Good food, Haussmann architecture and plenty of history: few arrondissements capture the spirit of iconic Paris quite like the Latin Quarter. Oh, and if you’re in search of medieval Paris, then you’re definitely taking a step (back) in the right direction. Here’s your complete guide to the Latin Quarter of Paris, including what to see, visit, and where to stay in the 5th and 6th arrondissements of the French capital.
A brief history of the Latin Quarter
Inhabited as early as the Roman era, the Latin Quarter has nearly two millennia worth of history to explore. The district is so called because medieval students of the nearby Sorbonne university spoke exclusively in Latin during the middle ages. Clergymen and students alike would wander the narrow cobbled alleyways conversing in Latin… and the name kind of just stuck!
During the 19th-century, though much of the area was renovated, there are still vestiges of the Latin Quarter’s pre-Haussmann look to be spotted. Sitting squarely by the Seine on the left bank of the city, the Latin Quarter takes up much of the 5th and some of the 6th arrondissements of the city.
The Quartier Latin as it is so-called in French filled with eateries, bookstores, museums, as well as the Sorbonne University and a couple of ancient older gothic churches… Either side of this area, you’ll soon discover that the Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the Ile de la Cité areas of the city also have plenty on offer!
Things to know before visiting the Latin Quarter
Today, the arrondissement (Paris is divided into twenty districts known as ‘arrondissements‘) remains home to countless museums, many cobbled streets, and several historic churches that are worth a visit. The area is in the student part of the city, meaning that it’s common to spy students flitting between lectures or sipping coffee on the terrace-side cafés dotted around the district.
If you want to get to know the area on a local level, then I highly recommend taking this free and self-guided Latin Quarter walking tour. En route, you’ll soon discover many of the main Latin Quarter attractions, as well as all of the hidden gems you may well not have heard of before.
Best things to do in the Paris Latin Quarter
#1 Visit the Paris Panthéon, Place du Panthéon, 75005 Paris, France
The pantheon sits atop a wide boulevard, just as it has done since its construction in the mid 18th Century. Construction ended in 1789; at the very beginning of the French revolution. Once built to honour the patron Saint of Paris, Saint Genevieve (whose final resting place can now be found behind the Pantheon), today the former church acts as a mausoleum and final resting place for French citizens of note.
One of the greatest honours a French citizen can be bestowed is to be buried in the Pantheon. It is here where you’ll find the resting place of Voltaire and Marie Curie. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, the first person to ever been interred in the Pantheon was removed during the French revolution and his body was never recovered.
The Pantheon is also home to the infamous Fouquet Pendulum (built to prove that the earth is round- rather than flat as it was believed to be in the middle ages). If you want to enjoy the impressive pendulum for yourself or admire the fantastic view from the top of the dome, here’s your complete guide to visiting the Paris Panthéon.
#2 Admire the Sorbonne Panthéon, 75005 Paris, France
The entire area of the Latin Quarter owes its history and name to students, and so it is perhaps rather fitting that it remains a hub of student life today. You can even visit the interior courtyard of the Sorbonne if you ask nicely at the doorway! As a result of so many students, the entire arrondissement is filled with affordable bistros, bars, and student campuses.
The historic University of Paris was established as early as the 13th Century and was a crucial factor in Paris becoming the capital of modern-day France. Education was once the preserve of the church, but universities changed everything.
Nearby to the Sorbonne Panthéon campus, there are a number of independent cinemas where you can watch vintage and independent films you won’t find elsewhere. Also close by, you’ll find the free-to-visit, College des Bernardins, which was once home to Sorbonne University Students.
#3 Purchas a book at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
Founded in 1919, Shakespeare and Co. actually comprises of two neighbouring bookstores sat side by side. The café at the end of the street is also now owned and run by the company and well worth a visit if you want to enjoy a coffee (if slightly overpriced) overlooking the nearby cathedral of Notre Dame.
Although the original bookstore from 1919 was closed down during the Nazi occupation of Paris and never reopened, George Whitman revived the concept, opening a new store by the same name in the 1950s. It soon became a hub for writers, and even has a library on the first floor. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a peek inside… After all, the bookshop is certainly an offbeat Paris location you won’t want to miss!
#4 Visit The Abbey Bookshop, 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005 Paris, France
There is always a large assortment of discount books residing in the Abbey Bookshop. The inside of the store is completely piled high with books; from floor to ceiling all available space is occupied. Rare finds sit next to barely used second-hand books.
Coffee is available at the back of the shop to all those perusing the shelves in search of a rare find or vintage treasure. Owner Brian is always willing to talk about all things Paris and book-related, while the store holds several book-related events over the year. All in all, the Abbey Bookshop is easily one of the best secret spots in Paris you should know about.
#5 Visit the oldest tree in Paris at Square René-Viviani, 25 Quai de Montebello, 75005 Paris, France
A couple of meters from the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore sits what may well be the most interesting square in Paris. Square René-Viviani is also home to what is purportedly the oldest tree in Paris and is situated on a former 6th-Century graveyard.
Apparently dating back to around 1650, and pretty damaged, you can tell that the tree has lived through a lot in its lifetime! Elsewhere in the area, there are plenty of cobbled lanes to explore, as well as several bookshops to peruse through. If you’re looking for a quick garden to stop and rest for a little while, then Square René Viviani is easily one of the best picnic spots in Paris!
#6 Admire the Jardin des Plantes, 57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France
While some may argue that Paris is lacking in green space, I would say that this is definitely not the case if you know where to look… One of the largest gardens in the centre of the city sits on the fringes of the Latin Quarter next to the Museum of Natural History (which you have probably heard of if you’ve read ‘All the Light We Cannot See’).
Once a 17th Century herb and medicinal garden, the green space is now a welcome refuge from the narrow streets of the district. The garden is also home to Paris’ Natural History Museum and a particularly unique carousel, the Dodo Manège, which exclusively features characters of endangered and extinct species.
#7 Marvel at the Église Saint-Éphrem-le-Syriaque, 17 Rue des Carmes, 75005 Paris, France
Situated somewhere between the Paris Pantheon and the River Seine, with views onto Notre Dame, the church dedicated to Saint Ephrem is the third place of worship on site. Beautiful and built in the 18th Century on 14th-century foundations, the church is said to have the best acoustics in Paris.
As a result, classical music concerts are often held here and so check the ecclesiastical building’s website for further details. Services are held on a weekly basis and the church is open daily. For more information, here’s how to visit Église Saint-Éphrem-le-Syriaque, an Obscure Church in Paris.
#8 Explore Paris’ Roman past, various locations throughout the Latin Quarter
During the Gallo-Roman period, Paris was, for the most part, known as Lutetia. Though not one of the most important cities during the era, the city was still home to all of the amenities you’d expect from a Roman city; a forum, arena, main street, and baths were all present.
Today, the former Roman amphitheatre now operates as a football ground, while the old Roman baths (Thermes de Cluny) can now be viewed when visiting the Cluny Museum, close to the Sorbonne University. Other highlights of Paris of old include Rue Saint Jacques and Place de la Sorbonne.
#9 Eat a cinnamon bun at Circus Bakery, 63 Rue Galande, 75005 Paris, France
If you’re looking for a quick snack while in the Latin Quarter, be sure to head to Circus Bakery. Located close to the River Seine, the newly opened Circus Bakery offers freshly baked Parisian style treats. Top of the list is cinnamon buns, though jams, comté, and speciality coffee can also be purchased on site.
#10 Wander around the Jardin du Luxembourg
Home to architectural delights such as the Medici Fountain, the Luxembourg gardens were commissioned during the 17th-century by Marie de’ Medici. Styled to look like the garden of the Pitti Palace, Medici’s childhood home, in Florence, today this public green space is filled with plenty of hidden gems and secret spaces to explore. During the summer months, you can rent miniature sailboats and sail them across the garden’s central fountain feature.
#11 Visit Saint-Etienne du Mont, final resting place of Saint Genevieve
Relegated to the shadows behind the ever-so-famous Paris Pantheon, you’ll find an equally impressive building. The Gothic-Renaissance-Romanesque Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont finds its roots dating all the way back to the 6th-century when it was connected to a now demolished abbey.
Today, the ecclesiastical building’s exterior belies little of the sheer beauty to be found within the church. For example, aside from several stunning stained glass windows, be sure to check out the impressive glass tomb which houses all that remains of the relics of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris (many of her relics were burned during the French Revolution).
Where to stay in the Latin Quarter
If you’re looking to stay in the heart of all the action, then the 5th and 6th arrondissements contain plenty of Paris’ major attractions and are home to countless transport links to the rest of the city. Here are the best places to stay in the Latin Quarter (based on web reviews and location):
Hotel Villa d’Estrées: Situated close to the Fontaine Saint-Michel and not far from Notre Dame, this four-star hotel is incredibly well-reviewed online. This boutique hotel is also close to all of the Major attractions found in the Latin Quarter. Check prices and availability here.
Hôtel D’Aubusson Paris: For those searching for a little bit of luxury during their time in the Latin Quarter, this five-star accommodation offers stunning rooms, while the communal area is complete with a jazz bar. Check prices and availability here.
Le Sénat: Close to the Luxembourg Gardens, Le Sénat Hotel offers all of the amenities you would expect from a four-stay place to stay. There’s a self-service bar on offer, a fireplace, and breakfast is available for an extra fee. Check prices and availability here.