Once a patchwork of farms and windmills, Edith Piaf’s old stomping ground and a staunchly working-class quartier (neighbourhood), brilliantly multicultural Belleville is now home to neobistros, coffee roasters and burgeoning art projects.
And with some of the city's best street art, panoramic views and a rising food scene, this is clearly a slice of northeastern Paris worth checking out.
Belleville’s rue Dénoyez sports Paris’ most dazzling street art. Everything on the short street, from rubbish bins and flowerpots to lamp posts and window shutters, is covered from head to toe in colorful art. Artist workshops line the street where local kids kick footballs around and street art ‘happenings’ break out on sultry summer nights. At the end of the street, break for an organic jasmine ice tea, homemade lemonade or glass of warm vanilla milk at Le Barbouquin, a mellow literary cafe with secondhand books, vintage armchairs and cultural events such as violin-accompanied poetry readings on weekends.
Meet local artists
From bld de Belleville walk east along rue des Couronnes until you reach rue de la Mare, a plain unassuming street brightened with the odd splash of street art and hidden artist studios and workshops. Seek out ceramists, potters and highly creative milliners such as Estelle Ramousse (chapeausurmesure.com) at No 64, known for her theatrical made-to-measure hats. On nearby rue Envierges, at No 25, haute-couture fashion designer Stéphanie Coudert (stephaniecoudert.fr) tailor-makes unique pieces in her hip studio with a striking, raw-wood façade.
The best time to encounter local artists at work is during Belleville’s annual Portes Ouvertes (‘Open Studios’) in May when over 150 artists open their doors to visitors for four days. Some of their work is displayed year-round in the gallery of Les Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville (ateliers-artistes-belleville.fr).
Parc de Belleville
Below the panoramic terrace on rue Piat the green lawns, fountains and trimmed hedgerows of Parc de Belleville tumble down the hillside. Amid the 4.5 hectares of urban greenery is a gargantuan slide, toboggan ride and climbing frame for kids. The park is also home to a vineyard with 140 vines; its small harvest takes place around October.
Wander along rue des Envierges, past old-fashioned bistro Le Vieux Belleville where you can hear accordion music and chansons (songs) still being performed some evenings. At the end of street the stunning city panorama sweeps across the horizon from the terrace on rue Piat. An orientation table, designed in colour ceramic mosaics by local artists, maps out the Eiffel Tower and other key monuments on the skyline. Take a break at Moncoeur Belleville (moncoeurbelleville.com), a modern cafe with a sky blue façade and live jazz at weekends.
Belleville was put on the hipster map by Belleville Brûlerie, a ground-breaking roastery that brought good coffee to Paris. Belleville beans go into espressos and cappuccinos served at some of the city’s coolest barista-run cafes (such as Fondation Café, Holybelly and The Hood) as well as its own cafe, La Fontaine de Belleville, near Canal St-Martin. And if in you’re in Belleville on a Saturday you can taste, buy and drink coffee in situ at the roastery – ‘cupping’ sessions on Saturday mornings are a highlight.
For an authentic taste of Asian in Belleville head to Tai Yien for Chinese and Dong Huong for Vietnamese – both offer outstanding value. The neighbourhood’s crop of hip neo-bistros includes MijoT (6 rue Victor Letalle). Vegetarians should head to Zoé Bouillon. Natural wines accompany homemade bistro dishes at Le Baratin. Another unpretentious favourite is Mon Oncle Le Vigneron – Pascal and Chika have cooked and entertained guests around shared table (by reservation only) at this upmarket grocery store and kitchen for over two decades. For Sunday brunch one address is especially popular: beneath a 100-year olive tree at buzzing arts centre La Bellevilloise.
Stall holders shout out loud to flog their wares in a din of different languages at raucous open-air food market, Marché de Belleville. Its stalls have filled busy thoroughfare bld de Belleville since 1860 and shopping here for fruit, vegetables and other fresh produce is a fantastic entry into the large, vibrant community here, home to artists, students and immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. End your foodie shop with a more sedate shopping experience at Fromagerie Beaufils, a family-run fromagerie and affineur (ripener) rated as one of the best cheese shops in Paris. Crunchy baguettes and other wood-oven-baked bread from Belleville’s prize-winning boulangerie (bakery) Au 140 make the perfect picnic partner.
Trace the steps of Edith Piaf
Belleville was the old haunt of iconic cabaret singer Edith Piaf (1915-63). From Belleville metro station, walk east uphill along rue de Belleville and look for the red neon lights of Aux Folies, the cabaret bar where a young Piaf sang. Today it’s a busy neighbourhood cafe. Continue uphill to 72 rue de Belleville where a wall plaque says that Piaf was born on the house steps here (yet she was actually born in the hospital in Belleville). To discover the real story, visit the two-room Musée Edith Piaf in neighbouring Ménilmontant. End your Piaf pilgrimage with a visit to the unexpectedly sombre tomb the singer shares with her father as well as her second husband in Cimetière du Père Lachaise on Belleville’s southern fringe.
Where to stay
Generator Hostel occupies an old office block on the northern fringe of Belleville. With en suite doubles, street art decor (don’t miss the cow, repainted each month by a different artist), metro-style ceramic tiling and fresh white linen, it is one of the finest places around to stay. There are snails on the menu in its stylish barista-run Café Fabien. Also here are a nightclub styled like the Paris metro and a panoramic rooftop bar.
Belleville, predominantly in the 20e arrondissement, is roughly wedged between Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (north) in the 19e, and Cimetière du Père Lachaise and Ménilmontant (south) in the 11th arrondissement. Belleville is the main metro station (line 11).
This article was first published in June 2015 and updated by Catherine Le Nevez in June 2017.