The Top Things to Do in the Latin Quarter, Paris

Exploring One of Paris' Most Iconic Neighborhoods

Streets leading up to the Pantheon

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

A historic center of learning, scholarship, and artistic achievement in Paris, The Latin Quarter's mystique is well-merited. Unfortunately, the area is also a victim of its own popularity and it can be hard to see through some of the tourist-trap artifices to get at the fascinating heart of this beloved neighborhood. While you won't regret sacrificing some time away from the big-ticket attractions of the City of Lights, there are a variety of great activities worth prioritizing. Here's what to see on your visit to the Quartier Latin to engage more deeply with its rich, incomparable history.

01 of 10

Explore the St-Michel District and Seine-Side Quays

Place Saint Michel

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Quai Saint-Michel, 75005 Paris, France

The area around Metro St. Michel is the easiest gateway to the Latin Quarter. To begin exploring in the vicinity, take a stroll along the Quai St-Michel which runs alongside the left bank of the Seine River; admire the Square St-Michel (with its iconic fountain-statue of the archangel Michel smiting Satan,) and continue walking along the river on the Quai de Montebello, continuing eastward from the square. 

It's typically best to avoid spending too much time in tourist-trap areas such as Rue de la Harpe, full of overpriced and mediocre restaurants. If a restaurant promises "authentic French cuisine" with the aid of a cardboard cutout of a pig donning a chef's hat, or if there are people outside the restaurant trying to lure you in with waves and pushy words, it's very likely not worth your time or Euros.

Places around St-Michel worth exploring: Rue Saint-André des Arts, with its antiquarian dealers, rare booksellers, and cute cafes; Rue Hautefeuille, with its MK2 Hautefeuille arthouse cinema, and the Gibert Jeune and Gibert Joseph bookshops on and around Place St-Michel, with their bright yellow-orange signs.

02 of 10

Uncover Scientific History at Musée Curie

Exterior of the Curie Museum in Paris
1 Rue Pierre et Marie Curie, 75005 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 56 24 55 33

Dedicated to the work of Marie Curie, the mother of modern physics, and her family, the Musée Curie is a free museum that marks the site of monumental scientific achievement. Located a few blocks down from the Pantheon, where Marie Curie is entombed, the museum is housed in the building where the Curies conducted many of their radium experiments and supposedly the door handle is still radioactive. Here, you'll get to see first-hand the kind of equipment used by these pioneering scientists in the preserved lab and office space. For any aspiring scientist or history buff, it's worth seeing the place where such a legendary family, with five Nobel prizes among them, conducted some of their life's work.

03 of 10

Explore the Rue Mouffetard and Jussieu Neighborhood

Rue Mouffetard

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Pl. de la Contrescarpe, 75005 Paris, France

This neighborhood offers everything from vibrant market streets like Rue Mouffetard to classic old squares and pretty streets like Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue Monge. The quiet, charmingly cobbled residential streets are lined with trees and roaming with cats that lead to the magnificent botanic garden of Jardin des Plantes and an epic Natural History Museum. Take some time to stroll about, browse the bookstands, or find a cozy cafe to sit at for a while. After all, taking your time to dawdle in the atmosphere is the best way to see Paris.

04 of 10

Visit the Jardin des Plantes and Natural History Museum

Jardin des Plantes in Paris, France

TripSavvy / Leopoldine Bauer

57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 40 79 56 01

The Jardin des Plantes is Paris' royal botanical garden, originally founded to cultivate medicinal plants under the rule of King Louis XIII in the 17th century. It was here where France's royal botanist kept their medicinal plants and where France's colonial expeditions brought new botanical specimens from all over the world, such as the coffee plant, to be studied.

With over 60-acres, the garden boasts some of the best real estate in Paris sitting on the Seine's left bank and it encompasses, not only its large garden, but also libraries, greenhouses, and its famous ménagerie, the second oldest public zoo in the world. Until the 20th century, the gardens were solely dedicated to research but today they are open for visitors who are welcome to explore the many flourishing botanical varieties as well as the inspiring items in the museums and galleries such as a giant slice of a 2,200-year-old Sequoia Tree and the skeletons of extinct animals like the wooly mammoth.

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05 of 10

Browse at Shakespeare & Company Bookshop

Shakespeare and Company

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 43 25 40 93

You may have noticed that this entire district is something of a book lover's dream: From the open-air booksellers with their famed green metal stalls on the Seine to the French mega-bookstores on Place St-Michel, you'll easily find a worthwhile tome. 

There are few places more iconic in the Latin Quarter than Shakespeare & Company, a beloved bookshop situated across the Seine and facing Notre-Dame Cathedral. Opened in 1951 by consummate Parisian beatnik George Whitman—who passed away in 2011—it's now owned by his business-savvy daughter, Sylvia.

Originally opened as "Le Mistral," this is not the original shop in Paris. George Whitman renamed it in 1964, in honor of the legendary bookshop opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 just down the street. Under Beach's helm, the first shop was famous for hosting and publishing literary greats such as James Joyce. The more recent location is still a literary epicenter, a comforting refuge for English speakers, and it is still timeless.

Make sure to duck inside—early in the morning is best to avoid the crowds—and browse both new and classic titles gracing the shop's narrow, uneven shelves and carefully curated tables. For those visiting Paris for a longer spell, the shop also regularly hosts workshops and talks with great writers.

06 of 10

Soak in Medieval Art at the Musée Cluny

Musee Cluny

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

28 Rue du Sommerard, 75005 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 53 73 78 00

This humble, little-appreciated museum and former medieval residence is devoted to art, culture, and daily life from the Middle Ages. The star attraction here is no doubt "La Dame a la Licorne" (The Lady and the Unicorn), a 15th-century series of enigmatic, luminous Bayeux tapestries that mesmerizes all who come to behold them. 

There are also interesting objects from medieval daily life, an aromatic garden modeled after those from the Middle Ages, and a basement level that reveals the building's Gallo-Roman foundations displaying that there once were thermal baths on the site. It's an especially cozy and inspiring thing to do in the winter when the chilly temperatures make an evening indoors an appealing prospect.

07 of 10

Tour the Pantheon

Inside the Pantheon

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Pl. du Panthéon, 75005 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 44 32 18 00

Erected between 1758 and 1790, this neoclassical building with its distinctive off-white dome may not be as famous or popular with tourists as Montmartre's Sacre Coeur—but it's arguably more important from a historical standpoint. This mausoleum pays tribute to the remains of great French minds, from Victor Hugo to Rousseau, Voltaire, Marie Curie and, since 2002, Alexandre Dumas. Perched atop the knoll known as the Montagne St-Genevieve, on a clear day the sweeping views from outside make for a spectacular photo opportunity.

08 of 10

Contemplate Ancient History at the Arènes de Lutece

Aquare des Arenes de Lutece

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Arènes de Lutèce, 75005 Paris, France

Under the Roman Empire, Paris, then referred to as "Lutetia," was a part of French Gaul. The ruins of a 1st-century AD Roman arena, restored in most places, the Arènes de Lutece is relatively lesser-known among tourists. But it makes for an interesting stop after a whirl around the Rue Mouffetard area, especially for those with interests in history or archeology. Along with the thermal bath structures at Cluny, this is the French capital's most important intact Gallo-Roman site. 

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09 of 10

Walk the Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

75006 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 42 34 20 00

Connecting the Latin Quarter with the formerly artsy St-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, this breathtaking formal park and garden has it all: Sublime statuary and fountains; alleyways lined with deciduous trees that turn muted shades of red and orange in the fall, and lawns for indulgent summer picnics.

The entire area is also replete with literary and artistic history. Avant-garde writer and patron Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas lived behind the park on Rue de Fleurus, and luminaries such as Alexandre Dumas and Richard Wright also frequented the area. 

10 of 10

Play Hemingway at La Closerie des Lilas Cafe

La Closerie des Lilas

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

171 Bd du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 40 51 34 50

Countless famous writers once haunted the tables at this legendary cafe and restaurant. Now a pretty posh affair compared to its bohemian heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, which saw patrons like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald engage in liquor-laced arguments and debates about their craft, the "Closerie" is still worth a stop. Especially if you enjoy attempting to travel back in time to the long-lost Paris of books such as Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast."

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The Top Things to Do in the Latin Quarter, Paris