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:
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral
  • Shakespeare and Company
  • Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche
  • Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (Oldest Church in Paris)
  • Saint-Séverin Church
  • Place Saint-Michel
  • Cluny Museum
  • Sorbonne University
  • Pantheon
  • Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
  • Hemingway's Apartment
  • Place de la Contrescarpe
Notre-Dame Cathedral

1) Notre-Dame Cathedral (must see)

While the Eiffel Tower is an instantly recognizable symbol of France, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is a definitive symbol of Paris. At the time of its construction, it was the most ambitious French cathedral project ever attempted and, with its vaults rising above 33 meters, it held a national height record for several decades. The intrinsic beauty and architectural complexity of the cathedral has long made it an undisputed top landmark of Paris and an absolute must-see for visitors.

Largely completed in the 13th century, its 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 brutal vandalism of the French Revolution. Nearly all of the cathedral's decorative elements seen today date back to that period.

Apart from the architectural side, 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 Notre-Dame, called the Rose Window. To prevent that, a lion's portion of the glass was hidden and re-installed only after the war was over. 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 some other artifacts and relics which are now temporarily removed for safety reasons.

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. Hopes are high that after the 5 years projected for complete restoration, the Notre-Dame cathedral will reopen its doors once again in its renewed splendor.
Shakespeare and Company

2) Shakespeare and Company

Located in the Latin Quarter of Paris, Shakespeare & Company is one of the oldest and the most iconic English-language bookstores in Paris, with a great selection of both new and old, from different periods and of different genres. If you need to stock up on study books, want something classic to read or are simply just looking for inspiration to write, it will provide you with all the material you need, and there are lots of nooks and crannies where you can take a break and just read or skim books.

The original bookstore Shakespeare & Company was founded in 1913 by an American girl named Sylvia Beach and used to house aspiring writers, or young people who went to Paris in search of fame. Although it was shut down during World War II, it was reopened at its current location in 1962 by American George Whitman. The fame of the bookstore lies in the fact that many famous writers like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce were its frequent visitors. The new Shakespeare and Company also received important names in literature since it was frequented by writers Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Anaïs Nin.

Opening Hours:
[Main Shop] Mon-Sat: 10am-10pm; Sun: 12:30-8pm
[Antiquarian] Tue-Sat: 11am-7pm
[Café] Mon-Fri: 9:30am-7pm; Sat, Sun: 9:30am-8pm
Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche

3) Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche

Originally called Rue des Étuves, Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche is the narrowest street in Paris. With a width of only 1.8 meters, it is quite possible to reach out and touch walls on both sides of the street simultaneously. Built in 1540, it is located in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Its total length is 29 meters, extended from Quai Saint-Michel to Rue de la Huchette.

The name, Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche, translates as “the street of the fishing cat” and originates from the picture drawn on a shop signboard. Curiously enough, the street gave its name to the novel titled “A halászó macska uccája” by Hungarian author Jolán Földes who lived on this street in the 1930s.

The back doors of many restaurants open to the street, emitting mouthwatering aromas of food cooked in the kitchen. The alleyway offers refuge from the hustle and bustle of the trodden tourist paths between Pont St. Michel and Petit Pont. You can take a short-cut through Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche, but before you enter, make sure you are slim enough to squeeze through without getting stuck.
Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (Oldest Church in Paris)

4) Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (Oldest Church in Paris)

Less than 200 meters away from Notre-Dame, on the Left Bank of the River Seine, stands one of the oldest religious buildings in Paris. Billed as the city's oldest church, Église Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre (the Church of Saint Julian the Poor) was begun circa 1165-1170 replacing a Merovingian refuge for pilgrims, or an older church on this site, dated from 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.

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 the tree's bark.

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, the church serves as a venue for concerts, featuring classical and other types of music.

Opening Hours:
Mon, Wed: 9am-12pm; Tue, Thu, Fri: 9am-4pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint-Séverin Church

5) Saint-Séverin Church

The Latin Quarter is full of historical monuments, and Saint-Séverin is one of the highlights. Its exterior architecture is quite imposing, solid, and unlike any other. Built in the late Middle Ages in the Flamboyant Gothic style, it is one of the oldest temples in Paris.

At the end of the 5th century, King of the Franks, Clovis, established a settlement on the island of Parissi. Eventually, it became known as Paris and was made the kingdom's capital. Clovis's wife together with Saint Genevieve were ardent Christians and persuaded the king to make Christianity the official religion of his domain. At that time, a hermit priest, called Séverin, also lived on the left bank. After his death, an oratory was built over his tomb. By the 11th century, a small church had been erected to replace the original tomb of the saint, which soon turned into a foremost religious site.

The key features of this church are the colorful ancient stained glass and a set of seven modern windows inspired by the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Also deserving mention is the church's bell, the oldest in Paris; the odd column, designed in the shape of a trunk of a palm tree; its great organs and many beautiful paintings.

Despite being a historic and religious monument, the Saint-Séverin Church remains an active place of worship. It is free to enter and rarely crowded, but please be respectful if a mass is going on.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 11am-7:30pm; Sun: 9am-8:30pm
Place Saint-Michel

6) Place Saint-Michel

Place Saint-Michel lies in the Latin Quarter, on the Left Bank of the Seine. The square is formed by crossroads of several streets and is also home to the namesake fountain – Fontaine Saint-Michel – built in the mid-19th century. The original plan was to make its central statue the one of Napoleon Bonaparte, but, after criticism from opponents of the demoted Emperor, they decided to make it of Saint Michael, the Archangel. In keeping with the religious theme, the composition includes two statues of dragons, pouring water out of their mouths, and 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 is an interesting place in its own right. It has a number of cafes and bistros in its higher end, which are usually less crowded and much more authentic. Many good bookstores and stalls are found here as well. Considering that Sorbonne University is just a few blocks away, you can see regular droves of students browsing through the books in a search of bargains on their required reading.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Cluny Museum

7) Cluny Museum

The Musée de Cluny, also known as France's "National Museum of the Middle Ages", is famous for its magnificent collection of medieval artifacts. The building was raised over the remains of a Roman bath and was meant to serve as a private residence for the rich 15th-century abbot of the Cluny Abbey, Jacques d'Amboise. The other notable resident was Mary Tudor, widow of Louis XII.

The Cluny was rented in 1833 to Alexandre du Sommerard, an amateur art collector, who was fascinated with the Middle Age artifacts and owned an impressive collection of those and Renaissance period objects. Prior to his death in 1842, Sommerard had donated his entire estate to the people of France. A year later, the building was turned 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 of the scenes features a beautiful lady, a unicorn, and a lion. The backgrounds are filled with woodland creatures, plants and flowers, creating an enchanted landscape. Five of the scenes illustrate five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. The sixth scene is especially beautiful and intriguing. It carries a banner that reads, "To my only desire," and shows the lady placing a necklace in the case held by a servant.

Many early medieval sculptures, from the 7th and 8th centuries, are present in the museum as well. There are also works of gold, ivory, antique furnishings and manuscripts. Underneath the building is the ruins of the ancient Roman baths destroyed in the 3rd century, during the Barbarian invasions. The best-preserved part of it is the cold water bath. Another valuable remnant, believed to be the oldest sculpture in Paris, is the "Pillar of the Boatmen" from the 1st century AD.

All the medieval objects are beautifully lit and displayed, explanations in English are very good, and visitors can avail themselves of an audio guide.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Mon: 9:15am-5:45pm; last entry: 5:15pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Sorbonne University

8) Sorbonne University

Nestled in the heart of the Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne University is a world-famous institution of higher education with some famous graduates such as Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Dante, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Godard, and François Mitterrand, among others. Originally called the University of Paris, it is the world's second oldest university, founded by Robert de Sorbon in 1257.

Before the 19th century, the Sorbonne occupied several buildings. The chapel was built in 1622 by the then-Provisor of the University of Paris, Cardinal Richelieu, during the reign of Louis XIII. In 1881, politician Jules Ferry decided to convert the Sorbonne into one single building. Under the supervision of Pierre Greard, Chief Officer of the Education Authority of Paris, Henri-Paul Nénot constructed the current building from 1883 to 1901 that reflects a basic architectural uniformity. The integration of the chapel into the whole was also Nénot's work with the construction of a cour d'honneur.

In 1971, the first five original faculties of the Sorbonne were reorganized into 13 interdisciplinary institutions. Four of them today occupy the historic Sorbonne building.

9) Pantheon (must see)

The Panthéon is a building in the Latin Quarter in Paris, combining its liturgical function with its role of being a burial place for famous historical Frenchmen such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Braille, Dumas, and Zola. In 1995 the first female resident – two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie – entered the frame.

In 1744, King Louis XV of France suffered from a serious illness and vowed to replace the old church of the Abbey of St Genevieve if he recovered. He did recover and entrusted the Marquis of Marigny with the fulfillment of his vow. In 1755, Marigny commissioned Jacques-Germain Soufflot to design the church, with construction beginning two years later.

It is an early example of neoclassicism, with a façade modeled on the Pantheon in Rome, surmounted by a dome that owes some of its character to 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 is 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 steep spiral stairs leading to a reproduction of the Foucault pendulum (a massive device that accurately demonstrated the Earth's rotation of the earth) suspended from a cupola.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm (Oct-Mar); 10am-6:30pm (Apr-Sep)
Last admission 45 min before closing time

10) Saint-Étienne-du-Mont

Saint-Étienne-du-Mont is a church in Paris located on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève in the Latin Quarter. It has eclectic architecture styles – Flamboyant, Gothic and Renaissance. The interior offers an array of striking elements, including gorgeous stained-glass windows; a stunning shrine to the patron saint of Paris, Saint Genevieve; and a baroque 17th-century pulpit with a sculpture of Samson bearing the weight of the barrel. But it is the rood screen that is the most prominent feature of this very old church.

This type of screen, a common element in late medieval architecture, is an ornate partition between the chancel and the nave. Saint-Etienne-du-Mont has the only rood left in Paris. It features finely carved stone and a spiral staircase on both sides. The railing displays stone lace that has been carved in limestone.

The church also contains the tomb of Blaise de Vigenere, of Blaise Pascal and of Jean Racine. Jean-Paul Marat, the famous physician of the French Revolution, is buried in the church's cemetery. The sculpted tympanum, known as the "Stoning of Saint Stephen", is the work of French sculptor Gabriel-Jules Thomas.

Huysmans described the church in the Connecting (1895) as one of the most beautiful churches in Paris. On 23 August 1997 Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in this church during his visit to Paris on the occasion of World Youth Day.

Free to tour, it is still a functioning church – so please dress appropriately and respect those there to pray.

Opening Hours:
[During School Term] Mon: 6:30pm-7:30pm; Wed: 8:45am-10pm; Thu-Fri: 8:45am-7:45pm; Sat: 8:45am-12am / 2pm-7:45pm; Sun: 8:45am-12:15am / 2:30pm-7:45pm
[School Holidays] Thu-Sat: 10am-12am / 4pm-7:45pm; Sun: 10am-12am / 4:30pm-7:45pm
Hemingway's Apartment

11) Hemingway's Apartment

Ernest Hemingway lived here 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 no hot water and no toilet facilities and the couple slept on a mattress on the floor. Hemingway described this place 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, Hemingway met some of Paris' prominent writers and artists and forged quick friendships with them. Among the friends 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 friendships would be instrumental in Hemingway's development as a writer and artist.
Place de la Contrescarpe

12) Place de la Contrescarpe

The Place de la Contrescarpe is a lively little square surrounded by charming cafés, restaurants, and little souvenir shops. The square is also the old stomping ground of Ernest Hemingway who used to live a short stroll away at No. 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine. In the book "The Sun Also Rises", he mentions meeting friends at Place de la Contrescarpe. Day and night, in good weather, customers sit at small outside tables, sipping wine and watching passersby, a perennial Paris pastime. The neighborhood is charming with the old houses that surround the square and those along the Mouffetard street that crosses it.

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