10 Top Things to Do in the Latin Quarter, Paris

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 11

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 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 cafés; 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 11

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. (Interesting fact: The door handle is said to still be radioactive.) During your visit, you will get a first-hand glimpse of 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 11

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 café 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 11

Visit the Jardin des Plantes and the National Museum of Natural History

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 brought new botanical specimens from all over the world, such as the coffee plant, to be studied.

With more than 60 acres, the garden boasts some of the best real estate in Paris. Sitting on the Seine's left bank, it encompasses the National Museum of Natural History, which comprises libraries, greenhouses, galleries, and 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.

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05 of 11

Browse at Shakespeare and 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. 

But there are few places more iconic in the Latin Quarter than Shakespeare and 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 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. To avoid the crowds, it's best to get there early in the morning.

06 of 11

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 and an aromatic garden modeled after those from the Middle Ages. On the basement level, you will be able to see the building's Gallo-Roman foundations, which show 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 11

Tour the Panthéon

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. Built as a church at the behest of King Louis XV, it was transformed into "a temple of the nation" in 1791 during the French Revolution. Although it would later serve its original purpose as a church, today the building stands as a mausoleum, paying 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, the sweeping views from outside make for a spectacular photo opportunity on a clear day.

08 of 11

Contemplate Ancient History at the Arènes de Lutèce

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 Roman arena, restored in most places, the Arènes de Lutèce are relatively lesser-known among tourists. But they make 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 11

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 statues 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 11

Play Hemingway at La Closerie des Lilas

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 café 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. As you dine on oysters, tartare beef, and Crêpe Suzette, you'll feel like you've traveled back in time to the long-lost Paris of books such as Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast."

11 of 11

Admire the Old Sorbonne University

Fountains at Sorbonne University

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

75005 Paris, France

The Sorbonne is a Parisian badge of pride as one of Europe's oldest colleges—it opened in 1257 as part of the medieval Université de Paris. The institution that gave the Latin Quarter its name (mostly theology students, monks, and other religious figures—who occupied the then-Christian institution—worked exclusively in Latin), the Sorbonne retains a genuine air of prestige.

To visit the hallowed walls of the old college, consider signing up for one of the Sorbonne's guided tours, which take place Monday through Friday and one Saturday a month. Available by appointment only, tours last one and a half hours and cost 15 euros a person. If you are unable to take a tour, a visit to the pretty traditional square, lined with cafés and trees, is still worth a bit of time out of your day. 

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Why is it called Latin Quarter in Paris?

    During the Middle Ages, theology students attending the Sorbonne were learning and speaking in Latin, thus giving the neighborhood its name.

  • Is the Latin Quarter in Paris a good place to stay?

    The Latin Quarter is one of the top places to stay in Paris. Thanks to its central location, you're not too far from top attractions such as the Panthéon and Shakespeare and Company, and with the Sorbonne right there, you can immerse yourself in a lively nightlife scene.

  • What quarter is Notre-Dame in Paris?

    Notre-Dame is located in the 4th arrondissement.

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10 Top Things to Do in the Latin Quarter, Paris