Smack in the center of Paris, it’s hard to avoid the Châtelet-Les Halles area, but many people try. In guidebooks and among Parisians it’s become known and hated for its ugly shopping mall, its sex shops, and the presence of bands of intimidating youths hanging out in the maze of tunnels in the Châtelet-Les Halles Metro/RER station. But with a bit of common sense in the day and some street smarts at night, visitors and long-term residents alike will find an impressive selection of dining, shopping and nightlife options to suit all tastes at this Parisian crossroads.
The best thing about shopping in this neighborhood is that many shops are open on Sundays when the rest of Paris is closed. Ignore the Forum des Halles shopping mall and check out the smaller boutiques on the surrounding streets. For top trends in clothing and accessories try Agnès b. (multiple shops on Rue du Jour), Scooter (10 rue de Turbigo), Et Vous Outlet (17 Rue de Turbigo), any shop along Rue Etienne-Marcel (Diesel, Kabuki, Barbara Bui, etc.) or vintage clothing at Iglaïne (Rue de la Grande-Traunderie). Shop for French copper pots and kitchen supplies at Mora (13 Rue Montmartre) or E. Dehillerin (18 & 20 Rue Coquillière). If you must enter the Forum des Halles, don’t miss the Espace Créateurs (Porte Berger, Level -1), a series of shops featuring the hand-sewn clothing of Paris’s up-and-coming young designers. Children will find a Merry-Go-Round and playground in the gardens between the Forum and the stunning (and highly underrated) Eglise Saint-Eustache. Security note: Women shouldn’t walk through this park alone after dark, as well as the Châtelet-Les Halles metro tunnels, and everyone should watch out for pickpockets and mobile phone snatchers at all times.
Châtelet-Les Halles is the place to go for hunger pangs at any hour and on any budget. Find classic Parisian fare on the terrace at Le Père Fouettard (9 Rue Pierre Lescot, 01 42 33 74 17), a cozy and bustling bistro with friendly service, hearty fixed-price menus under €15 for lunch, and a great selection of wines by the glass for €2-4. Hang out with the chic locals at the jazzy Carpé Diem Café (21 Rue des Halles, 01 42 21 02 01), for creative French lunch and dinner specials or cocktails with live DJs on the weekends. Ignore the ubiquitous fast-food chains and grab a Nutella or ham & cheese crêpe for under €6 at the crêpe stands along Rue Saint-Denis (which are made fresh, unlike the panini sandwiches in the display cases), or for a healthy budget option try the Scandinavian eat-in or take-out deli Nils (36 rue Montorgueil), for Nordic sandwiches, salads and beer. Homesick Americans should try the Sunday brunch at Joe Allen (30 Rue Pierre Lescot, 01 42 36 70 13), a refined New York restaurant with French touches in the kitchen, while The Frog & Rosbif (116 Rue Saint Denis, 01 43 36 34 73) does a full English breakfast on Sundays with live jazz in a casual kid-friendly atmosphere.
The Ladies of the Night and flashing-neon sex shops aren’t the only attractions in this neighborhood after dark (although there’s not much else towards Metro Réamur-Sabastopol). The Irish bars around Châtelet-Les Halles attract English-speaking expats, tourists, and the locals who’d like to meet them, including the Frog & Rosbif, the Cruiscin Lan (18 Rue des Halles), McBride’s (54 Rue St-Denis), and Quigley’s Point (5 Rue du Jour), while the Australian Café Oz (18 Rue St-Denis) has live DJs and dancing after dark. Jazz aficionados should head to Rue des Lombards for Le Baisé Sale (#58), Duc des Lombards (#42) and the Le Sunside/Sunset (#60), or try the more intimate Petit Opportun (15 Rue des Lavandières-St-Opportune). Discover Gay Paree at the Tropic Café (66 Rue des Lobards) or the more colorful Banana Café (13 Rue de la Ferronerie), both open until 5am.
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged.