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Secret Paris: what to see in Belleville

by Paola Bertoni
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Belleville is a lively multicultural district of Paris, still quite tourist-free, where you can have an authentic Parisian experience. After visiting the most famous attractions, I recommend getting off the beaten track to discover the beauty of this neighbourhood and admire the French capital from the scenic Parc de Belleville.

Why visit Belleville in Paris

Belleville is a neighbourhood little frequented by tourists that allows you to have an authentic Parisian experience, between walks in search of secret gardens and breakfasts sitting at tables with terrasse in the squares overlooking the quiet back streets.

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The Belleville neighbourhood is famous for its multicultural history and lively nightlife, with clubs open until late offering live music performances. In this neighbourhood, I attended the ‘Bal de Pompiers’, the party organised in all barracks on 14 July on the national holiday.

But there is more to the neighbourhood than just parties because the beautiful Parc de Belleville is a quiet green area with one of the most beautiful views of Paris. Thanks to the neighbourhood’s immigrant past, you can also enjoy excellent cuisine from all over the world in the restaurants overlooking the main street.

This liveliness has inspired many artists, such as the painter and writer Édouard Vuillard, the singer-songwriter and actor Léo Ferré and the famous Parisian singer Édith Piaf. The novels of the Malaussène cycle are set between Belleville and Ménilmontant, in the places where the author Daniel Pennac himself lived. Following the adventures of protagonist Benjamin Malaussène and his unlikely family, you too can fall in love with every street in the neighbourhood.

The Belleville neighbourhood in Paris
A quiet residential street in the Belleville neighbourhood in Paris

What to see in Belleville off the beaten track

The Belleville neighbourhood in Paris is most famous for its open-air market and lively nightlife. Still, it is also gaining popularity for the street art decorating the walls. Around Rue de Belleville, you can discover handicraft shops and restaurants serving international cuisine. While climbing up the Parc de Belleville, you can sweep the view over the whole city, all the way to the Eiffel Tower.

Belleville Park

On the hill overlooking the district is the Parc de Belleville, a large urban park where you can enjoy outdoor activities and admire one of the most beautiful views of Paris, with an open panorama of the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral and other iconic buildings of the French capital.

The park has equipped areas for outdoor sports, a children’s playground and a botanical garden with various plants and flowers. Cultural events such as concerts, theatre performances and exhibitions are held periodically in the park.

On sunny days, residents of Paris flock to this park to spend time with their loved ones or friends. They usually bring their food or drop by one of the cafes. Like other European countries, outdoor activities and picnics are pretty popular in France. French also uses the specific verb ‘pique-niquer’ to describe this activity.

Park of Belleville and Menilmontant, overlooking the centre of Paris
Park of Belleville and Menilmontant, overlooking the centre of Paris

Rue de Belleville and the outdoor market

Rue de Belleville is one of the main streets in the district of the same name in Paris, and you will undoubtedly cross it several times during your visit. Along the street, on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, there is an authentic local market for the people of the neighbourhood where you can enjoy local fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and cheese.

Visiting the Marché Belleville is a unique experience to discover the tastes and smells of French cuisine and other cultures in the neighbourhood. The market is best known among Parisians for its wide selection of fresh produce. Still, it also has a street food area where you can enjoy specialities from around the world.

During the day, you can browse the street among the many craft shops displaying unique items, including textiles, jewellery and ceramics. Eateries lining the street, famous for their wide selection of Chinese, African, and Middle Eastern restaurants, tell you the neighbourhood’s history and inhabitants’ backgrounds.

Grand Mosque of Paris

The Grand Mosque of Paris is one of the French capital’s leading Islamic places of worship. You can visit it in Belleville every day except Friday afternoon during prayer to discover the culture and history of Islam and admire its architectural and decorative elements.

The Grand Mosque of Paris has several rooms. The Main Prayer Room, decorated with mosaics and stuccoes, is the main place of worship, while the Ceremonial Rooms host religious events such as weddings and funerals. Inside the complex is an inner courtyard where one can pray or relax, the Spice Garden with plants and flowers typical of Arab countries, and the small Museum of Islam displaying artefacts from various Islamic eras and cultures.

Street Art

Belleville is the ideal place for street art lovers because murals have become a feature of the neighbourhood, thanks to the presence of many artists who have moved to the area since the 1980s. Some works are signed by famous local and international artists such as Invader, Ender, Mosko, Jérôme Mesnager or Anis.

Most of the artworks are in the streets and inner courtyards, so you must venture out on a walking tour of the neighbourhood to discover them. One of Belleville’s most famous streets for street art is Rue Dénoyez, which has many murals and graffiti all along the street. In La Cour de la Halle, you can see works by local artists.

Another street in Belleville with many murals and graffiti is Rue de la Mare. At the same time, they change quite often in the central Place des Fêtes, a square in the heart of the district. The most famous mural is Le Mur des je t’aime, the wall of love located in Place des Abbesses, consisting of 311 love phrases written in 250 different languages.

Belleville: from country hamlet to trendy multi-ethnic district

Until 1860, when it was annexed to Paris, Belleville was a country suburb surrounded by rows of vines. Transformed into a working-class neighbourhood, over the following decades, it was the place of immigration first of Armenians and Poles, followed by Jews, Algerians, Tunisians, Vietnamese and Chinese. Thanks to this diverse cultural scene, the district developed with restaurants serving international cuisine, craft shops, and places of worship for different faiths.

Recently, artists and writers have found inspiration for their works in its multicultural environment and lively nightlife. Today, the district is experiencing a renaissance as a trendy area, with a new generation of residents choosing Belleville for its unique atmosphere, as you can see when travelling in Paris.

Café with outdoor seating in Belleville, Paris
Café with outdoor seating in Belleville, Paris

Where to stay in Paris

Sleeping in Paris can be expensive, prompting you to consider staying outside the city centre. In such a case, before selecting a hotel, I suggest you read my article on the best and worst neighbourhoods to stay in Paris.

I’ve visited Paris on several occasions for leisure and work, and I recommend a few places I’m familiar with. If you’re looking for a unique stay, Hôtel de Joséphine Bonaparte, built inside a 17th-century convent and located in the Marais district, is an excellent choice.

To save money, opt for the more affordable Hotel Bloum, situated close to the Opera and decorated with customised furnishings. Alternatively, the Aparthotel Adagio Paris Montmartre offers contemporary, self-catering apartments, perfect for families looking for more space in their rooms.

Write in the comments if you already know the secret Paris of Belleville or if you decided to visit this fascinating neighbourhood after reading my article.

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