The tour route in the Latin quarter is the direct continuation of a different tour route in Paris, in Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. The walking route will take about half a day, and will introduce you to quite a few lovely gems, some well-known and some less, along Boulevard Saint Germain. Please note that due to its length (the route starts in the beginning of Boulevard Saint Germain and ends in Place de Furstenberg) it does not explore the entire neighbourhood, and I would recommend making another complementary trip to the area of Rue Mouffetard and the Pantheon.
Saint Germain walk – tour route map
Before we continue: Are you visiting Paris with you children?
Saint Germain – the beginning of our tour in the Latin quarter
Start making your way from east to west in Boulevard Saint Germain. If you’re hungry, I recommend visiting the basque restaurant Chez Gladines (44 Boulevard Saint-Germain). Sitting on the restaurant terrace, you can see Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet (23 Rue des Bernardins), a baroque church, which serves as the favourite meeting place for members of the National Front party in France for some decades now.
Place Maubert and its surroundings
Continue walking in Saint Germain boulevard until you reach Place Maubert. This is an ancient square, which exists since the 12th century, and was named after Maître Albert, one of the first lecturers in the French university. In the past people were executed here, but today the square hosts a market every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, between 7:30-14:00, and the executions were replaced with a lovely, delightful coronary hazard from all the delicious and amazing cheese and sausage types sold there (I especially recommend the fromagerie Laurent Dubois, which is considered one of the best cheese shops in Paris).
Continue walking on Rue Maître Albert, and take a walk in the small alleys in its vicinity, as well as the next street, Rue de Bièvre. In the past, the Bièvre river flowed there, and served as a sort of open sewage canal, also used by the hide tanners, which made those streets the most stinky ones in Paris. Today the air there is clean, since the river had been covered, and still flows underneath Paris, and you can enjoy looking at ancient houses, some dated as early as the 17th century (22 Rue de Bièvre was the address of former President of France, François Mitterrand).
Continue along the route until you reach Impasse Maubert. For the common tourist, this will simply look like a regular, standard alley, but you might recognize the place where once stood the marquise de Brinvilliers’ poison laboratory.
Continue on Rue des Grands Degrés it crosses Rue de l’Hôtel Colbert. There you’ll see a beautiful 18th century building, which served as the first Faculty of Medicine in Paris. If you ask yourselves what lies underneath the beautiful dome, the answer is the auditorium, where lecturers operated on corpses before their student spectators.
After watching the Faculty of Medicine, head to Rue du Fouarre and there turn left. In the beginning, the university used to be out in the open, rather than indoors. This street is named after the bales of hay on which the students used to sit and listen to lecturers, such as Maître Albert, or Abelard.
A wonderful view of Notre Dame de Paris
Turn left in Rue du Fouarre, and then right in Rue Galande. This is a charming little street, with quite a few bars and restaurants, and in No. 42 you’ll see what is, ostensibly, the oldest street sign in Paris.
Near the end of the street, where it crosses Rue Saint Julien le Pauvre, you’ll see the second smallest house in Paris (the oldest house in Paris can be found in rue Chateau d’Eau 39).
Once you’ve taken a good look at the green house, I warmly recommend entering the church of Saint Julien le Pauvre (1 Rue Saint Julien le Pauvre), one of the most ancient churches in Paris, which, unfortunately for it, stands in the shadow of the Notre Dame, and therefore is not as toured as the latter. Also, outside the church is a lovely garden (Square Rene Viviani), in which stands the oldest tree in Paris. You can sit there, watch the Notre Dame, and rest a little (we have a long way to go still).
Continue walking with the map, and you’ll get to Rue de la Bûcherie, named after the piles of wood that were transported from one place to another along the Seine. In this street you’ll find Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore dedicated to books in English, that has existed for almost 100 years now, and whose owners used to host poor writers and let them sleep there for free on the bookshelves in the upper floor (the story goes that students can still sleep there for free).
Boulevard Saint Michel
Continue walking with the map, cross Rue du Petit Pont, and enter Rue de la Huchette. This is one of the most ancient streets in Paris that managed to remain intact, as they used to be. In the beginning of the street you’ll find Le Caveau de la Huchette, which served as a basement for secret associations, a torture dungeon, and… the first jazz club in Paris (this place definitely deserves a post of its own here in the website, and it will get that post in the near future).
While walking, pay attention to an alley called Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche, which can be freely translated as “the fishing cat”. This is probably the narrowest alley in Paris, and it hides a fascinating story, which will have to wait for another post.
After visiting Rue de la Huchette, go back on your tracks a little, enter Impasse Salembrière, and then turn right on Rue Saint Séverin. On your left you’ll see Saint Séverin church, which was built in the 15th century, and is highly recommended for a visit, thanks to its gothic architecture.
Continue on Rue Saint Séverin, and cross Boulevard Saint Michel. In the past, Saint Michel monastery used to stand here, but it was destroyed in the 19th century, when the boulevard was built. Currently you’ll find there a fountain with a statue of Saint Michel slaying the dragon.
Saint-André des Arts, between the oldest cafe in Paris and the guillotine
Continue walking on Rue Saint André des Arts until you reach Cour Saint André des Arts. There you’ll find Le Procope, the oldest café in Paris, as well as Un Dimanche à Paris, a place selling exquisite desserts. I also recommend visiting La Jacobine tea house, if only to take a look at their murals (it is best to go there without children). Finally, if you’re feeling a little adventurous, you’re welcome to try and visit three lovely courtyards called Cour de Rohan. These are private courtyards, located left of the main alley of Cour Saint André des Arts, and as such, they require silence, stealth, and luck, to avoid getting caught…
From the Odeon theatre to Jardin du Luxembourg
Leave Cour Saint André des Arts and head to Boulevard Saint Germain. Cross the boulevard and move up Rue de l’Odéon until you reach the theatre. Take your time to look at this wonderful theatre, which was built in the 18th and 19th century in a neo-classical style, and used to be home to the Comédie-Française.
From the Odéon theatre, continue toward Jardin du Luxembourg, one of the most fabulous parks in Paris. The garden and the palace were built in the 17th century, at the request of Queen of France, Marie de’ Medici. The palace remained as it was, but the gardens underwent a major transformation in the 19th century, and despite that, the result is absolutely charming. I promise to write a future post about it, and in the meantime, let yourselves sit in the garden, enjoy the ambiance, and eat the cake you must have bought in Un Dimanche à Paris. Later, take a walk around the part, and enjoy the view of the palace (which currently constitutes the seat of the Senate, and can therefore only be visited on Patrimony days), the fountain, the statues of the queens of France, and… a miniature Statue of Liberty, hiding in the edge of the park.
Before you continue, would you like to see what Jardin du Luxembourg and the palace looked like in the 18th century? If so, you can watch this video:
Before we continue: some very interesting exhibitions in Paris
From Jardin du Luxembourg to the church Saint Germain des Prés
Had enough of the Jardin du Luxembourg charm? Go to the Jardin du Luxembourg museum (the first museum in Paris, established even before the Louvre). There you’ll find temporary exhibits, which you may want to read about before. If you’ve decided not to enter it, leave Jardin du Luxembourg and head to Rue Férou. If you happened to read Alexandre Dumas’ book, “The Three Musketeers”, you’ll probably remember that this is where Athos, one of the three musketeers, used to live. In No. 6 you’ll be able to see the home of Mademoiselle Luzy, the first love of Talleyrand, Napoleon’s renowned foreign minister.
Continue walking down this street until you see the back part of Saint Sulpice church. Continue left, and let your minds be impressed with this baroque church, both from the outside and the inside (did you know that a part of Dan Brown’s famous book, “The Da Vinci Code”, took place here?). One of the church towers was recently renovated, and so was the fountain in the adjacent square.
Now head down Rue Bonaparte, and if you like, get a macaron or two at Pierre Hermé. Continue walking in the street until you reach Boulevard Saint Germain. Cross the boulevard, and right in front of you, you’ll find the church Saint Germain des Prés, one of the oldest churches in Paris (its construction began in the 6th century), while on your left you’ll find the famous cafes Flore and Les Deux Magots, where anyone that was someone in Paris used to come after World War 2, including Sartre and de Beauvoir (which is probably the reason for the outrageous prices they charge).
Continue walking down Rue de l’Abbaye, and on your right you will see the palace of Cardinal Furstenberg, which was built in the 17th century (currently in renovation). Turn left, and you’ll reach Place de Furstenberg, where Musée National Eugène Delacroix resides. In my opinion, this is the most romantic square in Paris, and if you’re there with your loved one, this is the perfect time to finish this tour route with… a kiss.