Let’s hop on the metro again and return to the city centre. I am now on the other side of the River Seine, and I'll explore this area a bit more and end this page with my descriptions of Ile de la Cité.
I'll start my tour at the Latin Quarter, which is a 100% contrasts to my previous destination La Défense. No modern buildings here, business men or modern architecture. But instead small windy streets, lots and lots of tourists, historical buildings and a thousand or more little (tourist) restaurants and bistros to choose from. Since The Latin Quarter has been dominated by the University of Paris, La Sorbonne, it has acquired its name from the early Latin-speaking students.
Some of the highlights of this area are the Institut du Monde Arabe, Musée du Moyen Age (Middle Ages) or also called the Musée de Cluny, the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in the Jardin des Plantes or how about the Le Panthéon and the churches of St-Séverin and St.Julien-le-Pauvre. My personal favourites of the Latin Quarter were my visits to the Musée de Cluny and lunch at a fantastic little winebar on the edge of the district called L'Ecluse (see my restaurant tips).
In the centre of the Quartier Latin, just west of the tourist heart at the rue de la Huchette, and close to the River Seine, you can see the Place St-Michel. This is a small triangular square, with a large fountain that undoubtedly will draw your attention. The fountain was created by the French sculptor Davioud in 1860. The bronze sculpture in the middle is made by Duret, who was inspired by a Raphaël painting in the Louvre which depicts Saint Michel, protector of France, slaying a dragon (photo 2). On either side of the fountain you can see two large water spitting lion-like creatures (photo 1).
The Latin Quarter - the name conjures up images of students and intellectuals sitting in atmospheric cafes and brasseries, arguing and debating long into the night. The reality these days is that the cafes are full of tourists and the debates are over which "menu du jour" offers the best value and just what is "faux-filet."
Oh well, that's no reason to give this corner of Paris a miss. The students certainly are still there, many of the brasseries do offer good value and there are bookshops aplenty still even if genuine intellectuals are thin on the ground.
There are any number of top sight-seeing options around here - the Hotel Cluny ( my No 1 choice for the glorious Lady and the Unicorn tapestries housed here) , the Sorbonne Chapel (open only for special events - I caught a fabulous Giotto exhibition here last time I was in Paris), the Arab Institute with its excellent museum, and equally good Lebanese restaurant (le Ziryab - very pricey and bookings are essential but the view is spectacular), the Pantheon and the Church of Saint Edmond du Mont ( and a great little pub down the hill fromthere where a jazz band sets up on Saturday afternoons)
Whether you opt for a full-on culture combo of museums, churches and historic buildings or simply to wander, soaking up the atmosphere of the narrow streets, the Latin Quarter is one corner of Paris not to be missed.
Of course after crossing the Seine and entering the Latin Quarter, a cacophony of sounds sights and a menagerie of people and personalities emerge. this area, known primarily for its nightlife, is thriving and alive at any time- it is the petit city that rarely sleeps. Lined with bistros, cafes, brasseries, boulangerie, jazz clubs, boutiques, bookshops and tourist shops, the area provides entertainment for all ages and all desires. The Latin Quarter is a street wander becomes walking feast through crooked, cobblestones streets of old. it is a moving passageway to neon light, old world, voices of the multi lingual personalities and a roaring backlash of "tourism" at its height.
Shakespeare and Company bookstore is there (they will stamp your book purchase for you) where you can find all things literary. I'm a Hemingway fanatic and always purchase something of his at this shop. If the attic is open (rarely) venture the old worn steps. It is a small reading room with comfortable seating, views of the river and rustic in nature. This is a definite must, especially if the resident cat strolls by and gives you the nod of approval.
The St. Severin is a favorite for coffee and people watching and wonderful for an evening cognac or wine.. If you desire a passion for fish entrees, le Luna is in store. Under yellow washed walls and small cramped quarters where every gets to know you, you can dine on some of the best french fish dishes I have found in the city. If you are in the mood for Greek food, Le Meteora will give you hours of enjoyment. Greek aperitifs, main course skewers, great chocolate mousse, and drinks to which i could never even pronounce let alone spell. All food is served with live music, dancing and cajoling waiters, unsuspecting diners hoisted onto table tops and give lessons in dancing, a circle dance to the cheers and roar of the crowded restaurant. Songs are sung by everyone and plates are dashed to the floor in celebration of a great meal, new friends and yells and squeal's of laughter.
The street food amidst the convergence of the street performers and both french residents and visitors is best for food on the move. Crepes of any fashion, bread and cheese, hot dogs (yes they are there but so much better than home), all things felafel's and hand carved meats, chocolates and sweets by the delectable mouthful. There is a flavor and style for every palate and all one has to do is decide- now therein lies the problem...
The Place de la Contrescarpe is a square where the students from the Universite de Paris have hung out, eaten & drunk for centuries! There are plenty of bars & restaurants to choose from in this area; one that I ate at is just off the square called La Couscoussiere, a Morrocan joint which serves wonderful & cheap couscous.
Nearby is the rue Mouffetard, a great market street in the Latin which has a great wine store (I saw great wine for as low as 2€), some crepes stands and a food market during the day. Just off rue Mouffetard are cobblestoned passages such as vine-laden Passage des Postes, Passage des Patriarches and Square Vermenouze.
In the middle of the square is a wonderful old burbling fountain that people enjoy day or night, picnic or no, cold or hot - even in winter it was filled with people!
Photos: Feb 2006 & Nov 2007
We soon found out that a lot of restaurants' kitchens close after lunch hour, but we also quickly found out that this wasn't necessarily the case in the Latin Quarter and often ended up stopping for a late lunch at one of the many restaurants located on the charming little streets surrounding the Sorbonne (University of Paris). This is probably one of the most touristy areas of Paris but also one of the cheapest, and if you're looking for "traditional" French dishes such as fondue and tartiflette, chances are you'll find what you're looking for in the Quartier Latin. You'll also see plenty of souvenir shops around and these are great if you're looking for postcards and small, not too fancy souvenirs as once again, they are among the cheapest in all of Paris.
It's also fun to go there at night when the streets are packed with visitors and students. Just be prepared: as you walk by the restaurants, someone will be there to do his or her very best to make sure you pick their restaurant, handing out menus and even free drinks! So not exactly a great place for a romantic stroll through the streets of Paris, but still a lot of fun :o)
The name Latin Quarter came from the fact that most of the famous schools and old universities located in the area were using for teaching, until the French Revolution, the Latin language.
Latin Quarter is a popular meeting place for young people and its main attractions are the Pantheon, St-Etienne-du-Mont church, St-Severin church and La Sorbonne.
In the summer time, the Latin Quarter is a beautiful lively place, due to the numerous cafes, bistros and restaurants around.
We stayed in this area so, it became very familiar to us! We discovered this area on foot by day AND night! The fast food places and clothing chains along Blvd. St.- Michel can be distracting. Look beyond and you will find the Pantheon, Sorbonne, Musee de Cluny, Square Viviani, Arenes de Lutece, and the Mosquee de Paris all lie in this historic area. The open -air market on rue Mouffetard was a lot of fun for the both of us as was the cafe lined Place de la Contrescarpe. By night , the area around St. Severin becomes loud and obnoxious with restauranteurs trying to lure patrons in with their antics (ie. plate smashing on the street outside Greek restaurants)and music from the many clubs. We both enjoyed ALL of the activities around the Latin Quarter!
Well, I ran into this area as I was looking for the train stop, and I am soooo happy I did....I had not spoken to anyone who had mentioned the Latin Quarter to me, so I'm glad I found it.....This is probably the cheapest and best meals you will have in all of Paris.....the narrow streets are lined with all types of restaurants offering every type of food your looking for...pastries, cheese stores, all foods.......Spend having lunch here !!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED IT !!!!!! and for those who fear the language barrier....most of the places have English menu's !!!!!
If you keep going and exit east out of Jardin du Luxembourg, you hit Blvd St Michel.
Up NE you eventually come to a great hangout spot, Place St. Michel fountain.
Usually always crowded with people (mostly young but all ages), enjoy the scene while Archangel Michael slays the devil/dragon/whatever. During WWII occupation this was a place of many conflicts between occupying Nazis and the French resistance as well as the student riots in the '60s.
as a spiritual 'Soixante-huitard'
(if you thrive on cultural sterotypes... :P)
this place holds a special relevance for me.
There were lots of cafes here for some good people-watching, and overall Place St Michel is just an excellent area to walk, hang & chill.
At night you can watch fire-eaters, or sit down at a cafe table
and if you're lucky enough, have a french "lady" you have never seen before
(with her right hand) cadge / con you for drinks, smoke your cigarettes;
and (with her left hand) honk you under the table.
Named for St Julian the Poor, this church claims to be the oldest church in Paris. Indeed, this gothic structure really does have a very old feel to it and is one of the earliest examples of gothic architecture. Not grand like its neighbor across the river, Notre Dame, or St-Germain-des-Pres in the next arrondissement, this small humble church was an important stop for pilgrims making the trek from Campostela to St-Denis.
There's an old acacia robinia tree in the Square Rene Viviani that claims to be the oldest tree in Paris although there's another tree in the Jardin du Luxembourg that holds the same claim. However, when I asked one of the many people who were lunching in the garden if it was the oldest, he emphatically replied that it was.
Besides being a house of worship, St-Julien-le-Pauvre is also a great place for evening concerts. You can see a flyer for a Chopin concert among my photos.
Photos: Feb 2006
The river Seine disects Paris and is a great place to stroll along either the left bank or right bank. There are many arguments over which bank is better, don't worry, just do both.
The Latin Quarter (arrondissement or district 5e and 6e) is quite central and while growing in tourism, stilll contains a large number of students, artists and academics. The boulevard St Michel which is the border is a large shop lined street. This area is known as the Latin quarter because up until the revolution the students and professors only communicated in Latin.
There is an amazing collection of cafes and restaurants, theatres and quaint shops in this area, plus its only a quick stroll to the Notre Dame and Pont Neuf along the Seine River. The pantheon is a landmark in this area. It is a very historic area of Paris.
In all, it makes a great base to explore Paris from.
Located in the Latin Quarter, traditionally the center of university life in Paris, the Place St-Michel presents a busy spot no matter what time of day or night (except for early in the morning). Come by here past midnight & you'll see it's still bustling with students - definitely this is party central in Paris.
Nearby are a plethora of cafes & bars (my favorite nearby is Corcoran's at the 28, rue St-Andre-des-Arts in the same building where Jack Kerouac stayed while he visited the other Beats: poets Allen Ginsberg (Howl) & Gregory Corso (Bomb), and writer William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch, Junkie) while they were staying at the aptly named Beat Hotel.
Across the street at 3, boulevard St-Michel stood a cafe described by Hemingway as "a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly" where he'd hang up his coat to dry and set to work on writing.
Photos: Nov 2007 & April 2003
The Latin Quarter was founded in 1257 around the Sorbonne University. It owes its name to the language spoken up until the revolution by students and teachers in the district. It holds bookshops, clothes shops, restaurants and decoration stores.
A stroll along the Latin Quarter will take you form medieval monuments to picturesque markets, and from roman amphitheaters to incredible churches.
Take the time to sit in a café and grab something to eat. And watch the people go by, the beautiful markets and life as it should be in any city, parisian style.
Unfortunately I only discovered this lively quarter towards the end of my stay in Paris. Sigh. I had of course visited Notre Dame and La Chapelle but had not had the chance to venture too far beyond. I had an hour before I was to depart Paris and went for a bit of a stroll through the winding streets.
It was a veritable smorgasboard of sights and smells and basically anything GOOD. There were cheap eats and so much life here I was pleasently surprised and cannot wait to return and check it out properly.