Paris Neighborhoods - Left Bank
The Left Bank, on the south side of the River Seine, is lively and a lot of fun to explore. Let us guide you through these neighborhoods and some of the best parts of the city of lights.
Le Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter)
The Latin Quarter spreads across the 5th and the 6th arrondissements and is one of the best areas of Paris for sightseeing and walking. From landmark to landmark, you’ll adore strolling around the lovely narrow streets full of bookshops, cafés, restaurants, and independent cinemas. At its epicenter, the Latin Quarter comprises the Sorbonne, which is one of the most renowned universities in France, and numerous other prestigious French universities.
The area takes its name from the fact that Latin was the teaching language in the Universities of Europe and France until the seventeenth century. Nowadays, the Latin Quarter remains a centre for education, history, and excellence. During the exam’s season you might see students touching the right foot of Montaigne’s statue for good luck (Place Paul Painlevé)! At the top of the hill (Montagne Sainte-Geneviève), next to the Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, the Panthéon houses the remains of the French nation’s greatest men. Let’s not forget the beautiful Musée de Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages), with its unique gothic architecture and fascinating collection of medieval artefacts. Last, but not least, the charming Luxembourg gardens surround the Palais du Luxembourg, home of the French Senate (upper house of the Parliament of France). Try to get to see, near the river, the Shakespeare and Company bookstore and the Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (which is considered to be Paris’ oldest church). Parisians and tourists alike are attracted to this beautiful area.
The name of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was given to a neighborhood located in the 6th arrondissement, running on from the western part of Latin Quarter, with which it was once linked. The area, has been welcoming French artists and philosophers since the end of the 1600’s, among whom were the French philosophers of the Enlightenment, then painters, poets and writers such as Delacroix, Nerval, Balzac, Verlaine and Rimbaud… During the 20th century, its name is attached to most major artistic movements like: surrealism (20’s), existentialism (40’s/50’s), jazz music (40’s/50’s) and “chanson française” (40’s to 60’s). Today, the neighborhood is home to gallery owners, book publishers, journalists and celebrities.
A lot of narrow streets of the old Paris remain and it is a pleasure to walk and get lost in the vicinity. Here, you will find numerous cultural places: fancy art galleries, literary cafés, bookstores, and the national School of Fine Arts. The area is still greatly prized and it is home to more and more interesting shops every year. While in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, do not miss the best-known cafés and brasseries in town, they are part of the history of the place like Café de Flore and Les-deux-Magots, favourite haunts of artists and intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Nearby, the old Procope café founded in 1686, has attracted many famous writers, philosophers and politicians such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin. Do not leave without having a look at the very old Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the guardian of the neighborhood, that gave its name to this quarter.
The quarter of Montparnasse is located in the 14th arrondissement. Today, it’s a very eclectic area mixing modernity and history, business places and residences, peace and bustle. It is also known for being the “Breton quarter” with lots of crêperies specializing in the pancakes of Britany. This neighborhood reached its peak at the turn of the century, especially during the roaring 20’s, when it became the beating heart of the city.
With the avant-garde art movement, and the wave of modernity in the 50’s, the neighborhood gathered many artists who would meet in popular cafés like le Dôme, la Closerie des Lilas, la Rotonde, le Select, and La Coupole. During this golden age for music and art, all the great artists of the time enjoyed coming here to debate and learn from each other. Just to name a few: Apollinaire, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Giacometti, Miro, Dali, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller. During the 70’s, the Montparnasse tower was erected and the central train station was built, attracting many big companies which rapidly transformed the area.
A walk in Rue de la Gaîté will give you a little insight into what the neighborhood used to be thanks to its lovely cafés, restaurants, theaters and music-halls (especially the popular Bobino music-hall). Moreover, places such as La Closerie des Lilas and La Coupole are still very lively and attractive, while the famous Montparnasse cemetery houses the souls of numerous artists such as Baudelaire, Maupassant, Beckett or Sartre. Montparnasse’s beauty may be not the most obvious but its secrets can be a nice surprise for whoever takes the time to go looking for them. Also worth a visit is the 59th floor of the Montparnasse tower for a unique 360° panorama of the city.
The Mouffetard neighborhood is a very picturesque Parisian area in the 5th arrondissement. The rue Mouffetard itself is beloved by Parisians for its village-like atmosphere. If you start from behind the Panthéon and go down to Place de la Contrescarpe you will find lovely cafés and restaurants, open most days. While rue Mouffetard can get busy at times, its lower section, towards the Church of Saint-Médard, is less touristy. With its charming street market open in the morning from Tuesday to Sunday, and the nearby fresh market on Place Monge, it is the perfect place to buy local products and try some French specialties. The fantastic Jardin des Plantes and a hidden ancient roman arena known as “Les Arènes de Lutèce” nearby complete the experience and will easily fill your day.
Finish your visit by sipping a mint tea in the shade of the fig trees of the little Moorish café in the oriental-style Grande Mosquée de Paris (the Mosque: 2 bis Place du Puits de l’Ermite) or with a Carl Marletti Pastry (51 rue Censier). Then you should dine out on the Gobelins side of the district, avoiding the rue Mouffetard itself, to experience the real thing! Moreover, the neighborhood is known in Paris for offering a large variety of Mediterranean food shops and restaurants such as les Petites Merveilles de Damas (Syrian Pastry shop – 63 rue Monge), Golosino (Italian Pizzeria – 4 square Vermenouze), Les Délices d’Aphrodite (delicious Greek tavern – 4 rue Candolle) or le Mavrommatis (Greco-French gastronomic restaurant – 42 rue Daubenton).
The picturesque little islet of the “Butte-aux-Cailles” is located in the heart of the 13th arrondissement, south of Place d’Italie. Once part of the town of Gentilly, this district was only integrated into the City of Paris in 1860. It used to be poor, dotted with vineyards and windmills, before tanneries and dye works came to the area. Smaller and less popular than Montmartre, it has kept a village-like charm with narrow side streets and town houses decorated with flowers, cafés and restaurants, former artists’ studios and a few hidden art galleries and workshops.
Parisian students love coming here at “apéritif” time (happy hour) and most of the bars remain buzzy and lively until late. The recent development of street art is in full bloom here (with artists such as Seth, Jef Aerosol, Miss Tic, Philippe Baudelocque, …), turning the neighborhood into an open air modern art museum. Come here for a visit or a few drinks and stay for a meal in one of the many restaurants.