The Latin Quarter is one of the few survivors of the Paris of yesteryear. During the 19th century, Baron Haussmann carried out major urban renovations that changed the face of Paris. This area was left out and still retains a special charm.
If you are planning what to see and do in Paris, you should include a stop here. The Latin Quarter is one of the most precious jewels of the "City of Light".
1. Stroll through the Latin Quarter
If you are staying in Paris for two days, it might be a good option to book a guided tour of the Latin Quarter. It is an inexpensive and complete option, perfect to start your visit to the City of Light. Here are the most common main stops:
- Luxembourg Gardens, a green area in Italian baroque style. They were built in 1612 by the will of Princess Marie de Medici who was originally from Florence. If you visit Paris with children, you can take them to the artificial lake Grand Bassin and rent a boat.
- Sorbonne University was founded in 1257, when Paris was the cultural capital of Europe and the destination of thousands of foreign students. In addition to the faculties, it houses the white marble sarcophagus of Cardinal Richelieu, the great mausoleum of Cardinal Richelieu.
- Panthéon, the great mausoleum dedicated to the most important Frenchmen. Before becoming a secular monument, it was a church dedicated to Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of the city. It houses the remains of Marie Curie, Louis Braille, Emile Zola and other prominent figures.
- Hemingway's house. In the 1920s, the writer lived for eight years in Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, just a few metres from the evocative Place de la Contrescarpe. The author of "A Farewell to Arms" used to have drinks at La Closerie des Lilas, near Boulevard Montparnasse. It is not in the Latin Quarter but it is worth a visit; it is said that this is where he finished writing the novel "Fête".
The tours include a few stops at the locations where Woody Allen's film "Midnight in Paris" was shot and other attractions in the Latin Quarter. The meeting point is usually the monumental Place Saint Michel.
- Duration: between 2 and 3 hours
- Price: less than €20
- Recommended for those who want to explore a historic district without spending too much.
2. Bike tour through the Latin Quarter and Le Marais
Planning a trip to Paris in spring? Good thinking! Along with autumn, it's the best time to visit the City of Light and if you want to make the most of your holiday, you can take an urban bike tour. There are guided tours that go through two iconic quarters of the city: the Latin Quarter and the Marais.
The usual meeting point is usually at Place Saint-Michel, in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Here are the main stops in this district:
- Shakespeare and Company, a world-famous independent bookshop. It is the ideal place to buy second-hand and English books.
- Le Procope, the oldest café in the French capital. It was frequented by Robespierre and the Jacobins during the Revolution.
- Church of Saint-Sulpice, a jewel of the 18th century. Inside are paintings by Eugène Delacroix, François Lemoyne and Victor Mottez.
- Panthéon, the eternal resting place of Pierre and Marie Curie, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other French celebrities. For more information I recommend you to read the post about visiting the cemeteries of Paris.
- Rue Mouffetard, a picturesque and lively street.
- Arènes de Lutèce, the remains of a Gallo-Roman amphitheatre.
The agencies provide both the bike and the helmet. The price does not include breakfast, lunch or other meals.
- Duration: about 4 hours
- Price: about 40 €.
- Recommended for those who want to shorten distances. You will move faster by bike. The route is easy to follow and there are no steep slopes.
3. Vintage car tour
In the 1960s, Paris was the city of ready-to-wear fashion, youth movements and jazz music. If you've taken a stroll through the Porte de Clignancourt flea market, you may have noticed the postcards depicting the city's monuments surrounded by cars such as the Citroën DS 19, the 2CV and other legendary models.
To relive this era, you can take a tour in a vintage car. These tours usually take place in a Peugeot 404, an iconic car designed by Pininfarina.
A chauffeur will take you through the streets of the centre, including the Latin Quarter. The vehicle usually stops at Les Arènes de Lutèce (the remains of a Roman amphitheatre) and passes in front of the Church of Saint-Sulpice and other landmarks of the neighbourhood.
Tours usually start near the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine where Notre-Dame Cathedral stands.
- Duration: about 2.5 hours
- Price: around 100 €.
- Recommended for those who want to take a trip back in time in an iconic car. The Peugeot 404 is synonymous with the 1960s. It was a sales success both in France and abroad.
4. Gastronomic experience in the Latin Quarter of Paris
The option that combines history and culinary art. Booking this tour will give you a taste of French specialities after learning about the history of the neighbourhood. Most often they include macarons, croissants, an assortment of local cured meats accompanied by freshly baked bread and other delicacies.
Throughout the tasting you can also enjoy a glass of red and white wine, a flûte de Champagne and a liqueur. The latter usually costs extra and entitles you to a glass of Génepi (an alcoholic drink typical of the Alps) or Cognac.
Before you sit down at the table, your guide will explain the history of the Sorbonne University, the Pantheon and other landmarks of the Latin Quarter. If you have a good appetite, I recommend you to read the article about the best gastronomic tours in Paris.
- Duration: 3 to 4 hours
- Price: more than 100 €, although there are gastronomic tours of the neighbourhood for less than 50 €.
- Recommended for those who want to deepen their knowledge of French gastronomy.
5. Night tour of secrets and ghosts
The City of Light conceals countless mysteries and legends. The famous catacombs of Paris are hidden in its entrails, but the secrets are also to be found on the surface. Different agencies organise guided tours that include a few stops in the Latin Quarter.
I don't want to make spoilers, I'll just say that in this area, a gypsy cursed a house, causing the death of its owner. The rest you'll discover when you're there!
The walking tour includes a few stops at the Place Vert-Galant (linked to the grim fate of the last Knights Templar), the Palais de Justice and the Church of St-Germain, among others.
- Duration: about 2 hours
- Price: 20 € or a little more
- Recommended for an evening stroll. After sunset, the French capital is at its best. Find out more in the post about the must-see sights and tips for seeing Paris by night.
What are the advantages of taking a guided tour vs. visiting the Latin Quarter on my own?
The Latin Quarter is not very large and is located in the centre of the capital. It is easy to get to and walk around; however, it is worthwhile to be guided by a local expert. The routes are designed to enliven the walk with historical facts and interesting anecdotes.
Are there any special events at Christmas?
Of course there is. In the last month of the year, it's worth taking a stroll through the Latin Quarter to see the splendid Christmas illuminations. Along the Boulevard Saint-Germain, at the foot of the Cluny Museum, you'll find a Christmas market specialising in regional food: pâtés, jams, wine and other products.
A stone's throw from the neighbourhood, in the Place Viviani, you'll find other stalls with jewellery, ceramics, gastronomic products and much more. Being just a few metres from Notre-Dame Cathedral, this is one of the best Christmas markets in Paris.
In both cases, they open at the beginning of December and dismantle the stalls before the end of the year. If you're cold, you can warm up with a glass of mulled wine. For more on this topic I recommend you read the post on 10 things to do in Paris at Christmas.
What are the best restaurants in the Latin Quarter?
Because of its colonial past and economic importance, Paris is home to hundreds of different ethnic groups and this melting pot is reflected in the neighbourhood's culinary offerings. Before you book a table, take a look at the list below:
- Le Mechoui du Prince, a Moroccan restaurant a stone's throw from the Sorbonne. Its speciality is baked shoulder of lamb (Rue Monsieur le Prince 34/36).
- Café de Flore, a historic restaurant in the capital. In its beautiful Art Deco room, the likes of Apollinaire, Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre have lunched here. It's not the cheapest option, but it's worth sitting down for the iconic hot chocolate (Boulevard Saint-Germain 172).
- Ya Bayté, Lebanese cuisine overlooking Notre-Dame. Tabbouleh, mezze and falafels are prepared daily with fresh ingredients (Rue des Grands Degrés 1).
- La Truffière, famous for its truffle recipes and great wine list. There are three rooms, the most beautiful of which is the one under a 17th century vaulted cellar (Rue Blainville 4).
- Bistro des Augustins, a simple restaurant with very good reviews. It offers the classics of French comfort food; if you're spoilt for choice, I recommend ordering one of the gratin dishes (Quai des Grands Augustins 39).
- La Nouvelle Seine, if you fancy a romantic dinner. It is located on a barge moored on the river, right in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral. If you fancy it, their Sunday brunch is also worth a try (Péniche sur Berges, quai de Montebello 3).
What else is there to do?
Despite its small size, the Latin Quarter is packed with attractions. Being located on the riverfront, it's easy to take a cruise on the Seine to see the city from a different perspective.
Personally, I always recommend doing it at night. You will discover why they call Paris the "City of Light".
If you are passionate about the Middle Ages, you should visit the Cluny Museum. The collection will help you discover the culture and daily life of the period through common objects and works of art. Its main attraction is The Lady and the Unicorn, six tapestries woven in Flanders at the beginning of the 16th century.
If you are visiting Paris in autumn (or spring), I recommend you book a ticket for the Jardin des Plantes, the Botanical Garden of Paris. It is open from 7.30am to 8pm in summer and from 8am to 5pm in winter.