If you understand French, you should have no trouble finding a guided walking tour of one of the districts of Paris on any day of the year. These are listed, for example, in a section called VISITES CONFÉRENCES near the back of the weekly guide Pariscope.
On weekdays you might find half a dozen tours to choose from, on weekends a dozen or more. In most cases, unless otherwise specified, you don’t have to reserve ahead of time, just show up at the meeting point and pay on the spot. The price for a two-hour guided walking tour in French is typically ten to twelve Euros, as of 2013.
As Pariscope points out week after week, the content and quality of these tours is the sole responsibility of the organizers. There is no guarantee -- but up to now I have never been disappointed.
In May 2013 I took a guided walking tour of the Palais Royal district. The guide turned out to be a man named Eric Bourde, who is described as an art historian and an actor. He is certainly well-informed about the history and architecture of this district. He gave us a very interesting and entertaining tour, not only of the Palais Royal itself, also of the neighborhood behind it.
Location and photo of Palais Royal on monumentum.fr.
Third photo: These arcades at the back end of the Palais Royal, around the gardens, have a long and checkered history. Some of the shops are now in use, some are awaiting renovation. At least one is used as a café.
Fourth photo: Guide and tour group on the Rue de Beaujolais, behind the Palais Royal.
Fifth photo: The National Library, behind the Palais Royal, is currently undergoing renovation (as of 2013).
This tour was in French, but there are also a number of people who offer guided walking tours in English. I have never tried any of these, however, so I cannot make any recommendations.
(When I am in France I try to do as many things as I can in the French language, because I need the practice.)
Also you might consider taking a guided bicycle tour while you are in Paris, especially as a way of getting oriented if you are a first-time visitor.
Next review from May 2013: Galerie Vivienne
The Palais Royal belonged to the French royal family for several generations, but the kings tended to let their relatives live there rather than living there themselves. (They had the Louvre and later Versailles, after all.)
Second photo: Courtyard of the Palais Royal, with a row of 19th century columns behind the black and white stumps of columns put there in 1986 by the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren.
Third photo: In the summers they put up bleachers and a stage in the courtyard, for performances by dance companies from all over the world.
Fourth photo: Here's a bike tour in the courtyard, getting a briefing on the Palais Royal from their guide.
Fifth photo: From 1673 to 1781 the Paris Opera was located in the Palais Royal. This painting by Hubert Robert (1733-1808), which is on display in the Louvre, shows the Opéra Palais-Royal burning down in 1781.
Location and photo of Palais Royal on monumentum.fr
• Comédie Française
• Guided walking tour starting from Palais Royal
Originally built in 1622 as the residence of Cardinal de Richelieu by the architect Jacques Lemercier, le Palais Royal was taken over by the French royal family upon the Cardinal's death in 1642. A fire in 1773 completely destroyed the palace, but it was rebuilt in 1781 in the form we see today, integrated into the urban landscape of Paris, with theatres, shops and cafés. Thereafter, its vast interior garden and the surrounding arcades became a meeting place for Parisian high society. These arcades continue to be used in the present day, while the park is an oasis of tranquility in hectic Paris.
Whether you love them or think that they have no place in such a famous building as the Palais-Royal, one has to admit that the Buren columns make a fine talking point. Installed here in 1986, it has to be remembered that the place was a car park before that, so one eye-sore for another ? I myself feel that there is a fluidity and movement to the columns which are agreeable to the eye, creating dramatic and geometric shapes. Whether they were ever worth the equivalent of the 1.5 million euros that they cost, or the renovation (2009/10) that cost four times that, remains to be seen (pun intended).
Palais-Royal is the closest metro.
Jacques Lemercier was commissioned to build the palace, known as the Palais Cardinal, in 1624. The palace was renamed as the Palais-Royal when it was the Louis XIV's home as a child. The palace, however, was damaged in 1871 during the Paris Commune but was rebuilt. The galleries is a shopping arcade with independent and expensive shops. It's nice to spend an afternoon exploring the courtyard and gardens.
“Secrecy is the first essential in affairs of state.”
— Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642)
Le Jardin du Palais Royal, has a long royal and a not-so-royal history. Because it is enclosed by the Palais Royal, with its courtyard and arcades, this is a secret garden that is not much of a secret.
In 1624, Cardinal Richelieu bought Hôtel Rambouillet and its surrounding properties. These buildings were demolished and the Palais Cardinal was built with a large adjoining garden. When Cardinal Richelieu died on December 4, 1642, he bequeathed this property to the crown. Louis XIV deeded ownership to his brother, Philippe, duc d’Orléans; thereafter, Philippe’s descendents lived here until the Revolution.
In 1781, the Duc d’Orléans, later known as Philippe-Égalitié engaged the architect Victor Louis to expand the palace, thus decreasing the size of the garden. Construction was completed three years later. To pay for his changes, the duc d’Orléans built boutiques under the arcades and rented them out. The arcades were filled with shops, cafés and gambling dens and the first House of Wax.
Philippe-Egalitié opened the Jardin du Palais Royal to the public, but he prohibited access to the police. This level of freedom could not be found anywhere else in Paris and a gathering place for intellectuals and artists. The public flocked to this popular gathering place in Paris. By 1789, the Jardin du Palais Royal was the liveliest place in Paris. People came here to get the latest news and political rumors. It was a place of speeches, discussions, drinking and gaming.
Two theatres were established at either end of the Jardin du Palais Royal, and they still stand today. On the southwest corner the Comédie Française could be found, then as well as in our day. It was commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu and designed by Lemercier around 1641. This was the theatre where Molière produced his plays from 1660-1673. The second theatre, which sits on the northwest corner of the garden, is the Théâtre du Palais Royal.
Here, on July 12th, 1789, Camille Desmoulins, a young lawyer, jumped on a table in the Café de Foy and announced that Jacques Necker, the popular Minister of State, had been forced to resign. Desmoulins called out, “Aux armes, citoyens!” (“To arms, citizens!”). Two days later, the Bastille was taken.
Following the guillotining of Philippe-Egalitié in 1793, the Palais Royal and its garden were confiscated by the state. The government closed its gambling houses in 1836. The Palace was pillaged during the Worker’s Revolution of 1848. The Commune of 1872 set fires in the palace, which were not restored until 1876. In 1958, the Constitutional Council moved in the Palais and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs was formed by André Malraux.
The Garden of Palais Royal still has colonnaded arcades on three sides and the Cour d’Honneur on the south side. The walkways are still paved with mosaics. There are shops selling women’s clothing, jewelry, antiques, and gardening tools. There are art galleries, two cafés and three restaurants under the arcades as well, one of these is Restaurant Vefour, the only remaining establishment from the Garden’s pre-Revolutionary days.
A double-row of trees runs along both sides of the Garden and provides the most cooling outdoor shade to be found during August. Frequently, the Jardin du Palais Royal holds temporary outdoor sculpture exhibits.
There are two stretches of fenced lawns between these rows of trees and are bordered with flowerbeds. On both ends of each lawn are enclosed sitting areas with benches. In between the two lawns is a circular pond with a fountain. It is a lovely area for enjoying the sun and the sound of splashing water. On the north end of the north lawn is a sandbox where parents can watch their children play. Dogs are not allowed in the Jardin du Palais Royal. This is one of the few outdoor spaces in Paris where you don’t have to watch your step!
If I was commanded on pain of death to say where my favourite place in Paris is I think I would probably have to plump for the Jardin du Palais Royal. We had been visiting Paris for some time before we found it and for the life of me I can't figure out why. It's right there across the road from the Louvre but for some reason we had just missed it. Once again it was Sarah Turnbull's book 'Almost French - A New Life in Paris' which led me there for which I'm eternally grateful. (To this day I still keep half an eye out convinced I'm going to bump into her with her little West Highland Terrier, Maddy).
Its history is somewhat 'colourful'. In the 18th century it was notorious as a 'pleasure garden' - with all the ribaldry that the name implies - during the regency of Philippe II, Duke of Orleans (with thanks to the lovely book 'Sandrine's Paris' by Sandrine Voillet for the information). These days it attracts the usual mix of tourists, local office and shop workers, parents and nannies with their children etc. It is a lovely place to while away a sunny afternoon and is a popular meeting place.
Coming from the Louvre side you will first cross the Cour d'Honneur with its art installation of striped columns (this was closed off in November 08 - I don't know why). The main garden is enclosed on all sides with lots of smart boutiques, eclectic shops and restaurants under the arches. Amongst the shops there is one little one packed with pipes (the smoking kind!) of all shapes and sizes, one selling all kinds of gardening related items and one great boutique selling vintage designer 'little black dresses' - I've gazed longingly in its windows many a time.
Going up both sides there are long alleys of clipped trees with benches underneath. You'll often see games of boules going on here. The centre section consists of a number of small enclosed flower filled gardens with benches and a large fountain in the centre. If you want to get a seat here it's as well to arrive before lunchtime as it gets quite busy with people coming to have their lunch break and the competition can be stiff for the iconic green chairs! This can also be a great source of amusement watching the various strategies being applied e.g. trying to stay close to people you think might leave soon and trying to look nonchalant whilst never taking your eyes off them and being ready to pounce as soon as they stir. So far I have resisted (but only just) the devilish temptation to look like I'm getting ready to leave only to settle in for another hour with my book, because that would just be downright mean - wouldn't it? If all this sounds less than relaxing remember that's only a very small part of the day and we have spent many happy hours in peace and tranquility here. My biggest problem is that I find myself only half reading my book because I'm so easily distracted by watching everything going on around me.
A small word of warning - unless it's a very still day, check which way the breeze is blowing before you park your chair next to the fountain!
The famous Grand Vefour restaurant is in the north-west corner. It's way out of our league but looks beautiful inside. Emerging from the north side exit you can cross into Rue Vivienne and visit the lovely Galieries Vivienne and Colbert (which I'll be writing a tip about soon).
We were staying a stone's throw from Palais Royal, near the Louvre as well. Lots of people use the park to spend some leisure time, or have their wedding photos made. Along the galleries are antique shops and I saw some very beautiful fashion. Let me save that for another tip.
The palace was built for Cardinal Richelieu, and it was finished in 1624. He gave it to the French crown in 1642, at his death, and since many royals lived there.
We entered the museum gardens via Place Colette.
It’s almost impossible to believe that this tranquil enclave used to be the bad part of town. Known as the 42nd street of its time, with n’er-do-wells and ladies of the evening galore, it had a Guiliani-esque makeover at some point, and became what it is now; a lovely park with some of the most expensive real estate in town. Colette lived here and Moliere wrote for the comedy troupe that still has its headquarters here. Do NOT miss the shops in the arcade here, although you might want to call your credit card company and see about extending your limit—they are NOT cheap. One of my favorites is Didier Ludot, a store that sells very high-end vintage clothing. I heard Reese Witherspoon say that she bought the her Oscar dress (the year she won) at a vintage clothing store in Paris, and I’d be willing to bet, this was the store.
Psst! Do you like a really wild party? This place really jumped – but you’re about 300 years too late to attend! When Louis XIV died in 1715, the control of France passed temporarily to the Prince Regent, Philippe, Duc d’Orléans who lived here: his name became synonymous with dissolution and debauchery as it seems his parties were full-scale orgies!
It hasn’t always been that way. The palace originally went by the name Palais Cardinal when it was built between 1623 and 1639 for Cardinal Richelieu: the name changed when he bequeathed it to the royal family. Over the years it has seen many changes, including use as a gambling den, and as a social meeting place for the revolutionaries of 1789. In comparison to its past, its current role as the offices for the Constitutional Court, the Council of State, and the Ministry of Culture seems positively mundane!
The office parts of the buildings are not open to the public, but you can visit the enclosed courtyards which are much more exciting than the impression from the street. Here you will find the famous and contentious “striped poles” (better than I expected), pleasant fountains, and absolutely splendid classical gardens, around which is a gallery with some quite upmarket shops. The sheer absurdity of the 16Є “flip flops” just had to be recorded!
Main photo: The “double collonade” courtyard
Second photo: the “striped poles” courtyard
Third photo: the formal gardens
Fourth photo: the rather forbidding gates to the “Council of State”
Fifth photo: expensive exclusive designer thongs!! (ok, flip-flops to you).
If you take the Metro to the Palais Royal stop, you will exit via one of Hector Guimard's fancyfull ironworks into the Place du Palais Royal which during the day is teeming with locals and tourists. (There is a busy bus stop here as well.) Across the Rue Rivoli is the Louvre and behind you is the Palais Royal. It has lateral wings and its Cour d'Horloge is separated from you by a fine gate. The sculptural work was done by Pajou in the 18C some time after the palace was built.
The main facade of the Palais faces the Louvre and is usually ignored in the traffic. You cannot enter the building (it is used by the Conseil d'Etat). It was built for Richelieu (1630) and the garden behind it was enclosed in 1781-4 by residential unis above an arcade and is so used today. (Colette retired to one). Today the Gardens are the quietest spot in Paris even with the skateboarders in the columned Galerie d'Orleans. The Couer d'Honneur, nearest the palace, is cluttered with a work by Buren (see our separate Tip). There are also older scuptures, a fountain and rows of carefully tended trees. This is a place to see and remember.
When we entered the Courtyard of the Palais Royal for the first time, I had not read ahead. We entered through a covered passage from the r. de Valois, into the Coeur d'Honneur. We were confronted by a large number of gray vertically striped columns of varying heights in regular rows. We were perplexed. What were they building and did they run out of funds? Only later did we realise that this was a "sculpture" by Buren, when we encountered another in the Galerie d'Orleans among the skateboarders. It too was unlabelled but since it had water spurting up, we realized it was a fountain and also a work of art. These like the other sterile works we saw in the "Plein Air Museum" venue all lack vigor and tactile value typical of the French Abstractionists. This is why New York has displaced Paris as the center of art inovation even though the French support their artists with commissions and tax breaks. On the other hand the Past still rears its beautiful head. Even the plaque at the entry through the Galerie des Proues (part of the original building)is majestic.
The Arcades of the Palais Royal Gardens are occupied by quaint or expensive shops and the windows beckon. The people who occupy the sitting space have an air of proprietary occupancy, but I doubt it. It looks like you could bring your lunch along. (This was a Monday at noon).
If one stands at the South end of the Palais Royal facing the Louvre across the Rue de Rivoli, and then heads right, the area opens out into the Place Andre-Malraux with a fountain at the center and the Av. de l'Opera angling North. The SW edge of the Palais Royal complex is the Theatre (Comedie) Francais, a free-standing addition to the complex built 150 years after the Palais Royal and stands in the Place.