The Left Bank (or "La Rive Gauche") has been the center of work and play for artists of all sorts for hundreds of years. Its gardens and boulevards have been immortalized in countless novels, paintings and films. Thanks to its dense collection of landmarks, it takes only a couple of miles to understand why this neighborhood has been so inspirational.
This tour starts at the tombs of some of the greatest minds of the 20th century, winds its way north through the Luxembourg gardens, past art galleries and shops, past the mismatched towers of Saint-Sulpice and the bustling brasseries of Saint-Germain-des-Près, ending at the lively Pont des Artes.
This tour is designed for daytime hours when sites like the Jardin du Luxembourg and Pierre Hermé’s patisserie are open. The route is almost entirely outdoors, so choose a day when it’s pleasant to be outside or dress accordingly. It also involves a decent amount of time on foot, so make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. It might be a good idea to bring a water bottle as France isn’t big on drinking fountains.
This station is on the 6 line. You exit onto a big open boulevard. If you go on a Wednesday or Saturday morning there will be a food market along this street with fresh produce, meats and cheeses, as well as an assortment of hot snacks to take away. Go on a Sunday morning and you'll find an art market.
Visits to the top of the tower are offered to tourists. There is also a restaurant on the 56th floor that is open to the public.
Address: 33, avenue du Maine
Phone: 00 33 (0) 1 45 38 52 56
Hours: April 1 - September 30: 9:30am - 11:30pm; October 1 - March 31: Sunday through Thursday 9:30am - 10:30pm, Friday and Saturday 9:30am - 11pm
Boulevard Edgar Quinet also offers one of the only unobstructed views of the controversial Montparnasse Tower. It is the only skyscraper in Paris' city center and it will probably stay that way. The French found this building so offensive that, shortly after its construction, they banned all buildings of this size within the city limits. Whether you find the tower a majesty or a monstrosity, it is worth a look.
Continue southeast on Boulevard Edgar Quinet and after a short distance you'll be at the entrance to the Montparnasse Cemetery. Walking along its quiet lanes, you forget that you're in a major city. You can use the map to locate the resting places of numerous French legends, among them poet Charles Baudelaire, rock star Serge Gainsbourg and philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. If you are uninterested in hitting up the celebrity graves, you can still appreciate the gorgeous sculptures and peaceful atmosphere.
After wandering the cemetery, exit onto Boulevard Raspail, jog south a little and cross over to Rue Campagne Premiere. On the corner, directly across from the Metro stop, stands an impressive Art Deco façade. This used to be the studio of American avant-garde photographer Man Ray.
Rue Campagne Premiere has been home to countless artists. Composer Eric Satié and artist Marcel Duchamp (the man who dubbed a urinal "art") lived at No. 29. Artist Yves Klein, creator of "International Klein Blue," lived at No. 14.
French film fans may also recognize this street as the setting for the dramatic finale of Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless."
Follow Rue Campagne Premiere through to the busy Boulevard Montparnasse, cross the street and take a right. On the corner you will find this famous brasserie. Hemingway fans will recognize this spot as his favorite writing sanctuary in "A Moveable Feast." Legend has it, it is here where Fitzgerald first had Hemingway read the manuscript for "The Great Gatsby."
Take a left past Closerie des Lilas and you will see the entrance to the Jardin Marco Polo, an extension of the Jardin du Luxembourg, with its striking Fontaine de l'Observatoire (Fountain of the Observatory). The Jardin Marco and the Jardin de l'Observatoire lead up to the main gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg. You can walk through the rows of horse-chestnut trees past the ping-pong matches and soccer games (keep a heads up to avoid getting nailed by incoming balls).
In the warmer months, families surround the central pool and you will see mothers sunbathing as their children guide toy sailboats across the man-made pond. If you feel inspired, they rent boats to those who come unprepared.
Once you have thoroughly enjoyed the gardens, make your way out via the northwestern exit and walk up Rue Bonaparte. After a couple of blocks you will reach a large square with a monumental fountain and the enormous Saint-Sulpice Church, the second-largest in Paris next to Notre Dame. Look closely and you will see the discrepancies that arise when construction takes place over a century. The church's architecture is a collage of different styles (thus the two mismatched towers).
Just kitty corner from the church on the northwest side is a Pierre Hermé boutique, the Parisian mecca of macaroons. If you are not sure what a French macaroon is, this is the place to find out. Adventurous eaters can try bold flavors like foie gras or black truffle, but don't worry, they have traditional flavors as well!
Address: 58 avenue Paul Doumer
Phone: 33 (0)1 43 54 47 77
Hours: Mon 1pm - 7pm, Tues - Sat 10am - 7:30pm, Sun 11am - 7pm
Farther down Rue Bonaparte, you will arrive at the lively intersection surrounding the church Saint-Germain-des-Prés. This area is always bustling with activity and there is often a crowd watching street musicians in front of the church.
The area is packed with cafés and brasseries that were frequented by famous 20th century artists and is known for being home to the French Existentialist movement. Many have pleasant terraces for people watching as you have a coffee or a glass of wine.
First off, there's Pizza del Papa on Rue de Buci. They serve authentic Naples-style pizza and refined entrees for a decent price. It has a classy interior with white linens and the service is formal, but friendly for a Parisian joint. The profiteroles (cream puffs) are to die for.
Address: 38, rue de Buci
Phone: 01 46 33 91 15
Hours: Monday through Friday: 12pm - 2:45pm and 7:00pm - 11:45pm; Saturday and Sundays 12pm - 3:30pm and 7:00pm - 11:45pm
Another more casual option is Cosi on Rue de Seine. This gourmet sandwich shop makes their delicious bread in a brick oven visible from the front counter. They use fresh, high-quality ingredients for their whole menu and offer a decent list of organic French wines.
Address: 54 Rue de Seine
Phone: +33 1 4633 3536
Hours: Daily 11:30am - 12am
After you have filled your belly, take a leisurely walk down to the Seine and stroll down the Pont des Arts, a lively bridge that runs between the Louvre and the Institute of Fine Arts. It's lined with locks of hair that numerous lovers have attached over the years in demonstration of their eternal love. In the warmer months, people sit all along it, sharing picnics or playing guitars.
Pictures in this guide taken by:
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