Criss-crossing the French capital from one Parisian monument to another can be exhausting. Sprinkling your Paris itinerary with a few pick-me-up moments is essential to make the most of your trip. The most quiet refuge in the heart of the tourist center, just steps away from the Louvre museum, is the Garden of the Royal Palace or Jardin du Palais Royal in Paris. This quintessential park is the perfect spot to indulge in some of those mouth-watering Parisian macarons that you stashed away in your bag.
The Palais Royal itself may not be accessible but the garden and courtyards, which are open to the public on a daily basis, are a feast to the eyes. And, in addition to the elegant fountain and fragrant rose bushes, there are some interesting art installations to discover on the grounds of this fascinating palace. Before we dive in, let’s have a look at the history of the Domaine national du Palais Royal.
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Short history of the Palais Royal in Paris
In 1624, Cardinal Richelieu bought the hôtel de Rambouillet townhouse as well as the grounds behind it and commissioned architect Jacques Lemercier to build his palace. Richelieu had his apartments in the north-eastern wing of the Palais Cardinal and had a private theater build in the south-eastern corner.
Richelieu bequeathed his residence to the Royal Family and so it became the Palais Royal or Royal Palace. Louis XIV spent his early years here and eventually decided to open up the theater to the public. At first, Molière and his crew performed on scene. After his death, composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, the founder of Parisian opera, took over.
When King Louis XIV relocated from Paris to Versailles, the Dukes of Orléans called the Palais Royal in Paris home. They chose the west wing, parallel to the rue de Richelieu, as their residence or Grand Appartement. When a fire destroyed the theatre, not once but twice, the palace underwent major alterations and was transformed into the neoclassical masterpiece that you can see today.
The Palais Royal became the city’s most trendy hotspot and entertainment hub. But the golden years of the Palais Royal soon turned into years of obscene decadence. The reputation of the Palais Royal in Paris was polished when it was acquired by the state in 1793. It still houses some important French institutions such as the Ministry of Culture (in the Pavillon de Valois), the Constitutional Council (in the Pavillon de Montpensier) and the Conseil d’État. And with its dozens of upscale apartments, the Palais Royal site also counts as one of the most prestigious residential sites in Paris.
Highlights of the Palais Royal
Jardin du Palais Royal
The Jardin du Palais Royal is our favorite haven of peace in the bustling French capital. This tranquil garden encompasses an area of 5 acres (2 hectares) and is framed by arched neoclassical galleries. It’s lined by two dusty pathways: the Allée Colette, parallel to the Galerie de Valois and named after the renowned writer who used to live here, and the Allée Coctea, parallel to the Galerie de Montpensier and named after the poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau.
An elegant fountain forms the heart of the Jardin du Palais Royal and a collection of lime trees, chestnut trees and fragrant rose bushes shapes the tranquil setting. The garden is equipped with chairs, some of which mention quotes and poems.
Three of the galeries that frame the Jardin du Palais Royal were avant-garde shopping passages that housed 145 shops, restaurants and cafés. They were named after the three sons of Philippe III d’Orléans: the Galerie de Valois (east), the Galerie de Beaujolais (north) and the Galerie de Montpensier (west). The mosaic pavement in these galeries still mentions the names of boutiques that have been located here, such as the 19th century Pontillon and Krétly jewelers. These three galeries still house some of Paris’ most exclusive shops selling some of the finer things in life, from the most exclusive shoes and bags to precious antiques.
To the south, the Palais Royal Garden is bordered by the Galerie du Jardin. This gallery flows into the Galerie d’Orléans, which connects the Ministry of Culture (in the Pavillon de Valois) and the Constitutional Council (in the Pavillon de Montpensier). Behind the Galerie d’Orléans is the elegant Galerie de la Cour d’Honneur with its signature lamps. Oh, how I love this timeless and alluring design!
The eastern tip of the Galerie de la Cour d’Honneur is bordered by the Galerie des Proues. This gallery takes its name from the bows of boats that are depicted in the bas-reliefs and refer to Richelieu’s status as Superintendant General of Navigation. It’s the only remnant of Richelieu’s Palais Cardinal since all other architectural highlights are the result of the alterations under the Dukes of Orléans.
Van Buren Columns
The signature sight in the Palais Royal in Paris are the 260 contemporary black-and-white striped columns against the neoclassical background of the Cour d’Honneur (Inner Coutyard). “Les Deux Plateaux“, better known as “Les Colonnes de Buren” is an art installation by sculptor Daniel Buren at the request of then-Minister of Culture Jack Lang. Upon its completion in 1986, this modern artwork caused quite some controversy. After two decades of contempt and neglect, it was restored to its original glory. The revived columns were presented in 2010 and the artwork gradually became a quintessential part of the Parisian landscape.
Another notable yet understated artwork that subtly brings the Palais Royal’s Cour d’Orléans to life, is the duo of sphere-shaped fountains called “Sphérades”. This creation by Belgian artist Pol Bury focuses on the gently movement of the shiny stainless steel spheres as the water whispers over them and brings them out of balance. This dynamic sculpture creates a smooth transition between the static art of Buren and the lively atmosphere in the garden, emphasized by the reflection in the spheres.
Two renowned theaters
After the fires that destroyed the original theater, Duke Louis-Philippe d’Orléans had it replaced by a new one in the southwest corner to house the precursor of the Comédie Française State Theater. Commonly known as the House of Molière, this is believed to be the oldest theater in the world.
You can visit this renowned theatre house even without attending a performance. Admire the grand Salle Richelieu as well as the paintings and busts that tell the story of the Comédie Française. One of the most remarkable items is Molière’s armchair, the fauteuil in which he performed on stage as part of the comedy “Le Malade Imaginaire”. During his last performance, he discretely fought for his life in this very chair and died soon after. After his death, the armchair became a symbol for greatness and only Molière’s best successors were allowed to perform in it.
A second theater, the Théâtre des Beaujolais, was built by the same architect in the northwest corner at 38 Rue de Montpensier. It first served as a puppet theater but eventually hosted operettes by Offenbach and Halévy. It’s now known under a different name, the Théâtre du Palais Royal. The building’s exterior is characterized by a spectacularly designed fire escape that dates back to 1880.
The small bronze cannon
In 1786, engineer and watchmaker Rousseau from the like-named boutique in the Galerie de Beaujolais, had invented a small bronze cannon that would fire every spring and summer day at noon. The mechanism consisted of a magnifying glass that caught the sun-rays, setting ablaze a wick. The cannon was installed on the Paris meridian, which, at that time, counted as the prime meridian and accurately reflected the solar time.
In 1914, when the Greenwich meridian was introduced in France, the use of the cannon was no longer allowed. It was reinstated in 1990 (although the bang was reproduced manually) but that revival only lasted for a short time. Soon after, the original bronze cannon was stolen and replaced by a replica that’s on display at the garden’s southernmost parterre, behind the statue facing the Cour d’Orléans. The pedestal still shows the original latin inscription “Horas non numero nisi serenas” meaning “I don’t count the hours unless they’re serene”.
Restaurant Le Grand Véfour
This iconic restaurant, located in the Galerie de Beaujolais, has been around since 1784. It was originally known as Café de Chartres and the entrance was located in the Jardin du Palais Royal, where the old namesign adorns the former facade. The current name Le Grand Véfour dates back to 1820, when chef Jean Véfour took charge over the café and transformed it into the most opulent restaurant in Paris. Throughout history, it was the rendez-vous spot par excellence for the crème de la crème of Paris’ aristocratic, literary and political society. Napoleon, Hugo, Sartre and Zola were frequent guests and some of the tables still wear the name of these historic figures by means of a brass plaque.
Entering Le Grand Véfour is like stepping into history. The intricate woodwork, elegant mirrors, rosettes, stucco garlands and other ornate decorations create the most mesmerizing decor. On the menu are the grand classics, lobster, caviar and foie-gras, delicately prepared by a world-class cooking team. For a real taste of the Palais Royal’s history, this is the place to be.
Getting to the Palais Royal in Paris
The Palais Royal is located at the heart of the 1st arrondissement in the Paris city center. Metro lines 1 and 7 stop right in front of this French landmark. The main entrance is located at the corner of the Place Colette and the Rue Saint-Honoré.
Staying at the Palais Royal in Paris
Many amazing Paris hotels are located in the direct vicinity:
- Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal: A classy hotel located in the Rue de Valois, just steps away from the Galerie d’Orléans with its Sphérades. It’s part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. The view from the Panoramic Suite terrace is truly spectacular: You can even see the Eiffel tower from here.
- Hôtel du Louvre, in The Unbound Collection by Hyatt: This up-scale hotel is located right across from the main entrance to the Palais Royal and has been completely renovated recently. It features bright rooms in neutral tones and a gastronomic restaurant by the iconic French chef Paul Bocuse. Insider tip: In summer, you can request your picnic basket to enjoy a romantic picnic in the Jardin du Palais Royal.
- Hôtel Crayon Rouge by Elegancia: This hotel is located just east of the Palais Royal. Its playful interior creates an informal atmosphere.
- Luxury Apartment Paris Louvre: This apartment, located just across from the Rue du Beaujolais, is exquisitely finished. The seperate bathroom and small kitchenette make it perfect for couples exploring Pais.
If you can’t get enough of the Palais Royal and you actually want to stay inside this iconic building, then this is unique Paris rental apartment is all you could ask for… and more. Check out the views over the Palais Royal Garden!
Places to see and things to do nearby
The Place Vendôme, the octagonal square designed around an equestrian statue of the Sun King, takes its name from the Hôtel de Vendôme townhouse which was the residency of the Duc of Vendome. After the French Revolution, the statue was replaced with a 44 m (144 ft) bronze column made of enemy canons. It was topped with a statue of Napoleon in Roman attire to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.
The neoclassical townhouses that frame the Place Vendôme were residences for the aristocracy and, throughout its history, the place managed to keep its luxurious status intact. Apart from the Ministry of Justice, it’s home to the Ritz-Carlton hotel and numerous jewellery boutiques with the most sparkling window displays.
Just a short walk from the Palais Royal is the most visited museum in the world. The Louvre’s vast art collection is second-to-none, from Egyptian antiquities to Islamic arts and French sculptures. Make sure to prepare your visit in order to make the most of it or follow one of the thematic trails such as Masterpieces, In Search of Ideal Beauty. From the park adjacent to the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries or Tuileries Gardens, you can get a sense of the size of this impressive museum.
Check out these Louvre ticket and tour suggestions:
- Fast-track access is included with the Paris Pass.
- Louvre Skip-The-Line Ticket with Host
- Louvre Tour for Kids & Families with Skip-the-line Tickets & Must-See Pieces
- Skip-the-Line Louvre Museum Greatest Masterpieces Small Group Tour
- Secrets & Mysteries of the Louvre: Skip-the-line tickets & XSmall Group
Iconic Parisian treats
To make your Paris experience complete, get some of those iconic Parisian macarons from Ladurée. There are several boutiques in the near vicinity of the Palais Royal.
Pont des Arts
For a long time, the Pont des Arts was a quintessential stop for lovers visiting the City of Lights. The railings of this metallic bridge, which connects the Louvre on the right bank of the Seine to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district on the left bank of the Seine, were covered in love locks. The weight of those locks, however, made the bridge unstable which is why, in 2014, all love locks were removed. Panels were put in place in order to prevent new locks being hung.
This iconic Parisian museum, housed in a former railway station along the Seine, houses the largest collection of impressionist paintings in the world. Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Degas… the masterpieces on display in this amazing museum are a feast for the eyes. Make sure to stop by the 5th floor for a peek through one of the two gorgeous clocks.
Tickets and tour suggestions:
- Musée d’Orsay Dedicated Entrance Tickets
- D’Orsay Tour for Kids & Families with Skip-the-line Tickets & Must-See Pieces
When will you visit the Palais Royal in Paris
If you need a break from that jam-packed Paris itinerary, then you know where to escape the crowds. Are you as fond of this grand neoclassical site as we are? Have you visited the courtyards and garden of the Palais Royal in Paris yourself or are you planning to visit in the future? We’d love to read all about your travel plans so feel free leave a comment.
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