10 Visit Ideas in the Denfert / Montparnasse Neighborhood

Dominated by the 210 meters of the Montparnasse Tower’s, the Denfert-Montparnasse neighborhood is located in the heart of the 14th arrondissement in the south of Paris.  This relatively touristic neighborhood is flooded with good locations and cultural activities that are worth a detour.

Montparnasse
Credits: Diliff, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons 2.0

A Bit of History to Start With

The Montparnasse neighborhood was initially called “Mont Parnasse” by the students that were reciting verses on the hill, who wanted to reference Mount Parnassus, the home of the Muses from Greek mythology.

Throughout the 18th century, the hill disappeared but the name stayed.  From the 19th century, the neighborhood became a center for the arts.  Montparnasse wasn’t very popular among the Parisians, and many international artists (like Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Hemingway, Apollinaire, and Joan Miro) benefited from really low rents to live there or have their workshops there.  Little by little the inhabitants started to be called the Montparnos and quickly gave them a creative and libertarian atmosphere.

To find this spirit from the beginning of the 20th century, don’t hesitate to go to the places frequented by the artists of the time like the bar La Coupole, decorated in 1927 by the capital’s most stylish 27 painters, or its neighbor the Anglo-American café, Le Dôme , where many Anglo-Saxon artists met while they stayed in Paris.

Today, the neighborhood has become more upscale.  However, you will still find a nice and almost village-like atmosphere in the south of the 14th arrondissement, around the Place Denfert-Rochereau.  We recommend taking a tour in this really lively Parisian neighborhood; ideal for walks alone or with a friend.

Locations of famous restaurants:

La Coupole : 102, boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris 14th arrondissement.

Book your Gourmet menu in La Coupole

Le Dôme : 108, boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris 14th arrondissement.

 

 

1) The Montparnasse Tower and its surroundings

(Metros 4, 6, 12, 13 : station Montparnasse-Bienvenüe)

Built between 1969 and 1973, the Montparnasse Tower was the highest office building in Europe at the time.  Today, its modest 210 meters aren’t enough anymore to compete with the tallest skyscrapers in Europe.

The tower was actually raised on the place of the old Gare Montparnasse train station.  The current Gare Montparnasse is located just across from the tower, at the crossing of rue du Départ and rue de l’Arrivée.  The tower’s placement allowed them to create an alignment with Trocadéro, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-de-Mars, and the École Militaire.

 

Like at it beginnings, the tower is an office building and the 56th floor is the only one open to the public.  It is there that you find the large restaurant: Ciel de Paris, completely restored in 2005.

In addition to offering a superb gourmet menu, the establishment also allows visitors to benefit from a panoramic view of Paris.  So you can admire the beautiful Parisian monuments from a new perspective.
Once at the top of the tower, if the weather conditions are favorable, you can see as far as 40km away.  Also, you can clearly see the planes take off from the Aeroport d’Orly (directly located more than 13km away).

Also on the 56th floor you will find a little exhibit relating to the history of the tower.

In the middle of the tourist season (from the beginning of April to the end of September), the tower’s floor that is open to the public offers visits from 9:30am to 11:30pm, but closes a bit earlier out of season (at 10:30pm or 11pm).  You’ll be able to go to the tower’s highest floor after paying a sum that is just as high (15 euros for adults, 12 euros for youth from 16 to 20 and students, 9.50 euros for 7-15 year olds, and free for kids under 7).  To avoid lines, we recommend you to buy your tickets online and to allow you to acces directly the elevator.

 

Around the Gare Montparnasse and the tower with the same name that faces it, you’ll find many shops and enough to satisfy your shopping desires.  You can enjoy the presence of a branch of Galeries Lafayette, found just a few hundred meters from the Gare Montparnasse.  But the most commercial street in the neighborhood is undoubtedly rue de Rennes where you can find the big clothing brands (like Zara, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Gap, The Kooples, and plenty others), but also multimedia stores (Micromania and laFnac). Rue de Rennes is a long artery that helps connect the Montparnasse neighborhood to Saint Germain des Prés by going around Saint Sulpice.  Venture into this temple of shopping to make some purchases or just window shop!

Book your visit at Montparnasse tower

 

 

2) Rue de la Gaîté

Credits: Fred Romero, under Creative Commons 2.0

Just two steps from the Gare Montparnasse you will find this little lively street in the capital.  As its name shows, this street had the goal to brighten the sometimes morose daily life of Parisians.

 

If this historic axis was just a dirt road in the 18th century, it developed a lot during the 19th century.  At that time, the street was found outside the city, so it was cut off by the wall, Enceinte des Fermier Généraux.  Also many bars, bistros, and other cafés moved onto the street and didn’t pay the taxes that were imposed on the merchants that set up shop inside the city walls.  Little by little, the street became specialized and you could find more and more cabarets, public dances, and open-air dance halls before theaters moved in at the end of the 19th century.

Certain theaters from this time period are still standing today, for example the Théâtre Bobino.  The purpose of rue de la Gaîté actually remained intact today since it is named “the street of theaters”.  With 6 different theaters on a long street of less than 300 meters, you can quickly understand the origin of the nickname.

Locations:

Le Bobino : 14-20, rue de la Gaîté, Paris 14th arrondissement.

Le Théâtre Montparnasse Gaston Baty : 31, rue de la Gaîté, Paris 14th

Le Théâtre de la Gaîté Montparnasse : 26, rue de la Gaîté, Paris 14th

La Comédie Italienne : 17-19, rue de la Gaîté, Paris 14th arrondissement

Le Théâtre Rive Gauche : 6, rue de la Gaîté, Paris 14th arrondissement

Le Petit Montparnasse : 31, rue de la Gaîté, Paris 14th arrondissement

 

 

3) The Jardin Atlantique

(1 place des Martyrs du Lycée Buffon. Metro 13 : station Gaîté)

Jardin Atlantique
Credits: besopha, Wikimedia, under Creative Commons 2.0

For lovers of gardens and quirky walks, go on top of the Gare Montparnasse.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It is right above the train station and its TGV rails that a suspended garden extends for 3 hectares.

Dreamt up by the landscape artists, François Brun and Michel Péna, this garden was finished in 1994.  The large lawn in geometric shapes, typical for French gardens, is surrounded by all the Maine-Montparnasse buildings.  This themed garden lets travelers relax while waiting to take the train.  The park’s Atlantic theme is a wink towards destinations serviced by the trains departing from the Gare Montparnasse, all in the direction of the country’s west coast, and therefore the Atlantic Ocean.  The theme can be found in all aspects of the garden: the lawn ripples under your feet, the dominant color is obviously blue, and the whole garden is interspersed with details referencing the marine world, like wooden masts from Bernard Vié or the long pontoon that crosses the garden to the east.  The whole garden and its organization are echoes of the world of the Atlantic and the countries that have relations with French territory thanks to this immense area of water.  Also, the central span is filled with European trees in the east, and with their American equivalents on the western side.

A giant thermometer, as well as a rain gauge and an anemometer (to measure wind speed), stand in the middle of the garden.  Sports facilities are also there at the location, for example there are ping-pong tables, a weightlifting area, tennis courts, and many play spaces that will even let the kids relax.

Access to the garden (almost secret) is possible from the Place des Martyrs du Lycée Buffon.  Few Parisians and even fewer tourists are up to date about the existence of the enchanting place that stretches above the station.  So enjoy the calm garden to relax for a moment in a space at the heart of Paris.  The garden is open 8am to 9:30pm during nice days (from the start of April to the end of September) and closes a bit early when the days get shorter (at 8:30pm).  Entry to the garden is completely free.

 

 

4) Musée Bourdelle

(18 rue Antoine Bourdelle, Paris 15th arrondissement. Metros 4, 6, 12, 13: station Montparnasse-Bienvenüe or Metro 12: station Falguière)

Credits: Edal Anton Lefterov, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons 3.0

For lovers of art, sculpting, or just for the curious, we recommend continuing your visit in the neighborhood by going to the Musée Bourdelle.  This museum, completely dedicated to the life and works of the sculptor, is located in the workshops, apartments, and gardens that the artist occupied until the end of his days.  The museum dedicated to him can be found not far from the rue Montparnasse and rue de la Gaîté.  The place was transformed into a museum in 1949, only 20 years after the artist’s death.  During the centennial celebration of the artist’s birth in 1961, an extension was designed in the museum to enlarge the exhibition halls.  In fact, Bourdelle is mostly known for his monumental works, and it was sometimes necessary to modify the exhibit halls so that they could hold the artist’s most imposing works.  The majority of Bourdelle’s major works are spread throughout the world, and the Musée Bourdelle is the only establishment in the world holding such a concentration of the artist’s works.  Also, you can admire the most known: Héraklès Archer, located in the museum hall, and La baigneuse accroupie au rocher that looks after the garden.  You can also see the sculptor’s lesser-known paintings, since he tried his hand at painting.  The workshop/museum is an extremely pleasant place, open to the gardens that belonged to the painter/sculptor and that are also used as exhibition space.  Despite the excitement of the Montparnasse neighborhood, the Musée Bourdelle and its gardens appear to be a haven of peace where visitors can stroll and relax while discovering (or rediscovering) the works of Antoine Bourdelle.  In addition, access to the permanent collections is free all year long.

 

5) Montparnasse Cemetery

(3 boulevard Edgar Quinet, Paris 14th arrondissement. Metro 4 or 6 : station Raspail or Metro 6 : station Edgar Quinet)

Cimetière Montparnasse
Credits: Myrabella, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons 3.0

 

To continue your exploration of the neighborhood we recommend visiting the Montparnasse Cemetery.  Located only a few hundred meters from rue de la Gaîté, this impressive cemetery stretches over almost 20 hectares in the middle of the 14th Parisian arrondissement.  From the top of the Montparnasse Tower, you can understand the considerable expanse of the Parisian cemetery.

The history of the Montparnasse cemetery dates back to the 19th century.  At that time, the city of Paris, which wasn’t as expansive as today, decided to create new cemeteries outside the city walls.  Also, the Montparnasse Cemetery was one of a few cemeteries (including the Père Lachaise in the east, the cemetery of Montmartre in the north, and the Passy cemetery in the west) that were created at the time.  The first interment at the Montparnasse Cemetery took place in 1824.  The current location of the cemetery was once occupied by three farms.  Today, a windmill that was on the farmland is still standing and was listed as a historical monument in 1931.  The Montparnasse cemetery is the largest Parisian necropolis, after the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and holds the tombs of numerous famous individuals and intellectuals.  You’ll actually have the chance to see the graves of many writers (like Charles Baudelaire, Guy de Maupassant, and Maurice Leblanc, the creator of Arsène Lupin), and also playwrights (including Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco), philosophers (Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir), and artists (like the sculptor and painter, Antoine Bourdelle, the composer and singer, Serge Gainsbourg, and the photographer and surrealist painter, Man Ray) as well as other figures that have left their mark on the cultural life in France and sometimes internationally.  A guide for the most famous graves is available by request at the entrance to the museum.  Besides graves, the cemetery itself is a very wooded place and pleasant to visit.  It is one of the largest green spaces inside the capital in which you can go for a stroll and admire the many sculptures decorating the tombs and lawns, like le Baiser, the work by Constantin Brancusi, or Le genie du sommeil éternel by Horace Daillon.  Access to the cemetery is free and it is open every day from 8am to 6pm during its busy season and 8:30am to 5:30pm during the rest of the year.  You can even contact la Mairie de Paris to organize a tour.

 

 

6) The Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain

(261 boulevard Raspail, Paris 14th arrondissement. Metro 4 or 6 and RER B: station Denfert-Rochereau or Metro 4: station Raspail)

Fondation Cartier
Credits: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, under Creative Commons 2.0

Going down boulevard Raspail, you will come face to face with the front of the building constructed by the architect, Jean Nouvel.  You’ll find it impossible to pass by without noticing the large glass signs partially hidden behind green vegetation.  The building itself is actually crowded by the garden designed by Lothar Baumgarten that consists of multiple green spaces.  So take your time visiting this islet of greenery lost in the urban landscape.  The contemporary aesthetics of the building play a lot with the transparency and the reflection of the walls and spaces, but not without bringing to mind certain works by the Fondation Cartier. In fact, since 1984 the establishment has dedicated itself to promote and support international contemporary artistic creations with different activities (exhibitions, diverse animations, shows, new purchases, allocation of funds, and publication of books and catalogs).  It brings together many disciplines like painting, sculpture, video imaging, sound, design, and photography.  The foundation has specialized in purchasing works of art of large dimensions and celebrated in 2014 its 30th anniversary.  The 1200m2 for exhibits allow the group to assemble a rather eclectic collection of more than 1000 works from 300 different artists.  Furthermore, every year the foundation tries to promote new artists and new artistic movements thanks to special events like Les Soirées Nomades during which the audience can attend live artistic performances.  Entry to the foundation’s buildings will cost you 10.50 euros at full cost and 7 euros at half price (for students, anyone under 25, seniors, and those in search of work).  Also, the museum is free for anyone under 18 on Wednesdays, for kids under 13, and for handicapped visitors everyday.  The price may seem high, but your ticket will give you access not only to the depths of the building, but also the lavish gardens that surround it.

 

 

7) Denfert-Rochereau and Rue Daguerre

(Paris 14th arrondissement, Metro 4 or 6 and RER B : station Denfert-Rochereau)

Place Denfert-Rochereau
Credits: Shadowgate, under Creative Commons 2.0

The Place Denfert-Rochereau is one of the capital’s legendary locations.  However, though it is highly visited by Parisians that often meet around the square for the start of large demonstrations, few know its history.  At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, the square was cut in two by the city wall that marked the city’s limits.  If this wall wanted to create barriers for Paris, it was mostly constructed to be able to control merchandise that entered the city and to be able to impose taxes on the merchants coming from outside the walls to sell their goods inside the capital.  This taxation was carried out at the walls entrance: the place was quickly renamed “the gate from hell” by Parisians who often saw the prices rise from taxes imposed on traders.  The “gate from hell” is still visible today since this work of construction, dating from the end of 18th century, was never destroyed.  The two parts of the square were reunited in 1859 when the city limits were extended towards the south.

Another lesser-known element relating to this place is the origin of its name.  The General Denfert-Rochereau was a soldier from the end of the 19th century who distinguished himself during the war of 1870 between the French and the Prussians.  This is also the reason that the Lion de Belfort takes up the center of the square.  This statue, designed by the sculptor Bartholdi, (who was also the creator of the Statue of Liberty) was bought by the city of Paris in 1879.  This 4 meter tall giant lion with 7 meters of length was initially planned to be placed at Buttes Chaumont (in the 19th arrondissement).  But the inhabitants of the 14th arrondissement  requested that the lion dominate the Place Denfert to symbolize French strength and courage in the Franco-Prussian conflict.

From the square, it will be easy to access the lively rue Daguerre.  So you can then stroll among the stands and enjoy fresh products offered by numerous traders that line the entire street.  Businesses are open every day except Sunday afternoons and Monday.  You will surely appreciate the village-like atmosphere of this Parisian neighborhood where the inhabitants all know each other.  Parisian anonymity has no place here!

Many neighborhood associations have grown in the 14th arrondissement, that is the case with the Moulin à Café, a community establishment that was put together by the neighborhood’s inhabitants.  You can have drinks, homemade cakes, and other products from the market for an extremely modest price and in a friendly and lively atmosphere.  The café also includes a boutique where you can buy a certain number of products related to the café.  This community café will also offer activities like gardening workshops or plays also put on by the neighborhood’s groups.  For more information about prices and activities: go to the web site for the Moulin à Café.

Many bistros, bars, and restaurants are also there around Place Denfert. We recommend more specifically the pizzeria Chez Enzo that offers delicious pizzas and other Italian specialties.  To take a more Parisian break, go to the gourmet bistro Le Jeu du Quilles and fall under the charm of this establishment that offers fresh dishes cooked up by the two chefs under the watch of their guests.  You can have something to eat, but also enjoy the dainty little grocery store made available to the restaurant’s customers.  There you’ll find many jars and homemade preserves!

More strangely, for accordion or wine lovers (or both), you’ll surely enjoy the boutique Paris Accordéon Gourmands that offers its visitors the perfect mix between cellar and accordion shop.  Surprising at first, this abnormal association makes sense once you pass the door of this boutique with a bit of a retro style.  Also you can simply try or buy many varieties of wine and spirits as well as a multitude of regional products, all of it with an accordion tune in the background, and all while you admire the accordion models that decorate the boutique, waiting to be sold or even tried out.  The boutique also offers accordion classes for starters as well as for seasoned players.

 

Locations:

Chez Enzo : 72, rue Daguerre, Paris 14th arrondissement.

Le Jeu de Quille : 45, rue Boulard, Paris 14th arrondissement.

Le Moulin à Café : 8, rue Saint Léonie, Paris 14th arrondissement.

Paris Accordéon Gourmands : 80, rue Daguerre, Paris 14th arrondissement.

 

 

8) Catacombs of Paris

(1, avenue du Colonel Rol-Tanguy, Paris 14th arrondissement. Metro 4 or 6 and RER B: station Denfert-Rochereau)

Catacombes

It is also on the Place Denfert-Rochereau that you can enter into the famous catacombs of Paris.  These were built in Paris at the end of the 18th century and contain the bones of Parisians that first found themselves buried at the Cimitière des Innocents (in the Halles neighborhood).  A decree in 1785 ordered the closing of the Cimetière des Innocents, which was considered a sanitary threat for the neighborhood’s inhabitants.  Old quarries were chosen to store the bones of the cemetery’s occupants.  This movement called for a lot of construction in the old quarries, but the bones began to be relocated in April 1786, just after the blessing and rededication of the place.  It took two years to move all of the occupants, and it goes to show how far the Cimitière des Innocents extended! But moving all of the bones still took a long time, certainly because every time it needed a procession at nightfall and a special ceremony. The priests that accompanied the bones sang the service to the dead while the carts full of bones and covered with black veils traveled between the cemetery and the new catacombs.

The Catacombs of Paris are an extremely touristic attraction and most certainly so during the summer.  In fact, in 1787, only one year after the installation in the old quarries, the future king of France, Charles X, then the Count of Artois, descended into them with the company of the ladies of the court.  The catacombs would later receive a visit from Napoleon III who took his son there in 1860.

The visit will enchant thrill seekers that could get scared in this winding labyrinth 20 meters below ground (the equivalent of a 5 story building!) that holds the remains of over 6 million Parisians.  The grimly romantic setting will entice the least fearful of the curious when they read the verse that decorates the entrance to the boneyard, “Stop, here is the empire of the dead”.  The visit’s path stretches only 2 kilometers but the total area of the catacombs is extremely impressive: over 11,000m2!  The average visit lasts between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on your speed, and you will be able to enter the catacombs and exhibits that are sometimes set up for only 8 euros at full price (6 euros for teachers, art history students, and seniors, 4 euros for youth from 14 to 26, and free for anyone under 13) and you can enjoy an audio guided tour for an additional 3 euros.  The catacombs are open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Sunday.

A few tips:  given this attraction’s popularity, its best to go early in the morning, a few minutes before it opens to not have to wait in line.  We remind you that it will only be 14 degrees Celsius in the catacombs, also, don’t forget to bring a jacket or you risk shivering (and not just from fear) during your visit!

Book your ticket skip-the-line tickets to the Catacombs with audioguide included

 

 

9) Paris Observatory

(61 avenue de l’Observatoire, Paris 14th arrondissement. Metro 6: station Saint Jacques or Metro 4 or 6 and RER B: station Denfert Rochereau)

Observatoire de Paris
Credits: Sylvain Naudin, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons 2.0

A bit further, from boulevard Arago that stretches from Place Denfert-Rochereau, you can see the dome of the Paris Observatory.  This building is the oldest observatory in the world since it was founded in 1667, under Louis XIV.  Its first goal was to let the Sun King’s academic astronomers work together under the same roof and to equip the observatory with good tools to establish more precise navigation charts.

The building that you currently see is from the time period and was designed like a scientific citadel with a very plain main building consisting of a square tower and two large domes (the sky map dome and the meridian dome) both contain refracting telescopes including the famous Arago Telescope, named after François Arago, director of the observatory in 1846.

For the astronomy, meteorology, and cartography fans, you can visit all the observatories connected with the one in Paris.  For the site in Paris, the guided visit lasts two hours and will let you discover the Observatory’s history from its founding to today.  Educational tours are offered on certain dates, but the visits are only made with reservations.  You can sign up on the Observatory’s web site.

 

 

10) Cité Universitaire and Parc Montsouris

(RER B: station Cité Universitaire, Metro 4 : station Porte d’Orléans, T3a: stop Montsouris)

Credits: Vinnicus Pinheiro, under Creative Commons 2.0

If the 14th arrondissement is such a lively and animated neighborhood, then it is without a doubt thanks to the presence of the many student residents in the south of the arrondissement.  That is where the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris is located, a foundation that assembles a vast ensemble of university housing.  This project was put into work with a pacifistic goal by the Minister of Public Instruction, André Honnorat, during the time between the world wars, after the tensions that stirred up Europe during World War I.  This installation made up of a single building was soon completed by numerous homes given or built by French or foreign patrons.  The institution currently is home to more than 5,000 students and researchers from all over the world and favors exchanges between the students of around 140 nationalities that live by each other every year.

But the real interest in the south of the arrondissement is undoubtedly found in Park Montsouris.  This lovely garden borders the Cité Universitaire and its green plant life is visible from the platform of the RER B that passes nearby.  This park is part of one of the large projects from the Second Empire aiming to offer Parisians green spaces at the four cardinal points in Paris.  They opened the Bois de Boulogne in the west of the capital, the Buttes-Chaumont in the north, the Bois de Vincennes in the east, and finally Parc Montsouris in the south of Paris.  It was Haussmann that decided on Monsouris’ construction in 1860.  It was designed by the engineer, Alphand.  The site of the old shut down quarries of Montsouris was chosen to welcome the new park and the remodeling caused a certain amount of problems, given that the old quarry had been use to store certain bones after the definitive closure of the Cimitière des Innocents.  It was necessary to take out 813 carts of bones before beginning work.

Today, you can enjoy the magnificent English park that stretches over more than 15 hectares around a large artificial lake built solely for the enjoyment of the park’s visitors.  You can admire the many species of plants and walk among the different statues that decorate the park’s lawns.

 

Our recommended hotels in this neighborhood

5 stars :
Victoria Palace Hotel : this Palace is located close to Gare Montparnasse and Jardins du Luxembourg

4 stars :
Hôtel Aiglon : in a quiet area though central, a few steps from the metro station Raspail.
Le Littré : modern and soundproofed rooms with panoramic views over the city.
Hotel Le Sainte Beuve : in a stylish and quiet atmosphere, next to the Luxembourg Garden.

3 stars :
Le Fabe Hôtel : near Montparnasse train station and the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre, design rooms, sauna.
Hôtel De La Paix Montparnasse : in a cosy and quiet atmosphere, tastefully decorated.
Hôtel Louison : family run, the Louison has everything a charming authentic, where you quickly feel like home.

1 & 2 stars :
Hôtel La Maison Montparnasse :  choose your room environment: orange, plum, yellow or fuchsia.
Hotel Korner Montparnasse : train station is 650m away, terrace where you will enjoy your breakfast or a cocktail.

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