Travel tales

The streets of St Germain: A Paris walking tour

St Germain Paris walking tour

On Paris’ Left Bank, St-Germain-des-Prés is one of the city’s most famous neighbourhoods. Over the years it’s been a meeting place for intellectuals, centre of the post-war Jazz Age and a bohemian hub for artists and writers. And nowadays it’s a fashionable neighourhood full of designer boutiques and swanky restaurants. It’s also my Parisian second home, where I always stay when I visit the city. So let me take you on a walking tour of my Parisian neighbourhood, past historic churches, museums and gardens. And naturally because it’s Paris there’ll be some eating and drinking along the way too.

Pont des Arts bridge, Paris

The Pont des Arts before the love lock damage

Our walk starts off on the banks of the Seine at the Pont des Arts, historically a favourite spot for painters but now known for its controversial love locks. Since the first one was added in 2008 they’ve build up so much you can hardly see a space – with so many that a section of railings along the bridge collapsed due to their weight. So for now the sides are boarded up and the plan is to replace the railings with glass panels to stop the locks doing any more damage. Leave the bridge behind you and cross over the road in front of the imposing Institut de France, home to academies of arts, humanities and sciences.

Walk along Quai de Conti, then take a left turn and continue up Rue Bonaparte. On your right you’ll pass l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (National School of Fine Arts). You’ll often see students carrying art portfolios, hoping to emulate the success of its previous pupils. Monet, Degas, Renoir and Sisley all studied here – and you can see some of their work on display at the Musée d’Orsay, a few minutes’ walk back down towards the river. Rue Bonaparte and the streets around it are full of arty shops and galleries, with everything from antique vases to bizarre modern art installations.

Laduree shop in Rue Bonaparte, Paris

Delicious macarons in the Ladurée shop in Rue Bonaparte

Next up is a more edible kind of artwork at the Ladurée patisserie. It’s one of six Ladurée stores in Paris where they sell over 15,000 of their signature macarons each day. Each season there’s a different range of delicate colours and flavours. Macarons seem to be everywhere now but Ladurée’s are the classics, light and airy with no weird flavour combinations or decoration. The window displays are a work of art themselves too, a rainbow of colours and elegant packaging. There’s usually a queue out the door for a spot in the tea room, but you can get a macaron to go for €1,85 (or €16 for a box of six if you can’t choose just one).

Post-sugar rush, carry on up Rue Bonaparte until you reach the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It’s one of the oldest churches in Paris with foundations that date back to the third century. Originally it was a Benedictine abbey surrounded by fields – or prés in French – though it’s hard to imagine it now surrounded by hectic city streets. During the French revolution the abbey was used to store saltpeter, one of the ingredients of gunpowder, until it all went up in a huge explosion. It destroyed the abbey and two out of the original three towers, just leaving the current church and one tower still standing.

St Germain church

The tower of the Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés at night

Across from the church are two of the Left Bank’s most famous cafés – the Deux Magots and Café de Flore. A hundred years ago they were full of philosophers and writers debating the meaning of life, but today it’s more rich housewives taking a break from designer shopping. Stop off for a drink in whichever you prefer. You can follow in the footsteps of Hemingway, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at the Deux Magots. Or go just around the corner to Picasso’s favourite, the Café de Flore, where they do an amazing hot chocolate where you get a jug of hot milk and a jug of melted chocolate and mix them together.

Take a left down busy Boulevard St Germain then right into Rue des Ciseaux and left into Rue du Four. Take another right into Rue Mabillon just before Mabillon metro station and past Marche St Germain, a big covered market selling fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and cheeses. At the end of road is St Sulpice church, the second largest in Paris after Notre-Dame. It has distinctive double towers, though if you look closely they’re not quite identical, the one on the right was left half-finished and you can see right through as it’s still hollow inside. Inside the church you can see a painting by Delacroix and it’s also famous for its organ – call in around midday on Sundays to hear a free organ recital.

Deux Magots cafe in Paris

The Deux Magots terrace, a prime people-watching spot

Walk on around the other side of the church and down Rue Servandoni, which gets its name from the Italian architect who designed St Sulpice’s chapel. The street dates back to 1424 and has some impressive 17th and 18th century buildings. At the end you’ll see the Luxembourg Gardens – follow the road around to the right to find the way in. The gardens are a green oasis stretching over 22 hectares with lawns, fountains and statues as well as an art museum, the Musée du Luxembourg. It’s your classic Parisian park, with old men playing boules, playgrounds full of children and couples walking hand-in-hand.

At the centre of the gardens is the impressive Luxembourg Palace, now used by the French Senate. It was originally built for Italian-born queen Marie de Medicis in the 1610s. After her husband was assassinated she wanted a palace and gardens to live in that reminded her of home, so she sent her architect over to Italy to copy details from Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Cross the gardens towards Boulevard Saint-Michel and the end of the walk. From there you can either head right to reach the Luxembourg metro station, or head left and follow the road along past the Sorbonne art school and back up to the Seine.

The Luxembourg Palace in Paris

The Luxembourg Palace and gardens

The details

If you’d like to do the walk yourself, click on the map below to download a route map and directions. It’s just under 2.5km and will take a couple of hours including macaron and hot chocolate stops.

St Germain walking tour in Paris

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Uros G.
    January 20, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Well, I’ve heard that many believe that St Germain is the center of the Universe these days! All of the “best of France” comes together in this neighborhood….the best wine, cheese, fashion, food.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 21, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      It really does have a bit of everything in a small area – lots of great shops, cafes and restaurants as well as all the history.

  • Reply
    holidayaddict
    January 20, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    A lovely virtual walk through Paris for me! I am still desperate to go back after cancelling last year.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 21, 2015 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks Claire – it’s not too long a walk and all pretty flat so definitely one you could do with a pram when you do get there again!

  • Reply
    Stacey @ One Trip at a Time
    January 21, 2015 at 1:07 am

    Great walk through that part of Paris. It makes me sooooo want to go back sooner than later now. Ah Paris, je t’aime!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 21, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks Stacey, I can never get enough of Paris either – better get planning my next trip!

  • Reply
    Vlad
    January 21, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    I love this part of Paris too! Didn’t think it would make me want to go back, especially since I’ve been there last year. Thanks, Lucy! 😛

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 24, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      St Germain has become my Parisian second home! It’s such a good location, easy walk to all the main sites but not too touristy.

  • Reply
    Darlene
    January 21, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    What a lovely walk. Makes me want to go there.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 24, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      It’s a great neighbourhood, lots going on but still very French and authentic.

  • Reply
    nylonliving
    January 21, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    The Ralph Lauren store is in your walking route now – very popular with the French and the courtyard cafe is really pretty. Some wit was pointing out how multinational that was — a New York Jew exporting US Wasp culture based on the British aristocracy to the French.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 24, 2015 at 5:48 pm

      I’ve walked past that store many times! Never been in but I heard there was a cafe there, may have to give it a try (though my budget is more neighbouring Monoprix than Ralph Lauren!).

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    January 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for all the detail you’ve included in this, Lucy. I’ve done part of it on foot and a little on an open top bus, and sat beside the pond in the Luxembourg gardens 🙂 I was undecided whether to choose this one as a guided walk in Paris but… too little time! I ended up in Montmartre with Olivier (and very nice it was too)
    Would you believe, I’ve never tried a macaron? Never lived, some folks! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 28, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      Thanks Jo, the Luxembourg Gardens are so nice and peaceful to relax in after the bustle of the city. You’ll have to go back and have a macaron next time! I’m not obsessed with them like some people but it’s nice to have something sweet in Paris that’s gluten free too.

      • Reply
        restlessjo
        January 28, 2015 at 2:21 pm

        Are you entering the #6 Friends, Lucy? I’m just writing it up now 🙂

  • Reply
    Marcia Clarke
    January 26, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Great article Lucy; it helped me reminesce about my trip to Paris seven years ago. I had an opportunity to visit most of spots on your list. Love the Gardens. I want to go back soon. Thanks for the memories!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 28, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      Glad to bring back some good memories Marcia, the gardens are one of my favourite spots too, perfect for people-watching!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    January 26, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Lovely guide Lucy. I love that there are so many chocolate and patisserie shops in the area – if I followed your walk it would definitely take double the time with all the little taster stops!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 28, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      You can’t have a Paris walk without a few patisseries! You’re definitely spoilt for choice when it comes to tasty things to eat around St Germain.

  • Reply
    atravelingb
    February 1, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Lovely photos of a beautiful neighborhood! I’m glad I got to explore it more on my most recent trip. Luxembourg Gardens are climbing as my favorite Paris attraction!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 2, 2015 at 11:03 am

      I love the Luxembourg Gardens! There’s some great people watching and it’s beautiful whatever the season, I have some lovely photos with all the autumn leaves but it’s lovely in springtime too.

  • Reply
    Taylor Hearts Travel
    February 2, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Great guide, Lucy. I love this part of Paris (especially the foodie stops!)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 3, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      Thanks, you can’t go far in Paris without coming across something great to eat or drink!

  • Reply
    Jo’s Monday walk : Praia da Rocha | restlessjo
    February 16, 2015 at 8:25 am

    […] The streets of St. Germain […]

  • Reply
    ventisqueras
    February 16, 2015 at 8:54 am

    grande e bellissimo reportage
    complimenti e thank you so much

  • Reply
    anneharrison
    March 2, 2015 at 1:14 am

    A beautiful blog – there is always something to discover in Paris, no matter how many times you go.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 3, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Thanks, yes that’s what I love about Paris, every time you visit there’s something new and interesting to see!

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