Things to do in the 13th arrondissement of Paris include everything from feasting on Southeast Asian food in Paris’ Chinatown and doing an engaging street art tour to hiking the hilly cobblestone lanes of charming Butte aux Cailles to explore its leafy enclaves.
The 13th arrondissement of Paris in the city’s southeast is perhaps the most off the beaten track of the French capital’s 20 arrondissements or districts – and it’s a terrific part of Paris to explore if you’re heading to France now and want to avoid the ‘yellow vest’ riots that have locked down the centre on weekends in recent weeks. The authorities are currently recommending tourists go to Versailles! We reckon you should try the 13th instead.
Most travellers to Paris wouldn’t have the 13th arrondissement on their itinerary. They spend their time in the districts that host the city’s star attractions – just as we did on our first trip almost twenty years ago, despite staying in the apartment of a dear friend not so far from the 13th, which, like all Paris districts, you’ll see written on signs as 13e, 13ere, 13eme, or XIII.
Paris visitors typically start in the 1st arrondissement and its Seine River island Île de la Cité and Notre Dame, and the Louvre, Les Halles and Pompidou Centre, which also straddle the 2nd and 4th arrondissements. In the 4th they’ll amble Paris’ other lovely island Île St Louis and the retail heaven that is the Marais, which spills into the 3rd district.
They’ll stroll the Champs Élysées and see the Arc de Triomphe in the 8th arrondissement, the Opéra and Grands Boulevards in the 9th, home to Paris’ impressive department stores, and hike up through the red-light district of Pigalle to charming Montmartre in the 18th.
When visitors to Paris cross the River Seine, which bisects the city, to the southern side and the Left Bank or La Rive Gauche, it will be for the Eiffel Tower, Faubourg St Germain and Invalides in the 7th arrondissement, the cafés, shops and galleries of St Germain and Odéon in the 6th, the Latin Quarter in the 5th, and maybe they’ll get to the 14th arrondissement for the Montparnasse Cemetery and Paris Catacombs.
But rarely do Paris visitors venture just that little bit further to the neighbouring 13th district because it doesn’t have a lot of monuments. For us, that’s a big part of its appeal. I’d argue there are enough compelling things to do in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris to warrant a stay, so let’s start with the best Paris 13th Arrondissement hotels.
Things to Do in The 13th Arrondissement of Paris
These are some of the best things to do in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, starting with checking into a cool little hotel.
Check Into a Hip Boutique Hotel
One of the first things to do in the 13th arrondissement of Paris is check into a hip boutique hotel in this bohemian neighbourhood – something I couldn’t have recommended after our first visit to the district 14 years ago. We were there researching and writing a first edition Best of Paris guidebook for Lonely Planet and couldn’t find any interesting accommodation to include. How things have changed.
Just off Place d’Italie, the inviting 4-star COQ Hotel Paris is the brainchild of designers Delphine Sauvaget and Pauline d’Hoop, who have succeeded in creating a 50-room hotel with a home away from home vibe, where so many have attempted and failed. ‘COQ’ stands for Community of Quality and their goal is to get guests to engage with eachother in the welcoming communal spaces, such as the living room decorated with mid-century furniture, above, and the light-filled winter garden, a cosy plant-filled lounge with mint walls, a skylight, cushioned sofa, and bookshelves. The friendly chatty staff are there to assist – as are the aperitifs offered during nightly cocktail hours. Rooms, in the same warm tones as the rest of the hotel, are comfy albeit snug (this is Paris, after all), and have white-tiled bathrooms with claw-foot bathtubs. There’s free Wifi but why not browse the books and stacks of magazines instead? Breakfast is delicious – as you’d expect from a hotel with chickens in its courtyard. While there are temptations to spend the evening in with a good read – French wines by the glass, a fireplace in winter, and a record player with an invitation to guests to select music from the hotel’s vinyl collection – staff have terrific restaurant tips in nearby Chinatown.
The pretty 3-star Hotel Henriette is a 12-minute saunter to the market street of Rue Mouffetard in the neighbouring 5th arrondissement and nearby Great Mosque of Paris and tea-house and lush Jardin des Plantes and National Museum of Natural History. In the opposite direction, Place d’Italie and Chinatown are a ten-minute walk away. Designed by fashion stylist Vanessa Scoffier to look and feel like a home, the 32 rooms are individually decorated with patterned wallpapers, pastel and gelato hues, vintage flea market finds, and retro treasures that look like they came from grandma’s attic. There’s a comfy lounge and breakfast room furnished with mid-century pieces and courtyard with wrought iron garden furniture. Flower-filled vases and potted plants are everywhere. In true Parisian style, rooms are snug, with the single and ‘small double’ rooms starting at a cosy 11m² and double rooms ranging from 13-16m². Deluxe doubles and junior suites are more spacious at 23m² and still very affordable for Paris. Room service is rather special, with thoughtful options including ‘Henriette’s tea-time’ with home made biscuits and ‘Henriette’s apero-time’ with platters of organic terrines, French cheese, and local wine or Champagne. Unlike many boutique hotels, Henriette is family friendly, offering baby cots, connecting rooms, babysitters, and recommendations for things to do in Paris with children.
The wine-themed 4-star Hôtel B55 hosts regular wine tastings and offers guests a self-service wine dispenser and prepaid card so they can sip a glass of wine in the lounge or their room whenever they wish. Grape vines shade a tiny courtyard. Not just a gimmick, the striking design hotel is located on the edge of the village-like Butte aux Cailles, named after Pierre Caille, who established the first vineyard there in 1543. Its streets are dotted with quaint wine bars. Lying on the border of the 14th and 13th Arrondissements, Hotel B55 is ideally located if you’re keen to explore both districts – the Catacombs of Paris are a 20-minute walk away, and Montparnasse Cemetery five minutes further. However, right in Hotel B55’s backyard is Butte aux Cailles’ charming micro-arrondissements, Cité Florale, a five-minute stroll, and equally leafy Quartier des Peupliers nearby. Parc Montsouris, one of Paris’ largest green spaces, is a ten-minute walk from the hotel. The 48 rooms are comfortable, with carpets, drapes, coffee machines, free Wifi, and floor to ceiling windows. Penthouses have a terrace. Rare for a hotel this size in Paris, the Hotel B55 has a small, heated indoor swimming pool and sauna – perfect for relaxing with that glass of wine after a day hiking the hilly neighbourhoods.
The Hotel OFF Paris Seine is a sleek, chic floating 4-star hotel and bar on the River Seine, moored at Quai d’Austerlitz, in front of Gare d’Austerlitz (Gare train station). Its name may come from the fact that the bar is as much a destination as the rooms and does indeed go off. Open until 1am, there are DJs and dancing on weekends. There are also dance clubs across the river and party boats peppered along the quay, including the Batofar (currently closed for renovation), which started the trend almost twenty years ago. Groups of friends like to kick back on the dock drinking beers (this is a university area, after all), which means it’s not a good choice if you’re a light sleeper and is best suited for travellers up for a party. Good news: you get to sleep in. Buffet breakfasts, which begin at 7am, run until 11am, and there’s Sunday brunch from noon until 3pm. While some guests complain about the bar’s late closing, others grumble that it doesn’t open until 5.30pm. This is to give guests private pool time. There’s a narrow lap pool at the centre of the bar and it’s a stunner. The 54 snug rooms and four spacious suites are stylish and contemporary. For sunset, book a table at the bar (there’s an area reserved for guests) and order a cheese and charcuterie plate or tapas, from satay sticks to gyoza – in keeping with the neighbourhood’s Asian flavours. The water location means mosquitoes during warm months; pack repellent along with earplugs.
Things to Do in The 13th Arrondissement of Paris
EAT SOUTHEAST ASIAN FOOD IN CHINATOWN
One of the first things to do in the 13th arrondissement of Paris after checking in to a hip little hotel is to eat your way through Paris’ Chinatown, especially if you’re a fan of Southeast Asian food. Chinatown – called the Quartier Chinois (Chinese Quarter), Quartier Asiatique (Asian Quarter) and Petite Asie (Little Asia) – is a hub for Paris’ Asian community, although most businesses are Vietnamese and Cambodian owned, opened by refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. Chinatown is also called Triangle de Choisy, because the largest concentration of Asian restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, and shops lie in and around a triangle formed by Avenue de Choisy and Boulevard Masséna and Avenue d’Ivry – although these days they pepper the residential streets beyond those borders. Like Chinatowns around the world, from New York and Sydney to Bangkok and Singapore, you’ll find more than Chinese food. Most of what’s dished up is Vietnamese, Cambodian, Cambodian-Chinese, Laotian, and Thai. You’ll also find Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese bubble-tea shops. Scan the menu at Cambodian-owned Tricotin (15 Avenue de Choisy), which features Phnom Penh noodles, peppery beef lok lak, steaming dim sum, and glistening roasted pork, and you could be at any Cambodian-Chinese restaurant in Phnom Penh, if it wasn’t for the columns dedicated to Vietnamese and Thai specialties. Also try Mondol Kiri (159 Avenue de Choisy) for more Cambodian, including an authentic fish amok and Khmer chicken curry; Pho Tai (13 Rue Philibert Lucot) for big hearty bowls of Vietnamese pho; and Lao Lane Xang (102 Avenue d’Ivry) for Laotian specialties such as nem Lao, fermented pork sausage with salad, and laap neua, a chopped beef salad. Don’t miss Asian supermarkets, such as Cambodian-owned Tang Frères.
HIKE THE HILLY STREETS OF BUTTE AUX CAILLES
Walk off your Chinatown feast and work up an appetite for the next meal with a hike around the hilly cobblestone streets of Butte aux Cailles, easily one of the most delightful things to do in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. In some ways, it’s a mini Montmartre without the sights and tourists – just the way we like our local neighbourhoods. Butte aux Cailles didn’t become part of Paris until 1860 when the area was comprised of small farms and industries, such as tanneries, textile makers, laundries, and printers. While it’s residential buildings may not be as old as those in the heart of Paris – most dates to the 1920s – they nevertheless feel ancient compared to the modern residential towers of the 13th district and Vitry sur Seine, on the other side of the Boulevard Périphérique. While Butte aux Cailles, for all its charm, still feels urban, secreted away within this village are two leafy micro arrondissements or enclaves, the Cité Florale or Floral City, although it’s more like a hamlet, and nearby Quartier des Peupliers (Poplars Quarter), both of which feel like they could be in rural France. There’s very little to see except quaint, pastel-painted, ivy-covered houses, with courtyards and gardens shaded by greenery and dripping with flowers. Each of the streets of Cité Florale is named after a flower or plant: Rue des Iris, Rue des Orchidées, Rue des Glycines (Wisteria Road), and so on. While Butte aux Cailles is quiet during the day, after dark its lanes, illuminated by antique street lamps, are enlivened by locals spilling out of the wine bars and cafés with drinks in hand. You’ll find most of the evening action centred on Rue de la Butte aux Cailles. Try the convivial, red-painted Le Temps des Cérises (#18-20), an unpretentious bistro ran by a cooperative established in 1976, dedicated to Paris’ working class history and the 1871 Commune. Order the steak frites and a carafe of house wine in keeping with the spirit of the place.
ABSORB STREET ART ON A WALKING TOUR
As you’d expect from a district dotted with universities that has been the location of some of France’s most historically momentous events, such as the Paris Commune of 1871 and the civil unrest of May 1968, graffiti, tags, stencils, stickers, collages, and murals enliven the streets, many of them political and some dating to the Sixties. Spontaneous works combined with commissioned public art has transformed the area into an open air museum, making a street art tour – whether self guided or organised – one of the most compelling things to do in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. You’ll spot dozens of works around the national library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France François Mitterrand, and the Nationale metro station, particularly on and around Rue Jeanne d’Arc and Boulevard Vincent Auriol, where you’ll see artist INTI’s La Madre Seculaire (85 Boulevard Vincent Auriole) and Shepard Fairey/Obey’s ‘Rise Above Rebel’ (93 Rue Jeanne d’Arc) and ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’ (186 Rue Nationale), Fairey’s homage to France’s national symbol, Marianne, which covers the wall of a seven storey building. You’ll need to look up, but you shouldn’t miss anything as these are monumental murals. There are so many works on Boulevard Vincent Auriol that tour guides jokingly call it ‘the Champs Élysées of street art’. There are more in Butte aux Cailles, including stencils by urban poet and artist Miss Tic, and even more works yet again across the Boulevard Périphérique in Vitry sur Seine, home to some 500 pieces, where street art pioneer Christian Guémy (known as C215) has a studio. If you’re a street art fan, it’s best to join a street art tour, which takes in dozens of works and shares stories about the artists and their backgrounds, techniques, and inspirations.
Have you spent time in the district? What are your tips for the most interesting things to do in the 13th arrondissement of Paris?
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