Over the years I’ve heard two vastly different opinions of Paris: it’s either love or hate. While I know a few people who fall in the latter category, I count many Paris lovers among my closest friends. Naturally, I consulted with a few of them before heading to the City of Lights. “You have to go to Quartier Latin!” exclaimed one of my Parisophile friends when I told her I was heading there in April. All I knew of the Quartier Latin was that my favourite Paris-based movies had scenes filmed there – Jessie & Céline strolling along Rue Galande in Before Sunset, Gil discovering a porthole to the ’20s at the steps of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont church in Midnight in Paris – and that combined with my friend’s recommendation was enough to pique my interest. I spent a few days exploring the area by foot (as one should when in Paris) and assembled a list of reasons why I fell completely head over heels for the Quartier Latin. How do I love thee? Let me count thy ways in the Portjam guide to the Quartier Latin!
Let’s be honest: when you visit Paris, you can’t NOT visit the major attractions. So to maximize the sightseeing potential, we selected a hotel that would be near the Seine, and fairly central to the city. I tossed around the idea of staying in the very central 1er arrondissement (home to the Louvre, Jardins des Tuileries, and megamall Les Halles) but my friend’s voice kept popping up: “Quartier Latin!” it kept saying.
Our hotel – Hotel Europe Saint-Séverin – was ideally located just off Boulevard Saint-Michel, mere steps away from the Saint-Michel fountain which anchors the Quartier Latin to the North. The major thoroughfare is the ideal starting point for catching the major attractions in the Quartier Latin. Heading south from the fountain will find you walking the border of the 5ème and 6ème, eventually coming face-to-face with and walking alongside the very pretty Jardin du Luxembourg. Turning away from the beautiful greenspace might sound like blasphemy but your eyes will be treated to the gigantic and stately Panthéon sitting at the end of Rue Soufflot. (A quick glance in the exact opposite direction and your eyes will feast on the Eiffel Tower so, you know, pro tip: look back before heading toward the Panthéon!) From this point you can start your walking tour of the major attractions: the beautiful Saint-Étienne-du-Mont tucked right behind the Panthéon, the exotic mosaic-heaven Grande Mosque just a short kilometer away from the church, and the futuristic Institut du Monde Arabe another kilometer walk from the mosque. Basically, the 5ème is chock-full of major attractions all explorable by foot, fitting nicely with my preferred mode of transportation in Paris!
It’s not all about the massive monuments and buildings though. The Quartier Latin is home to many the iconic establishment like Shakespeare & Co., which offers a unique view of the Notre-Dame. It’s also pretty close to other areas, so some of the other major attractions are a short walk down the Seine. With the 6ème arrondissement (better known as Saint-Germain-des-Près, home of Jardin du Luxembourg) to the West, Ile-de-la-Cité (home of Notre-Dame-de-Paris)bto the North, Bastille (square one for history and French Revolution buffs) to the East, and the 1er (Louvre, Jardins des Tuileries) and 4ème (le Marais) just a bridge crossing away, you can see the (almost*) all of the major Parisian attractions by just picking a direction and walking!
*Almost all because that pretty Iron Lady (you know, the Eiffel Tower) will always (and I mean always) make you work to reach her. But guess what? She’s so worth it!
While there are entire areas where the grands boulevards (big boulevards) reign supreme, the Quartier Latin is the exact opposite. It’s all about the small, winding streets here. Major streets like Saint-Germain and Saint-Michel certainly exist, but the vast majority of the Quartier Latin is a network of meandering streets that encourage you to do just that: meander. The tiny boutiques of Rue Galande and bustling market on Rue Mouffetard seem to exist in their own contained ecosystem, sheltering you from the surrounding city you as you explore away.
Being quite centrally located, we decided to wander the streets to discover our chosen neighbourhood. The stroll uncovered several restaurants, a few churches that suddenly emerged in between the tightly connected buildings, and lots of surprise artwork along the way. Best of all, there didn’t seem to be a rush, and that’s not just for us tourists. The locals lingered over coffee on the multitude of sidewalk terrasses, lending to the term I loved the most and found best described my favourite part of Parisian life: flâner, which means to wander. (How apropos!)
Food, Glorious Food
Exploring on foot can be an energy-expending endeavour best fueled with food. Fortunately for us, we had already gotten the lay of the land and our options were pretty much endless. Ethnic eateries (Middle Eastern, Greek, North African, among others) mingle alongside many the french bistro. So for dinnertime (or you know, after dinnertime since we were on a 6-hour jet lag), we ended up on the tiny streets searching for the first place (and prix fixe menu) that caught our eyes. The prevalence of those lunch and dinner specials (prix fixe, table d’hote, whatever else you may call them) surprised us. They were literally everywhere! Best of all, the Quartier Latin was home to the most affordable prix fixe menus we saw of all the areas of Paris we visited. Throw out the guidebooks and wing it. This is one area that is chock full of tasty goodness!
Oh, you didn’t think I’d forget the essential French treats did you? Patisseries and boulangeries can be found in as much abundance as the restaurants in this area. At the end of our block, Maison Georges Larnicol displayed their baked goods in the window, beckoning us in with sight as well as wafty smell. Further down on Boulevard Saint-Germain, the 150-year-old Maison Pradier (winner of the best éclair in Paris award) sat looking pretty in its modern white décor, and next door Paul offered a stark contrast with a chic black façade and pastries as far as the eye can see.
(Btw, they were all amazing, so I recommend them all!)
Exploring the Quartier Latin with just our feet and eyes as guide was the perfect way to discover the nooks and crannies of this very special pocket of Paris that taught me the way (and the joy) of the flâneur!
Want to book a hotel? I loved Hotel Europe Saint Séverin!