A walk in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

This village-like district with its mix of culture and heritage, right in the centre of Paris, is well worth discovering.

The Left Bank is synonymous with intellectuals, beautiful boutiques and historic monuments … For centuries, the vibrant and arty Saint-Germain-des-Prés district has been attracting visitors from all over the world. Set out to explore this district which has a village feel, and a mix of culture and heritage, right in the heart of Paris.

1 / The Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris© OTCP - Jacques Lebar

Begin by discovering the treasures of the Saint-Germain district: As soon as you exit the metro, you’ll see the splendid Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés in front of you. This abbey, dating from 543, is the oldest in Paris and has witnessed many events in the city’s history such as its capture by the Vikings – during which it was burnt down. Long before Saint-Denis, the place served as a royal necropolis during the Merovingian period. In the 19th century, the building became a church, and was renovated by architects Godde and Baltard. It is to Baltard that it owes the magnificent frescoes and paintings.

Did you know? The nave of the Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the last remaining vestiges of Norman art in Paris.

Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés – 3 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris 6th

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2 / The literary cafes of boulevard Saint-Germain

Café de Flore © Alexemanuel

Not far from the church, on the Place and Boulevard Saint-Germain, Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore were regular meeting spots for the Paris literary and artistic world of the 20th century. Writers, painters, sculptors, musicians ... all came here to work, converse, and find warmth and inspiration. You might have come across Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Boris Vian, Guillaume Apollinaire, Albert Camus and even Pablo Picasso. The Brasserie Lipp (now a listed monument) decorated with superb mosaics and wall paintings, was also frequented by great literary and political figures of the time. These three places subsequently launched their own literary prize in honour of their famous customers. Although they have many things in common, what distinguishes them are their unique facades and decor. So, don’t hesitate to step through the door and soak up the unique atmosphere.

Take advantage of the walk to stroll along the Boulevard Saint-Germain, famous for its lovely fashion boutiques.

Café de Flore - 172 boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris 6th

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Les Deux Magots - 6 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris 6th

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Brasserie Lipp - 151 boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris 6th

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3 / The Place de Fürstenberg and the Musée Eugène Delacroix

Musée Eugène Delacroix - Jardin, Paris © Antoine Mongodin

Retrace your steps and walk up to Rue Jacob, lined with beautiful bookshops and galleries, a nod to the district’s cultural past. Then turn right onto Rue Fürstenberg  to see the delightful square of the same name. Formerly a small courtyard of the old abbey, it is now considered one of the most charming squares in Paris. In its centre, a single lamppost with 5 lights is framed by four magnificent paulownia trees and surrounded by fine buildings. These were once used as outbuildings and today house the Musée Eugène Delacroix. This unique museum, installed in the artist's former apartments and studio, offers an insight into the Romantic painter through his pictorial works but also through more intimate items such as photographs and letters.

Musée national Eugène-Delacroix - 6 rue de Fürstenberg, Paris 6th

Open from Wednesday to Monday from 9;30am to 5.30pm. Open until 9pm on the first Sunday of the month

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4 / The Monnaie de Paris

Cour d'honneur de la Monnaie de Paris

Rejoin the Quai de Conti via Rue Jacques Callot and Rue Guénégaud. On your left is the Monnaie de Paris, open to visitors. The entire site was renovated in 2017 and the museum reveals all the secrets of coin making, from the melting of materials (gold, silver, bronze, etc.) to the way in which coins are engraved and struck. If you don’t have time for a full tour, step into the adjoining shop to admire some of the finished products. For foodies, 11 Quai de Conti has something for everyone! You can book a table in advance at the 3-starGuy Savoy restaurant or have a snack at the Café Frappé by Bloom in the courtyard of the building.

On your way out, enjoy the view opposite of the Ile de la Cité and the Square du Vert-Galant before veering left.

Did you know? The activity of this institution began in 864, and it is thought to be the oldest company in the world. It was only in 1775 that it was installed by the Seine, in this beautiful 120-metre-long neoclassical building decorated with six statues.

Monnaie de la Monnaie - 2 bis rue Guénégaud, Paris 6th
From Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 7pm. Until 9pm on Wednesday

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5 / The Institut de France

Institut de France, Paris © Thinkstock

Continue along the Quai de Conti. At number 23 is the Institut de France. This institution, which plays the role of ‘Protector of Arts, Literature and Science’, encompasses five prestigious académies. The best known is certainly the Académie Française (French Academy), founded in 1635. Its dome is visible from many parts of the capital. If you have time to spare, stop for a few minutes at the Bibliothèque Mazarine, the oldest public library in Paris.

Institut de France - 23 quai de Conti, Paris 6th

The entire palace is only open to visitors during the ‘Journées du Patrimoine’ (Heritage Days). The Dome, every Saturday, 10am to 6pm. The Bibliothèque Mazarine, Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm.

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6 / The Pont des Arts

Pont des Arts, Paris

Opposite the Institut de France, you will easily spot the Pont des Arts. This beautiful cast iron footbridge, captured and immortalized by many photographers and filmmakers, spans the Seine making it possible to cross to the Louvre Museum on the other side. Since its construction in 1800, the Pont des Arts has been a place to go to. In summer, it is a popular meeting point for a waterside picnic and attracts painters, musicians and people wanting to relax in a laid-back friendly atmosphere.

Did you know? The Pont des Arts is also known as a bridge for lovers. Couples used to leave a lock attached to the railings as a symbol of their love. This practice threatened the structure of the bridge and had to be banned in 2015.

Pont des Arts - quai de Conti, quai François Mitterrand, Paris 6th

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7 / The Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts

Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris © ENSBA - Jacques Pépion

After admiring the Pont des Arts, continue walking along the Quai de Conti to Rue Bonaparte to discover the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts whose facade is decorated with frescoes and busts. This school of the Fine Arts is recognized worldwide for the quality of its teaching and the creativity of its students. Although the school is spread over several buildings on a two-hectare site, the highlights are the Cour d'honneur, the Chapelle des Petits Augustins and the Cour du Mûrier. The Palais des Études - especially its inner courtyard - is also worth a visit.

Did you know? Auguste Rodin failed the entrance exam for the Beaux-Arts three times. The famous artist successfully passed the drawing test but was refused entry because of the ... sculpture tests!

École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts - 14 rue Bonaparte, Paris 6th

Occasional workshops and temporary exhibitions are opportunities for visitors to discover the buildings.

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8 / The House of Serge Gainsbourg

On leaving the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, take Rue Jacob, then turn right into Rue des Saints-Pères and then left into Rue de Verneuil, where the house at number 5 bis with a colourful graffiti front is sure to catch your attention. It belonged to Serge Gainsbourg. This 135 m² townhouse has remained as it was since the artist's death, both inside and outside. A project for a museum in tribute to the famous artist was considered for some time but then dropped for logistical reasons. Like the many fans who come here to remember him and leave a trace of their esteem on the wall, you too will leave humming a song from the artist’s album ‘L’homme à Tête de Chou’.

Maison de Serge Gainsbourg – 5 bis rue de Verneuil, Paris 6th

9 / Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche and the Grande Epicerie de Paris

Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, Paris

At the end of Rue de Verneuil, continue on down Rue du Bac until you reach Le Bon Marché. When it opened in 1838, this shop was just a small neighbourhood haberdashery before becoming the upscale department store that we know today. Now a shopping mecca, it is full of upcoming and trendy brands.

Foodies won’t want to miss the Grande Épicerie de Paris, a fine food store adjoining the main store that stocks all kinds of exceptional products and original ingredients from all over the world.

Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche – 24 rue de Sèvres, Paris 7th

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La Grande Epicerie de Paris – 38 rue de Sèvres, Paris 7th

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10 / The Eglise Saint-Sulpice

Eglise Saint Sulpice, Paris © Thinkstock

Make your way up Rue de Sèvres to Rue du Vieux Colombier where you will come upon the impressive Eglise Saint-Sulpice. Cloaked in mystery, the church featured as a key part of the plot of Dan Brown's famous book (and later film) The Da Vinci Code. It is true that it houses a gnomon, an astronomical measuring tool that works like a sundial due to a play of light between a lens and the obelisk -  and which makes it possible to calculate the dates of the solstices and equinoxes. Even though far removed from fanciful legends, this instrument installed here in 1727 is still fascinating today.

Eglise Saint-Sulpice - 2 rue Palatine, Paris 6th

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11 / L’Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe

Odéon - Théâtre de l'Europe  - Façade, Paris © Benjamin CHELLY

Make a small detour to the Place Henri Mondor where a statue of Danton proudly stands. This illustrious French figure once lived in the neighbourhood. Across the street, turn into the small Cour du Commerce Saint-André. It was here, at the Procope, the oldest cafe in Paris, that Danton, Marat and other revolutionary figures met up. What’s more, the Phrygian-style cap (a symbol of liberty) was first presented here.

Retrace your steps along Rue de l’Odéon to the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe. This Italian-style theatre with a neoclassical facade is a listed monument. Built in 1782, it was, among other things, burned down twice, and occupied in May 68.

Did you know? The Théâtre de l’Odéon staged the first performance of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ by Beaumarchais in 1784 after the play had endured years of censorship.

Odéon – théâtre de l’Europe - place de l’Odéon, Paris 6th

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12 / The Musée and the Jardin du Luxembourg

Famille au jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Up the hill from Odéon, you will find yourself in the Luxembourg Gardens. These are the gardens of the Palais du Luxembourg which houses the Sénat (France’s upper house of Parliament). Popular with Parisians and nicknamed ‘Luco’, they have much to please: a large ornamental pond, greenhouses full of plants, including precious orchids, an apiary, an orchard and recreational installations and activities for kids and grown-ups. Don't miss the chance to explore the gardens’ many secret corners and the romantic Medici fountain tucked away on one side of the palace. As you stroll around the park, there are many statues to acquaint yourself with.

After this lovely walk, settle into one of the park chairs or sit on the grass and just watch the world go by, unless you are tempted by one last cultural visit, to the Musée du Luxembourg - the first museum to open to the public in 1750.

Did you know? The Palais du Luxembourg was completely renovated by the French queen Marie de' Medici, who was familiar with many Florentine palaces, especially the Pitti Palace. The splendour of these Italian palazzos inspired her to redecorate the Palais du Luxembourg and embellish it with a huge garden in which André Le Nôtre made his mark.

Jardin du Luxembourg – Rue de Médicis, rue de Vaugirard, Paris 6th

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Musée du Luxembourg – 19 rue de Vaugirard, Paris 6th. Museum open during temporary exhibitions only.

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