In the last circle of Paris’s arrondissements, nestled between the 19th and 20th, lies Belleville, an old working-class neighbourhood, a former village only annexed to the capital in 1870. Hilly and picturesque, it has quickly become a meeting point of different cultures, a place of great wealth and social ferment: students, artists and creative people meet here, the avant-garde is born here and neighbourhood life is lively and sparkling.
Belleville is considered the most cosmopolitan district in Paris: it is colourful, young and full of new trends. It represents the multiethnic soul of the capital, constantly evolving and symbolising the peaceful coexistence of peoples of very different and distant traditions, cultures and religions: Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Buddhists live harmoniously together, sharing the same streets and confronting each other day after day.
In fact, thanks to the presence of the gypsum quarries, many waves of immigration from all over the world have taken place since the 1930s. Workers from many different countries have therefore landed in Paris: Greeks, Armenians, Chinese, Spanish, Africans, Algerians, Vietnamese, Lebanese and Central European Jews have created a melting pot of incredible richness, joined by bohemian artists who have opened their ateliers here.
Belleville, in recent decades, has seen a gradual and unstoppable rise in popularity. It all started with The Malaussène Saga by writer Daniel Pennac, who chose this picturesque multi-ethnic neighbourhood as the setting for his cycle of novels.
Since then, Parisians have begun to rediscover Belleville, its exotic shops, ethnic restaurants, markets, its colourful and non-conformist street art, its exotic and bohemian touch, to the point of becoming one of the capital’s new trendy neighbourhoods.
So not only social centres, but above all crowded cafés, quarters where you can listen to good music, art galleries and that melting pot capable of harmoniously mixing very different cultures.
The Belleville district is an area in full development, constantly changing, perpetually on the move. Its cosmopolitan atmosphere translates into a lively scene in the evenings, fashionable corners with a focus on street art and new trends.
Once a patchwork of farms and windmills, now the places that gave birth to Edith Piaf and inspired Daniel Pennac’s novels, have become the proletarian and multicultural district of Paris, where you can sit in new alternative bistros, visit coffee roasters and growing art projects. With some of the best examples of street art in the city, crazy views and a gastronomic scene to savour, this is clearly an area of north-eastern Paris worth visiting.
One of the most original aspects of Belleville is the presence of art: in addition to the artists’ ateliers that have been installed here since the 1980s and the numerous cultural associations that involve the inhabitants to create harmony between the neighbourhood’s different social souls, the presence of Street Art is strong and widespread and has taken over the walls and streets of Belleville for more than twenty years.
In fact, Street Art in Belleville is not mere disorderly and illegal graffiti, but is a perfectly integrated art form directed by big names such as Invader, Jérôme Mesnager, Ender, Mosko, Anis and several emerging artists who have transformed the neighbourhood into an open-air museum .
The most striking example is rue Desnoyer, the temple of Street Art, where every day you can meet young artists at work. Everything here speaks of art, from rubbish cans and flower pots to lampposts and window shutters, everything is covered from head to toe in colourful art. Street art is so popular here that even the mayor of Paris has allowed artists to manage several walls themselves.
You should lose yourself among the artists’ workshops that open up along the street, discover the street art events that enliven the sultry summer nights, enjoy an iced jasmine tea or homemade lemonade in a literary café amidst second-hand books, vintage armchairs and poetry readings accompanied by violin players at weekends.
The street with the most attractions, cafés and restaurants is undoubtedly rue Sainte-Marthe, while rue Dénoyez is home to many emerging artists and talents. Also not to be missed are two very picturesque passages: the passage Jean-Lacroix to admire Paris from above and the Belleville park and the passage de la Duée, the narrowest street in Paris.
Belleville, like Montmartre, also harbours secret corners that are difficult to spot. One of these is Cité Leroy, a 60 m long cul-de-sac where you can admire small terraced houses often hidden behind flowered gates, decorated with climbing plants and frequented by silent cats.
It is a little-known place that winds its way past the Villa de l’Ermitage, whose entrance is located at 315 rue des Pyrénées. Private houses and artists’ studios populate this open-air passageway. With its palm trees, roses and wisteria flowers, the alley retains its special atmosphere thanks to the underground tunnels that do not allow the construction of tall buildings.
The history of the district is reflected in this maze of streets with evocative names (such as rue des cascades, rue des rigoles). Thanks to its height, the Belleville hill was once one of the largest water reservoirs in the city.
Rainwater was collected here and then distributed via aqueducts. Rue des Cascades is one of the most beautiful streets in Belleville: quiet and lined with low houses, it is ideal for enjoying the atmosphere of the neighbourhood. Take a look at No. 42 on the street, where you will find Saint-Martin, a small stone building that provided access to the aqueduct pipes.
Art is present in the Belleville neighbourhood in various forms. In rue Francis Picabia, one can get close to this world and discover contemporary artists in their workshops, which are also their creative space.
Exciting encounters for all art lovers. Some artists open their studios to the public all year round, while others only during events promoted by the neighbourhood.
The neighbourhood park stretches over 45,000 m² on Belleville Hill. From the 108-metre-high terrace at the top of the hill, you can admire a splendid panorama of Paris and in particular the Eiffel Tower. In front of you will be an incredible view over the rooftops of the capital, which becomes even more romantic at sunset.
It is truly an almost unimaginable oasis of peace and silence in the noisy and crowded capital and will give you the opportunity to recharge your batteries in an idyllic setting.
Don’t forget to pop into the heart of the park to discover its vines that bear witness to the hill’s wine-making past.
For years, the Belleville district was home to refugees from all over the world. Of this complicated past, a cosmopolitan district has remained, where different nationalities and cultures meet and coexist peacefully.
Among all these cultures, the Chinese community occupies an important place. You can discover its identity through the authentic shops and restaurants that line rue de Belleville and the boulevard of the same name. Let yourself be guided by the colours, flavours and scents of this strong enclave rooted here since the 1970s.
To fully immerse yourself in Belleville’s popular atmosphere, you can’t miss its market, with strong ethnic connotations, which takes place every Tuesday and Friday morning between the Belleville Metro and Ménilmontant station.
Awaiting you is a long line of stalls selling mainly foodstuffs. Colourful, crowded and noisy, the Belleville market is a meeting place for different styles and cultures, ideal for understanding from the inside the great variety of peoples, languages and traditions that mingle in this colourful neighbourhood.
The Père Lachaise cemetery is the largest and oldest in Paris. World-famous for its atmosphere, it is also one of the most visited places in Paris.
Hordes of tourists arrive here, strolling through the labyrinth of stones and tombs in search of the many famous people who are buried here: Édith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Maria Callas, Marcel Marceau and Jim Morrison, to name but a few.
On the edge of Belleville is a small neighbourhood, Mouzaïa, a labyrinth where it is pleasant to get lost in summer. With its colourful little houses and graceful wrought-iron gates, its pedestrian streets lined with buildings on a human scale, the Villa des Lilas and its beautiful stones, the Villa Alexandre Ribot and its colourful facades, the Villa Claude Monnet and its wild vegetation, you can immerse yourself in an atmosphere of yesteryear that will make you doubt you are still in Paris.
La Mouzaïa is also called the district of America: according to legend, the chalk that was extracted here at the time of the quarries was sent, among other things, to the United States.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Belleville is quite far from the centre and is the recommended district for sleeping in Paris for those on a tight budget. In a very expensive Paris, Belleville is perfect for low-cost travellers: here you will find the cheapest accommodation and hotels in the capital.
In spite of what you might think, the capital’s most multi-ethnic district is a very quiet and green area, also suitable for families. Despite being very popular and crowded Belleville is not dangerous and instead welcomes you with its colourful and cosmopolitan atmosphere, ideal for those who like to try cuisines from all over the world and for those who appreciate the variety of cultures and traditions.
Belleville is mostly in the 20th arrondissement, wedged between the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont to the north in the 19th, the Père Lachaise Cemetery and the Ménilmontant to the south in the 11th. Belleville is the main metro station for line 11.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.