Belleville: An Alternative Side to Paris

We didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t eat in a bistro. We didn’t step foot inside an art gallery.

Instead we stayed in a bohemian sunlit studio apartment in Belleville. We ate indulgent breakfasts of flaky pain au chocolat and moist pain au raisin. We bought warm baguettes from a boulangerie and munched on the ends as we walked back home. We sunbathed alongside locals after leisurely picnics in the neighbourhood’s parks. We drank tiny cups of strong coffee standing at the counters of cafes. We pretended we spoke French as we bought a block of comté from the fromagerie down the road. We fought our way through the crowds in Belleville’s market past mounds of peaches and plantains, olives and spices. We wandered down graffiti covered alleyways and through hidden courtyards. We marvelled that Parisians weren’t rude at all, as we’d heard.

We had a taste of what it was like to live in Paris yet we were only there for three nights. We’d visited Paris before, 13 years ago, and had seen the classic sights then, and on this trip, in August, we couldn’t face the crowds of the tourist attractions and we wanted to experience a different side to the city.

We ended up in Belleville by chance. It was the cheapest apartment we could find on Airbnb, far cheaper than a hotel, and it provided a comfortable place to work and allowed us to make our own food. Staying in Belleville turned out to be a blessing, not an inconvenience. We did make the 45 minute walk into the centre one evening to walk along the Seine and over to Notre Dame, and eat falafel sandwiches in the Marais, but we were happy to leave the crowds behind and return to our neighbourhood.

Belleville, Paris

Belleville, Paris. Spot the Eiffel Tower.

Discovering a hidden corner of Belleville, full of surprises

Discovering a hidden corner of Belleville, full of surprises

Belleville is a working-class neighbourhood of immigrants and artists on a series of hills in the north-east of the city. You’ll find Chinese shops, Vietnamese restaurants, French fromagerie, Algerian bakeries, and Jewish-Tunisian couscous restaurants. It’s grittier than the centre of Paris, the architecture isn’t as grand, and graffiti covers the streets, not all of it good.

You don’t forget you are in Paris though. As you walk down Rue de Belleville people of all cultures clutch their baguettes and you get glimpses of the Eiffel Tower down below. For the best views of the city skyline head to the flower filled Parc de Belleville. Parc des Buttes Chaumont is another good spot for a picnic.

Parc de Belleville

Parc de Belleville

Parc de Belleville

Parc de Belleville

Artwork at Parc de Belleville

Artwork at Parc de Belleville

To get to know the neighbourhood better we took a self-guided Soundwalk audio tour ($1 to download as an mp3). The premise was that we were helping the guide Florence find her missing musician boyfriend Spleen by visiting their old haunts. Involving music and spoken word it was more of an immersive story telling experience than a tour and we just happened to explore the neighbourhood along the way.

The first cafe on of Soundwalk Belleville tour

The first cafe on our Soundwalk Belleville tour

We stopped in cafes, passed mosques, bakeries, Arabic bookshops, the morning market, graffiti lined streets, and leafy squares. She even gave us access codes to apartment buildings so we could (pushing our comfort zone) gain access to explore their hidden courtyards. The tour is from 2009 so not everything was up to date (one access code didn’t work and a few businesses were closed) but it was a unique way to delve deeper into the area.

Belleville

One of the hidden streets within an apartment building that we got access to on the tour

Café aux Folies, the iconic Belleville cafe

Café aux Folies, the iconic Belleville cafe where Edith Piaf once performed.

Graffiti lined Rue Denoyez

Graffiti lined Rue Denoyez, one of the few streets in Paris where street art is legal. It’s usually full of art galleries and cafes but in August they were closed.

Rue Denoyez

Even the flower pots and bins are decorated on Rue Denoyez

The lively Belleville market

The lively Belleville market

Even the delivery trucks in Paris are covered in graffiti

Even the delivery trucks in Paris are covered in graffiti

Exploring Belleville was the kind of travel we love. We’ve written before about the benefits of slow travel, about freeing yourself from the pressure to see everything and just experiencing a place. You don’t need months to practice these slow travel ideas, for us it was the perfect way to spend our few days in Paris. Not that we don’t want to return for longer of course…

Belleville Info

Airbnb Belleville apartment

Our Airbnb Belleville apartment

We weren’t in Belleville long enough to claim to know it well but here are a few tips.

  • We rented our apartment on Airbnb for £40 a night (including Airbnb fees). The apartment is no longer available but there are plenty more. Sign up for Airbnb using this link and get $25 credit.
  • There are plenty of excellent boulangeries down Rue de Belleville but one of the best and with a wider selection is Boulangerie 140 at 140 Rue de Belleville. It is more expensive than usual at €1.40 for a baguette, but still a bargain for such tastiness. The pastries are also delicious here.
  • We bought our pungent chunk of comtè at Fromagerie Beaufils at 118 Rue de Belleville.
  • The market is held every Tuesday and Friday morning along the Boulevard de Belleville.
  • You can reach Belleville by bus 26 in about 20 minutes from the train stations Gare du Nord and Est. It’s €2 on the bus (you need change) or €1.70 if you buy a metro/bus ticket in advance.
  • There are also a couple of metro stops in Belleville. From Belleville station it’s only five stops from Hôtel de Ville in the centre.

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31 thoughts on Belleville: An Alternative Side to Paris

  1. Achei excelente o bairro, estou a uma semana num apartamento na rua lesade e adorei o bairro, não vi nada de violento, pelo contrario, comerciantes muito gentis de quase todos os estabelecimentos, e pessoas educadas na rua, só tinha muito coco de cachorro nas ruas.

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  5. Loved his description of Belleville. I’m for the first time for a period of 20 days, I’m using Airbnb, you can show me the apartment you rented? Thank you

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  7. I’m staying at a hostel in Belleville next week for 4 days, and concerned whether I made the right neighbourhood choice…this post convinced me that I did!

  8. My husband, daughters and I stayed in a Belleville apartment in July and enjoyed the area. It was close enough to walk to the Republique and the canal. My husband and I are visiting again in Nov/ Dec and will be staying in the same apartment for part if the time. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the area and the parks. Thanks for the post.

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  11. “We didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t eat in a bistro. We didn’t step foot inside an art gallery”.

    Now thats just plain wrong :-))

    Wonderful post and comments – thanks

  12. I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve been to Paris (maybe 5?), but I’ve never heard of Bellville. I must have been doing something wrong, because it sounds like exactly my kind of place. The Soundwalk tour also sounds really cool, what with gaining illicit access to apartment building courtyards: count me in! I’ll definitely be checking out their other ones!

    • We only discovered it by accident (being cheap!) but are now very excited that it’s possible to find affordable accommodation in Paris in a cool neighbourhood. We definitely want to return for longer. I’m sure you guys would enjoy it too.

  13. Great post! I love how you note that the French aren’t rude like everyone makes out. I lived there for a year and are still very close with my French host family – they are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

    It’s annoying how a lot of the shops close in August though, isn’t it? Everyone just disappears out of Paris on holiday!

    Your Air B and B accommodation looks lovely. We use Air B and B all the time now because most times it’s even cheaper than a hostel.

    • We were quite worried as our French was limited to a few words and phrases but everyone was really lovely and patient with us. It probably helped that we tried and weren’t in the tourist areas.

      It was quiet in August but as long as we could buy baguettes and cheese we were happy 🙂

  14. I’d love the chance to explore more of the Belleville neighborhood. We walked through parts earlier this year and made it to Parc des Buttes Chaumont (beautiful and serene), but we missed so much (I’d love to visit Café aux Folies). All the more reason to go back 😉 Thanks for the tip on apartment rentals.

    • It’s definitely a good and affordable base and we loved having a couple of nice parks so close by. It helped we had wonderful sunny weather! Hope you make it back soon 🙂

  15. Café aux Folies! I’ll have to bookmark this post when we get to Paris in December so we can go there, hopefully it will be open then! Love all these photos.

      • Just came across your website and the page on Bellville “The alternative side to Paris”. Lots of interesting stuff here ,only thing though you show a photo of the inside of a café with the caption “The First café on our Bellville Soundwalk Tour” being a bit of a techno-phobe I don’t really know what that is but would like to know the name of the café for future reference as Bellville seems an interesting place to explore.

  16. Well, I’m from Paris, Belleville may seem nice at first glance but may be dangerous as well…What I’ll recommend are the neighbourhoods of Villiers and Batignolles (XVIIe) purely Parisian and cheaper than the city centre. The places to go are Parc Monceau, Parc de Batignolles…and many little bars and restaurants, there’s always sth happening in there.
    And this is where I live, may be more expensive but beautiful and untouristy even if the Eiffel Tour is within sight.
    http://foodforthoughtdiaries.blogspot.fr/2013/01/paris-passy.html

    • Hi Justyna, I live in the heart of Belleville with my partner and a small child and I really don’t understand how could you consider our lovely neighbourhood dangerous… never assisted to anything really impleasent, and neither my friends. Why do you believe so?
      Really nice Batignolles too btw… a bit boring though; don’t you think.
      Cheers,
      Marco

  17. Thanks for posting this! I will be in Paris in two weeks, and have been a few times before. I am looking for less “touristy” things to do also! I will definitely check out this neighborhood!

  18. Belleville has a great history of working-class life. Have you seen the animated film “Les Triplettes de Belleville”? There’s much more to Paris than the usual Champs Élysées, Marais or Quartier Latin – it’s a gigantic city, and not all of it fits into postcard ideas of romance and baguettes (although there’s always plenty of both everywhere). Thank you for highlighting a less-renowned neighborhood of the city of lights, and glad to know you’ve enjoyed it!

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