A promenade, or leisurely walk, is an activity involving moderate physical engagement that relaxes the body and the mind.

It is not walking in the sense of hiking

As such it differs from hiking, which implies greater effort. The promenade is therefore more closely associated with resting (Ill.1).

Ill. 1. Relationship between the activities carried out on holiday (in blue) and various spatial categories (in purple), showing that “engaging in a sporting activity” (according to INSEE terminology, we would say playing) is linked to mountains (on the left in the graph) while “going on a promenade” is near the sea and close to “resting without any particular activity” (source: Philippe Violier, analysis of data from the so-called holiday survey conducted in 2004 by INSEE).

Then through a metonymy, promenade became a micro-place

Promenades, or pedestrian malls, or long avenues, appeared in cities in the 17th century. They represented a new way of living in cities based on open space and fresh of air, and on separating pedestrians from carriages along roads and especially boulevards (Le Roy Ladurie and Quillet, 1981). Rémy Knafou (2000) in fact specifies that the invention of the beach, which he located in the Netherlands dating from the middle of the 17th century, is the result of the extension of a practice developed in the Hague by a society that derived its fortune from maritime trade. Promenades, which had become indispensable to tourists, were created in seaside locations. They were often built along beaches, offering a breath-taking view of the elements and a setting for seafront villas. In French, various terms apply, in particular: promenade (e.g., the Promenade des Anglais in Nice), remblai (embankment) in Vendée and digue (seawall) along the Opal Coast. Alternatively, they were built perpendicularly to the shore, jutting into the water. Piers are an example of these, with those of Brighton among the most famous, along with landing stages. Spa destinations had their own equivalents, such as the Allées d’Etigny in Bagnères de Luchon, while the mountains had lake walkways.

Where socialising flourishes

In places dedicated to various practices, socialising, the ultimate transversal pastime, flourishes along these promenades, used not only for physical relaxation and contemplation, but as a place to see others and be seen. In some cases, where space allows, more playful activities are offered, such as merry-go-rounds (Ill. 2). They could also include a casino such as that of Nice’s Promenade-Jetée, which disappeared during the Second World War.

Ill. 2. Pier in Atlantic City (Philippe Violier collection, 21 August 2010)

Philippe VIOLIER


  • Knafou Rémy, 2000, «Scènes de plage dans la peinture hollandaise du XVIIe siècle: l’entrée de la plage dans l’espace des citadins», Mappemonde. 58/2, p. 1-5, en ligne.
  • Le Roy Ladurie Emmanuel et Quillet Bernard, 1981, «Un urbanisme frôleur», dans Le Roy Ladurie Emmanuel (dir.), La ville classique, Histoire de la France urbaine. Paris, Seuil, p. 439-482.