Back in 1873, Émile Zola published his third novel, Le Ventre de Paris. Set in the bustling central marketplace of Les Halles, the book was Zola’s first to focus completely on the working class of Paris. The title of the book translates into “the belly of Paris” – a name that became synonymous with the district in the northeast of the 1st arrondissement.
Today, Les Halles is even more of a bustling hub than it was back in Zola’s time. The Forum des Halles, which is currently being renovated, draws shoppers from around the city and even outside it (with three RER commuter lines running through the Châtelet-Les Halles métro). But this popular district holds many more treasures, including superb historical monuments such as the Église Saint-Eustache, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture built between 1532 and 1633, and the Tour Saint- Jacques and its square. This medieval bell tower was one of the many starting points for pilgrims walking St James’ Way to Compostela. And, skirted by a large square on the edge of Les Halles, the Fontaine des Innocents is a pleasant spot for a drink or a meal.
Bars and restaurants abound in this district, carrying on its food-focused tradition, and a bustling food market takes place every Thursday and Sunday on Rue Montmartre. You’ll find food shops of all kind along rue Montorgueil offering the freshest produce, meats and gourmet treats. Restaurants like La Poule au Pot (open until 5am) and Pied de Cochon, which serves traditional French cooking 24 hours a day, are a throwback to the area’s colorful past, when wholesale traders had to be fed at any time of day or night. Another typically Parisian palate-pleasing pastime can also be enjoyed here: tasting fine wines at Ô Chateau wine bar, whether at the bar or in one of the many wine tasting workshops offered here.
Les Halles follows close on the heels of Saint-Germain-des-Prés as a jazz lovers’ district. The area boasts several established jazz clubs including the internationally renowned Duc des Lombards and the Sunset-Sunside, known for its cutting-edge programming. Opera and dance fans will enjoy the eclectic and often big-name productions at the Théâtre du Châtelet, where operas, ballets and concerts are staged all year round in a sumptuous Italian Renaissance-style building.
Of course, just wandering the streets is another way to discover all the treasures this colorful district holds. What are your favorite finds in Les Halles?
This article contains information provided by the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau.