Built by a beauty-loving Queen during the height of the European Renaissance, the Jardin du Luxembourg still retains a decidedly royal and grandiose feel, and is one the loveliest places in Paris for a short or extended stroll, picnic or general frolic. Locals and tourists alike stream in during the spring and summer months, but intruth, the formal gardens can be picturesque and pleasant no matter what time of year it is.
In 1611, the Franco-Italian Queen Marie de' Medici had the whimsical desire to create a formal garden in the image of Florence's Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace-- perhaps thinking her adopted city too dark, grey, and in need of some Mediterranean warmth. Covering a considerable mass of land on the edge of Paris' Latin Quarter, the Jardin du Luxembourg is best known for its lush landscaping: it balances a tightly-controlled French-style garden on one side, full of geometric beauty, and a gently wild-looking English-style garden on another.
The enormous central terrace and pond is bordered by flowers, shrubbery, and world-famous statues of French queens and other notable women. Framing the ornate scene is the imposing Luxembourg Palace, once Marie de' Medici's sprawling residence, and now the home of the French Senate.
The Luxembourg also boasts a fragrant apple orchard, greenhouses, stretches of blooming orchids and roses in the spring, long lanes lined with over 2,000 deciduous trees that turn vibrant shades of red and orange in the fall, and an enormous pond perfect for sailing mini-sailboats or remote-control boats (favorite pastimes among Parisian kids).
Add some important literary history to the mix-- the gardens were a favorite place to stroll for writers as diverse as George Sand, Alfred de Musset, Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, and Richard Wright-- and you can understand why the garden is more than just a pretty spot for a walk.
It's an important site in Parisian culture and history. All reasons to add it to your bucket list.
Location and Getting There:
Address: Jardin du Luxembourg: Rue de Medicis - Rue de Vaugirard
Metro: Odeon ( Line 6) or RER Line C (Luxembourg)
Information on the Web: See this page at the Paris Tourist Office
Sights and Attractions Nearby:
Latin Quarter: the park is situated in a corner of the old Parisian center of scholarship, arts and learning. Include the Luxembourg in your tour of the neighborhood.
Just blocks away, the lovely old Sorbonne University sits on the Place de la Sorbonne, lined with cafes.
Just across the street and up a short hill from the garden, looms the Pantheon: an elaborate, grandiose mausoleum that holds the remains of some of France's greatest minds, from Alexandre Dumas to Marie Curie.
St-Germain-des-Prés: The southern and western edges of the gardens are located in this mythical neighborhood where writers and artists including Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre haunted local cafes, including the Deux Magots.
Musee Cluny/Medieval Museum: Housed in a magnificent medieval residence whose foundations lay on the ruins of Roman thermal baths, the National Medieval Museum boasts the city's most important collection of art and artifacts from the Middle Ages.
Opening Hours and Access Points:
The Jardin du Luxembourg is open year-round, with hours varying depending on the season (essentially, dawn to dusk). Entry is free for all.
To access the garden, you can choose from among three main entrances: place Edmond Rostand, place André Honnorat, rue Guynemer, or rue de Vaugirard.
Guided tours are offered by the Senate in high season, but these are held in French only. This company offers free walking tours of the gardens at 2:30 pm every day (please do remember to tip the guides).
All entrances to the garden and many of its paths are wheelchair-accessible. There are also special rest areas designated for seeing-eye dogs to play off-leash. Other sorts of dogs are allowed but must be kept on a leash and taken on the paths designated for dogs.
A Bit of History
1n 1611-1612, Queen Marie de' Medici, wife of the late Henri IV of France and Regent to King Louis XIII, commissioned a new residence in the image of her beloved Florentine home, the Pitti Palace. She bought the existing building on the site, formerly the hotel du Luxembourg (now known as the Petit-Luxembourg palace) and ordered the construction of a vast new palace. A genuine lover of greenery, she had thousands of trees, shrubs and flowers planted. Tommasi Francini, a fellow Italian, was commissioned to plan and build the terraces, as well as a fountain now referred to as the Medici fountain.
By 1630, the site was significantly enlarged to become the vast space it is today. Hoping to make it take on the grandeur of the Tuileries (adjoining the Louvre) or the breathtaking gardens at Versailles, the Medici hired the same garden planner who was responsible for the magnificent formal arrangements at those famed places. To expand the Luxembourg garden, he created more distinctively French, geometric parterres and hedges, and a new octagonal basin and fountain offering southward views.
Following the Queen's death, the palace and gardens were neglected and fell into significant disrepair, and were neglected. It was only after the French Revolution of 1789 that interest in revitalizing the grounds grew: the Medici fountain was restored to its former glory, and the distinctively geometric styles of French formal gardens of eras past were replicated.
The 19th Century to the Present Day:
In the 19th century, typical features from that era, including a marionette theatre, greenhouses, and an orangery used primarily to display art and sculptures, made the gardens popular again with the general public. Since then, it has been beloved by many generations of Parisians as well as by tourists. Romantic writers such as lovers Sand and de Musset took many strolls here.
In the late 19th century, the garden became a favoured new place to install elaborate sculptures: the 20 aforementioned statues depicting European queens and notable French women were erected on the main terrace; more than 100 in total popped up around the garden-- including a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty created by Bartholdi himself.
During the 20th century, lost-generation American expatriates writers including Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald followed suit (both writers lived on adjoining streets near the garden). The garden and surrounding cafes were an especially important locus for mid-century African-American artists and writers including the painter Beauford Delaney, writers Richard Wright and Chester Himes, and others.
Highlights & What to Do at the Gardens
In addition to being a wonderful place to stroll, sun and read on green metal chairs overlooking the verdant terraces, and sail boats on the artificial ponds, there are myriad things to do and enjoy at the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Kids will no doubt enjoy the marionette theatre that puts on show in the warmer months; the toy sailboat and remote-control boat rentals; the fenced-in playground area and old-fashioned carousel.
Lovers of plants and botany will find hours' worth of activities, strolling the grounds and admiring the thousands of trees, flowers and shrubs planted across over 25 hectares. Greenery on display includes pear and apple orchards, greenhouses and elaborate formal flower beds and hedges. The Orangerie, a former greenhouse, now is primarily used for temporary exhibits of photos and artworks.
For those interested in sculpture, the garden is practically an open-air museum: over 100 statues dating from the 19th century to the present grace the grounds. These include the aforementioned figures of notable European women,from Anne of Austria to Mary Queen of Scots; busts and full-sized figures of writers and poets including George Sand, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire; to modern sculpture from the likes of Zadkine.
Meanwhile, the Fountain of the Observatory (in the area known as the Jardin Marco Polo) on the south side of the gardens is a stunning work of bronze. It represents a collaborative effort between four French sculptors. It depicts four women heroically holding up a bronze globe; around them are eight triumphant horses, fish and other animals.
Picnics: A Local Pastime
If you're visiting during the warmer months and are hoping to sprawl out somewhere at the gardens with crusty baguettes, cheese, fruit and even a little rosé in tow, there's a large lawn on the garden's south side that's perfect for spending a couple of lazy, delicious hours on the grass. Read this piece on assembling the perfect Parisian picnic, and stock up on all the right goodies. To find the lawn at the gardens, head due south away from the main Luxembourg palace area to the sprawling lawns around the Observatory statue.
Read related: What to Do in Paris During the Summer
The Musee du Luxembourg: Recently Renovated & Hosting Important Exhibits
If you've got the time and inclination, I thoroughly recommend reserving tickets for whatever's on at the Luxembourg Museum, located on the garden's northwest end via a separate entrance. Recently renovated, the museum hosts two major exhibits per year, which almost always sell out (so booking tickets well in advance is highly advisable). Recent shows have included retrospectives on Italian painter Modigliani and French artist Marc Chagall.
Location: 19 rue de Vaugirard (Metro: St-Sulpice or Vaugirard; RER C (Luxembourg)