Cambon. The store is famous for its iconic mirrored staircase that leads to Coco Chanel’s original apartment.
Five Alternative Things to Do
1. Tour the Neighborhood
Apart from the fashion stores we mean! The Saint-Honoré neighborhood is one to see and visit. After both parts were reunited within the Paris city limits, the neighborhood kept developing. Under Louis XV it even became the heart of massive royal developments.
We unwind, here, a short route we recommend you to follow. However, keep in mind that it is a simplified explanation as most of these spots would require much longer details!
Start at Place de la Concorde, and head to 1, Rue Royale. There, next to the door, you may see a placarded replica of a Call for Mobilization dating back from World War I (we already discussed it here). Keep on until the next crossroads. There, on your left opens Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré – famous for its luxury stores but also because many embassies and the Elysée Palace are there – and on your right Rue Saint-Honoré heading all the way to Les Halles.
Keep walking on Rue Royale. The street terminates in front of a massive temple-like church, the Madeleine Church – which became a church after being destined for being many other things! The Madeleine Church is famous for its extraordinary acoustics.
Due to this trait prone for music, it also became a place for gospel concerts and the place where many famous French singers or musicians’ funerals took place. Artists like Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Edith Piaf, Dalida or Johnny Halliday all had a grandiose funeral at La Madeleine.
Boulevard des Capucines (to the right) takes you to the front of the iconic and historically fascinating Olympia Music Hall, recognizable with its huge red neon lights. Right before reaching Rue Scribe, a plaque indicates the old café where the Lumière Brothers presented their new invention – the cinematograph – by screening the first public film ever.
Across the boulevard, take the time to have a look at the former Nadar Studios – where were first ever exposed the artworks of Impressionists – recognizable with its glass and red structure. The studio has now been replaced.
You may walk all the way to the Garnier Opera House. From Place de l’Opéra, take the grandiose Rue de la Paix, passing by the number 7 where Charles Frederick Worth, the father of Haute-Couture, once settled his store, and the beautiful Cartier flagship store. You arrive onto Place Vendôme, the beating heart of French jewelry.
The square, whose façades are all uniformly built under Louis XIV (even before the lots behind the façades were sold and constructed!), is famous for being the home of the most prestigious jewelers’ boutiques, and for its central Napoleonic column forged with the canons of the Austerlitz battle.
Take the time to note the “Mètre Etalon”, an engraved 1-meter-long line, on the walls of the Ministery of Justice, which served as a reference when the metric measurement system was implemented.
Note the plaque indicating where the Texas embassy once was, at the number 1 of the square, then, take Rue Saint-Honoré to the East. Upon reaching the Saint Roch Church, notice the store at the base of the church.
Indeed, the church was built around this store, back in the early 17th century, creating this weird and unique situation where a shop is included to the structure of a church. You may take the small (and very instagramable) passageway behing the church to get back to Rue des Pyramides and regress to Rue de Rivoli.
More info :
- purchase tickets and learn more about the Olympia Music Hall here!
2. Enjoy the old revamped passageways
In the mid-19th century, as shopping and fashion slowly became trends, and before department stores were created, covered passages, linking the streets (which were narrow and muddy at the time), started to appear everywhere in the French Capital. Today, 18 of these passageways remain, mostly East of Avenue de l’Opéra. However, you may shop, or have coffee, in some side-passages of the Saint-Honoré neighborhood as well. Next to the Madeleine Church, the Passage de la Madeleine is a simple but nice passage you should at least walk through.
Just South of this one, the Cité Berryer (also known as Village Royal) is an open-air calm and classy passage. If you wish to have a nice morning coffee, head right behind the Olympia Hall, into Rue Edouard VII, a revamped pedestrian street and square, leading to the Edouard VII theater.
More Info :
- The Village Royal opens from Monday to Saturday from 8:00AM to 8:30PM
3. Have a dancing lesson in the unique “Elephant Paname” studio
Only a few yards away from the Opera House, the Saint-Honoré neighborhood is a place for creation and art. If fashion is the main focus, you may enjoy quite unique dancing lessons in an amazing place. The Elephant Paname studio, is a dance studio, and gallery, located in a superb hôtel particulier.
The exhibition room, or dome room, in particular, is a place like no other.
The dance studio offers long and short-term dancing lessons, in a typically French and revamped decor. The experience is well worth the price.
And if you don’t have the time to take lessons, you may always have coffee at the Café EP on the first floor of the building.
- Elephant Paname is located 10 rue Volney, in Paris 2nd arr.
- See pictures of Elephant Paname here
- Learn more and book a dancing lesson here
- Café EP opens from Monday to Friday from 12.00PM to 5.00PM
4. Have an American moment at Harry’s New York Bar
In Paris, stores, restaurants and bars open and close on an everyday basis. Competition is hard. Yet, some manage to survive, and only a few become real legends. The Harry’s New York Bar is one of them.
During the US Prohibition, one of the founders, Clancy, had a bar in New York. He dismantled it and transferred it, here, Rue Daunou. Rapidly, the place became a refuge for American expatriates, and is still today, the one place to be if you are an American in Paris.
If you bear the US citizenship, you may even take part in a straw vote, every four years, on the night of the US Presidential Election. The tradition has been perpetrated since 1924, and the real results mirrored the straw poll results almost every time but three.
The bar, placarded with US Universities pennants, is said to be where some mythic cocktails, such as the Bloody Mary, were invented. The professionalism of the waiters and their knowledge of mixology makes it a great place for a drink with your friends. Starting at 10.00PM a piano bar completes the overall Roaring Twenties atmosphere.
More info :
- Harry’s New York Bar is located 5, rue Daunou in Paris 2nd arr.
- It opens everyday from 12.00PM to 2.00AM (and from 4.00PM to 1.00AM on Sundays)
5. Try to beat Hemingway’s record (responsibly)
Ernest Hemingway loved Paris. He had his habits here. He was particularly fond of the dry martinis of the Ritz Palace, on Place Vendôme.
On the day Paris was freed by the Allies, at the end of World War II, Hemingway took the arms to free the Ritz Bar, on his own! Luckily for him, the Germans had been long gone, and he didn’t have to fight. However, legend has it that he insisted on celebrating his “victory” and that he opened a tab, that night, for 51 dry martinis!
The Ritz Bar has kept its cosy atmosphere, but now bears the name of “Hemingway Bar”. The head bartender, Colin Field, is a reference in mixology, and you should try his amazing cocktails. Hemingway set the bar high, so breaking his record may be a bit extreme, but you should still manage to enjoy your time in this refined place!
(Drinking alcohol is dangerous for your health. Please drink responsibly)
- The Bar Hemingway is located in the Ritz at 15, Place Vendôme in Paris 2nd arr. You may also access it through a specific entrance at 38, rue Cambon
- It opens everyday from 6.00PM to 2.00AM
If you wish to further learn about the most amazing places of the Right Bank, you may also book our Paris Landmarks – Right Bank Tour !