The Bastille used to be the star of this area, and a stop here—at the epicenter of the French Revolution—was obligatory. The small streets forking off Place de la Bastille still buzz at night, thanks to bars, music clubs, and the top-flight Opéra Bastille.
There are also noteworthy attractions, like the nearby Coulée verte René-Dumont (Viaduc des Arts), an urban-renewal project that transformed an old elevated rail line into arcaded, design-focused studios and shops. Along the top, the Promenade Plantée makes for a lovely stroll through the 12e arrondissement, which includes stately apartment buildings and pretty Square Trousseau, gateway to the Marché d'Aligre. But today the neighborhoods farther afield are the real draw, having evolved into some of Paris's top destinations.
The Canal St-Martin, once the down-and-out cousin on the northern border, is now trend-spotting central, brimming with funky bars, cafés, art galleries, and boutiques. The scene is similar on Rues Oberkampf, St-Maur, and Jean-Pierre-Timbaud, where artists and small designers have set up shop, and where a substantial slice of the city's bobo (bourgeois-bohemian) contingent is buying up the no-longer-so-affordable apartments.
Continuing east, you’ll find the city's largest cemetery, Père-Lachaise, with a roster of famous tenants. Not far away is the impressively wild Parc Buttes-Chaumont, with grassy fields, a small Greek-style temple, and sweeping hilltop views of Paris. It's the perfect place to eat a picnic lunch and let museum-weary kids blow off some steam. The eastern section is also home to two other popular parks: the Parc de la Villette, which contains a pair of engaging museums, and the Bois de Vincennes, home to the city's largest zoo.
To the south of the Bastille, the old wine warehouses at Bercy have become a veritable village of shops and restaurants bordering Parc de Bercy. Directly across the Seine is the Bibliothéque Nationale François Mitterrand, the National Library of France, a sprawling complex of modern glass towers opened in 1998.