Northwest of Paris, Colombes is a suburb with easy access to the centre. All around Colombes there are reminders of the industry that engulfed the area in the 19th and 20th centuries. These old factories and warehouses have since been turned into offices, shops and luxury apartments.
Colombes has attracted high earners and the service industry, being moments from La Défense. The Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes also staged events for the 1924 Paris Olympics, and remains the home of the successful Racing 92 Rugby Club. If you can’t ignore the call of the capital you can be at Paris Saint-Lazare Station in under 20 minutes on the suburban train network.
Lets explore the best things to do in Colombes:
1. Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir
The Top 14 rugby club Racing 92 still uses this 14,000-seater stadium in Colombes for its home matches.
Les Ciel et Blanc always compete with the best sides in the division and won the championship in the 2015-16 season.
If you’re in the mood for some first-class rugby this is as good as it gets, as the squad is peppered with internationals like the New Zealander Dan Carter, one of the greatest players of all time.
But the stadium holds a certain mystique too: It hosted all sorts of events, including athletics, at the 1924 Paris Olympics, while it was also the stage for the 1938 World Cup won by an Italian side led by Giuseppe Meazza.
2. Musée Municipal d’Art et d’Histoire
Long before it was a suburb of Paris, Colombes had its own château, occupied by some big historical figures.
One of these was Henrietta Maria, the widow of the English King Charles I who fled here after he was executed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. This is one of a few Ancien Régime threads you can pull on at Colombes’ local museum.
Then you’ll delve into the 19th and 20th centuries when the area was industrialised and was the base for manufacturers like Ericsson, Goodrich tyres and the perfumer Guerlain.
Colombes’ sporting heritage is also revealed in a exhibition recounting the 1924 Olympics.
3. L’Avant Seine
A cultural venue Colombes can be proud of, L’Avant Seine is a stylish theatre that opened in 1991. Even 25 years after it was built the 1,000-seater auditorium is state-of-the-art, as its stage sits on hydraulic cylinders and can be adjusted depending on the type of show.
The season starts in May and is diverse enough to offer something for all tastes: There’s plays, opera, dance, cinema screenings, music of all descriptions, comedy and magic.
You could also just drop by for lunch at the theatre’s sleek restaurant.
4. Ancienne Église Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul
This former church is a French monument historique but and has been a ruin for almost 50 years.
It’s a victim of its location, next to a main road that was enlarged in 1968 requiring the nave to be torn down.
What’s left now is the bell-tower and a few arches, which have stonework going back to the 1100s.
In fact there has been a church here since the early middle ages,and when the road was dug in the 60s workers came across Merovingian burials.
5. Esplanade de La Défense
Unless you’re on a business trip the appeal of La Défense will lie solely in its shopping, modern architecture and avant-garde sculpture.
You can get a taste for all of this on the long and broad Esplanade de La Défense, which is like walking on a canyon floor between walls of skyscrapers.
If you’re taking it slow you can pause to observe some peculiar pieces of public art, most of which was installed in the 80s and 90s.
See Michel Deverne’s Grande Mosaïque and Le Pouce (a massive Bronze thumb) by César Baldaccini.
You can also see where La Défense began at the double-shelled, reinforced concrete CNIT building.
This dates to 1958 and still as spellbinding as any of the newer structures.
6. Grande Arche
The Axe Historique intersects Paris in a diagonal line from La Défense to the Louvre.
And it’s satisfying to be able to stand at the Grande Arche and look straight through the portal of the Arc de Triomphe several kilometres away to the southeast.
The Grande Arche, completed in 1989, is easily the district’s most photographable landmark.
In May 2017 you’ll be able to access the roof for the first time since a mishap with the elevators in 2010. While you’re up here you can appreciate how it was also built on another axis with the tallest buildings in the city, the Tour Monparnasse and the Eiffel Tower.
7. Île de la Jatte
Under ten minutes by car is the Île de la Jatte, a river island between Courbevoie and Neuilly-sur-Seine.
Although the island is now home to around 4,000 people it used to be parkland for the now levelled Château de Neuilly.
A Temple of Eros at the southern tip of the island is one of the few remaining traces of this property.
After the Île de la Jatte was redeveloped under Napoleon III in the 19th century it became a day out for Impressionist painters, who would park their easels to paint the Seine.
There’s now an Impressionist trail guiding you to the scenes painted by Monet, Sisley, van Gogh and of course Seurat, whose depiction of the riverbanks is the most enduring.
8. 17th Arrondissement
If you want to spy the Parisian upper crust in its natural habitat, you can make the ten-minute train ride to this plush district.
The 17th Arrondissement as we see it now was designed by Baron Haussman, with wide streets and splendid townhouses.
At street level there are boutiques and upscale restaurants.
You’ll have a couple of great food markets to potter around in this area: The Marché Poncelet, a permanent street market, and the Marché des Batignolles, with outdoor stalls.
The Parc Monceau here is decorated with follies commissioned in the 18th century by the Duke of Chartres, the cousin of Louis XVI who would also soon lose his head in the Revolution.
9. Arc de Triomphe
As the crow flies this is the nearest major Paris landmark to Colombes.
It’s only five kilometres away and if you were to set off first thing on a weekend morning you could drive there in 10 minutes.
The rest of the time you’ll need a bit longer to get to a monument that stands with the Eiffel Tower as an international identifier for Paris.
The name tells you that this is triumphal arch built in a Classical style to honour the fallen in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars at the turn of the 18th century.
There are reliefs of battles and the names of the protagonists are carved in the limestone.
Go up to the roof to ponder the unobstructed view along the Axe Historique.
10. Palais Garnier
This iconic Beaux-Arts opera house sets the standard for performance venues around the world.
If you want a seat at one of the ballets hosted at the Palais Garnier you’ll need to book well in advance.
But it’s worth coming just to mill around on a tour.
The ornamentation inside needs to be seen to be believed, with friezes, balustrades, columns and statues made from marble in a range of colours.
The ceiling in the Grand Foyer was painted by Marc Chagall.
The Italianate auditorium seats almost 2,000 and has a stage that is the largest in Europe, with space for a cast of 450.
11. 1st Arrondissement
On the right bank of the Seine are many of the monuments and institutions that make Paris, Paris.
You could get the train to Paris Saint-Lazare in 15 minutes from Colombes and then wander down towards the river.
Every few steps there’s a world-class museum like the Louvre, Musée de l’Orangerie or the Musée des Arts Decoratifs.
Or you’ll find yourself in a place resonating with hundreds of years history like Cardinal Richelieu’s Palais Royal, or the Jardin des Tuileries.
This is the site of Louis XVI’s palace, stormed by the National Guard during the Revolution.
12. Shopping Passages
Bordering the station at Saint-Lazare is the 2nd Arrondissement, which as well as being a financial district is a shopper’s dream.
Shopping is turned into an art-form at the Passages Couverts, covered s galleries that first appeared at the end of the 18th century and became an indispensable part of the cityscape.
There are six in all to see in the 2nd Arrondissement, and a whirlwind tour will take an hour or so.
But it’s best to take your time, admiring the mosaic floor in the Galerie Vivienne, gazing up at the nave-like roof at the Passage du Grand Cerf or browsing the postcard shops in the Passage des Panoramas.
13. 8th Arrondissement
Also easy on public transport, the 8th Arrondissement has its own share of big landmarks and riveting museums.
For culture you can choose from the Grand and Petit Palais, the trove of Italian art at the Musée Jacquemart-André and the Chinese treasures at the Musée Cernuschi.
La Madeleine is a Neoclassical church designed like a Roman Temple and built during Napoleon’s rule in the early 1800s.
Then of course there’s the incomparable Place de la Concorde where Louis XVI was executed in 1793, and the Champs-Élysées, scene of era-defining events like the 1998 World Cup celebrations.
14. Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
Head east from Colombes and you’ll get to a colossal flea market that trades on weekends and Mondays.
It started out in 1870 and over time has expanded to a nine-hectare site, with 2,000 traders and up to five million shoppers a year.
Although the market has cleaned up and lost some of its rakish charm in the last few years, it’s still wonderland for antiques shoppers.
If you’re ready to do the legwork you can discover un-restored furniture, lighting, mirrors, paintings, statuettes, toys, records, clothing, lamps and any number of other second-hand items.
15. Les Quatre Temps
For a very different experience expedition you can hop over to this mall in La Défense.
Be prepared, as this is nowhere to take lightly; Les Quatre Temps is the most-visited mall in France, packing in close to 50 million shoppers a year since it reopened after a makeover in 2008. The statistics for this behemoth can make you dizzy; there are more than 300 shops over four levels.
For once, parking won’t be a problem at this mall as there are 6,500 spaces on four levels.
Don’t come if you need boutiques and one-off shops.
But if you want all the big brands and mass market chains in one place, you can reach Les Quatre Temps in minutes from Colombes.