Are you in the market for a good book or two for the plane, or for a rare edition of a favorite novel or work of non-fiction? Paris counts over 200 independent outdoor booksellers, or "bouquinistes", offering some 300,000 collectable, new and used books and magazines under open skies. Their iconic painted green metal exteriors have been depicted in numerous famous paintings of Paris, notably from the Impressionist period. Where you're in the mood for a simple stroll and browse, or hope to find some handsome old volumes, a visit to the bouquinistes should be a part of any book lover's trip to the capital.
The tradition extends all the way back to the 16th century, when the Renaissance ushered in an unprecedented era of literacy, and "vagabond" booksellers eventually set up permanent places of business alongside and nearby the Seine River. As demand for books grew among a populace that was increasingly able to read, the tradition flourished, and, as it often does in Paris, stuck.
While the city's outdoor booksellers face continued threats from the advent of chain bookstores, they remain one of the city's most treasured legacies. A spring or summer stroll through the bouquinistes' stalls is a genuine treat, especially for those interested in finding collectible and rare titles. After browsing on a few occasions, I've found that prices are usually reasonable, too, even for original editions of classic works of literature or non-fiction. So if you're hoping to find a unique gift for your favorite bookworm, or a handsome old edition to crown your collection, you won't necessarily have to pay top dollar.
Similarly, it's rather easy to happen upon old magazines that might make excellent collector's items: a Paris Match issue from 1963 and featuring Jean-Paul Belmondo on the cover, for example, could win the heart of anyone with a love for French memorabilia and vintage items.
What Can't You Find at These Traditional Stands?
The one real downside to buying books from these charming traditional sellers? The vast majority of titles peddled at the stands are available in French only, limiting choices for those who aren't fluent in the Gallic tongue. Still, casual browsing can be a pleasure in its own right, and you might find that owning a special tome on photography, visual culture, film, or an illustrated history in French is worth it even if you don't understand every word.
Locations and Opening Hours
Most booksellers are open daily from around 11:30 a.m. to sundown, and close during French bank holidays and in the case of heavy rain or storm conditions. They can be found on both the right and left banks (rive gauche and rive droite) of the Seine.
- Right bank locations: You'll find the stalls clustered along the Seine from Pont Marie (Metro Pont Marie) and the Louvre Museum (Metro Palais du Louvre).
- Left-bank locations: Sellers are mostly situated on the banks of the Seine from Quai de la Tournelle (Metro Maubert-Mutualité) to Quai Voltaire (Metro Saint-Germain-des-Prés)