Guide Tour of the Les Halles district, Paris, France

The Quartier des Halles is the 2nd administrative district of Paris located in the 1st arrondissement. The district is one of the most active for business as much of its area is dedicated to tourism, business and administration. At the centre of the district are Les Halles, the central place is the large Forum des Halles, a modern and underground shopping mall, form the 1st arrondissement shopping temple, From the prestigious jewelers of the Place Vendôme, to the recently renovated Samaritaine, passing by the long rue de Rivoli and the brand new forum des Halles…

Les Halles takes its name from the Halles de Paris, a wholesale market for fresh food products, which was once established in its center. Les Halles was known as the “Belly of Paris”, as it was called by Émile Zola in his novel Le Ventre de Paris. Les Halles is located in the east part of the 1st arrondissement, in stark contrast to the stately and luxurious royal palaces in the west part. As the new center of Paris, the Les Halles area around Les Halles and the Samaritaine, where full of tourists mix with local Parisiens. The Forum des Halles is the largest shopping mall in Paris.

In 1183, King Philippe II Auguste enlarged the marketplace in Paris and built a shelter for the merchants, who came from all over to sell their wares. The church of Saint-Eustache was constructed in the 16th century. The circular Halle aux Blés (Corn Exchange), designed by Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières, was built between 1763 and 1769 at the west end of Les Halles. Its circular central court was later covered with a dome, and it was converted into the Bourse de Commerce in 1889.

In the 1850s, Victor Baltard designed the famous glass and iron buildings, Les Halles, which would last until the 1970s. These halls were demolished in the 1970s to make way for the Forum des Halles, with a mainly pedestrian environment, which houses the largest urban station in Europe, Gare de Châtelet – Les Halles. The old wholesale market was replaced by the Westfield Forum des Halles, a modern shopping mall built largely underground and directly connected to the massive RER and métro transit hub of Châtelet–Les Halles. The shopping mall welcomes 150,000 visitors daily.

Les Halles district is undergoing a transformation and become a modern and vibrant space with a brand-new set of gardens, a bigger pedestrian area, a modernized underground station and the ongoing construction of the ‘Canopy’, a magnificent curvilinear roof inspired by the forest canopy, which will cover the new Forum des Halles. The new version of the Forum des Halles has just been transformed in its aerial part, with the creation of a much more convivial canopy, and a large garden that leads to the old Bourse du Commerce. This in turn is in the middle of work, transformed into a museum by the Pinault Foundation, to house its collections. Thus the restaurants are becoming more chic, in the tradition of the famous brasserie Le Pied de Cochon, at the gates of the imposing Saint-Eustache Church. Rue Etienne Marcel, Renowned for its fashion and designer boutiques, it is the gigantic former Poste du Louvre which is under construction to open its facilities to the public.

One of the great joys of a visit to Paris is to simply walk around and explore to get the feel of the city. Having arrived in the 1st arrondissement walking will most likely suffice for transport. The 1st arrondissement is as good a place to start as any, with the largely car-free section around Les Halles, as well as the right bank of the river Seine. In summer, the express lanes at river level are converted to an all pedestrian road called “Paris Plage”. In addition to its many magnificent monuments, a multitude of pedestrian streets in the historic district, which can take you anywhere in and out of Paris.

Les Halles in central Paris now houses the Westfield Forum des Halles (a huge shopping centre with a 30-cinema multiplex, an indoor swimming pool and the Forum des Images cinema), several restaurants, bars and trendy shops, not to mention the world’s biggest underground station, Châtelet-Les Halles. The surrounding streets, Rue Montorgueil, Rue Quincampoix and Rue Tiquetonne, provide a pleasant stroll through the area.

For 800 years this glorious market was the hub of all food distribution in the city. The gigantic steel arches covered the main market area which sold vegetables during the day and was also used as a general meeting point for citizens of Paris. In the eleventh century, a market grew up by a cemetery to the northwest of Paris in an area called the Little Fields (Champeaux). This was mainly a dry goods and money changing market. A bishop briefly took control of the market before sharing control with Louis VI in 1137. In 1183, Philip Augustus took full control of the market and built two market halls – halles – to protect the textiles. When he then built walls around the city, these embraced the market, which quickly became the city’s largest.

Over time, went from being at the edge of the city to at its center, it would remain a dry goods market for centuries, but food stalls soon grew up around the main buildings and by the fifteenth century food prices at les Halles were being cited as significant for the whole city. The market would have ups and downs over the coming centuries and was rebuilt more than once. Over time, an increasing number of halls were built explicitly for food, but the dry goods market remained central to the space.

The church of Saint-Eustache was constructed in the 16th century. The circular Halle aux Blés (Corn Exchange), designed by Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières, was built between 1763 and 1769 at the west end of Les Halles. Its circular central court was later covered with a dome, and it was converted into the Bourse de Commerce in 1889. In the 1850s, Victor Baltard designed the famous glass and iron structure which would house les Halles for over a century and became one of the sights of Paris; this would last until the 1970s. Now entirely a food market, which is set in the busy marketplace of the 19th century.

Unable to compete in the new market economy and in need of massive repairs, the colourful ambience once associated with the bustling area of merchant stalls disappeared in 1971, when Les Halles was dismantled; the wholesale market was relocated to the suburb of Rungis. The site was to become the point of convergence of the RER, a network of new express underground lines which was completed in the 1960s. Three lines leading out of the city to the south, east and west were to be extended and connected in a new underground station.

Forum des Halles
The Forum des Halles, a partially underground multiple story commercial and shopping centre, designed by Claude Vasconi and Georges Pencreac’h, opened at the east end of the site on September 4, 1979 in presence of the Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac. The steelwork was designed by the famed architect, Baltard, and was reminiscent of the support structures now visible in the Gare du Nord, and St. Lazare or better yet, the Musee d’Orsay. The markets were most interesting at night when the meat and fish markets would go into full steam. Thousands of tons or meat and fish were bought, butchered, traded and sold in the middle of the night.

The 2.5 hectare canopy roof of Les Halles is the spectacular attraction of the renovated Forum des Halles Shopping Mall. By all means, Forum des Halles is the largest central Paris Shopping Mall. Les Halles Shopping Mall has 150 stores including exclusive brands such as L’Exception, Sept-Cinq, What For, Herschel, and the greatest French and international brands such as Nike, Lego, Superdry, Muji, H&M, Zara, San Marina, Celio, Bershka. Visited by 42 million visitors in 2017, it is only surpassed by Les Quatre Temps in La Defense.

One of the most interesting stores of Forum des Halles is dedicated to the Lego brand. Lego celebrates the city and French culture with unique brick creations representing the symbols of the City of Light. It has used bricks to create famous cakes, an iconic dress designer, a painter and, a famous writer and top monuments of the city such as Notre Dame Cathedral. The store is devoted to discovering the Lego world, with games, augmented reality experiences and exclusive product launches.

There are 17 restaurants in Les Halles Shopping Mall, including the Champeaux brasserie by Alain Ducasse. The district counts iconic restaurants such as Pied de Cochon, a brasserie open 24/24, the la Poule au pot gastronomic restaurant and Chez Denise (no web site. 5 Rue des Prouvaires, 75001 Paris). Many restaurants and bars in the area are otherwise not best value for money.

Surrounding area
Many of the surrounding streets were pedestrianized. Bars, restaurants and clubs are plenty in the district. The new Pinault Collection and Saint-Eustache church are key attractions of Les Halles district. A spectacular canopy now covers the shopping mall, the largest in town, and the busy Chatelet-Les Halles metro hub. A public garden covering four hectares opened in 1986.

Church of St. Eustache
The Church of St. Eustache, Paris is a church in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. The present building was built between 1532 and 1632. The 2019 Easter Mass at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris was relocated to Saint-Eustache after the Notre-Dame de Paris fire. The exterior of the church presents a mixture of Flamboyant Gothic, classical and Renaissance elements. The Gothic exterior elements are the elaborate flying buttresses, which receive the downward and outward thrust from the rib vaults in the interior. The most Gothic portion is the apse at the east end, where the buttresses surround semicircular group of chapels, located behind the altar.

The classical elements dominate the principal facade, which is unfinished, and different from the rest of the exterior. It is decorated with pairs of ionic columns with paired sets of Doric columns on the lower level, and Ionic columns on the upper level. The south portals primarily decorated in the Renaissance style, with a profusion of ornamental sculpture in the form of foliage and seashells. At the top of the pointed arch is a sculpture of a deer with a crucifix in its horns, depicting the vision of Saint Eustache.

The church is relatively short in length at 105m, but its interior is 33.45m high to the vaulting. The interior is given unity by the imposing verticality of its pillars and arches. The Flamboyant Gothic elements are primarily in the vaulted ceilings decorated with a network of ornamental ribs, and hanging keystones. Below them are the Renaissance elements, in the form of pillars and pilasters representing the classical orders of architecture, rounded arcades, and walls covered with elaborate decorative sculpture of seraphim and bouquets of flowers. The columns and pillars which support the vaults, following the Renaissance style, have Doric decoration on the lowest level, Ionic decorations on the columns above, and Corinthian decoration on the highest columns.

The nave is flanked by two collateral aisles, which give access to series of small chapels, each abundantly decorated with paintings and sculpture. One of the notable classical features of the nave is the Banc-oeuvre, a group of seats covered a Grecian portico and very ornate carvings. It was the seating reserved for the members of the lay committee which oversaw the finances of the church. It was made in 1720 by sculptor Pierre Lepautre, and is crowned by a statue representing “The Triumph of Saint Agnes”.

Much of the art and decoration is closely into the architure, such as the bas-relief medallions with carvings of the martyrdom of Saint Cecelia decorating the nave. Some is more contemporary. The L’écoute sculpture by Henri de Miller appears outside the church, to the south. A colourful sculpture in the nave depicts the delivery of produce to market of Les Halles in the 19th century, with the church in the background. The earliest windows are from the 17th century, and are largely the work of Antoine Soulignac, a master Paris glass artist. His windows are mostly found in the choir. They include a window in the choir depicting of Saint Jerome and Saint Ambroise in an architectural setting (1631). During that period the objective of stained glass in the clair-etage was to admit as much light as possible, so much of the windows were composed of white glass.

Commodities Exchange
The Bourse de commerce is a building in Paris, originally used as a place to negotiate the trade of grain and other commodities, and used to provide services to businesses by the Paris Chamber of Commerce during the latter part of the 20th century. It has its origins in a circular wheat exchange built in 1763–67, with an open-air interior court that was later capped by a wooden dome replaced in 1811 with a copper one (supported by an iron skeletal structure). In a major reconstruction in 1888–89 much of the structure was replaced, although the layout remained the same and the dome was retained albeit adding glass and a mounted canvas.

The General Union of the Paris Commodities Exchange was created in 1854. Many futures markets functioned at the Commodities Exchange from its inception, at first under the control of syndicates for wheat, rye and oats, flour, oil, sugar, alcohol and rubber. The collapse of wheat prices in 1929 led to the reform of 1935 that created the Compagnie des Commissionnaires, confirmed by law in 1950. After the World War II (1939–45) the futures markets were opened gradually to international trading in goods such as white sugar, cocoa, coffee, potato, soybean meal, rapeseed. These were traded in auction lots.

The Bourse de Commerce is the new 6800 m2 showcase for François Pinault’s collection dedicated to art from the 1960s to the present day. 10,000 works by 380 international artists are exhibited in this new setting renovated by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Since 2021, the building has been the Parisian exhibition site of the Pinault Collection. The dome of the building is listed as a historical monument.

In 2016, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, offered François Pinault a 50-year lease on the Bourse de Commerce for a lump sum of €15 million, plus yearly fees. Shortly after, the Paris City Council approved the project to transform the building into an exhibition space for contemporary art, including pieces from his private collection of more than 3,500 works valued at around €1.25 billion. In 2017, Pinault publicly presented plans by architect Tadao Ando for placing a 30-foot-high concrete cylinder inside the building to be the Bourse’s main exhibition gallery, a cast-in-place structure, as spectacular as it is calm, radical and respectful of the original circular building in the center.

Fontaine des Innocents
The Fontaine des Innocents is a monumental public fountain located on the place Joachim-du-Bellay in the Les Halles district in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, France. Originally called the Fountain of the Nymphs, it was constructed between 1547 and 1550 by architect Pierre Lescot and sculptor Jean Goujon in the new style of the French Renaissance. It is the oldest monumental fountain in Paris. The fountain’s architecture was inspired by the nymphaeum of ancient Rome, a building or monument decorated with statuary of nymphs, tritons and other water deities, and usually used to protect a fountain or spring. Jean Goujon’s personal contribution was a decorative swirling movement in the sculptures, with undulating drapery and curling scrolls made of sea shells and the tails of sea creatures.

The fountain was commissioned as part of the decoration of the city to commemorate the solemn royal entry of King Henry II into Paris in 1549. Artists were commissioned to construct elaborate monuments. Because of the poor water supply system of Paris, under Napoleon Bonaparte, a new aqueduct was constructed from the River Ourcq, and finally the fountain gushed water, in such abundance that it threatened the sculptural decoration. The smaller bas-reliefs at the base of the fountain were removed in 1810 and placed in the Musée du Louvre in 1824. In 1858, during the Second French Empire of Louis Napoleon, the fountain was again moved, to its present location on a modest pedestal in the middle of the square; and six basins of pouring water, one above the other, were added on each façade.

La Tour Jean-Sans-Peur
Only a few feet away from the metro exit at Etienne Marcel is a medieval-era tower known as the Jean-Sans-Peur. This is Paris’ only fortified tower. You can climb a spiral staircase to visit some of the tower’s original rooms. The tower was erected in the early 15th century by “Fearless Jean”, the Duke of Burgundy, notorious for having assassinated his cousin, the Duke of Orléans.

Montorgueil district
The Montorgueil district, named after the Mont-Orgueil hill, whose origins date back to the 15th century, the district has a gourmet and popular history. Montorgueil is one of the oldest districts of the capital. In the heart of the smallest Parisian arrondissement, rue Montorgueil and those that cross it form the largest pedestrian area in the capital.

The district is the extension, to the north, of the pedestrian district of Les Halles. It is comprised between rue du Louvre to the west, rue d’Aboukir and rue Réaumur to the north, rue de Palestro to the east, rue de Turbigo and Etienne-Marcel to the south. The district having been little affected by the transformations of Paris under the Second Empire, Montorgueil has preserved the urban and architectural features of Old Paris. It was after the construction of the enclosure of Charles V, in the 14th century, that its location was within the limits of Paris.

This district with a village atmosphere, very lively during the day and in the evening, quieter at night, sees a heterogeneous population strolling: residents, Parisians, tourists, suburbanites… attracted by numerous shops, sports halls, cafes and restaurants with a trendy reputation. The highly concentrated habitat and the narrow streets led to the pedestrianization of the district from the end of the 20th century. The section of rue Montmartre between rue Étienne-Marcel and rue du Louvre has been pedestrianized since 2007.

An essential place for Parisian strolls, with its small pedestrian and cobbled streets, the Montorgueil district represents the charm of Paris. It is now a set of pedestrian streets that revolves around rue Montorgueil. It extends over the administrative districts of Mail and Bonne-Nouvelle. The main artery, rue Montorgueil, brings together both greengrocers and food shops, bars and restaurants as well as trendy clothing boutiques.

Thanks to its food shops and restaurants, in the early morning, delivery trucks and the surrounding bustle reflect the Paris of yesteryear. At noon, bankers and geeks from start-ups who work nearby come to eat there. In the streets parallel to rue Montorgueil, new restaurants, cocktail bars and bohemian shops have opened, notably rue Saint-Sauveur, rue Bachaumont, rue Greneta, rue Mandar and even in the Passage du Grand Cerf.

This lively street in the heart of the district offers one of the most famous permanent markets in the city. It includes a butcher, fishmonger, fruit and vegetable store, cheese dairy, bakery (La Maison Stohrer, one of the best in Paris), a florist… You can find all types of fresh and organic food there.

Rue Montorgueil can Learn about a country’s culture through its food buy the best cuisine like cheeses, charcuterie, wines and baguettes, or a tasty cheese or an excellent wine. Rue Montorgueil the food shops are passed down from generation to generation. At n°38, the Escargot Montorgueil, which was the favorite table of Sacha Guitry, Marcel Proust or even Salvador Dali, has been delighting Parisians since 1832.

This street and the streets surrounding it are lined with wine and cocktail bars, such as REDD and the Experimental Cocktail Club. There’s a lively vibe, especially on summer evenings when the bars open their doors to the street. It’s true that they don’t always offer low prices, but it’s a great place to find a bar and have a good night out in the capital.

Rue du Nil
Picturesque, quaint, and situated just a couple of streets away from one of the most famous shopping streets in Paris, that of rue Montorgueil, rue du Nil is a quaint road featuring many an independent store and produce shop. The road was largely residential and little frequented. All of this changed, however, with the arrival of the chef, Gregory Marchand, when he opened an iconic ‘Frenchie’ restaurant on the road. The dining venue soon became a sought after hotspot and from then on out, more foodie spots popped up on the street. Today, rue du Nil is a must-visit for authentic French food lovers and those wishing to cook back at their accommodation.

Rue Etienne Marcel
Rue Etienne Marcel is very long and has many cool shops. Discover new clothes in the image of Parisian elegance, be delighted by the items sold in the stores on rue Etienne Marcel like Les Temps des Cerises, ba&sh, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Guess, Diesel, Replay, The Kooples…

In addition to all of these brand name shops, the small pedestrian streets that connect the area into a homogenous whole are dotted with boutiques like Unkut, Pearl and Passage du Desir. Rue Etienne-Marce l and Rue Tiquetonne (Metro Etienne Marcel) are lined with designer boutiques, boutiques from established designers like Agnes B and Barbara Bui, and up-and-coming fashion brands. The Espace Kiliwatch concept store offers a variety of new and used yarns and is popular with style-conscious bohemian professionals. Petite Egypte is a hub of neatly ordered creativity in the heart of the Sentier. The old ornate passages (including Passage de la Cerf near Rue Montorgueil and Rue St Denis and Passage Vivienne near Metro Bourse) for unique and glamorous gifts.

The Les Halles offers a wide choice in terms of restaurants, a good choice for a business meal, or to impress your family. A large variety of inexpensive food is sold out of windows and stalls, especially on the car-free east end of the arrondissement near Les Halles. The district of rue Montorgueil, is shared between the 1st and 2nd arrondissements and is located northeast of Les Halles. Cobbled streets, pedestrian streets and cafes, bars and restaurants galore, market gardeners, bakers and village-style fishmongers, all combined with an architecture of old Paris give this district an intimate and insider flavor although very “bobo”.

Rue Montorgueil, Rue Pierre-Lescot, and Rue Etienne-Marcel are lined with restaurants and brasseries that, even if picked at random, are mostly decent, while the surrounding Metro Bourse has several renowned restaurants. The neighborhood is dotted with the city’s best bakeries, fruit and vegetable vendors and gourmet caterers. At no.38, l’Escargot Montorgueil, which was the favourite dining spot for Sacha Guitry, Marcel Proust and even Salvador Dali, has been feeding Parisians since 1832.

At no.51, you can find the Stohrer bakery and cake shop, the oldest in Paris, founded by King Louis XV’s pastry chef, Nicolas Stohrer, in 1730. Rhum babas (a house invention), puits d’amour, religieuses à l’ancienne, sublime bouchées à la reine….here, you’ll taste the best of France’s old-world cakes while sitting in the sumptuous café designed by Paul Baudry, who designed the interior of the Opéra Garnier.

At no.78, Au Rocher de Cancale opened in 1848 when the street was just a row of catering businesses specialising in oyster sales, and it still offers up tasty seafood fare and fish as well as delicious sweet and savoury creations. Just like many of the street’s buildings, it is a listed historic monument. It is said that Balzac liked to go there, taking inspiration from the clientèle. In fact, the restaurant is cited in many of his works.

Halfway down the bijou Rue du Nil, Frenchie garnered a Michelin star for its dazzling and dazzlingly beautiful food. With its pretty Morocco-inspired decor, Jacques’ Bar in new and hip London export The Hoxton – brings a bit of exotica to the streets of the old textile district.

There are a number of hotels in the neighborhood and this is one of the best areas to stay in because of its proximity to the Louvre and so many of the places you will want to see and the many restaurants and bars in Les Halles and the Marais. Try the 3-star Citadines Apart’hotel Les Halles, the Grand Hôtel Dechampaigne or the magnificent 18th-century 4-star Hotel L’Empire Paris nestled between the Louvre Museum and Les Halles. Located in a pedestrian street, Hôtel Le Relais des Halles offers individually decorated rooms with free Wi-Fi access and an antique-style décor. The Hotel Saint Honore is located on the Rue Saint Honoré and has air-conditioned and soundproofed rooms with free WiFi access.

Today Les Halles is seen mostly as an area of Paris where the youth meet up, the nightlife scene of the district offers all ages options. Several of the city’s top jazz clubs are here in the area, and all within walking distance. The Théatre du Châtelet offers dance, drama and musicals and for a truly unique experience, Bel Canto offers opera dinner-theatre.

Jazz clubs are plenty in the area, specially Rue des Lombards. Duc des Lombards is the best known and a mythical jazz venue. It has welcomed the greatest artists and young talents. They come to Duc des Lombards to share their music with an informed public and to confront other musicians. A true temple of jazz life, well conceived and organized to transmit the love of music.