20th arrondissement: Where Paris keeps it real


For the last twenty years, I have had the luxury of being a tourist in the city I used to call home, Paris. Like a tourist, when I visit, I return to popular neighborhoods and landmarks, but my favorite times in the French capital are spent off the beaten path typically in the outskirts, like the 20th arrondissement. I am not the only one to like it there: Parisians and visitors alike flock to areas like the popular cemetery-turned-tourist-attraction, Le Père Lachaine. Belleville, another part of the arrondissement, and its neighbor Ménilmontant, are also getting more attention and foot traffic these days. I wrote about them here. There is a lot more to the 20th arrondissement, however. When I arrived in Paris in June for a 2-day visit on my way back from Bordeaux and le Périgord, I did not have to think a long time to plan a fun day of exploring. Reasons I am attracted to that area of Paris? It is diverse, multi-ethnic, a mix of busy streets and peaceful, village-like corners, quaint and easy on the eyes in sections, covered in street art (or graffiti) in others, lively and quiet, gentrified and populaire (to honor its working class roots.) In short, one never knows what to expect at the next street corner. Many discoveries and rewards await visitors with an eye for detail and a willingness to explore.

20th arrondissement

There are different ways to approach the 20th arrondissement. That day, I arrived in the northern section, the unglamorous area near Porte de Bagnolet, a few minutes from le Périphérique (the beltway around downtown Paris.) La Place Edith Piaf is a good starting point. It was market day, and I could have witnessed the same scene all over France. I walked past the unremarkable statue dedicated to France’s beloved “Môme Piaf” (the Little Sparrow,) who was born in nearby Belleville. I headed uphill to la Campagne à Paris (the countryside in Paris.)

20th arrondissement

20th arrondissement

The Edith Piaf Legend lives on!

20th arrondissement

rue Père Prosper Enfantin (quartier Saint Fargeau)

Isn’t it ironic how much I – and others – enjoy spending time in Parisian neighborhoods that make you feel like you are no longer in Paris? La Campagne à Paris is one of them. Welcome to Happy Few central! At the turn of the 20th century, this housing development (about 90 homes total,) was built for working-class families, on a former quarry. If you enjoy quaint pavillons (detached homes,) tucked away behind romantic hedges, their façades covered in ivy, wisteria and jasmine, glass and steel marquises (marquees) hanging above their front doors, you have arrived. Follow streets Père Prosper Enfantin, Irénée Blanc, Mondonville, and Jules Siegfried, as they meander around a couple of peaceful blocks. Vive la vie en province! 

20th arrondissement

La Campagne à Paris (20th arrondissement)

20th arrondissement

20th arrondissement

After la Campagne à Paris, any street is going to appear crowded and loud. I headed west, first exploring the area south of la rue de Ménilmontant, (one of the 20th arrondissement’s lifelines.) I walked past l’Hôpital Tenon and modern buildings, through real neighborhoods, where real people live, a far cry from elegant, iconic, grandiose Paris, found on the Right Bank along the Seine river. Turning left, then right, without any particular purpose, I enjoyed this multi-faceted stroll.

20th arrondissement

20th arrondissement

20th arrondissement

The closer I got to Belleville, along la rue de Ménilmontant, the more street art I noticed. It was easy to miss at times, high up on facades, above the street.

There was more: What a feast for the eyes, for this urban walk lover!

20th arrondissement

Café La Laverie (the Laundromat)

20th arrondissement

Cité de l’Ermitage

20th arrondissement

Place du Guignier

20th arrondissement

Bonjour gentrification! (Flakes Cereal Bar)

As I approached rue d’Eupatoria and Notre-Dame de la Croix, I knew I had reached the western limits of the 20th arrondissement, and I would soon hit busy boulevard de Belleville. Sidewalks were packed. Cars and scooters rushed by. I looked back one last time, up la rue de Ménilmontant, then took out a metro ticket and disappeared underground. I was on my way to an apéro with a friend, in my old neighborhood, the 11th arrondissement, just a few stops away on line 2.

20th arrondissement

Notre-Dame de la Croix

A bientôt.

Ménilmontant (written by Charles Trénet,) interpreted by Ray Ventura, 1941.

Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

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  1. Taste of France on November 16, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    Thank you for such a lovely tour of the 20th. Oh, to be one of the 90 in la Campagne à Paris!

    • French Girl in Seattle on November 27, 2017 at 5:27 pm

      There must be a long waiting list. I heard recently former French president François Hollande was thinking about moving to la Campagne à Paris (wondering what current residents think about that…)

  2. Cheryl Moore on November 17, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Thank you for the excellent and interesting post of the 20th. Your photos are beautiful as always

    • Kristiina on November 17, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      Thank you, now I must go and explore the 20th arr. As you can see, my devise refused to spell the whole word. Lol

      • French Girl in Seattle on November 27, 2017 at 5:24 pm

        Ah, devices. They have a mind of their own. Isn’t it wonderful there are still so many places to discover in Paris, even after you have visited several times?

    • French Girl in Seattle on November 27, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      Avec plaisir Cherie!

  3. Geri Metz on November 17, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you for your delightful visit to the 20th. Your posts are always so lovely and touching.

    • French Girl in Seattle on November 27, 2017 at 5:23 pm

      Merci Geri. Swing by later this week! There’s another French Girl in Seattle story headed your way.

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