Stylish and arty Montreuil is an eastern suburb of Paris just up from the Bois de Vincennes. Historically this was a place of industry and agriculture, and many homes in this up-and-coming area are set in converted warehouses and mills. It’s a neighbourhood where you can rummage though the flea market for vintage treasures and go back in time at the old walled peach orchards.
Then by night you’ll party with some of the trendiest people in Paris. And the City of Lights is at your fingertips on the Métro lines 1,3 and 9, as well as Line A of the RER commuter train. All of Paris is in reach, but for the sake of convenience we’ll talk about the sights and cultural icons just minutes from Montreuil.
Lets explore the best things to do in Montreuil:
1. Puces de Montreuil
On Avenue du Professeur André Lemierre every Saturday and Monday there’s one of the scruffiest but most lovable flea markets in the city.
Almost everything on sale is second-hand, so if you’re into bric-a-brac, vintage clothes and anything retro scour these stalls for a bargain or two.
And being in Montreuil it’s also off the beaten track so you won’t be jostling with tourists.
As you rummage you’ll come across antique cutlery, art deco ceramics, old bicycle parts, furs from before the war and all manner of other odds and ends.
2. Château de Vincennes
A burly medieval presence in the Vincennes district to the south, this castle hoves into view at 52 metres.
When it was completed in the 1300s the keep was the tallest fortified building in Europe and was the seat of French Royal power before Versailles.
Two kings, Philippe III and his successor Philippe IV were married on the property, while in the 14th and 15th centuries three French monarchs, and the English King Henry V died at Vincennes.
Later it became an ill-famedprison, incarcerating Fouquet, Mirabeau, the Marquis de Sade and Diderot.
You can come in to tour the sky-scraping upper floors of the keep, the Royal Chapel and investigating Charles V’s 14th-century study.
3. Murs à Pêches
Between the 1600 and 1900s a third of Montreuil’s area was decked with orchards and patches that supplied Paris with fresh fruit.
Not only that, these plantations helped cultivate new varieties of peaches, cherries and strawberries.
It was a resourceful enterprise, coating garden walls with local gypsum plaster as the material radiated heat at night.
Later it became easier to ship the fruit in from farms outside Paris, but many of these maze-like Murs à Pêches (Peach Walls) have been restored, especially in the Saint-Antoine area where there are 40 hectares of walled gardens.
You can check in with Montreuil’s tourist office for a guided tour.
4. Bois de Vincennes
You may be shocked by the sheer size of this park just south of the Montreuil district.
This is the largest park in Paris, making up one tenth of the city’s total area.
Like the Bois de Boulogne on the west side of Paris it was reserved as a royal hunting ground before being landscaped by Napoleon III in the middle of the 19th century.
There are many hundreds of hectares of flowing greens space and woodland, but also many smaller flower gardens and venues: In the park’s confines are the Paris Velodrome, the Hippodrome, the Paris Zoo and even an urban farm with goats, cows and sheep.
5. Parc Floral de Paris
This park on the northern edge of the Bois de Vincennes is one of the city’s four official botanical gardens.
The Parc Floral came together in the early 60s, coinciding with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which explains the loose Japanese theme.
The showpiece is the glorious Vallée des Fleurs, which is updated with a colourful new theme every year.
In spring there’s a tulip show, and there’s a competition in autumn for dahlias.
Add to these a vibrant program of cultural events like the Paris Jazz Festival, Festival Classique au Vert and Pestacles.
Any other time you can bring children for a joyous day at the cool adventure playground, mini-golf course and miniature train.
6. Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration
Whether you enter the museum or not, you have to come to see the Palais de la Porte Dorée on the fringes of the Bois de Vincennes.
It’s an official “monument historique”, an art deco palace built for the 1931 Colonial Exposition.
In the portico there’s an enormous relief from ceiling to floor, showing wooden ships and exotic beasts.
The galleries inside explore 200 years of migration to France, and track the barriers faced and achievements made by migrants since the start of the 20th century.
Ever since the building opened there has been a tropical aquarium in the basement, which has colourful fish, turtles and caimans.
7. La Montreuilloise Brewery
Only established in 2014, La Montreuilloise Brewery is part of the craft beer revolution sweeping France fright now.
Using organic and environmentally-friendly methods this brewery beside the Murs à Pêches makes blonde, brown, amber and special seasonal beers.
Bottles are stocked at more and more of the trendy bars around Montreuil, and are easily spotted for their stylish labels.
If you’re a Paris resident or in town for more than a few days you can come for a workshop.
You’ll actually be able to make your own beer, which will then be bottled 13 days later.
8. Coulée Verte René-Dumont
From Montreuil’s Robespierre Métro station it’s only a ten minute walk to the eastern terminus of this innovative urban project that opened in 1993. Also known as the Promenade Plantée, this park follows the course of the old Vincennes Railway, traversing the same old viaducts and transforming them with trees, bushes, sculptures and flowerbeds.
The upshot is that you can walk from near Montreuil all the way to the Opéra Bastille in the 12th Arrondissement without ever having to step outside this green oasis.
There are a couple of playgrounds for young ones, and every now and then you can descend from the elevated promenade into one of the gardens below.
9. Père Lachaise Cemetery
In the 20th Arrondissement just west of Montreuil is the final resting place of many world-changing personalities.
You can download a map of the plots at the cemetery or can pick one up from local shops . The roll-call of figures is remarkable: From French history and culture there are writers like Balzac and Proust, painters such as Delacroix and Ingres, and the beloved singer Édith Piaf.
Many visitors come exclusively to see the small grave of Doors singer Jim Morrison, as well as the art deco monument to the Irish writer Oscar Wilde.
And though you may not recognise all of the names, many of the plots have sensational mausoleums and tomb carvings.
10. Palais Garnier
Take the Métro Line 3 to what is possibly the most famous opera house in the world.
The Palais Garnier was built in the lavish eclectic style that was en vogue during the rule of Napoleon III in the 19th century.
Most of the performances here are by the Paris Opera Ballet, but naturally this won’t be something you can do at the last minute.
You’ll need to stay up to date with the listings and book as early as possible long before your holiday.
But if you’re out of luck getting tickets you can be blown away by the opulence of the auditorium and Grand Foyer on a self-guided visit during the day.
11. Passage des Panoramas
Among the many things that make Paris, Paris are the regal shopping arcades that arrived in the 19th century.
They took shape when the city threw aside its stuffy medieval layout and embraced the grand street-plan of today.
Shopping galleries like the Passage des Panoramas near Bourse on Line 3 were prototypes of modern malls and allowed people to shop, dine and sip tea and coffee out of the elements.
The Passage des Panoramas is the oldest of them all, completed in 1800 and illuminated by innovative gaslights in 1817. Emile Zola wrote about this one in Nana, and there’s still a strong 19th-century flavour in its stamp shops, crêperies and the Belle Époque trappings of its restaurants.
12. Musée des Arts et Métiers
Only 15 minutes from Gallieni on Line 3 is a museum that will delight wannabe inventors, engineers and historians.
In these galleries are more than 2,500 machines, gadgets and experiments that helped change the course of science and culture.
The museum’s originated with the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, which was founded in 1794 and set out to record and preserve important inventions.
The archive is arranged in seven sections: Communication, Construction, Energy, Materials, Mechanics, Scientific Instruments and Transport.
Some of the many marvels are Foucault’s original pendulum, Pascal’s Pascaline calculator, early aircraft and the model for Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty.
13. Opéra Bastille
Criticised as an eyesore when it opened in 1989, this modern opera house is now up there with the world’s top performing arts venues.
Any misgivings you might have about the way the building looks will be forgotten in the main auditorium, where the acoustics are second to none and even the nosebleed seats have clear views.
In the day you can go behind the scenes on a 90-minute guided tour of the building, un covering its history, architecture and the inner-workings of the stage area.
But if you’re sharp you can stay glued to the website for upcoming opera performances, and then plan your trip to Paris around the show.
Slightly trickier to reach from Montreuil, the Louvre is on Line 1. To connect with this line you could change at Nation, or just get the bus or walk down to Vincennes.
The journey time will pale into insignificance once you’re inside the largest museum on the planet.
After Louis XIV moved into Versailles he used this palace as a sort of private gallery for the royal collection.
After the Revolution it was opened up to the public and enriched with the confiscations made from noble families and religious orders across the country.
There’s more archaeology and significant art than you could get through in a whole day.
But if you’re making a short visit make a bee line for da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.
15. Centre Pompidou
More than 40 years after it was built this capacious high-tech cultural centre still has the capacity to provoke.
The building broke the mould in the 1970s by placing all of its heating, plumbing and electrical infrastructure on the exterior.
Within are several national institutions like the huge Public Information Library, Europe’s largest modern art museum and the IRCAM centre for music and research.
For tourists the goal is the museum, covering every movement of modern and contemporary art from Fauvism to Pop Art.
Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Chagall, Francis Bacon are just a few names from a bewildering array of shining lights.