Paris’s ritzy Seventh Arrondissement is best known as home to the Eiffel Tower. A savvy tourist might also venture to the Rue de Babylone for a visit to visit the high-end department store Le Bon Marche, a one-stop shop for luxury anything, from Dior dresses to Jimmy Choo sandals, caviar to baguettes.
For a real treat, however, consider skipping the main attractions and instead follow our guide to a relaxing Paris stroll through some of the neighborhood’s quieter nooks. Some of the city’s best-kept secrets can be found just down the rue.
Start out early in the morning with the perfect croissant. No need to head to star-studded patisseries that line nearby Rue du Bac: some of the best breakfast pastries in the city are in the most unassuming boulangeries. The blue façade of number 44 is home to a great start to your day: a croissant that’s buttery, flaky, yet moist as can be. Grab one or two to go, and make your way to Coutume at number 47 by crossing the street (simple as that!) for coffee.
Coutume is known citywide for roasting award-winning coffee – simply looking at how many cafes serve their roast leaves no room for doubt. When Coutume first opened, coffee beans were roasted in the back of the space, while patrons sipped on fantastically executed cappuccinos. Today, roasting takes place elsewhere in the city, leaving more space to sit down and sip a cup while reading, working, or simply enjoying the bilingual conversations taking place throughout the shop.
Today, however, skip the tableside menu and opt for a drink to go. Here’s why: at number 29, behind a vast stone wall, lies one of the quietest places in town. Catherine-Laboure Garden, used until the late seventies by the Daughters of Charity convent as a vegetable garden, is the ultimate respite from loud streets and grumpy city dwellers.
In a pleasant change from the manicured spaces elsewhere in the city, no grass is off-limits, meaning you can enjoy your breakfast picnic right on the green expanse of the garden. Apple trees and linden trees dot the park, and a walkway to the side of the garden brings shade thanks to vine-covered arcades.
Neighborhood children get their own community vegetable garden, and a safe place to play, far from the roads. Listen to the bell tower ring in the hour as you pretend you’re in a small countryside village – or simply enjoying some of the best Paris has to offer.
As the day advances, it might just be time for a cultural break. Head a few steps west towards a favorite of locals and tourists alike: the Rodin Museum (79 rue de Varenne, closed Mondays). What’s so secret about that, you might ask? Surely not The Thinker, one of the world’s most famous sculptures.
The hidden gem here lies a bit deeper inside the museum, in its famed gardens. The sculpture garden itself is worth the visit, with the Garden of Orpheus on one side, facing the Garden of Springs on the other. The catch here is the museum’s café, nestled in the leafy garden, serving snacks all day long and light lunch fare around noontime.
The best days in Paris are those spent wandering around, enjoying the delicate way in which the city integrates nature through its gardens. If you’re not all gardened-out by the afternoon, make one last stop before heading to happy hour. As you walk back along rue de Babylone, you just might get lucky and stumble upon one of the rare days the Gardens of Matignon (number 36) is open to the public – look up ‘Rendez-Vous au Jardin Paris’ for updated information each year.
Matignon is the residence of the Prime Minister and has been for decades: fourteen Prime Ministers have had their own tree planted throughout the garden. The flowers and trees are nice enough, as is the sprawling view of the official building.
The secret here lies in two small boxes at the entrance of the garden, hidden behind the trees: the Gardens of Matignon, like many official spots in Paris, house several beehives and gather their own honey. On days when the garden is open to all, sweet samples are distributed, allowing visitors to get a taste of this very Parisian nectar.
By now, you’re ready for a drink. One of our favorite hidden spots in town isn’t technically on rue de Babylone, but it is within walking distance. The bar at simply named hotel L’Hôtel (13 rue des Beaux-Arts) has one of the cutest – and smallest – courtyards. Locals in the know stop by for a drink before or after dinner, enjoying the balmy late summer air by candlelight.
Next stop: rest, and repeat tomorrow. Now that sounds like a plan.