The Latin Quarter in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris is infamous. It is home to Shakespeare and Company, the Saint-Michel fountain, and the Sorbonne. However, if you want to explore this area in 2024, you might be put off by the swaths of tourists around the Saint-Michel fountain, tacky restaurants along Rue de la Huchette, and the long line to enter Shakespeare and Co. What you might not know is that the Latin Quarter is much bigger than just a few blocks! Try starting your journey from the other side of the Latin Quarter. This will allow you to avoid tourist traps and explore the real Latin Quarter, famous for its youthful exuberance, arts and culture, and delicious bistros.
Take the train to Gare d’Austerlitz, a station serviced by Metro 5 and 10. From there, walk to the intersection at the Austerlitz bridge and head east through the Jardin des Plantes. This is a botanical garden with 3,000 plant species. Honestly, you could spend the good part of your day in this garden, as it hosts four museums, a zoo and covers 28 hectares. You can explore this garden as deeply or as lightly as you desire. Either way, it is a beautiful place to start your Latin Quarter adventure.
Once you are through the Jardin des Plantes, you should be on Rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, which runs parallel with the garden’s eastern end. From here, you are only a block or two away from Rue de Navarre where you’ll find the Paris Jazz Corner. This blue building is loaded with CDs and vinyl, specializing in jazz and blues. Peruse the records and expand your music library with some hidden gems. If you are ever in Southern France, the Jazz Corner has a second location in Sommières.
After you’re done flipping through records, cross the street to enter the Square des Arènes de Lutèce. In this park are the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheatre. Terraced seats surround the ring where gladiators once duked it out for civilian entertainment. In the ring, these days, there are often kids playing a soccer game, elders playing bocce and students cutting through to their next class. It’s a unique park in Paris with small crowds, local charm and a fascinating history.
When you’ve finished thinking about the Roman Empire, continue walking north on Rue Monge. Five minutes down the road, you’ll find Librairie Ozanne, a rare book store. Its window display caught my eye with a book about Philippe Clay, the 20th-century actor, musician and mime. Inside is a dazzling collection of rare books that is sure to pique even your most niche interest.
If the weather turns and you need somewhere to hide out for a few hours, try catching a movie at the Écoles Cinéma Club. This is the partner movie theatre to Christine 21, the theatre on Rue Christine that’s across the street from the 5-star hotel Relais Christine. Despite its name, there is no special requirement for entrance into Écoles Cinéma. It has two theatres and it shows a variety of titles, including classic English movies. When I was there, I caught the 5:15 showing of Raging Bull. Other movies showing that day were Annie Hall, Trainspotting and Memories of Murder. The theatre I was in was downstairs and small with plush red seats and an appropriately sized screen. The tickets and drinks are cheap too, which is always a plus.
By the time credits roll, your stomach will probably be grumbling. Head south toward the Panthéon. On Rue de la Montagne Ste. Geneviève, a cobblestone side street off Place du Panthéon, there are several inviting bars and restaurants. The Bombardier English Pub is a lively place to grab a pint. The Tram Café doubles as a bookstore. L’Écurie and La Méthode are well-rated restaurants with decent prices and outside seating. Le Village is a quaint bar between L’Écurie and La Méthode that specializes in beer. If you’re more of a wine drinker, try Les Pipos, a wine bar with tasty food that’s right across the street. Whatever you choose, you’re sure to be delighted.