Last Updated on 3rd February 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Paris is a city steeped in history. In certain areas of the city, almost every corner holds a tantalizing secret. Here’s the very best of Old Paris Walking Tour. Along the way, learn about the fascinating history of Paris, as well as finding some hidden gems and seeing some more of the city’s iconic locations. This self-guided walking tour will take you through the historic areas and arrondissements of the Latin Quarter, Île de la Cité and Le Marais.
Old Paris Walking Tour: Practical Advice, Tricks & Tips
There’s nothing quite like seeing Paris by foot. The sights, the smells, the sounds; none can be replicated by bus, or indeed by a film. Many of the areas highlighted in this guide contain cobbled, uneven roads and are unsuitable for flip flops/ high heels. As such, I highly recommend walking strong, sturdy shoes to walk in.
If you’re looking to purchase coffee/ snacks along the route, please bear in mind that many of the cafés restaurants have a minimum card spend, and so make sure to bring cash with you. Paris can be enjoyed any time of the year.
With that being said, my favourite seasons to see the city are the shoulder seasons. For, there are fewer tourists, but the weather is much warmer than the winter months. If you visit Paris in the Spring, then you’ll be sure to see some of the best spring blooms that the city is so famous for.
Walking Time: 56 minutes
Distance Covered: 4.4km
The Paris Panthéon sits in the Latin Quater (so called because in the middle ages students of the nearby Sorbonne University were taught in, and almost exclusively conversed in Latin). The Paris Panthéon started life as a church built to honour Saint Genevieve (patron saint of Paris).
Today, the Panthéon is a mausoleum, housing the remains of some of France’s greatest writers, scientists and engineers. Indeed, one of the highest honours a French citizen can achieve post-mortem is to be interred in the Panthéon.
Paris-Sorbonne University IV
The Sorbonne University is one of the oldest in the World and lies in the very heart of the Latin Quarter. Access to the central courtyard (pictured below) is for students only. However, if you ask nicely, you may be allowed in to take photos!
The university was founded as early as 1150 and is considered one of the oldest universities in Europe, if not the World. Second, only to the University of Bologna in Italy, it was officially recognized by Pope Innocent III in 1215. Nearby, you’ll find former accommodation for some church members of the student body in the form of Collège des Bernardins.
Shakespeare and Company
The bookshop of Shakespeare and Company is easily the most famous Anglophone bookstore in the city. However, little known is that this is actually the second Shakespeare and Company to have existed in Paris.
The first Shakespeare and Co. was opened in 1919. Sadly it was closed during the German occupation of Paris and never reopened. The current bookstore was opened in 1951 as an ode to the former store, and as a place for writers and book lovers to congregate.
Today, you can wander the shelves, and imagine what it must have been like decades ago. There’s even a quiet library upstairs where you can sit and read. Nearby, you’ll find Square René Viviani, a beautiful and secluded spot built on a former cemetery where there’s also the oldest tree in Paris to be seen.
Cathedrale Notre Dame
Located in the very middle of the Seine, on Île de la Cité sits what may well be the most famous cathedral in the world. A walk inside the cathedral itself is free, and there are free guided tours in various languages throughout the day.
If you see a queue on the Parvis de Notre Dame to visit the cathedral, don’t worry too much… it often takes no longer twenty minutes wait to enter the cathedral. While you’re waiting to enter Notre Dame, keep your eyes peeled for Paris Point Zero, the marker from which all points in France are measured.
Sadly, due to a terrible fire in April of 2019, the Cathedral is undergoing immense renovation works and so is closed to the public until further notice. However, the Parvis de Notre Dame directly in front of the ecclesiastical building remains open to enjoy the fantastic façade of Notre Dame up close.
Paris Point Zero
On the Parvis de Notre Dame, set into the cobbled floor, you’ll find Paris Point Zero. Often overlooked by tourists and locals alike, few of whom know it’s there, this is the very middle point of Paris. It is from here that all roads in Paris, and indeed France, are measured. Urban myth suggests that if you leave a coin here, you’ll be granted good luck.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole
A few minutes walk from the Parvis de Notre Dame, you’ll find an ancient road. This is Rue Chanoinesse. Once home to an order of Monks, today it is like stepping right back into the heart of medieval Paris.
Much of the road escaped the large renovations undertaken by Haussmann in the 19th-century (in part thanks to the aforementioned Brothers). Right next to Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole, you’ll find a large maroon door.
Behind it lies the gravestone courtyard of Paris. The café itself is one of my favourites in the city. Decorated with nativity sets in the winter months, it’s covered in wisteria come springtime. The café is one of the cutest coffee shops in Paris and is a great place to grab a coffee (or a quick glass of wine).
Home to some of the most impressive medieval stained glass still in existence, Sainte Chapelle is a must-see for any history lovers of the city. Located next door to the courts of Justice, you’ll find that Sainte Chapelle is actually two churches.
One was originally built for the King and his Courtiers, while the other was built for his servants. Both are rather impressive and well worth a visit! Head to the churches earlier in the day for the shortest queues. If you’re looking to visit for yourself, then you may well want to book a ticket in advanace. Check here to purchase your Sainte-Chapelle ticket in advance and benefit from a skip-the-line ticket.
Once a Merovingian Palace, during the French Revolution, the Conciergerie was used as a prison. It even once held Marie Antoinette (yes, the French Royal who may or may not have said ‘let them eat cake’), before her execution. Today you can visit and see the cell where Marie Antoinette once ate, slept and lived. The Conciergerie also contains the largest Gothic Hall in Europe.
Oldest Clock in Paris
Of all places on this Old Paris Walking Tour, this may well be the most hidden. As you head out of the Conciergerie and turn left, make sure to look up! For, it’s here you’ll find the Oldest Clock in Paris. You may notice that it’s still pretty shiny, and glows golden in the sunlight. Well, you’re not wrong- the clock was extensively renovated in 2012!
All that remains of a once impressive church Gothic Flamboyant 16th-century ecclesiastical building is its tower. High above the cafés and shops that surround the square, you’ll find the tall tower of Saint-Jacques. In the summer months, it’s possible to book guided tours up the tower.
Hôtel de Ville
The town hall of Paris sits impressive and proud in the middle of Le Marais. Right beside the Seine, the square in front is often filled with people going about their daily lives, as well as music performances etc. Although the interior of the town hall is sadly closed to the public, the neo-renaissance architecture is lovely to look at. Just outside the Hôtel de Ville, you’ll find one of the prettiest carousels in Paris.
One of the most famous department stores in the city is that of BHV Le Marais. This department store is located not far from Hôtel de Ville (on the very same square) and is well worth a peek inside… If only to say you’ve been! Here, you can find international designers, as well as local French brands.
During the winter months, BHV hosts a large number of vitrines (shop windows) just in time for the festive period. Each year the theme is different and going to look at the illuminations is easily one of the best free Christmas activities on offer in Paris.
Church Saint Paul Saint Louis
The Church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis was commissioned by Louis XIII himself. Constructed in 1641, the king even went so far as to lay the first stone for the Jesuit church. Apart from its stunning architecture, throughout the years, it has undergone major changes in function.
From its roots as a religious place of worship throughout the 17th Century, during the French revolution, it was utilised by the Cult of Reason, an atheist organisation. When the organisation was banned in 1803, the church was returned to its Catholic origins.
Place des Vosges
There is no better place to finish an Old Paris Walking Tour than in Place des Vosges. Filled with small boutiques, quirky eateries and plenty more, it’s the oldest planned square in Paris. Once home to notable residents such as Cardinal Richelieu (you know, that guy from the Three Musketeers) and Victor Hugo before he was sent into exile, today it’s where Parisians hang out to see their friends and enjoy their lunch.
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