Although the large Vingtième is the last district in Paris and all the way east, it’s more interesting than you might think: it mixes traditionalism with modernity; passionate artiness with working class energy. It’s essentially what Montmartre was 200 years ago: rents on the cheap side, local artists’ studios, very few tourists. It’s off the beaten path, keeping its parks and gastronomic treats pretty much to itself. Père Lachaise cemetery — the forever-home of wacky minds like Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Rosa Bonheur — is beautiful (and wild) enough to wander in for hours. Other must-visit nabes include Les Vignoles/Saint-Blaise, Belleville, and Jourdain/Ménilmontant.
The Belleville area is loud, multicultural, edgy, kinetic. Highlights include: a monthly street food market that sprawls along Boulevard de Belleville; a new wave of contemporary galleries and street art; hilly Parc de Belleville with its dreamy city views; quiet Rue Sainte-Marthe lined with art studios and world food; and a Chinese enclave offering a slew of Asian supermarkets and hole-in-the-wall Asian snacking (in case you’ve had it with rich French cuisine). But don’t fret: inventive, indie French restos do hold their own here, too.
The old cobblestone pathways of the Père Lachaise cemetery will lead you back in time as you get lost strolling among old trees, vampiresque mausoleums, and wildlife sightings (some human wildlife, but mostly we’re talking crows, feral cats and foxes here). Spend an afternoon exploring the famous and not-so-famous souls that inhabit this iconic place. East of Père Lachaise cemetery, Avenue du Père Lachaise and the side streets surrounding Place Gambetta are worth checking out.
Here you are in Paris’s former industrial heartland. Old factory buildings house hip live music venues such as La Bellevilloise and La Maroquinerie, while grungy bars along hilly Rue de Ménilmontant lead to warrens of narrow, cobblestone streets and artists’ studios. Musée Édith Piaf, set in the tiny French crooner’s former apartment, is a private mini-museum filled with memorabilia.
Nestled between Père Lachaise cemetery and Place de la Nation, this area is an authentic, unassuming mix of passionate artists, immigrants and the working class; with off-beat surprises and a handful of tiny cobblestoned alleyways popping up where you least expect them. Local artists thrive here. Wander down the little streets around Place de la Réunion and discover a handful of cute indie shops, cafés and surprisingly tasty restaurants.