The Latin Quarter of Paris is a neighborhood rich in delightful places to explore. You will want to spend time here when you visit Paris, because the Latin Quarter lies at the core of all that is historic and lovely in the French capital. And it’s lively and inviting, with sidewalk cafes and stately architecture. You’ll find it on the Left Bank of the Seine, just across the river from Notre Dame, in what is today known as the 5th arrondissement of Paris.
The name of the neighborhood comes from the time when the renowned Sorbonne University opened here in the 12th century. The students and professors spoke Latin, so that was the language heard on the streets. You will hear a variety of languages here today, as locals and tourists mingle and move along the boulevards and narrow, winding side streets.
Here are some of the best ways to spend a day in the bustling Latin Quarter of Paris.
Stroll By The Sorbonne
You will feel a part of the prestigious world of the Sorbonne as you walk past the buildings where students study the literary arts and other subjects. Look up and marvel at the sculptures and graceful rooflines. Linger at a cafe in Sorbonne Square, with its red awnings and central fountain. It’s wonderful to spend time here and blend in with residents walking their dogs, students deep in scholarly discussion, and parents taking their young ones to school.
As you take in the atmosphere, remember that before the Sorbonne existed, the Romans occupied these streets. Hundreds of years before the founding of the university, Rue Saint Jacques, the main passage through this area, was known as Cardo Maximus.
Travel Back In Time To The Middle Ages At The Cluny Museum
The Cluny Museum in the Latin Quarter is a small museum of treasures from the Middle Ages. It’s housed in an old townhome of the Abbots of Cluny. The architecture alone makes this a memorable stop in the Latin Quarter. Inside, the displays feature six world-renowned tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn. These colorful works of art are more than 500 years old. Finish your visit by strolling through the gardens outside the museum.
Browse The Shakespeare And Company Bookstore
Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore located on a street that borders the Seine, right across from Notre Dame. The first Shakespeare bookstore in Paris opened close by in 1919. Owner Sylvia Beach wanted to provide a gathering place for authors like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. The current building dates to the early 1600s and began life as a monastery. Since the modern iteration of the bookstore opened in 1951, it has hosted its own share of famous authors, including Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Anais Nin, and James Baldwin.
Search the nooks and crannies of the store, and you’ll find not only books but plants, mirrors, a piano, a vintage typewriter, and a mellow resident cat. As the sign outside says, “This store has rooms like chapters in a novel.”
When you purchase a book, it’s stamped with the store’s logo, and you'll have a wonderful memento of your time in this Parisian icon. I bought a copy of Hemingway’s book about Paris, A Moveable Feast. It’s the perfect souvenir.
The cafe next door offers coffee and pastries and specializes in vegetarian dishes. It also boasts picture windows with views of the Seine.
Pay Your Respects At The Paris Pantheon
If you wander around the Latin Quarter for a while, you’ll notice the imposing blue dome that belongs to the Pantheon. Once a church, the Pantheon now pays tribute to the heroes of Paris. It’s the burial place of Victor Hugo; Voltaire; scientists Pierre and Marie Curie; Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote The Little Prince; and Louis Braille, who invented an alphabet for the blind.
Louis XV commissioned the Paris Pantheon to express his gratitude to God after he recovered from an illness. Architecture buffs will appreciate that the Pantheon, completed in 1791, uses Gothic principles of light but combines them with classical design. The building is known as the first neoclassical work of art.
The central, open room under the dome is where you’ll find the famous Foucault pendulum. A high ceiling was required for Foucault’s experiment showing the Earth’s rotation. Watching this pendulum slowly swing back and forth is truly mesmerizing.
Enjoy The Lovely Luxembourg Gardens
The Luxembourg Gardens at the edge of the Latin Quarter will be a highlight of your visit to Paris. Lots of families hang out here, especially on the weekends. On the paths through the trees, you’ll see joggers and groups of people on roller skates. Others relax in the green chairs that line the pond. Happy children sail colorful wooden toy boats, pushing them with poles.
The centerpiece of the gardens is a real palace. Luxembourg Gardens and the palace date to 1612, when they were designed for Princess Marie de Medici, who became the queen of France. The palace is now used by the French Senate.
The gardens boast more than 100 sculptures. You will even find a small-scale replica of the American Statue of Liberty! Somehow the friendly French folks took one look at us and knew we were American. They insisted we should wind around the paths to see this. As their directions were in French, we had to follow their waving arm signals and almost gave up. But rounding a bend under the trees, voila! There was Lady Liberty.
Be sure to seek out the tranquil Medici Fountain, a historic treasure of the gardens.
Luxembourg Gardens is open daily, and it’s free to visit.
Eating And Drinking In The Latin Quarter
Here are some of my favorite places to dine in the Latin Quarter.
This charming cafe on Sorbonne Square looks out on fountains and the front door of the university. Sit outside or inside and enjoy tasty cuisine. I’ve eaten here several times, and the service has always been outstanding. Try the dame blanche for dessert -- chocolate and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
Tabac De La Sorbonne
Next door to Les Patios, this cafe is also a winner. I’ve enjoyed a Parisian breakfast of croissants and coffee here before beginning a day of sightseeing. Locals crisscross the square, and you’ll feel like part of the neighborhood.
This well-known bakery exemplifies the charm of the Latin Quarter. You’ll want to grab a luscious cream puff and a coffee and sit a while.
Where to Stay In The Latin Quarter
Hotel Des Grands Hommes
With its elegant decor and gourmet breakfast, the Hotel des Grands Hommes is my favorite hotel in the Latin Quarter. It’s located just steps away from the Pantheon, and you can walk out the front door and see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. The staff is helpful and friendly. You can walk the entire Latin Quarter from here, but metro stations are nearby if you prefer.
Hotel Cluny Sorbonne
The Hotel Cluny Sorbonne is across the street from the Sorbonne and around the corner from Sorbonne Square. It’s small but comfortable, and a good option for budget travelers. Only one person at a time can fit in the elevator, but that’s a fun quirk. You can easily walk to many cafes as well as to a market. The metro as well as the RER train are nearby.
Pro Tip: One of the best ways to spend time in the Latin Quarter is to wander and enjoy the atmosphere. You are near the Seine River, so you can’t get too lost. You’ll happen onto tiny parks, historic buildings, plaques honoring local heroes, and little shops. Enjoy a drink at one of the cafes, and then continue to amble along. If you’re anything like me, you’ll leave a piece of your heart in the Latin Quarter.