Our favourite spot and certainly one of the most romantic in Paris is the Left Bank or Rive Gauche. This was where Hemingway and his literati friends hung out and where the artistic crowd still gathers today. Boulevard St Germain runs through the area, with charming little streets leading off it packed with cafés, boutiques and restaurants. It’s in this area you will find some of the city’s finest antique & art shops and little boutiques.
Exploring the Latin Quarter
The area around Metro St. Michel is the easiest way into the Latin Quarter. Also known as the 5th arrondissement or the Quartier Latin by the locals, the charming Latin Quarter on the Left Bank in Paris is one of the most romantic areas of the city. You may wonder why it’s called the Latin Quarter. It’s because, during the Middle Ages, Latin was the most predominant language spoken in this area of Paris. It’s on the left bank of the Seine and is home to the famous Sorbonne University and cafés spilling onto the pavements. It’s also known for its bookshops, including the iconic Shakespeare & Company situated across the Seine and facing Notre-Dame Cathedral. Opened in 1951 by George Whitman—who passed away in 2011—it’s now owned by his daughter, Sylvia. Book-lover or not, a visit here is essential, early in the morning if possible to avoid the crowds that start to gather from mid-morning.
There are some family-friendly attractions too including the Jardin des Plantes botanical gardens and the National Museum of Natural History.
The Latin Quarter is full of interesting churches notably Saint-Severin and Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, which were built to provide refuge for students. Talking of historical curiosity, the Latin Quarter offers plenty, such as old and narrow streets, iconic monuments and parks, or Roman era ruins.
Begin exploring the area by taking a stroll along the Quai St-Michel which runs alongside the left bank of the Seine River; admire the Square St-Michel along the way and continue walking along the river on the Quai de Montebello, continuing eastward from the square.
Try to avoid spending too much time in touristy areas such as Rue de la Harpe which is full of overpriced and very average restaurants. If a restaurant says it serves “authentic French cuisine” with the aid of a cardboard cutout of a pig wearing a chef’s hat, keep on walking.
Places around St-Michel worth exploring include Rue Saint-André des Arts, filled with its antiquarian dealers, jewellery shops, rare booksellers, and charming cafés; Gibert Jeune and Gibert Joseph bookshops on and around Place St-Michel, with their bright yellow-orange signs.
Rainy day in Paris? If you’re in the Quartier Latin then you’re in luck – the Latin Quarter is, by far, one of the areas in Paris with the best arthouse cinemas where you can watch old and new movies try the Reflet Medicis or the MK2 Hautefeuille on Rue de Hautefeuille near St-Michel.
Where to stay in the Latin Quarter
Tucked away in Rue des Beaux Arts is L’Hotel, one of our favourite hotels and one of the most romantic boutique hotels in Paris. Oscar Wilde had his own suite at this glamorous and theatrically designed hotel which now boasts an underground pool, Michelin Star restaurant and sophisticated bar. If you love to stay in a hotel steeped in intrigue and history or simply to people-watch or perhaps enjoy a coup de champagne with a loved one this is the place to come.
You can’t come to Paris and not shop, especially in the Latin Quarter which is filled with antique shops, jewellers, stationers and other lovely artisan boutiques. If you have time to only go to one shop (apart from Shakespeare & Co as that is a must) let it be Buly 1803 in Rue Bonaparte, a decorative masterpiece and a step back into the early 19th-century. This beautiful apothecary is a delight to the eyes and the shop is filled with an intoxicating mix of fragrances from its handmade candles, soaps, lotions & potions which embrace the past in beautiful packaging. We particularly like the fragranced matches which give off a few seconds of perfume when lit. There’s a calligrapher on site who inscribes your name or a message onto the savon superfin, box or label. You may well get carried away, though take note, it isn’t cheap, but you can also place online orders if you don’t have room in your luggage.
As well as its historic charm and culture The Latin Quarter boasts some of the best places to eat in Paris including the famous Café de Flore, founded in 1870, and Café Deux Magots founded in the 1860’s, which are two of the most famous cafés in the city. The two cafés are separated only by the tiny, narrow Rue Saint-Benoit and yet one is far more fashionable than the other.
Café de Flore is not only popular for its food, it’s intertwined with Paris’s literary history, too. It has been associated with The Prix de Flore since 1994, a prestigious French literary prize that allows its winners to enjoy a glass of Pouilly-Fumé at the café every day for a year. The café has a range of salads for starters, followed by sandwiches and onion soup, and an overpriced omelette with frites. It serves drinks all day and baguette and patisserie for breakfast.
During the Occupation, Café de Flore had one significant advantage over the Deux Magots: a heated upper floor where Sartre and de Beauvoir would sit separately by the fire as Sartre worked on Being and Nothingness.
For many years, the Deux Magots was the more famous and fashionable of the two cafés. After all it was here that Oscar Wilde regularly went to drink after he left England; he died about five blocks away. And it was also at Deux Magots that Joyce went to drink Swiss white wine, with all of the literati except Hemingway who drank dry sherry.
Flore remains the most fashionable place in Paris and yet terrasse of the Flore, even on a beautiful sunny day is out of bounds; the inner room, with its red moleskin banquettes, is ok; but by far the most acceptable place to sit is upstairs, a room lined with banquettes made of leatherette.
For now, because the Parisians have made it so, the Flore is the more fashionable place to go and be seen, but whilst fashion can be fickle as well as cruel, no fashion lasts forever.