Just a few steps from the Latin Quarter, you’ll have the chance to discover the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. Nestled in the heart of the 6th arrondissement, this chic and trendy neighborhood has always been a big place for Parisian intellectual life and is overflowing with little book shops, cafés, and other art galleries.
1) The Odéon
(Place de l’Odéon M4 or M10: station Odéon)
In the far southeastern part of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, there is the famous and reputed Théâtre de l’Odéon. Built at the end of the 18th century, this building was the first “landmark theater” in the city. At its origins, it was supposed to host the king’s common entertainers that were too cramped in their old space. The performance hall’s style is said to be “Italian”. So the stage is in a cube shape while the hall is a semicircle and the occupants of floor seats were put on benches, a new thing for the time since, up to then, they had to remain standing. If the interior, dreamed up by Wailly, was relatively original for the time, the exterior aspect of the building (designed by Peyre) stayed rather classic for the time period since it takes architectural elements from neoclassicism, a style that was really in during the 18th century.
It was finally inaugurated in 1782 by the queen Marie-Antoinette. After numerous changes to the name and two fires, the theater is still standing and welcomes many groups today. You won’t be able to visit the theater outside performances, but you can nevertheless go into the entrance hall or admire the whole theater by going to the Odéon web site.
The location of the building allows the opening of a neighborhood that was relatively congested until then. In fact, the Théâtre de l’Odéon opens up on 5 different streets and gives you faster access to the Boulevard Saint-Germain.
And by going down Boulevard Saint-Germain towards the west, you’ll stumble upon the Saint-Germain Church. On the boulevard, you can enjoy many stores from big brands that line the street by the river and numerous boutiques at the Saint-Germain Market, a little shopping center by the Mabillon metro station.
During the summer as well as holiday seasons, the boulevard lights up and comes alive, especially on the Saint-Germain Church side where little temporary shops are set up in huts and offer baked goods, sweets, and handmade artisanal goods.
2) Abbey of Saint-Germain
(M4: station Saint Germain or M10: station Mabillon)
At the corner of boulevard Saint-Germain and rue Bonaparte stands the Abbey of Saint-Germain. Originally, it was around this religious place that the neighborhood was centered during the Middle Ages.
If Saint-Germain-des-Prés is considered today as a central neighborhood in Paris, it was considered to be beyond the urban sprawl of Paris at the time. The abbey was founded in the middle of the 6th century by the Merovingian king, Childebert I, and the bishop of Paris, Saint-Germain. The abbey-church served as a royal resting place until the construction of the Basilica of Saint Denis and held many relics that have disappeared. Similarly today, the only building that is still standing is the church. The other buildings making up the abbey were actually destroyed during the French Revolution, a time in which the State reclaimed possession of lands owned by the Church. Also, you can only visit the church and the abbey during your visit.
These structures date back to Roman times (11th and 12th centuries) and are considered as part of the oldest religious structures in the city of Paris. If the church had been refurbished many times since its construction, the original framework was always conserved and you can enjoy its roman architecture alone or in a group if you choose to attend a guided tour, planned every Tuesday and Thursday at 3pm and the third Sunday of every month also at 3pm. There is no need to make a reservation for these visits, organized by enthusiasts that will wait for you at the Church to help you discover the history of 15 centuries of Christian faith in this lovely building. On the blog for the Parish of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you can discover the whole timeline of the buildings as well as the daily times for mass.
3) The Musée Eugène Delacroix and the Académie des Beaux Arts
Art buffs won’t be disappointed by their visit to this neighborhood. They can visit the Musée Eugène Delacroix that was placed in the old apartment, which was occupied by the romantic painter from 1857 until his death in 1863. The artist, whose health was deteriorating, decided to move into Saint-Germain-des-Prés to get closer to the Church of Saint-Sulpice where he was in charge of decorating the chapel. If other tenants occupied the apartment after the painter’s death, the room stayed intact and is in the same state today as it was at the time of Delacroix. The Société des Amis Eugène Delacroix took charge of the protection of the place before planning the transformation from residence to museum.
A series of exhibitions, concerts, and conventions were planned by the Société des Amis Eugène Delacroix from 1932 and the housing was transformed into a museum starting in 1971.
As Delacroix said in his own writing, the apartment is charming, very green, and even if you don’t often appreciate romanticism, you can always admire places that are undoubtedly worth a detour. In fact, the apartment opens directly onto the Place Furstenberg, known for being the smallest (and also the most charming) square in Paris.
After having entered the building and discovering the painter’s works, you can go to the back of the building to discover its garden. With the same title of the apartment, the garden, renovated in 2012, is an essential space of the museum since the 400m2 garden served as a source of inspiration for the painter, especially for its landscape and other still lives. We recommend going to the museum’s web site that sometimes offers exceptional visits of the garden in the spring and summer.
The museum is complete, really pleasant, and all while still being affordable (6 euros at full price, free for anyone under 26, students, and everyone on July 14th and every first Sunday of the month). You can also buy a ticket for both the Louvre and the Musée Delacroix for 12 euros.
Further north in the neighborhood, at the top of rue Bonaparte and along the edges of the Seine, you’ll find the Institut de France, easily recognizable thanks to its impressive golden dome. Mazarin financed the construction to create a school that could host students from the countryside to study in Paris. The establishment closed about a century later at the start of the French Revolution, but was finally opened again under the orders of Emperor Napoleon I.
In 1806, he decided to place the Institut de France in this impressive building to bring together the 5 academies (the Académie Française, the Inscription et les Belles Lettres, les Sciences, les Beaux Arts, and les Sciences Morales et Politiques) that were already part of the cultural landscape for many years, and for some, many centuries. It is across from this important institution that you’ll find the Pont des Arts. On its wire fencing, many couples have hung padlocks symbolizing the longevity of their love.
In neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you can visit the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts that is found just a few meters from the Institut de France. Guided tours are only planned in June. It is prohibited for anyone outside the school to enter into the workshops. However, the school organizes temporary exhibitions that you can go to (3 euros at full price and 2 euros at partial price).
Musée Eugène Delacroix : 6 rue Furstenberg, Paris 6th arrondissement.
L’Institut de France : 23 Quai de Conti, Paris 6th arrondissement.
Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts : 14 rue Bonaparte, Paris 6th arrondissement.
4) Exploring Saint-Germain-des-Prés
(M4: station Saint Germain des Prés or M10: station Mabillon)
To truly discover the neighborhood, we recommend losing yourself in the little neighboring streets to enjoy the neighborhood’s architecture, but also the many bookstores, antique stores, and art galleries.
To have a snack or coffee in a chic and relaxed atmosphere, go to the famous Café des Deux Magots, which artists who lived in the neighborhood, like Rimbaud, Verlaine, and later Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, were particularly fond of. Today, in addition to attracting personalities from French political, artistic, and intellectual life, the café welcomes many tourists in an enchanting and slightly retro environment.
If you like this type of luxury café, also take a tour of the other side of Boulevard Saint Germain at Café de Flore, which offers the same kind of products: French cuisine, gourmet and gastronomic dishes, etc. Like a lot of cafés in the area, the Flore establishment awards a literary prize.
If you find these cafés to be really luxurious, the menus and the specialties stay rather simple and the prices really high (too much so). You’ll pay 18 euros for a plate of pasta, 39 euros for a dish with veal and vegetables, 11 euros for a dish of ice cream, and 13 euros for a café liégois.
For a more homelike atmosphere, you can go to the Brasserie Lipp that offers a simple enough menu, but at interesting prices. The bar has also played an interesting role in the intellectual life of the neighborhood since it welcomed poets from the 19th and 20th century like Verlaine or Apollinaire.
Additionally the bar awards a literary prize every year: the Prix Cazes, named after the old manager of the bar.
For the gourmands, we recommend the very beautiful and attractive boutique LaDurée, just two steps from the Saint-Germain Church. The Saint-Germain boutique is smaller than the one on the Champs-Elysées, but it is also less visited and you will have to wait in line less to buy your macarons.
Taking rue Jacob or the northern part of rue Bonaparte, you can enter the small streets located in the northern part of the neighborhood that are overflowing with little independent shops.
We especially recommend the antique dealers on rue Verneuil and the art galleries on rue de Seine.
Many bookshops are naturally placed in this very literary neighborhood. Among them, we suggest stopping by L’Ecume des Pages. Specialized in French literature, the bookstore is extremely well supplied and very appreciated by the area’s inhabitants. La Hune is also a must-visit location, because it is anchored in the neighborhood’s history. Created in 1949, La Hune offers a large selection in literature, social sciences, and fine arts. The refined atmosphere will surely charm you and the staff generally gives good advice.
Café des Deux Magots: 6, place Saint Germain des Prés, Paris 6th arrondissement.
Brasserie Lipp: 151, boulevard Saint Germain, Paris 6th arrondissement.
Boutique Ladurée: 21, rue Bonaparte, Paris 6th arrondissement.
L’Ecume des Pages : 174, boulevard Saint Germain, Paris 6th arrondissement.
La Hune : 16, rue de l’Abbaye, Paris 6th arrondissement.
5) Le Bon Marché
(24 rue de Sèvres, Paris 7th arrondissement. M10v or 12: station Sèvres-Babylone)
It is in the south of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood that the institution of Parisian fashion arose.
Founded in 1852 by Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut, the department store Le Bon Marché was the first of its kind in Paris. Based on the idea of “satisfaction guaranteed, or your money back”, it quickly became popular and attracted more and more customers. The stores provided a large variety of different products at low prices that were for the first time marked on each item, thanks to a tag connected to it. A victim of their success, the owners of the stores saw the need to expand their location.
Boucicaut developed a certain number of strategies to attract their customers: he raised the salaries of his employees so that they themselves became customers; he created a reading room so that customers’ husbands could wait while their spouses made their purchases. Likewise, he organized large publicity campaigns that profited his store. The store’s paternal management is illustrated in the famous novel by Zola, Au Bonheur des Dames, which was inspired by the Le Bon Marché’s situation.
Today, Le Bon Marché is no longer such a good deal. In fact, the brands offered by the store are mostly high end name brands like Kenzo, Givency, Marc Jacobs, and plenty others.
The store also offers a large stationary store and a complete home section. Le Bon Marché is moreover completed by La Grande Epicerie that is located at 38, rue de Sèvres (across from the exit of Le Bon Marché at the rue du Bac level). We suggest going to look at the many specialties offered by the different caterers that work on location.
6) Musée du Luxembourg
(19 rue Vaugirard, Paris 6th arrondissement. M4: station Saint Sulpice or M12 : station Rennes)
From Le Bon Marché going down rue d’Assas, you can very easily go to the Musée du Luxembourg that occupies the northwestern corner of Jardin du Luxembourg.
This museum is modest in size, but welcomes temporary renowned exhibits that are perfect for the museum’s regulars, but also for the younger visitors since the museum adapts certain exhibits for children. The Musée du Luxembourg was the first French museum open to the public in 1750. Furthermore, it was managed by the Senate whose buildings neighbored the museum. The mission of the Senate was mostly political, but the French institution also dedicated itself to valuing French heritage.
7) Church of Saint-Sulpice
(2 rue Palatine, Paris 6th arrondissement. M4: station Saint Sulpice)
Two steps from the museum is the impressive Church of Saint-Sulpice. Easily recognizable thanks to its two tall towers that frame the building’s entrance; the church’s origin is not quite certain. Its ancestor was built in the Middle Ages to assist the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés which was crowded during its services. This new church was dedicated to Sulpitius the Pious. Since that time period, the church has undergone many renovations and embellishments. The current look of the face of the church dates back to the 18th century. It differs greatly from the initial plans for the front, imagined by Servandoni. The large central pediment was destroyed by lightening and the towers changed shape under the orders of Jean-François Chalgrin who would complete the north tower (or left, when you face the church) in 1781.
If you look carefully, you can see that the two towers have two different architectural styles. The south tower is also taller than the north tower. Contrary to the initial plans of Sevandoni, the building is not completely symmetrical.
We encourage you to not only stop in front of the church, but to also go inside (free entry) to admire the Rococo architecture that it contains. You can also benefit from a free guided tour every Sunday at 3pm. There is no need to make reservations for the guided tour, organized by the volunteers. On the other hand, if you wish to visit the top of the building or its crypts, you’ll have to sign up in advance for the visits that take place the second Sunday of the month at 3pm for the crypts and the fourth Saturday of the month for the upper parts of the façade.
More information is available on the church’s web site.
8) Gourmet visit
Before or after your visit, you can enjoy the neighboring streets that are particularly rich in boutiques. On rue Bonaparte, you’ll find the locations of the Institut Hongrois and the Maison de la Chine. You will also pass by the many ready-to-wear stores like the boutique Soeur, The Kooples, and other big brands on rue du Vieux Colombier (Zadig et Voltaire, American Retro, Sandro, etc).
Our recommended hotels in this neighborhood
Hôtel Pont Royal : Located in the midst of the stylish Saint-Germain des Prés area, with modernity and elegance, the hotel staff strive to ensure your expectations are fulfilled.
Hôtel Bel Ami : contemporary hotel, sophisticated rooms, perfectly equipped and comfortable, only 230m away from the metro station Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
L’Hôtel : in an exceptional environment, you will feel the bohemian charm of this stylish area, 450m away from the metro station Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Hôtel Saint Paul Rive Gauche : familial boutique-hotel, marriage of French elegance and English comfort, idealy located in the heart of Paris.
Hôtel Louis 2 : two minutes walk from the french Senate, this little haven of charm and light, offers all the comfort of a high-class character hotel.
Hôtel Odéon Saint Germain : intimate and very Parisian, rooms feature the same warm and enveloping atmosphere and décor as the public areas.
Hôtel Sevres Saint Germain : this charming hotel combines history and modernity in an atmosphere of discretion and comfort.
Hôtel Notre Dame Saint Michel : exceptional boutique-hotel with a stunning views of Notre-Dame Cathedral and La Seine.
Hôtel Saint Germain : this 17th Century private hotel, knew how to preserve the atmosphere of the welcoming ancient bourgeois manor.
1 & 2 stars:
Hôtel du College de France : Located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, 5 minutes walk from Notre-Dame Cathedral, perfectly equipped and modern rooms.
Mona knows Paris like the back of her hand. Its bars, its restaurants and above all, its hotels, whether you want to sleep, eat, party or just take a walk in Paris, Mona knows them (nearly) all. Follow her lead, she will gladly give you all her good tips!