Saint Germain des Prés is a neighborhood located next to the Seine river, in the very heart of Paris. It’s one of the most historical districts of the city, famous for being the center of the intellectual world in the 40’s-60’s with the existentialist movement. It also hosts the National School of Fine Arts, deeply linked with artists like Monet, Delacroix or Moreau.
WHAT TO VISIT?
More than a place juste to visit, Saint Germain des Prés is a place to experience! You could spend several days wandering in Saint Germain to discover it…
The neighborhood takes its names from the St. Germain des Prés church, at the center of the district. One of the oldest churches in Paris, it dates back from the 6th century. After the Vikings burnt it in the 9th century, the church was rebuilt a second time in 1014 and still stands nowadays. It’s public and open to visits.
What really gives its atmosphere to the district are the numerous cafés and restaurants, some of them with funny names such as “L’Enfance de Lard” (which is a pun in French), where you can sit at the terrace in summer to watch the lively district, or take a hot meal in winter to contemplate the night falling on the Parisian streets. In the 40’s-50’s, there were also a lot of jazz clubs in Saint Germain des Prés, but most of them closed in the 60’s when jazz began to be replaced by rock n’ roll.
Saint Germain des Prés is also home to numerous art galleries and fashion designer stores. Wandering in the streets, you will also discover a lot of trendy and upscale shops for food (the famous macarons brand Ladurée among others), and for fashion and jewelry (Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin…).
You can also visit the Saint Sulpice church, second largest church of Paris after Notre Dame cathedral. This church became worldwide famous following the publication of the Da Vinci Code novel, in which some of the clues to follow the treasure hunt are supposedly hidden in this church. The book was such a hit that after its publication, the diocese had to display a note in the church to explain to tourists that the novel was a fiction and that they should stop asking the priests about the fictional pagan origin of the church and other literary inventions of the author!
If the weather allows, do not miss a visit to the beautiful Luxembourg Garden (Jardin du Luxembourg) that fixes the limit of the district. This park covers 23 hectares and includes a pond where children can have wooden boats floating, tennis courts, ponies and the marvelous Medicis fountain… Statues are all over the place, as in an open-air museum, and a small version of the Statue of Liberty even used to stand there before it was transferred to the Orsay museum for greater protection. And for those who remember their reading of Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, you might just feel like Marius and Cosette, who met and fell in love for the first time in this park…
Lastly, if you like to experience the Parisian gastronomy, don’t miss a walk in the St. Germain market, where you will find gourmet and specialty shops.
HOW TO EXPERIENCE IT?
As mentioned, a visit to the St. Germain church is really worth paying to begin your visit, as it’s part of the Parisian history. Since the district was one of the world’s main literary centers around the 50’s, with the existentialist movement, cafés like “Les deux Magots“, “Café de Flore”, “Le Procope” or the “Brasserie Lipp” are among the most popular places to go get a drink as many writers and intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Hemingway or Picasso used to go there.
But keep in mind that when taking a coffee or a tea there, you will not only pay for your drink, but also for the fame of the place… Some less known brasseries and cafés might just be as nice options.
Walking guided tours of the neighborhood are available in order not to miss any detail. But keep in mind that it will tell you about the history of the district and what used to be, so don’t expect to take thousands of pictures as most of the places nowadays do not show anything from the outside. That’s why we recommend you just relax and take time to feel the energy of the streets.
- Hours: Lively during day and night
- Price: Free
- Access: Metro line 10, “Mabillon” station, metro line 4 “Saint Germain des Prés” station. Various busses.
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