Paris’s relaxed 20th arrondissement might be a little under the radar for the casual visitor, but there is no shortage of things to do, with Asian markets, art-filled streets and trendy, low-key bars dotted around this pretty neighbourhood.
Incorporating both the youthful Belleville and edgy Ménilmontant neighbourhoods, Paris’s 20th arrondissement is a diverse, laid-back area on the eastern edge of the city. Whether you’re wondering about the best things to do in Belleville or where to hang out in Ménilmontant, Paris-based writer Alixandra Haywood guides you through what to do and where to eat, sleep, drink and go out in the city’s 20th arrondissement.
Pay your respects to Oscar Wilde at Père Lachaise Cemetery
While the 20th arrondissement is less visited than many of Paris’s more central neighbourhoods, one local spot has been drawing visitors for centuries. Originally on the outskirts of the city, the Père Lachaise cemetery became – somewhat accidentally – Paris’s largest park as the city has expanded over time. The precise number of people buried here is unknown, but among the estimated hundreds of thousands of ‘residents’ are some of the world’s most beloved historical figures. Pay homage to artistic greats like Molière, Oscar Wilde or Jim Morrison as you take a stroll through what may be the most peaceful spot in Paris. Make sure to build in time to stop and marvel at the haunting beauty of the many stunning sculptures and monuments nestled into the greenery.
Tiny rue Denoyez, which runs along just a single city block, punches well above its weight when it comes to its creative offering. Between the strikingly vibrant colours adorning its surfaces and the unobstructed view of the sky above, rue Denoyez is an artist’s oasis. Nearly every square inch of its walls, doors and balconies are completely covered in graffiti. It has also turned into a community hub over the years, with graffeurs (graffiti artists) from across the city, and further afield, making a pilgrimage here to add their own personal contribution to its massive 10-metre-high (30-foot-high) concrete canvasses. The steady influx of artists means that the street is constantly changing, making it worth a detour any time you’re in the neighbourhood.
Tucked away on rue de Bagnolet but not far from place de la Bastille, Mama Shelter is one of the coolest places to stay in Paris. With its avant-garde decor and laid-back atmosphere, the boutique hotel caters to a young, hip crowd looking for a unique place to unpack and unwind without a high price tag. Even if you’re not looking for somewhere to stay, Mama Shelter is still well worth a visit for the impressive views from its cosy rooftop terrace and its trendy bar, which often hosts live music on weekends.
Paris’s first workers’ co-op, La Bellevilloise, was founded in 1877 and over a century later it’s still a central part of the local community. After a few decades out of the spotlight as a private commercial office, the building reopened its doors to the public in 2005 as a cultural hub and now hosts a variety of events including concerts, exhibitions and festivals. The unique space also doubles as a restaurant and bar and is particularly beloved for its Sunday Jazz brunch.
One of the cheapest bars in Paris, Aux Folies’ large terrace is almost always overflowing with hip locals who flock to the former cabaret bar turned classic Parisian watering hole to catch up with friends over a drink throughout the day and into the night. Sitting on the terrace, it is hard not to be inspired by the constant and diverse stream of foot traffic passing by on the busy rue de Belleville. The place really comes alive at night, though, as groups of bobos (bourgeois-bohemian Parisians) spill out onto the sidewalk, drink in hand, hoping to nab a rare free table.
The Librairie Galerie Le Monte-en-l’air is a tiny spot in the 20th that can take you far beyond the arrondissement’s borders. One of Paris’s most diverse bookshops, here you’ll find an eclectic collection of literature, graphic novels, poetry, fanzines and art from across the globe. Peruse the shelves yourself or ask the friendly and knowledgeable staff for a suggestion, then pick up a coffee and settle in to read on the sunny terrace. Or, for something more lively, pop by during one of the bookshop-cum-gallery’s frequent exhibitions, readings or debates.
Perched at the top of the hill of Belleville, Parc de Belleville offers wonderful views of the sprawling central Paris below. With its impressive fountain, ample green space and prize-winning annual flower display, Parc de Belleville is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. Settle in on the grass with a good book or a bottle of French wine, sneak in a workout by running over its many hills, or get in the competitive spirit with a rousing match of ping-pong. While you’re there, don’t forget to take a peek at the small vineyard at the park’s summit, a quirky reminder of Belleville’s medieval past, when the hilltop was covered in vines and surrounded by taverns.
With its abundance of artists, musicians and actors, the 20th arrondissement is a veritable hotbed of creative endeavour. Whatever style of performance you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it at Culture Rapide, which hosts events every night of the week that range from stand-up comedy sets to poetry slams. The cheap drinks and convivial atmosphere combine to make it one of the most welcoming bars in Paris. If you’re feeling brave, why not join one of their regular Thursday open-mic nights?
Emerging from Belleville’s metro station into the heart of one of Paris’ two bustling Chinatown neighbourhoods (the other is in the 13th arrondissement), you may wonder whether you’ve suddenly been transported to a different continent. Stretching to the east from the metro station, the rue de Belleville is lined with many Asian stores, which are ideal places to push the boundaries of your culinary tastes. Get inspired by the overflowing baskets of fresh produce on the sidewalks and the roasted ducks hanging enticingly in the shop windows. What’s more, your euros will stretch far here, so load up on fresh produce and Asian products that won’t break the bank.