Situated in the east of Paris, the 11th arrondissement occupies part of what was once the Faubourg Saint Antoine. Under the shadow of the formidable Bastille prison, the district flourished during the reign of Louis XIV when the Sun King made it a tax-free zone for furniture-makers and other craftsmen, feeding Versailles’ hunger for refined furnishings. It was not surprising that this working class district became a revolutionary hotbed, especially during the 1832 Rebellion, vividly described in Victor Hugo’s legendary book Les Miserables. Today the area retains its working class roots, and its revolutionary spirit is now manifested in the form of inventive restaurants, hip cafés and creative shops. Albeit not the most classically “romantic” district of the city, it still has plenty of hidden charms, which you can discover in our mini-guide below.
Most Romantic Street/s
One of the loveliest things to do in the 11th is wander its passageways, especially those off of rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine. As the street acts as the border with the 12th district, there are passageways in both districts, however, since they are so near each other, it makes sense to include those in both districts in the same stroll. Some of them, particularly close to Place de la Bastille still house furniture makers, like Passage de Chantier (on the 12th side) and the La Cour des Shadoks (on the 11th). Further along you can find a charming ambiance in the Passage Saint-Bernard, the Passage de la Main d’Or and the not-to-be-missed Passage l’Homme, found off of rue de Charonne. More are scattered around the district… and keep reading to discover the most beautiful one!
Most Romantic Place to Stroll
While there may not be a large park or water’s edge to stroll along in the 11ème, there is nevertheless a hybrid of both, at least in spirit. You may be familiar with the Canal Saint Martin, featured in our guide to the 10th arrondissement, however, you may not know that it used to run all the way to the Seine. Well, actually it still does, but underground. The stretch of the Napoleonic era canal from Place de la Bastille to Blvd Jules Ferry was covered and converted into a street in the early 1860s during the Second Empire’s revamping of the city. The treelined boulevard with its wide pedestrian center makes for a lovely stroll, which you can continue up through the uncovered section of the canal. You can also “see” the underground section on Canauxrama boat tours or you stop by on Friday or Sunday morning when the lower section of the promenade comes to life with the excellent Bastille Market.
Most Romantic Shop
The 11th is home of one of Paris’ most beautiful historic bakeries, the Boulangerie Beaumarchais, also known as the Boulangerie 28 due to its located at #28 of the Boulevard Beaumarchais. I used to live around the corner from it and loved stopping in here for my baguettes. A bakery since 1900, it is adorned with spectacular floral tilework, earning it a place on the title of classified monument in 1984. The goods prepared inside the small bakery are equally exquisite, now under the label of La Maison Landemaine, a small chain of excellent quality bakeries (which you can read more about in this article by David Lebovitz). So after admiring the facade, pop in to get a snack for your explorations of the district. Note, it’s a stone’s throw from the Bastille Market and the last place on this list, so you can pair it with either or both of those.
Most Romantic Secret Place
Fan of surprises? Well, one of the most hidden historic places in Paris is tucked away in the 11th arrondissement. In looking around for cool places in the district, I came across the following one… a place I hadn’t even heard of before. Take your chéri/e up rue de Charonne and stop at #159. Here you’ll find a rather unfortunate building from the 1970s, which hides a building 200 years older. The gate doesn’t require a code during the day, so open it up, walk straight until the end of the walkway, turn left and then on the right is the entrance to a City of Paris public garden. In the far right corner of the park is a gate into yet another park, the Square Colbert (only open in the afternoons) which houses a charming building from the early 1770s. Situated at the edge of the furniture district, local furniture maker Jacques Belhomme bought a plot of land and built a healthcare/nursing home. Two decades later, the the era of the Terror during the first Revolution led to an overcrowding of the city’s prisons. Belhomme arranged for his facility to be used as an outpost for prisoners with “mental illnesses,” i.e. clever aristocrats who could purchase their “illnesses” and thus escape the guillotine. Afterwards, he carried on treating mental illness and today the building houses a municipal seniors activity center, although anyone is allowed to spend a quiet moment in the garden, most likely with virtually no one else around!
Most Romantic Garden
The 11th doesn’t have any grand parks, but it does have some nice squares. I chose the Square Louis Majorelle as it’s not so known, yet is intriguing, pretty and near some of the above passageways. Since it’s tucked away within a maze of quiet streets, it means that it isn’t too busy either. The square has labrinth-like hedges, rose bushes and a climbing vines. Another reason it is romantic is that it has the backdrop of the lovely 17th century Sainte-Marguerite church, beneath which is a sister park, the Square Raoul Nordling, also a nice place to have a romantic break. The church does have a slightly macabre historical note, as it was in its cemetery where the bodies of those decapitated by the guillotines of Place de la Bastille and Place de la Nation ended up (see the plaque on the wall of the church). The cemetery no longer exists and we why don’t we just say that this grim moment was rectified by a mass conducted by Pope Pius VII in 1805.
Most Romantic Café
There are some great contemporary cafés in the 11th and this is one of the best and is also very representational of the current spirit of the district. Remnants of its former existence as a local odds and ends shop, The Hood has successfully created a neighborhood hangout offering coffee and breakfast, fusion meals by 2015 winner of Masterchef France, Khanh Ly Huynh, and craft beer apéro perhaps accompanied by live music. I selected it over some of the other new wave cafés as it also has some nice seating for two, like that table in the front window from which you can soak up the daily life of the district. If you want a more traditional café, then try the Café de l’Industrie, located near Bastille and with a seductive Old World vibe.
Most Romantic Restaurant
The 11th might have the greatest concentration of excellent contemporary restaurants (like Septime, Pierre Sang and Fulgurances), however, they usually feature a minimalist decor which isn’t necessarily very romantic, as well as a pricey menu and difficult to obtain reservations. You can combine delicious food with a whimsical, modern French ambiance at A l’Ombre. Opened this past spring, the relaxed-stylish restaurant specializes in Provençal small plates, which I always find adds a fun element to a date. The flavors and sunshine of the south comes through in thick tapenades, goat cheese marinated à la provençale, pastis infused terrine and the famous southern charcuterie Secca d’Entrevaux. They also have two regularly changing main courses and an epicerie section in case you’d like to the flavors of Provence to linger back at home.
Most Romantic Rooftop Bar
One of the earliest rooftop bars in Paris, Le Perchoir (meaning the perch) sits atop an industrial building just off the high end of rue Oberkampf. The bar-restaurant has an indoor section on the 6th floor and an outdoor section on the roof which adapts to the seasons. You can keep warm in autumn and winter thanks to their cozy lounge areas, perfect from snuggling with your sweetheart while sipping a tasty cocktail and admiring views of northern Paris and Sacré-Coeur.
Most Romantic Hidden Bar
I’m including two bars in this edition because it would be a shame to include one and not the other, plus they are very different. Add an element of intrigue to your Paris date night by bringing your date to Moonshiner, one of the best speakeasy bars of the right bank. Your date might be disappointed when you shop up in front of the small Da Vito Pizzeria, yet a smile will appear once you take them through the back fridge and up the stairs to the second floor where you’ll find a prohibition style bar, with low lighting and creative drinks.
Most Romantic Place with it All
While I mentioned other passageways in the 11th above, the Cour Damoye sets itself apart from the others and is one of the most gorgeous pedestrian laneways of Paris, making it, for me, the most romantic place in the arrondissement. Located right off of hectic Place de la Bastille and sandwiched between large Boulevard Richard Lenoir and hopping rue de la Roquette, this stunning lane is an oasis of calm. The verdant cobbled passageway was built in 1780 and is home to art galleries, offices (lucky them!) and L’Atelier de Torréfaction, one of Paris’ oldest coffee roasters in business since 1946. You can pop in here for a takeaway espresso to accompany you on your wanderings of the area!
Happy romancing in the 11th everyone! There are many other cool places in the district, although not really romantic, make for a great night out, so be sure to do other exploring while your in the area.
As usual, below is a Google Map to help you find these places (and a few others) and you can carry on your romantic wanderings in Paris in the other articles in the series:
- 1st Arrondissement
- 2nd Arrondissement
- 3rd Arrondissement
- 4th Arrondissement
- 5th Arrondissement
- 6th Arrondissement
- 7th Arrondissement
- 8th Arrondissement
- 9th Arrondissement
- 10th Arrondissement
- 12th Arrondissement
- 13th Arrondissement
- 14th Arrondissement
- 15th Arrondissement
And there are many more ideas for offbeat romantic outing ideas in our Paris date ideas section here.