About Secrets of Paris

American-born travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall created the Secrets of Paris in 1999 to share the hidden side of the City of Light. Discover what you've been missing:

* Custom Travel Content
* Travel Writing Workshops
* Calendar of interesting Paris events 
* Monthly Secrets of Paris newsletter
* Secrets of Paris Tours & Travel Planning

Read more about the Secrets of Paris here




Calendar of Paris Events

May 13-16
The 27th annual Artists' Open Studios in Belleville takes place for four days in over 120 ateliers in Belleville (11th, 19th & 20th arrondissements). It's a great chance to see some neighborhoods tourists don't normally see, to meet local artists, and of course purchase some lovely artworks! Pick up a map and program at the Espace Jordain (3 rue Jean-Baptiste Dumay, 20th, M° Jourdain). Free entry. Open 2-8pm, Fri-Sat until 10pm. 

May 21
Check out your favorite Paris museum at night during the 12th annual Nuit Européenne des Musées, when all over Europe museums stay open until midnight...for free! Special flashlight tours, live music, installment arts, film screenings, costumed museum guides, and other fun events throughout the evening at each museum.

May 21-22
Attention equestrian fans: it's time for the one of the legendary horse racing events in Paris, the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris at the Hippodrome d'Auteuil (16th). There will be food trucks, snack stands and you can also dine in the panoramic restaurant overlooking the racetrack. Tickets are €8. 

Click here to see the full calendar of events...

Secrets of Paris gives 10% of all tour fees to the French food bank, Les Restos du Coeur

Entries in Paris (332)


Recommended Reading for Francophiles

For this month's recommended reading list, I've got something old, something new, and something that will probably make you want to pack up and move to Paris if you're not already here. 

To start off with the most magical of the three, The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs is not, in the words of its author Elaine Sciolino, "a chick-lit expat book about how I discovered sex, fashion and life in Paris". It is, however, a story about how this highly honored international news journalist fell in love with a market street in Paris, its people, its history, its food and the way it slowly but surely transformed her into a "local" in her adopted neighborhood south of Pigalle. Yes, this book will make you die of envy if you don't already live in Paris, and make you nod in recognition if you do (because like Elaine, we all can't help but fall in love with our own market street in Paris). 

When my long-ago intern, running buddy, and tour guiding colleague Bryan Pirolli finished his doctoral thesis and obtained French citizenship this fall, I wanted to find the perfect gift. I stopped into the Abbey Bookshop and one of the other clients recommended Sudhir Hazareesingh's new book, How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People. Perfect! Only when I started reading it on the way home, I quickly realized I'd need a second copy for myself. Even after 20 years in France, I can pretend I know the French, but the "why" remained a mystery. This book, heavily researched by a British academic, finally clued me in. I'm only two chapters in (Descartes, the cult of Napoléon, Victor Hugo's occultism) and I already feel the little pieces of insight I've collected over the years are finally falling into place with the right context. It may be a bit heavy for the casual visitor, but if you live in France, this should be required reading. As an aside, I find it amusing that the UK cover has a suave-looking man smoking a cigarette, but the US cover is just the cigarette on its own. 

The last book is one that I never actually thought I'd read. Secrets of Paris is a novel by Luanne Rice, one of those prolific romance writers who comes out with a book every year. This one came out in 1991, and I hadn't heard about it until I started using Google search around 2001 (anyone remember metacrawler?) I'm not really a romance genre reader, but when I was at my aunt's house in Arizona last month she had a pile of paperbacks and told me to take one, and guess what was in the pile? I hate badly-researched books set in Paris (yes, I'm looking at you Dan Brown), but this one is faultless. Either the author lived in Paris or did her homework. It's a perfectly entertaining airplane or poolside read, and you can probably find it at your local library. 


Steam Locomotive at the Living Train Museum

Choo choo!

Last weekend I went on the monthly Ile-de-France hike led by Abbey Bookshop owner Brian Spence. To get a peek at the annual Medieval Christmas Market, our destination for the "Rando de Noël" was the historic town of Provins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Champagne countryside.  

As usual, about 20 of us met at the Gare de l'Est at 10am to take the train out of Paris to Longueville, where we'd begin our relatively short, three-hour hike (and we take the train back, because there are only so many hours of daylight in winter). But before we began our trek, we got to make a short detour to visit the Musée Vivant du Chemin de Fer, or Living Train Museum. 

This museum is located in a listed 1910 SNCF rail depot at Longueville just a few minutes' walk from the regular SNCF train station. The depot has a completely wooden, circular frame, housing a impressive collection of old trains, including a Train Bleu car, Pullman cars, and a dozen steam locomotives dating back to the early 20th century. 

One of the first trains from the 19th century, showing the 1st, 2nd and (short-lived) 3rd class compartments. 

More than a museum, it's also a restoration workshop, and the trains regularly take small passenger trips. On the day we visited they were preparing one steam locomotive for the Provins Christmas Market, the Train du Père Noël (which gets completely booked about two months in advance). 

The next two events are the Valentine's Dinner in the Train Bleu car on February 13th, and the Easter Egg Train on March 26 (steam locomotive trip from Longueville to Provins). Keep an eye on their website or FB page for registration information (it's not up yet). 

There is very little information in English on their website, but if you visit the museum, the staff are very friendly and will explain as much as they can to you about the trains in English. You can get there by car, but it's very easy by train from Paris (the Transilien train from the Gare de L'Est station), then a five-minute walk from the Longueville station. 

Musée Vivant du Chemin de Fer - Dépôt des Machines
3 Rue Louis Platriez 
Tel: 01 64 08 60 62  
E-mail: contact@ajecta.org  
Website: www.ajecta.org 
Low Season Hours: October 16 to April 30 on Sundays from 1-5pm.
High Season Hours: May 1 to October 15 Saturdays and Sunday 10:30am-6pm.
Entry fee: €4

If you'd like information about the next Abbey Bookshop hike, stop into the store (29 rue de la Parcheminerie, 5th, M° Cluny-Sorbonne or St-Michel) and Brian will be happy to give you all of the information.

Our intrepid hike leader Brian, map and walking stick in hand. 



A Selection of Paris Expositions

The weather is exceptionally warm for Paris this December, hovering around 55°F/12°C, with no frosty freeze in sight. But if you have already had your fill of Christmas markets, ice skating, and the overcrowded halls of the Louvre, Orsay and Grand Palais, there are several smaller exhibitions around Paris worth a peek this winter. 

Philippe Halsman Astonish Me! at the Jeu de Paume
One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Philippe Halsman got his start as a young man in Paris alongside contemporaries such as Dali and Man Ray before moving to New York in 1940 because of the Occupation. There he started working for Life Magazine (where he holds the record of 101 covers), shooting some of the greatest stars and personalities of the time, including Marilyn Monroe. This retrospective showcases 300 exclusive images and original documents (contact sheets and prints, preliminary proofs, original photomontages and mock-ups) that attempt to show not just the finished photos themselves, but the avant-garde techniques he perfected to achieve them. There's a free smartphone app for the exhibition as well. Through January 24, open Tues 11am-9pm, Wed-Sun 11am-7pm. Entry €10.

Ateliers d'Artistes at the Musée Mendjisky
I had been meaning to visit this museum in the 15th arrondissement for some time. It's a museum dedicated to the two Ecoles de Paris (Schools of Paris), artists who worked primarily in the Montparnasse district in the 1920s and immediately after WWII. The building itself is an Art Deco artist's studio designed by the Robert Mallet-Stevens, one of the most influential architects of the interwar period, and a contemporary of Corbusier. It's down an almost hidden passage called the Square de Vergennes, right outside the Vaugirard metro station. The architecture is what I found most interesting about the museum, but I also enjoyed the temporary exhibition Ateliers d'Artistes, which features 60 photographs, architectural plans and descriptions (in French only) of Parisian artist studios from the 19th and 20th centuries, from Montmartre to Montparnasse, most which are inaccessible to the general public outside open studio days. Through January 10th, open from 11am-6pm (closed Thursdays, and Dec 24th-27th), entry €9. 

Hey! Modern Art & Pop Culture/Act III at the Halle Saint-Pierre
I've always loved the Halles Saint-Pierre, an steel, brick and glass pavilion at the foot of Montmartre housing a museum, art gallery, book store, café and auditorium. The exhibitions are usually "outsider" contemporary art and art brut. I saw an HR Giger exhibit here years ago. The current exhibition is a collaboration with Hey! Magazine of modern art and pop culture featuring 62 artists -- including "lowbrow" art pioneer from California Mark Ryden, Joël Negri, Ed Hardy, Alain Bourbonnais and Thomas Woodruff -- and 400 works of art in various mediums. Through March 13th, open 11am-6pm, Sat until 7pm, Sun  from noon-6pm, entry €8.50. 

Bons Baisers de Paris at the Galerie des Bibliothèques de la Ville de Paris
Kisses from Paris: 300 Years of Tourism in the Capital is a bilingual English-French exhibition on the ever-changing role of tourism in the City of Light from the 18th century through the post-WWII boom. Photographs, posters, travel brochures, tour guides and other vintage documents from the national archives and Carnavalet Museum are presented in four themes: The Revolution in Paris Tourism, Paris as a Show, The Spirit of Paris from Bohemian to Luxury, and the Globalization of Tourism. Held in the City of Paris Library gallery in the Marais (22 rue Mahler) through March 31st. Open Tues-Sun 1-7pm, Thurs until 9pm. Entry €6 (free Thursdays 6-9pm).



Sound Jingle of the French SNCF Trains

If you've spent any time traveling around France by train, you'll recognize this little jingle:

The SNCF even created its own little techno song using the jingle:

And the British singer David Gilmore incorporated the jungle into his song Rattle that Lock from the 2015 album of the same name (the video is pretty cool, too):

Anyone know of creative ways the SNCF jingle has been incorporated into songs? How about a ringtone


Holiday Solidarity and Volunteer Opportunities in Paris

If you’re in Paris during the holidays, far from your family, no reason to feel sorry for yourself. Take advantage of your lack of “family obligations” and help out those in need in your adopted community. If there are any I have missed please let me know!

There are a few charitable associations who need extra help over the holidays. And of course, if you don’t have the time, your tax-deductible donations are always welcome, and I also list holiday markets benefitting local charities so you can shop for gifts while helping these charities: 

1. Secours Populaire

Le Secours Populaire needs help at their gift-wrapping stations at FNAC Italie 11 (13th) and FNAC St-Lazare (9th), where volunteers wrap gifts in return for donations. There is a chart to fill out with your availability by the day and hour, for wrapping at least two hours daily 10am-8pm, through December 31st.

The Secours Populaire will be collecting new toys from December 8-10 for “Operation 3000 jouets = 3000 sourires”, at 11 collection kiosks around Paris (including one at 12 Place de la Bastille from 5-8pm on Tues and Thurs, and 2-5pm on Fri). 

2. Les Petits Frères des Pauvres

Les Petits Frères des Pauvres needs volunteers for the 24th and 25th December to accompany the elderly to and from a community Christmas dinner and also to help prepare and serve the holiday meals and deliver Christmas packages. There are two contact links on this page, one for North Paris and one for South Paris.

3. The Salvation Army

The Armée du Salut needs volunteers to help with the holiday dinner celebrations on the 24th and 31st, as well as gift wrapping, gift delivery and other holiday preparations.


UNICEF is urgently looking for volunteers to help sell their holiday cards at stands around Paris and the rest of France. You can register on their website or attend the next volunteer info session in Paris December 10th at 2:30pm (info on the website).

You can also help UNICEF by simply purchasing their holiday gifts, calendars and cards at their Boutique Solidaire, online and in two Paris locations: 7 rue St-Lazare, 9th, M° Notre-Dame-de-Lorette; and 15 rue de Rémusat, 16th, M° Mirabeau  

5. Restos du Coeur

The Restos du Coeur are food distribution centers that need long-term volunteers and donations.

6. La Banque Alimentaire

La Banque Alimentaire is also a food bank that needs long-term volunteers and donations.

7. Les Apprentis d'Auteuil

The Apprentis d’Auteuil help at-risk youth, always in need of volunteers for long-term projects.

You can also visit their excellent Marché de Noël, Les Féeries D’Auteuil fair and flea market December 5th-13th, or their charity thrift store Auteuil Bonnes Affaires open daily. 

8. Society for the Protection of Animals

Established in 1845, the Société de Protection des Animaux (SPA) just celebrated its 170th anniversary on December 2nd. They always needs donations, but they also need volunteers to help out at their shelters throughout France (the one in Paris is at 39 boulevard Berthier, 17th, where they are looking for full-time volunteers to manage the adoption office). Even if you just have time to come and walk, pet and give attention to the dogs and cats, it's much appreciated. And of course, if you're looking to adopt a pet, think of those which are abandoned or rescued from illegal puppy mills (which usually end up being sold at pet shops).  Another site for pet adoption in France is Second Chance.

You can support the SPA by shopping for holiday gifts in their online Boutique Solidaire.

9. Oxfam

Oxfam needs volunteers for their two shops in Paris, in the 11th and 14th, apply online or in the shop.

You can also shop at the Oxfam bookstores in France at 61 rue Daguerre, 14th and 8 rue St-Amboise, 11th. They collect and sell books, CDs, and DVDs in French and English. There will be a special holiday sale on December 16th and 17th, see the Facebook page for more info. 

10. Red Cross

The Croix Rouge not only regularly recruits volunteers and staff in France and abroad (“Je M’Engage”), they also offer regular training weekends in First Aid/CPR (Formation aux premiers secours) throughout France.

11. Emmaüs

Emmaüs Paris always needs volunteers for help at their charity shops around Paris and the suburbs.

Shop at or donate items to the Emmaüs Thrift stores in and around Paris. There is a special Exceptional Opening on December 13th at 105 rue de Clignancourt, 10am-1pm. 

For other volunteer opportunities searchable by theme, location, or skill, check out these excellent websites:


http://www.benenova.fr (check the Calendar for seasonal needs)


www.espacebenevolat.org (scroll down this page to see the holiday volunteer opportunities in Paris)

www.francebenevolat.org (click here for holiday volunteer opportunities in Paris)

For specific information on helping the refugees in France read this article:
Winter is Coming: How Parisians are Helping the Refugees (and so can you!)

For those who speak no French
Your best bet for finding volunteer opportunities without speaking French is probably to contact Serve the City Paris, the American Church or the American Cathedral (specifically, they do an annual Love in a Box project). Looking ahead in January and February, the SOS Helpline in English is looking for volunteers. “Interested fluent-English speakers are invited to come along to ONE information session on EITHER 21 January, 27 January, or 3rd February to meet us and find out more about the organization.” Visit the website for more details. There are no other English-language groups in Paris that I know of who do regular aid work. If anyone knows of any, let me know!

Soup Kitchens in Paris
Here is the Mairie de Paris’ list of food distribution points in Paris for those in need, with hours and addresses.


A Parisian Yarn Shop & Tea Room 

I don’t knit, or crochet, but I have a lot of friends who do (which means I have a lot of awesome hand-made accessories). So I thought I’d pick up some “Made in France” yarn for friends back in the US.

I don’t need to go far, one of my favorite tearooms in Paris is also a haven for knitters (and all you “fiber arts” people). L’OisiveThé sits atop the Butte aux Cailles hilltop (10 rue de la Butte aux Cailles, 13th), its colorful façade easy to spot. They serve coffees, teas, hot chocolate, all kinds of pastries and cakes, and vegetarian lunch and brunch.

From OisiveThé Facebook Page

The cozy tearoom’s walls were overflowing with yarns, so they recently opened a boutique down the street called La Bienaimée (27 rue Paulin Méry, 13th) just for yarn and fiber arts accessories. They import hand-dyed and exceptional yarns from the US and the UK, and also sell French-made yarns and their own hand-dyed yarns which have amazing colors. They speak perfect English, so don't hesitate to ask if you have questions. 

From La Bien Aimée

Other Yarn and Sewing Shops

The other shop I regularly visit with tour clients who sew, knit or crochet is La Mercerie Parisienne (8 rue des France Bourgeoise, 3rd), in the back of a courtyard in the Marais. They have yarn, buttons, ribbons, patterns, fabrics, and felt. Another popular place for sewing and knitting items is La Droguerie, at Les Halles on 9 rue du Jour, 1st.  

One of my friends crocheted this Day of the Dead skull (with cute flowers) for me. :-)