Just across the street from the Louvre is the just as classy, but slightly less congested, courtyard of the Palais Royal.
Built in the mid-17th century and passed down through the royal House of Orleans, it of course has that typically Parisian, rich history of theater, public mingling, and general fanciness, like so much of this town.
Oh, and once upon a time, it was also grand central station for ‘beaucoup’ open-air prostitution, so much so, that King Louis the 9th, the biggest wet-blanket of all the Louises in France (and namesake of St. Louis, Missouri, which is also a lot more fun that IX ever was), who after having enough of hearing all the murmurings of the latest in hooker news over Catholic Mass at the Sainte-Chapelle, decreed an outright ban on prostitution and pimping. But his homies were like, « Nah dawg, isn’t that a bit much, » (asking for a friend, kind of stuff).
So Louis IX settled for pushing them out of the sight of proper society to the edge of the city on special streets within Paris. But by the time he was gone, the world’s oldest profession (besides Tour Guiding) had re-staked its claim on the good real estate in town, the arcades of the Palais Royal.
Today, the Palais Royal is a beautifully restored complex including government offices, a sculpture garden, restaurants, theatre spaces, luxury stores, and a general chill vibe. It feels Parisian rather than touristy, even though it has it’s fair share of visitors (and probably hookers, let’s be honest, but I would imagine they are the high-end sort so they are more likely companions to lonely Laurents dining at le Grand Vefour rather than flashing decolletage invitingly at passers-by. For that, visit Rue Tracy. That street is a veritable cleavage contest).
The main courtyard (and main attraction) of the Palais Royal features the Buren Columns; black-and-white striped column sculptures of varying heights. And yes, you can walk on/climb/take photos on them. Just ask all of Instagram. Just don’t try to sell yourself there, or do as prostitution was legalized recently. Now only being a john is a crime… seriously.
The garden inside the Palais Royal (free to enter btw) is a great power-down spot after visiting the Louvre. It asks nothing of you except that you bask in the sun on a green Parisian park chair. You can snag a crepe from Le Muscade (also they have lots of gluten-free stuff as they are from Brittany, home of buckwheat everything. I recommend the salted caramel crepe) and a takeaway coffee from Cafe Kitsune. Kick back under the shade of the rows of oh-so-Frenchly manicured trees, reset your mind while noshing in the footsteps of the royals, or just kill time before your reservation at le Grand Vefour.
When you are refreshed and ready for your next bout of Parisian beauty, history, and architecture, make your way to the Gallerie Vivienne, one of Paris’ most beautiful covered passages, for a glass of wine at LeGrand Filles & Fils.
Then, on to retail therapy on Rue St. Honore. This is where posh Paris hides the good stuff like the Dior and the Chanel. They don’t have shops on bustling Rue de Rivoli, but instead on the quieter, more exclusive Rue St. Honore.
This is a neighborhood of two distinct identities, as French as it gets: several books’ worth of history and haute couture on one hand and Japanese influence on the other.
If you were able to claim a reservation at Le Grand Vefour, then there you are. But if your budget is what we call, “I have more taste than money” then head to Sapporo or Sapporo 2. The dining rooms aren’t the most charming, so snag a seat at the bar so you can watch the Japanese chefs hard at work. Dive into some of the most delicious ramen soup you have ever tried for mostly under 10€. It’s one of the best sit-down values in Paris and it’s proximity to The Louvre makes it a great place to have an inexpensive lunch where you can sit down semi-comfortably.
Skip dessert at Sapporo but don’t REALLY skip dessert (you’re in Paris). Try some Japanese influenced pastries at Aki Café, chocolates from Jean-Paul Hevin (try the “pomme de terre” a chocolate ganache “potato” wrapped inside a fondant “peel”), or salted caramel macarons from Pierre Herme, the Picasso of Pastry.
Restaurant Palau royal also has an amazing terrace.
Address: 8 Rue de Montpensier, 75001
Metro: Palais-Royale-Musée-du-Louvre (lines 1 or 7)
Neighborhood: 1st arrondissement, Palais Royal area
Nearby: Louvre, Tuileries
Opening times: From 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. everyday
How to book tickets to Palais Royal
You don’t need to, it’s free