Latin Quarter Walking Tour, Paris

Latin Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), Paris

Paris’ Latin Quarter is situated on the left bank of the Seine and dates back to the Middle Ages. For years, it was known as a bohemian enclave, attracting students, writers and intellectuals. Centered on the Sorbonne University's main university campus, the area was so named a few centuries ago because the students were speaking and learning in Latin. It remains very lively, with a friendly village feel, graced with beautiful fountains and trees, as well as a clutch of outstanding historic buildings and monuments.

After visiting the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral, cross the bridge to dig deep into the neighborhood. The lovely historic church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre is worth a visit, as is the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. The Place St. Michel, at the Quarter’s western end, is a lively but busy area to people watch and get your bearings.

For higher cultural diversions in the Latin Quarter, visit the splendid Saint-Séverin Church, the medieval Cluny Museum, the Sorbonne University (educating bright young things since the 13th century), or wander just outside of the immediate neighborhood and up the hill to the Pantheon and the highly underrated church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. Lovers of Hemingway’s books will also want to stand in front of La Maison de Verlaine with Hemingway's apartment on its upper floor.

Take this self-guided walk to meander the streets of the Latin Quarter at your own pace and immerse oneself in all that is Paris, both past and present.
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Latin Quarter Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Latin Quarter Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Paris (See other walking tours in Paris)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: karen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Cathedrale Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame Cathedral)
  • Shakespeare & Company
  • Rue du Chat-qui-Peche (narrowest street in Paris)
  • Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (Church of Saint Julian the Poor)
  • Eglise Saint-Severin (Church of St Severin)
  • Place Saint-Michel (St Michael's Square)
  • Musee de Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages)
  • Sorbonne Universite (The Sorbonne)
  • Pantheon
  • Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont (Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont)
  • Rue du Cardinal Lemoine - Hemingway's Apartment
  • Place de la Contrescarpe (Contrescarpe Square)
1
Cathedrale Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame Cathedral)

1) Cathedrale Notre-Dame (Notre-Dame Cathedral) (must see)

While the Eiffel Tower is an instantly recognizable symbol of France, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is an unmistakable symbol of Paris. At the time of its construction, it was the most ambitious cathedral project ever attempted in France, with its vaults rising over 33 meters and holding a national height record for several decades. Its architectural complexity and intrinsic beauty have long made it one of Paris's top landmarks and an absolute must-see for visitors.

Largely completed in the 13th century, the cathedral's construction took overall around 160 years, and thus can be attributed to an early-Gothic period. Following later attempts to modernize it in the 13th century, the final major round of work on the building came in the 19th century to repair the damage caused by the French Revolution's brutal vandalism. Almost all of the decorative elements seen today date back to that time.

Aside from architecture, another reason the Notre-Dame is so famous is "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" novel by Victor Hugo written in 1831. In the course of history, the cathedral has witnessed many glorious and tragic events. In the midst of the Second World War, upon the Fall of France, there were fears that the German invaders might destroy the freshly renovated stained glass of the Rose Window. As a result, a lion's portion of the glass was hidden and re-installed only after the war ended. Created in the 13th century, this world's biggest glass window recently has made headlines again after successfully surviving the devastating fire in April 2019, along with other artifacts and relics which were temporarily removed for safety.

Regrettably, that fire completely destroyed certain parts of the building, like the roof and the historic spire. To rebuild the iconic monument, a major fundraising campaign has been launched managing to generate over $1bln. After a projected five-year restoration period, hopes are high that the Notre-Dame Cathedral will reopen its doors in renewed splendor.
2
Shakespeare & Company

2) Shakespeare & Company

Shakespeare & Company, an English-language bookstore in the Latin Quarter, is one of the French capital's most beloved and eccentric literary institutions. George Whitman founded the store in the 1950s, creating a labyrinth of new and used books that has provided a sense of community, and at times a bed, to wandering writers. The store's name pays homage to Sylvia Beach's original Shakespeare & Co., which opened in 1919 and welcomed famous writers such as Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, and James Joyce. Sylvia famously defied the system by publishing Joyce's "Ulysses" in 1922, but her store closed twenty years later. After the war, Whitman took up the mantle, naming his store after its famous predecessor.

Today, Shakespeare & Company offers an excellent selection of both new and old books from various genres and periods. Whether you need to stock up on study materials, want the latest titles from British presses, or search for hidden secondhand treasures, the store has everything you need, and there are plenty of cozy nooks and crannies where you can take a break and just read or peruse books.
3
Rue du Chat-qui-Peche (narrowest street in Paris)

3) Rue du Chat-qui-Peche (narrowest street in Paris)

Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche, originally known as Rue des Étuves, holds the distinction of being the narrowest street in Paris. Measuring only 1.8 meters wide, one can easily touch both walls simultaneously. The street was constructed in 1540 and is situated in the Latin Quarter of Paris, spanning 29 meters from Quai Saint-Michel to Rue de la Huchette.

The street's name translates to "the street of the fishing cat" and derives from a picture on a shop signboard. Interestingly, the street inspired the title of the novel "A halászó macska uccája" by Hungarian author Jolán Földes, who lived here during the 1930s.

Numerous restaurants have back doors that open onto the street, releasing tantalizing smells of food from their kitchens. Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche provides a respite from the crowded tourist routes between Pont St. Michel and Petit Pont. You can take a short-cut through it, but before you enter, make sure you are slim enough to squeeze through without getting stuck!
4
Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (Church of Saint Julian the Poor)

4) Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (Church of Saint Julian the Poor)

Less than 200 meters away from Notre-Dame, on the Left Bank of the River Seine, stands one of the most ancient religious buildings in Paris. Église Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (the Church of Saint Julian the Poor) was begun circa 1165-1170 replacing either a Merovingian refuge for pilgrims or an older church on the site dating back to the 6th century AD. The temple is dedicated to Julian of Le Mans, a medieval French saint, whose own dedication to the cause of the poor was considered exemplary.

The Romanesque-style building was constructed in stages, from the 12th to the 19th centuries, and was designed in the conservative tradition prevalent during the rule of King Louis the Younger. The architecture is said to have been inspired by either the Notre-Dame Cathedral or the Saint-Pierre de Montmartre church. Over the years, the building was modified several times, ultimately resulting in a significantly smaller structure than originally planned. The church has piers replicating those found in Notre-Dame, and the chapiters carved with images of leaves and harpies; the choir area is covered by an iconostasis.

Originally Roman Catholic, the church was ceded to the Melkite Catholic (Arab and Middle Eastern) community in 1889. In preparation for this, significant restoration was carried out. Presently, apart from being a place of worship, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre serves as a venue for concerts, featuring classical and other types of music.

Tip:
North of the church, in René Viviani Square, stands a locust tree, the oldest tree in Paris. It was planted in 1602 by Jean Robin, gardener-in-chief during the reign of kings Henry III, Henry IV, and Louis XIII. Also known as the "Lucky Tree of Paris", it is thought to bring years of good luck to those who gently touch its bark.
5
Eglise Saint-Severin (Church of St Severin)

5) Eglise Saint-Severin (Church of St Severin)

The Latin Quarter is replete with historical landmarks, and Saint-Séverin is among its most notable. The church's exterior architecture is imposing, solid, and distinct from others. Constructed in the late Middle Ages, it boasts a Flamboyant Gothic style and is one of the oldest religious structures in Paris.

In the late 5th century, Clovis, the King of the Franks, established a settlement on the island of Parissi, which eventually became known as Paris and was made the kingdom's capital. Clovis' wife together with Saint Genevieve, who were devout Christians, convinced the king to declare Christianity as the official religion. At that time, a hermit priest named Séverin lived on the left bank, and after his death, an oratory was constructed over his tomb. By the 11th century, a small church was built to replace the saint's original tomb, which became a foremost religious site.

The church's key features include its colorful ancient stained glass, a series of seven modern windows inspired by the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, and its oldest bell in Paris. It also boasts an unusual column designed in the shape of a palm tree trunk, magnificent organs, and numerous exquisite paintings.

Despite its historical and religious significance, Saint-Séverin Church is an active place of worship that welcomes visitors free of charge. Although it is rarely crowded, visitors are reminded to be respectful when a mass is underway.
6
Place Saint-Michel (St Michael's Square)

6) Place Saint-Michel (St Michael's Square)

Located in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank of the Seine, Place Saint-Michel is formed by the intersection of several streets. The square is renowned for its fountain, Fontaine Saint-Michel, constructed in the mid-19th century. Originally, it was meant to have a central statue of Napoleon Bonaparte, but after criticism from opponents of the demoted emperor, a statue of Saint Michael, the Archangel, was erected instead. In keeping with the religious theme, the composition features two dragon statues that pour water from their mouths, as well as four figures of classical cardinal virtues.

Over the years, Place Saint-Michel has witnessed a number of public demonstrations, including that symbolizing French resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II. In 1968, Sorbonne students occupied the square, declaring it an independent state, despite the police clubbing the protesters and shelling them with tear gas. It was also a venue of the mass workers movement which led to the downfall of De Gaulle's government. Nicknamed "Washington Square Park of Paris", Place Saint-Michel has been a favorite hangout for all sorts of "free-minded" folk: hippies, artists, writers, poets, dancers, musicians and students.

The St. Michel high road, which leads to the square, is an intriguing place in its own right. It has a number of cafes and bistros in its upper end that are typically less crowded and more authentic. Many good bookstores and stalls are found here as well. Since the Sorbonne University is just a few blocks away, it is common to see students scouring through books in search of bargains on their required reading.
7
Musee de Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages)

7) Musee de Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages)

The Musée de Cluny, recognized as France's "National Museum of the Middle Ages," is renowned for its impressive collection of medieval treasures. The building was raised over the remains of a Roman bath and was initially intended to be the private residence of Jacques d'Amboise, the wealthy abbot of Cluny Abbey in the 15th century. Another noteworthy inhabitant was Mary Tudor, widow of Louis XII.

In 1833, Alexandre du Sommerard, an art enthusiast who was captivated by medieval artifacts and owned a remarkable collection of such objects as well as Renaissance period pieces, rented the Cluny. Prior to his death in 1842, Sommerard bequeathed his entire estate to the French people. A year later, the building was transformed into a museum.

The Musée de Cluny boasts a finest collection of medieval European tapestries, including the original "Lady and the Unicorn" series made of wool and silk. Designed by French artists and woven in 1485-1500 in Flanders, this series comprises six scenes and covers the walls of an entire room, bringing to life the romance of the age of chivalry. Each scene features a beautiful lady, a unicorn, and a lion, while the background is replete with woodland creatures, plants, and flowers that conjure an enchanted landscape. Five of the scenes represent the five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound. The sixth scene is particularly intriguing and exquisite, featuring a banner that reads "To my only desire" and depicting the lady presenting a necklace to a case held by a servant.

The museum also showcases numerous early medieval sculptures dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries, as well as works made of gold, ivory, antique furnishings, and manuscripts. Beneath the museum lies the remains of the ancient Roman baths that were destroyed during the Barbarian invasions in the 3rd century. The most well-preserved section of the ruins is the cold water bath. Additionally, the "Pillar of the Boatmen" is believed to be the oldest sculpture in Paris, dating back to the 1st century AD.

All of the medieval artifacts are showcased beautifully with good English explanations, and visitors can opt to use an audio guide.
8
Sorbonne Universite (The Sorbonne)

8) Sorbonne Universite (The Sorbonne)

Located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, Sorbonne University is a renowned institution of higher education that has produced several famous graduates, including Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Dante, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Godard, and François Mitterrand, among others.

Originally known as the University of Paris, it is the world's second-oldest university, established in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon, chaplain, and confessor to Louis IX. The university's curriculum encompassed law, medicine, theology, and the arts. Since 1821, it has been under the control of the Paris Academy and the École de Chartres, training students in archival conservation and the preservation of written heritage. In 1885, Jules Ferrer, a former Minister of Education, commissioned architect Henri-Paul Nenot to design an eclectic facade for the university complex that would seamlessly blend neorenaissance, classical, and antique styles. The construction was completed in 1901.

On 2 May 1968, protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism, and traditional institutions erupted at Sorbonne University and peacefully concluded on 29 May. The protests led to a social and cultural revolution, rather than a political one.

The Sorbonne now comprises 4 autonomous universities and can be enjoyed from the adjacent square with its fountains, trees and cafés.
9
Pantheon

9) Pantheon (must see)

The Panthéon, situated in the Latin Quarter of Paris, has a dual purpose of serving as a church and a mausoleum for several famous French figures including Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Braille, Dumas, and Zola. In 1995, the first female resident, Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel Prize winner, entered the frame.

In 1744, King Louis XV of France commissioned the construction of the Panthéon as a replacement for the old church of the Abbey of St. Genevieve, after he recovered from a serious illness and made a vow of gratitude. Jacques-Germain Soufflot was hired by the Marquis of Marigny to design the church, with construction starting two years later. Its façade was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, with a dome that is reminiscent of Bramante's "Tempietto." Soufflot had the intention of combining the lightness and brightness of the Gothic cathedral with classical principles, but its role as a mausoleum required the great Gothic windows to be blocked. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most important architectural achievements of its time and the first great neoclassical monument.

Inside the domed structure are elegant Greek columns, 19th-century murals, and a steep spiral staircase that leads to a replica of the Foucault pendulum (a large device that accurately demonstrated the Earth's rotation), suspended from a cupola.
10
Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont (Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont)

10) Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont (Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont)

Sitting on the hill of Sainte-Geneviève, which is considered the birthplace of Paris, this parish church dedicated to the city's patron saint is a magnificent example of the eclectic architecture styles of the Flamboyant, Gothic, and Renaissance periods. It was constructed between 1492 and 1622 on the site of a previous church and has a 3-level structure, resembling a wedding cake, with a Gothic pinnacle and a tall bell tower. The entrance is reminiscent of a Greek temple with columns and decorations depicting St. Stephen's martyrdom.

The interior is equally stunning, featuring beautiful stained-glass windows, golden ceiling decorations, and the baroque 17th-century pulpit with a sculpture of Samson bearing the weight of the barrel. However, the most significant feature of this ancient church is its rood screen: the ornate partition between the chancel and nave, a common element in late medieval architecture. Saint-Etienne-du-Mont has the only remaining rood screen in Paris, which features finely carved stone and a spiral staircase on both sides. The railing displays stone lace carved in limestone.

The church houses the tombs of French diplomat Blaise de Vigenere, mathematician Blaise Pascal, and playwright Jean Racine, while the cemetery contains the grave of the famous physician of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat. The sculpted tympanum, known as the "Stoning of Saint Stephen," is the work of French sculptor Gabriel-Jules Thomas.

Huysmans described Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in the Connecting (1895) as one of the most beautiful churches in Paris. On August 23, 1997, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass here during his visit to Paris on the occasion of World Youth Day.

Although free to tour, it is still a functioning place of worship, so please dress appropriately and respect those there to pray.
11
Rue du Cardinal Lemoine - Hemingway's Apartment

11) Rue du Cardinal Lemoine - Hemingway's Apartment

Ernest Hemingway lived here, at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, with his wife Hadley during their first year in Paris in 1922, when he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star. The two-room flat had neither hot water, nor toilet facilities, and the couple would sleep on a mattress on the floor. Hemingway described it in The Snows of Kilimanjaro: "From the apartment you could only see the wood and coal man's place. He sold wine too, bad wine. The golden horse's head outside the Boucherie Chevaline where the carcasses hung yellow gold and red in the open window, and the green painted co-operative where they bought their wine; good wine and cheap."

During his free time in Paris, Hemingway became friends with some of the city's most prominent writers and artists and forged quick friendships with them. Among these were James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Max Eastman, Sylvia Beach, Lincoln Steffens, and Wyndham Lewis. He was also befriended with the painters Joan Miró and Picasso. These relationships were instrumental in Hemingway's development as a writer and artist, leaving an enduring legacy in literary history.

Tip:
You may also peer down the passageway at No 71, where James Joyce finished "Ulysses" in apartment E.
12
Place de la Contrescarpe (Contrescarpe Square)

12) Place de la Contrescarpe (Contrescarpe Square)

Nestled within the vibrant Latin Quarter lies a petite yet animated square, its origins tracing back to the year of 1852. It now stands at the heart of a small roundabout, a picturesque oasis adorned with verdant trees, a fountain, and stone benches accompanied by elegant lamp posts.

The square holds a special significance in the annals of Ernest Hemingway's past, for it was within this very locale that he would frequently venture during his tenure at the nearby No. 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine. In his illustrious work, "The Sun Also Rises," Hemingway regales the tale of meeting his companions at the Place de la Contrescarpe.

Today, it is a popular rendezvous spot for bicyclists and scooter riders who converge upon the area's bustling cafes, frequented especially by students and travelers. The area is replete with antiquated abodes and quaint edifices, nestled amid the winding streets of the nearby Mouffetard street, imparting a timeless charm to this neighborhood.

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