The Best Things to Do in Bastille, Paris

The Place de la Bastille is the site of the former Revolutionary prison and now anchors the lively neighbourhood around it
The Place de la Bastille is the site of the former Revolutionary prison and now anchors the lively neighbourhood around it | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Formerly a French Revolution state prison, this district in Paris delights with its diverse sights – from the Marché d’Aligre to the Opéra Bastille.

Bastille is destined to be remembered for its integral role in the French Revolution. But the area that straddles the City of Light’s 4th, 11th, and 12th arrondissements isn’t simply a magnet for those in search of history. The zoo is as popular with the kids as the food market is with the grown-ups, while discount tickets to the opera make it accessible for all. There’s also a thriving nightlife, thanks to dozens of lively bars and eateries. Here’s our pick of the best ways to spend your time in Bastille.

See the smoky history of Paris at Le Musée du Fumeur

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Iconic scenes featuring the likes of Alain Delon and Serge Gainsbourg puffing away on a pack of Gauloises made smoking a common trait of French culture. While this once seductive charm has largely disappeared from the big screen, this private museum on Rue Pache, off Rue de la Roquette, remains staunchly proud of the habit. You’ll find the history of Paris told through tobacco, as well as a look at the origins of smoking in America, India and China. With gifts including grinders, humidors and pipes, the museum store is a smoker’s paradise.

Watch a show at Opéra Bastille

Opera House
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Bastille Neighbourhood-Paris-France-Moyer
© Rachel Moyer / Culture Trip
Opened on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1989, the Opéra Bastille has gone on to become the primary home of the Paris National Opera. While its modern design isn’t quite as prestigious as the 19th-century Palais Garnier, it does welcome more guests with over 2,700 seats. This capacity can lead to some very reasonable ticket pricing for last-minute seats.

Grab a drink at Le Motel

Bar, Snacks
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Serving up affordable drinks, great DJ and music sets and a warm, buzzy atmosphere, Le Motel is popular amongst hipsters. Expect mostly indie pop-electro-rock at this small, dimly lit bar, which is also home to an event agency and publishing house. Happy hour lasts until 9pm, plus cheese and charcuterie boards are also half price ’til then. Sundays alternate between karaoke and a very popular music quiz night.

Pick up a souvenir or two at Merci

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Merci is a favourite of Paris’s fashionistas
Courtesy of Merci

Bastille has plenty of eccentric boutique shops to browse. Merci, a concept store created by Bonpoint founders Bernard and Marie-France Cohen, donates profits to a foundation supporting women and children in Madagascar. Within the 1,500sqm (16,000sqft) space, you can find furniture, accessories and clothing from designers like Isabel Marant and Stella McCartney.

Stroll around the Place de la Bastille

Historical Landmark
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Place de la Bastille
© ilyas Ayub / Alamy Stock Photo
A day in Bastille wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the historic Place de la Bastille, where the Bastille Prison once stood until it was destroyed in 1789. The Génie de la Liberté on top of the July Column in the centre of the square also marks the 1830 Revolution. Grab a glass of rosé at the Café Français and watch the world drift past. If you are in the area on a Sunday, pick up fresh produce from the farmer’s market.

Catch a movie at the Cinémathèque Française

Building, Cinema, Library, Museum
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© Hundven-Clements-VIEW / Alamy Stock Photo

A cinephile’s dream lies inside the Frank Gehry-designed Cinémathèque Française, with a permanent collection of some of the most iconic props and costumes ever seen on screen. This includes costumes worn by Elizabeth Taylor and Vivien Leigh, alongside props like the head of Mrs. Bates from Psycho. The cinema also hosts retrospectives and showings of cult classics.

Find the best local produce at the Marché d’Aligre

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© Paul Quayle / Alamy Stock Photo
The Parisian passion for food is infectious. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Marché d’Aligre. Open every day except Monday, you’ll find the market in the 12th arrondissement. Arrive with an appetite, as you’ll soon discover a mouthwatering selection of French meats, cheeses and fresh bread in the 18th-century covered food hall, while the outdoor flea market makes for splendid souvenir spotting.

Get the perfect Instagram picture at Rue Crémieux

Architectural Landmark
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There’s no lack of charming, cobblestoned streets in Paris, but Rue Crémieux might stand out among the lot. The iconic street can be seen in many Instagram shots due to the brightly coloured façades of the buildings and the trompe l’oeil paintings sprinkled across the street. While it’s a beautiful photo location, keep in mind it is a residential area, so be discreet!

This is an updated version of a story created by Madeleine Bazil. Alexis James contributed additional reporting.

These recommendations were updated on July 7, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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