Long a bastion of intellectuals and artists, this neighborhood now features high-end home-decor boutiques and galleries. The intellectual tradition here has largely been eclipsed by fashion and commerce, so feel free to shop till you drop. Featuring both the serenity and space of one of Paris’s loveliest gardens and the dense hubbub of the Latin Quarter, this walk offers many charms. Enjoy this old part of the city at a leisurely pace; the streets here are narrow, the buildings low, and the scale intimate and inviting.
1. Emerge from the Saint-Michel Métro station into the thriving Latin Quarter, which teems with students, tourists, and locals. The central fountain in the Place Saint-Michel commemorates France’s liberation during World War II, while the statue behind it shows Saint-Michel (a.k.a. St. Michael, duh) slaying the dragon. (Even today, the swordfighting theme persists with Salle d’Armes at nearby No. 6 Git-le-Coeur, a fencing arena.)
Head down the street to the right of the fountain to the tiny Place Saint-André-des-Arts, turning right onto Rue Saint-André-des-Arts. This largely pedestrian thoroughfare bustles with students and, therefore, cheap eateries. The real joy here is the narrow, intimate scale of pre-Haussmann Paris, and this street has a particularly lively, youthful spirit. The Café Latin at No. 30 is a fine casual lunch spot from which to take in the scene.
2. Turn right and head up Rue Dauphine. Keep an eye out on your left for the entrance to the Passage Dauphine, which leads through a quiet courtyard to Rue Mazarine. Consider stopping at L’Heure Gourmand at No. 22 for a snack. Rue Mazarine is lined with galleries, so browse a bit or head down to Rue de Buci, which is dense with delicious specialty food shops. Pretty Rue Grégoire de Tours is lined with restaurants too. If you’re not hungry, continue back down to the Carrefour de Buci and zigzag left into the covered Cour du Commerce Saint-André, one of the area’s oldest streets; the buckling, uneven cobblestones make it clear this street has been around for centuries. Two salons de thé line the northern end—flowery little places where you can watch the world go by. There are a few boutiques, among them the old-fashioned toy shop Age Tendre et Tête de Bois at No. 1. The café and restaurant Le Procope, an old literary haunt, is Paris's oldest operating café, dating back to 1686. Along the walk is another side passage, Cour de Rohan, with an unusual triple courtyard with iron mounting blocks.
3. Peruse the many sights of Place Henri Mondor (where you can check out the statue of Revolutionary leader Georges Danton) and the adjoining Carrefour de l’Odéon, looking in the windows of renowned florist Christian Tortu at No. 6 to see his unusual creations. Then window-shop your way down Rue de l’Odéon, peeking in at the teapot shop at No. 17, the pretty baubles at Désirs (No. 13), and Sandrine Ganem at No. 16 for a glorious array of colorful ceramics, all fired in a kiln on site. Shakespeare and Company had been located at No. 12 when original owner Sylvia Beach ran it from 1921 to 1940. Detour to No. 17 Rue Monsieur le Prince to find another English-language bookstore, the San Francisco Book Company.
(If you didn't stop by it during your tour of the 5e arrondissement, the massive six-story bookstore Gibert Joseph is just off to the east, down Rue de l’École de Médecine; if you head back that way now, you'll pass the Musée de la Histoire de la Médecine at No. 12 along the way.)
4. At the end of Rue de l’Odéon is the 1779 Odéon Théâtre de l’Europe, still operational today with its impressive ceiling and outer corridors; around the corner to your left is the Hôtel de Bacq at No. 4 Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, with its globe-covered proto-Art Nouveau façade, and the Maison Auguste Comte, a small museum devoted to this “father of sociology.”
Loop to the right of the Odéon and cross into the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Dating back to the early 17th century, this Marie de Médicis creation is French classical at its best. The main building now houses the French Senate.
Stroll to the park’s southern end, passing the global-themed Fontaine de l'Observatoire, the astounding turn-of-the-century Assyrian-Egyptian brick architecture of the Institut d’Art et d’Archéologie, and the basin where children push toy sailboats through the water.
Linger and people-watch, or head east out of the park to either of two ritzy cafés in the Place Edmond Rostand; Le Rostand at No. 6 offers outdoor seating to a chic crowd, while at No. 2 Dalloyau’s elegant second floor overlooks the park.
5. If you didn't stop by it during your tour of the 5e arrondissement, Val de Grâce is just to the south down Rue du Val de Grâce (duh), along which you will also pass the Lutheran church Saint-Marcel. You might also stop in at the Musée Zadkine at Rue d'Assas to the southwest of the park to see some of the Russian sculptor's handiwork.
Otherwise, loop around to make the complete circuit of the park and exit to the northwest, turning left on Rue Vaugirard to reach the Institut Catholique de Paris, comprised of the Église Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes and the adjacent Musée Biblique.
Then reverse direction, and turn left up the tree-lined Allée du Séminaire to Place Saint-Sulpice.
Inside the huge church there, in the southwest corner, are two paintings by Delacroix.
6. Turn right onto Rue Saint-Sulpice and indulge in some high-class window-shopping, or stop at the outdoor Café de la Mairie at No. 8 to indulge in a bit of people-watching. Maison de Familie at No. 26 is a gorgeous housewares shop, and youthful Japanese Muji at No. 27 is a popular stop with clothing and accessories. Detour onto Rue de Tournon for a variety of shopping, the Institut Français d’Architecture, or a wide range of celebrity houses (including Balzac at No. 2, John Paul Jones at No. 19, Casanova at No. 27, Louis XIII at No. 10, and revolutionary woman Théroigne de Méricourt at No. 8). Then return north for more fine shopping opportunities. Take a left on Rue Lobineau, then zigzag over to the delightful Rue Princesse, where another of Paris’s fine English-language bookstores, the Village Voice, is at No. 6. Also nearby, a little off the beaten path, is the Marché Saint-Germain, a covered market. The shops are fun, but it’s worth looping around just to see how intimate Paris can feel away from the boulevards.
7. From the markets of Marché Saint-Germain, take Rue de Montfaucon north to Boulevard Saint-Germain, and then head west to Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Saint-Germain-des-Prés is the oldest church in Paris—or rather, a church has been on this site longer than anywhere else in the city.
The original church was destroyed; most of the current building dates to the 12th century. The garden has a statue by Picasso (a tribute to his friend, the poet Apollinaire) and the remains of an old chapel.
The neighborhood is perhaps the singular nexus for artists and writers in all of Paris, including Victor Hugo, whose apartment was right around the corner at No. 6 Rue du Dragon.
Three of Paris’s traditional “intellectual” cafés are here: Les Deux Magots at No. 6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés...
...Café de Flore at No. 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, hangout of Trotsky, Apollinaire, and the existentialists...
...and Brasserie Lipp, across the street at No. 151. These days, they draw many tourists, but locals still flock to them, too. The Musée de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français is also here, across from Les Deux Magots.
8. Head down Rue de l’Abbaye (many streets here date to the first abbey and have kept their original names) and turn left onto boutique- and gallery-lined Rue de l’Échaudé, stopping in at La Dernière Goutte at No. 6, famous for its wine selection. Then turn left onto attractive Rue Jacob, a home-decor paradise, and detour left into Place de Furstenberg, admiring the globes and compasses at Aux Armes de Furstenberg at No. 1 and the extremely well-hidden Musée Delacroix at No. 6 in the northwest corner.
We recently noticed that this cozy, well-hidden place was used by Martin Scorsese as the site of Michelle Pfeiffer's character's apartment in Paris when Robert Sean Leonard and the elderly Daniel Day-Lewis come calling at the emotional end of The Age of Innocence. Time for full disclosure: Elizabeth and I went to see The Age of Innocence when it premiered at the Hoka in Oxford in 1993.
It was our first date.
Looks like we've come full circle.
The Musée Delacroix is an oddity; one of the priciest museums in Paris—especially given its small size and variety—it is also one of the few to not be covered by the all-access multi-day, multi-location passes that most museum-obsessed tourists are well-advised to purchase. It was a nice house, though, and we'd have regretted never having at least looked inside.
9. Back on Rue Jacob, Jean Leblanc Huilerie Artisanale at No. 6 specializes in flavored oils—from grilled sesame to pistachio to truffle, while Maison Rustique at No. 26 sells illustrated French- and English-language home and garden books. Take a right onto Rue Bonaparte, where the salon de thé Ladurée at No. 21 on the corner has sublime macaroons, and Simrane at No. 23 sells gorgeous high-end Indian print textiles.
Travel down Rue Bonaparte and take a right at Rue des Beaux Arts to get a glimpse of 19th-century artistic Paris: Balzac had a printing press here; Oscar Wilde died at at the appropriately numbered No. 13 Rue des Beaux Arts; Manet was born at No. 5 Rue Bonaparte; and Picasso lived nearby. (The École Nationale Supériore des Beaux Arts, also on Rue Bonaparte, turned down Rodin several times.) If you're less artsy like me, Roux Devillas at No. 12 offers old documents and scientific instruments.
10. Turn left onto gallery-lined Rue de Seine, past writer George Sand's house at No. 31, and head toward the river; overlooking it at the Pont des Beaux-Arts is the Institut de France, built as a palace in 1688 and home to the Académie Française, the ancient academy charged with the preservation of the French language.
Like some secret society out of The Da Vinci Code, the Academy is comprised of just 40 members of the linguistic elite, tasked with the preparation of a master French dictionary. They could probably use more members; the 1930s edition was just now completed. Believe it.
Stroll east along the banks of the Seine; the many bouquinistes along the river are worth a look, since you never know what rare gem you might find (we're always on the lookout for French Stevie King's or antique pictures). Just up the river is the Hôtel des Monnaies, the former mint site which now houses the Musée de la Monnaie (as opposed to the Musée de la Monet, I guess).
13. Loop around again, to the south; Rue Bonaparte leads back past Saint-Germain-des-Prés to Rue du Vieux Colombier and the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, an immensely popular club during the Jazz Age. At the end of the street, turn down chic, boutique-lined Rue du Cherche Midi, where there’s plenty to ogle. Stop at Poilâne at No. 8, one of the city’s most famous bakeries, where the loaves’ distinctive flavor and trademark cross pattern have gained worldwide renown. Stop at the bakery’s casual restaurant next door, Cuisine de Bar, for a refined sandwich on the trademark bread. After window-shopping along this street, retrace your steps and turn left onto Rue des Sèvres, which leads to Au Sauvignon at No. 80 Rue des Saints-Pères, a popular wine bar that serves a simple selection of meat and cheese on bread (Poilâne, of course) with your choice of wine. When you can't shop another minute, turn right onto Boulevard Raspail. Two final sights lie at this corner: Église Saint-Ignace, and the Hôtel Lutétia, where both Picasso and de Gaulle held their honeymoon (not with each other...you know what I mean), and whose wine cellar was cleverly hidden from Nazis. At last, we end the tour by heading home via the Sèvres Babylone Métro station.
The Other Paris