Paris walks: A self-guided St Germain walking tour

The streets of St Germain, Paris: A self-guided walking tour

Located 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, a 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 favourite spots in St Germain, Paris, past historic churches, museums and gardens. And naturally because it’s Paris, there’ll be some eating and drinking along the way too.

Read more: Paris walks: A self-guided Montmartre walking tour

The Pont des Arts bridge in Paris

The Pont des Arts (in its love lock days)

Self-guided St Germain walking tour route

Start your St Germain walking tour at the Pont des Arts by the Seine. This was historically a favourite spot for artists, and you’ll still see painters on the bridge. It’s also a popular place for an summer evening picnic. The bridge was where Paris’ controversial love locks trend started. The first padlock was added in 2008 and eventually they built up so much that the railings collapsed from the weight. They’ve now been replaced with glass panels to stop more damage.

Leave the bridge behind you and cross over the road in front of the imposing Institut de France, home to arts, humanities and science academies. 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 repeat the success of its famous previous pupils like Monet, Degas, Renoir and Sisley.

The Musee d’Orsay, Paris

The Musee d’Orsay

You can see work by these famous names and plenty of others on display at the Musée d’Orsay, a few minutes’ walk back down towards the river. The museum is set inside a Beaux-Arts-style former railway station built at the end of the 19th century, and is famous for its clock tower. Rue Bonaparte and the streets which surround it are full of arty shops and galleries, which have everything from antique vases to bizarre modern art installations on display.

Next up is a more edible kind of artwork at Ladurée. Rue Bonaparte is one of six Ladurée stores across Paris where they sell over 15,000 of their signature macarons a day. Each season there’s a different range of colours and flavours. Macarons are everywhere now but Ladurée’s are the classics – light and airy with no weird flavour combinations or elaborate decoration.

Laduree shop in Rue Bonaparte, St Germain, Paris

Macarons in the Ladurée shop in Rue Bonaparte

Ladurée’s window displays are a work of art in themselves with a rainbow of colours and elegant packaging. There’s usually a queue out the door for a spot in their tea room, but you can get a macaron to takeaway for €2 (or €17 for six if you can’t choose just one). Post-sugar rush, carry on walking up Rue Bonaparte towards the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It’s one of the oldest churches in Paris with foundations which date back to the third century.

Originally it was a Benedictine abbey surrounded by fields – known as prés in French – although it’s hard to imagine it now when it’s 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 of the towers still standing.

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

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 fancy. Follow in the footsteps of Hemingway and Sartre at the Deux Magots. Or go around the corner to Picasso’s favourite Café de Flore. Try their hot chocolate made with a jug of hot milk and a jug of melted chocolate which you mix together.

Take a left down busy Boulevard St Germain then turn 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, vegetables, fish and cheese.

The Deux Magots café in St Germain Paris

The Deux Magots terrace, a prime people-watching spot

At the end of road is St Sulpice church. It’s Paris’ second largest church after Notre-Dame with its distinctive double towers, though if you look closely you can see that 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 a Sunday if you want to hear a free organ recital.

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 which stretches over 22 hectares with lawns, fountains and statues as well as the Musée du Luxembourg, an art museum which is set inside a former orangery.

Parisian café

Café culture in St Germain, Paris

The Luxembourg Gardens are your classic Parisian park, full of old men playing boules and couples strolling hand-in-hand. At the centre of the gardens is the impressive Luxembourg Palace, now used by the French Senate. It was built for Italian-born queen Marie de Medicis in the 1610s. After her husband was assassinated she wanted a palace and gardens that reminded her of home, so she sent her architect over to Italy to copy details from Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

Cross the gardens and head towards Boulevard Saint-Michel and you’re at the end of the walk. From here you can either head right to Luxembourg Metro station, or head left and past the Sorbonne art school and Cluny Le Sorbonne Metro station and back up to the Seine.

The Luxembourg Palace and gardens, Paris

The Luxembourg Palace and gardens

St Germain Paris walking tour map

To do this St Germain walk yourself, click on the map below to download a route map and directions. It’s just under 2.5km and takes a couple of hours, including macaron and café stops.

The streets of St Germain, Paris: A self-guided walking tour

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A self-guided St Germain walking tour of Paris, visiting cafés, churches and parks in the city's intellectual and bohemian neighbourhood – map included. #Paris #walk #France #StGermainA self-guided walking tour of St Germain, Paris' Left Bank – including St Sulpice, Luxembourg Gardens, the Musee d’Orsay and macarons at Ladurée #Paris #walk #France #StGermain

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  • 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
      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
    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
      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
      January 21, 2015 at 12:21 pm

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

  • Reply
    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
      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
    January 21, 2015 at 3:59 pm

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

    • Reply
      January 24, 2015 at 5:47 pm

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

  • Reply
    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
      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
    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
      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.

      • 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
      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
      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
    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
      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
      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
    February 16, 2015 at 8:54 am

    grande e bellissimo reportage
    complimenti e thank you so much

  • Reply
    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
      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!

  • Reply
    March 11, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you for the post. This is exactly there neighbourhood where we stayed. Reading this post was like walking through my memories. We stayed on Rue Cannette at Hotel la Perle. On our last day we lounged on chairs in Luxembourg garden. I sketched and my husband read the newspaper, tres French.

    • Reply
      March 15, 2018 at 11:22 pm

      How lovely! Really pleased to bring back some good memories of such a lovely place.

  • Reply
    Paul Figueroa
    April 10, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    I expanded on that walk by leaving my apartment (rented) at Quai des Grand Augustin, up to Boul. St Germain and over to Place Contrescarpe down the Mouffetard, back to the Pantheon, then to Luxembourg gardens and on to your walking tour described here. It was the a day I hope I’ll never forget. Next time I’m in Paris I have to focus a lot more on Le Marais and Canal St Martin which I didn’t see the first time.

    • Reply
      April 11, 2018 at 9:25 am

      Sounds wonderful! So glad you enjoyed it. The Marais is really interesting too – it might have to be my next walk when I get back to Paris.

      • Elena M
        June 14, 2018 at 2:17 pm

        Just chanced on your blog as I wanted to explore a different part of Paris and followed your self guide to the left bank.
        It was so well described and easy to follow and I loved the St Germain area. Didn’t go thru the whole route but did a few of the places on your guide.
        Thank you Lucy. Came all the way from NZ and wanted to do something on my own. Will hope to follow your suggestions in other destinations.

      • Lucy
        June 20, 2018 at 8:45 pm

        That’s great to hear! So glad you enjoyed St Germain, it’s one of my favourite areas in Paris.

  • Reply
    Jill Richardi
    July 2, 2019 at 5:04 am

    We opted for your self-guided tour today. It was wonderful! We tasted macarons at Ladurée’s, and their flavors are so intense and fresh. Loved the locks on the bridge and will return to Café de Flore tomorrow. Thank you!

    • Reply
      July 8, 2019 at 5:45 pm

      Ah brilliant, so glad that you enjoyed it!

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