OK in the third part of our series on Paris, we are going to explore the delights of south and central Paris. I have already covered North Paris in part 1 and West Paris in part 2. This walk is designed for you to take in the best of the shopping and culture in central Paris as well as the very popular Latin quarter, so whilst it is slightly shorter in terms of actual distance covered, you will be making a lot more stops along the way. Please note that many French shops and some museums do shut on a Sunday, so avoid doing this walk on a Sunday or the shopping component will be very disappointing!
|The iconic Pompidou Centre in Paris|
Let’s begin at Chatelet Les Halles station, now this is considered by many to be the very centre of Paris because many of the regional train and metro lines converge there and it is a major interchange station. There is also a massive underground shopping centre called Le Forum des Halles built around the train station and we might be off to a slow start here if you get distracted by the many shops here! The station is currently undergoing a massive overhaul but will be back in 2016 looking far more modern and attractive.
When follow the exit of the station to St Eustache church – now this is actually a magnificent church nestled in the retail district of Chatelet Les Halles , but it is actually pretty magnificent and interesting enough to warrant a visit. From St Eustache church, walk towards the Pompidou Centre (distance 0.85 km in a south-east direction). It will be clearly sign posted since it is a major tourist attraction and you need to walk along Rue Rambuteau which will lead you directly to it. You are walking through a retail & entertainment district with plenty of restaurants, bars and shops. You can then easily spend 10 to 20 minutes walking around the Pompidou Centre, either marveling at the architecture or wondering what drugs the architects were one when he came up with this place. There are two things you should take note of when walking around the Pompidou centre. On the south side of the Pompidou Centre, there are some famous Stravinsky fountains with 16 sculptures. On the north side of the Pompidou Centre, you have a Flunch – which is a very cheap place to get a meal and the toilets are free.
|Flunch – French food on a budget.|
From the Stravinsky Fountains, walk towards Rue du Renard (which lies to the east of the Pompidou Centre) and cross the road, you then want to head down Rue St Merri which turns into Rue St Croix de la Bretonnerie after the junction with Rue du Temple. You are now in the gay district of Le Marais where the most popular gay bars in Paris can be found. Most of these bars are either shut or very quiet in the day time and only become lively after 6 or 7 pm at night. This is also a fairly bohemian neighbourhood with loads of quirky shops like Fleux (39 and 52 Rue St Croix de la Bretonnerie) where you may find some pretty unique items.
From Fleux head down Rue St Croix de la Bretonnerie and then hang a right onto Rue des Archives for about 75 meters: you will get to BHV at 36 Rue de la Verrerie, 75004 Paris – this is a major department store in Paris which offers good value for money (unlike the Grand Magasins which focus more on high end luxury items). From BHV, you want to continue down Rue Des Archives for another 50 meters or so to where the road meets Rue de Rivoli. Across the road you will see the grand Paris town hall: known as the L’Hotel de Ville in French. This is a very grand building and there are often many activities hosted on the grand square in front of it. From the square, you want to walk towards the river and you will see d’Arcole bridge.
|Back in the Marais!|
Cross d’Arcole bridge and you will find yourself on the little island of Île de la Cité – this is one of the two islands sitting in the river Seine in the middle of Paris. Once you reach the island, head straight on along Rue d’Arcole towards the famous Notre Dame de Paris cathedral (total distance from the L’Hotel de Ville is about 0.2 km). Now you can buy a ticket to visit the Notre Dame but the queues are usually extremely long and it is up to you if you want to spend that long waiting in line. Otherwise, you can spend a good 20 minutes walking around the Notre Dame and admiring it from a distance: there is a small park (Square Jean XXIII) behind Notre Dame where you can admire the other side of Notre Dame or just chill for a few minutes on a park bench. There is also an archaeological crypt in front of the Notre Dame where you can explore ancient ruins found on this island.
If the weather is lovely and you have the time, then do this extra little circuit: from Square Jean XXIII, walk to the eastern tip of the island and you will find the memorial des Martyrs de la Déportation. From there, you will see a small bridge leading to the other side of the river. Cross the bridge (the Pont de l’Archevêché) to the other side of the river and then descend onto the quay – there is a pedestrian walkway by the waterside. As you get off Pont de l’Archevêché, you want to turn right and walk along the riverside: this will give you stunning views of the Notre Dame from a distance and you can get some amazing photos from here because the Notre Dame is so huge, you need to be some distance away in order to get all of it in a picture. Walk past the first bridge you come across (Pont au Double) and then when you get to the second bridge (Le Petit Pont), use it to cross back onto the island and you are back on the main square facing the Notre Dame, by the entrance to the crypt. This little circuit is about 0.4 km to your walk – but it is definitely worth doing given the great views of Notre Dame from the other side of the river.
|At the famous Notre Dame|
From entrance to the crypt of Notre Dame, turn right into Rue de la Cité and you will see a Flower Market on your left as you walk down the road. Look for the turning into Rue de Lutece on your left. Turn into Rue de Lutece and walk down this road for about 50 meters until the junction where it meets Boulevard du Palais. You will then get a grand view of the Palais du Justice de Paris as well as the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle: an ornate, 13th-century, Gothic chapel with relics & notable stained-glass windows of biblical scenes. Turn right on Boulevard du Palais and walk about 50 meteres and you will reach the river again. On your left you will find the Conceirgerie – a Gothic, riverside fortress & French Revolution prison, housing Marie Antoinette’s former cell. And on the junction itself, you can’t miss the clock tour Tour de l’Horloge. It is up to you in you wish to spend some time here visiting the Conceirgerie.
Now from here, you should walk to the middle of Pont au Change, the bridge linking Île de la Cité back to the other side of the river (where you came from earlier). There are lovely views from this vantage point, but once you are done with your photos, turn around and head back to Île de la Cité. Go down the full length of Boulevard du Palais and cross the Saint-Michel bridge on the other side (total walking distance about 0.25 km – this will lead you to Place Saint-Michel with the famous Saint-Michel fountains (worthy of a photo or two). Do take a note of the local landmarks as we will be returning to this area at the end of this tour. You are now in the quirky, Bohemian neighbourhood known as the Latin quarter.
|This is one of the most charming parts of Paris.|
From the Saint Michel fountains, walk due south (away from the river) along Boulevard Saint Michel for about 0.4 km until the junction with Rue Pierre Sarrazin and then turn left. Walk for a further 50 meters and on your left is the Cluny National Museum of Medieval Art. Now this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly the courtyard of the museum is pretty enough to warrant this little detour and worthy of a few photos at least! From the Museum of Medieval Art, exit the courtyard and cross the road. Go down Place Paul Painlevé which is the street directly across the road for just about 30 meters and that will take you to the big junction where it meets Rue des Ecoles. Go across this junction and Place Paul Painlevé will turn into Rue de la Sorbonne. Continue down Rude de la Sorbonne for 0.21 km and you will arrive at Place de la Sorbonne. This is a pretty little courtyard with cafes and fountains – it is also the grand entrance to famous Paris-IV Sorbonne University where I studied back in the late 1990s. This is one of France’s most prestigious universities for the French intellectual elite.
On weekdays, you can enter the university and wander around the university (via the grand entrance, you can’t miss it) – it is not strictly speaking a tourist attraction, but there is nobody to stop you from going in as the students go about their daily routine attending lectures and visiting the library. These buildings on the campus are very old and quaint; definitely worthy of a few photos. Do note that the university is closed on weekends though, so try to plan to do this route during weekdays. Exit the university the same way you entered, returning to Place de la Sorbonne. If you need a lunch or coffee break, this whole area has plenty of reasonably priced places where the university students frequent.
|At the Pantheon|
From Place de la Sorbonne (facing the entrance to the university), turn right into Rue Victor Cousin and walk 0.2 km until you get to the junction with Rue Soufflot. Turn left into Rue Soufflot and walk a further 0.2 km towards the grand building of the Pantheon. It was originally built as a church but now has been converted into a grand building for exhibitions and functions – it is definitely worth exploring if you do have the time (it costs 7 euros to enter, but those under 17 get in free). Otherwise, it is definitely worthy of a few photos from the outside. As you approach the front of the Pantheon, bear left and walk around the Pantheon for about 0.2 km and it will lead you to the Gothic looking Saint-Etienne du Mont church. Whilst it is not as grand as the Notre Dame, it is still fascinating enough to make this little detour worth your time and effort!
From the Saint Etiene du Mont church, retrace your steps back to the front of the Pantheon and go back down Rue Soufflot, all the way down the hill until you reach the big roundabout (distance 0.55 km). Once again, there are plenty of food and drink places in this area which are quite reasonably priced because of the large number of university students in the area. You will see at the roundabout the entrance to the famous Luxembourg gardens. Enter the gardens and feel free to explore at your leisure here – it is one of the loveliest gardens in Paris and if the weather is nice, you could even buy food from one of the cafes or fast food restaurants on Rue Soufflot and have a little picnic in the gardens. Whilst in the gardens, you want to check out the small pond in the middle and the Palais du Luxembourg. Follow the signs within the garden towards the Musée du Luxembourg. The musée du Luxembourg is a small art museum. Exit the gardens by the exit next to the museum and you will find yourself on Rue de Vaugirard. You will be able to find Rue Ferou about 20 meters to your right and head up Rue Ferou away from the gardens for about 0.1 km.
|At the Palais du Luxembourg|
This will lead you into the grand square of Place Saint Sulpice with a grand fountain. The beautiful Saint Sulpice church has a very grand facade and like most churches in France, it is free to enter for visits. You can easily spend a while exploring Saint Sulpice church. As you leave the church, return to the square in front of the church and turn right, going up Rue Bonaparte for 0.4 km which will take you up to the junction with Boulevard Saint-Germain. Go across the junction, look to your right and you will see the lovely Saint Germain of Prés Church – like the previous church, it is also free to enter for visitors. After you exit the church, return to the junction: look to your left now and you will see the entrance to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro station.
Now at this stage, I am giving you an optional excursion. This walk is slightly shorter (6.3 km, but it can be 5.5 km if you take the metro for the last part) than the previous two routes for North and West Paris (8 km and 6.7 km) as there are far more stops along the way at places where you can easily spend an hour or two (such as the Pantheon and Notre Dame). If you have arrived at Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro station without having made too many long stops along the way and it is still around 3 or 4 pm, then do take this option. Enter the metro station at Saint-Germain-des-Prés and take line 4 for a total of three stations southbound to Montparnasse Bienvenue for the Montparnasse Tower – it is 56 storeys high and offers stunning views of Paris from the visitor centre at the very top. It is right next to the metro station at Montparnasse so you can’t miss it, just look up! It’s that huge super tall building. There is a terrace, a restaurant, a gift shop and plenty of interactive exhibits to keep you entertained. The entrance fee is 14.50 euros – but it is definitely worth the money. After having enjoyed Montparnasse, return to Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro station the same way you came on the metro with line 4.
|Place Saint Sulpice|
From Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro station, stand facing the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church and turn right down Boulevard Saint-Germain. This is one of the most popular shopping streets in Paris with many high end boutiques and interesting shops. The walking route I propose is to head straight down Boulevard Saint German until you get to Odeon staion and then hang a left to go up Rue Danton until you get back to Saint Michel station (where you saw the Saint Michel Fountains earlier). That part of the walk is a total of 0.8 km. Now if you’re too tired to walk that or if you have little interest in shopping at this stage, then you can always use the metro to go two stops from Saint-Germain-des-Prés to Saint-Michel on line 4. That is the same line that connects you to Montparnasse, so it is possible to go directly from Montparnasse to St Michel and by pass the walk down Boulevard Saint Germain if you prefer.
By the time you arrive back at Place Saint Michel, it ought to be early evening and it is time for dinner. From the fountains, cross Boulevard Saint Michel and look to your left for Rue de la Huchette (about 20 meters away from the fountains, in the direction of the river). As you enter Rue de la Huchette, this is a rather touristy restaurant district with some gift shops. I know what you’re thinking, yes it is touristy but the very large number of restaurants in one area means that competition is extremely stiff amongst them and they drive each other’s prices down. Do explore the whole area (it is a labyrinth of little streets, all full of restaurants, cafes and gift shops) before deciding where to have your dinner. There is a wide range of cuisine available there – from traditional French to Italian to Moroccan to Turkish to Greek to Spanish to Vietnamese to Chinese to Indian to Japanese.
|Time for a French dinner!|
This is where we shall end our walking tour – after you finish your dinner, return to the fountains at Place Saint Michel – that is the nearest Metro station (Saint Michel) is. If you need a little walk to settle your stomach after a full meal, return to Place Saint Michel and turn right to go towards the river. You can then stroll along the riverside or cross the bridge to return to the two islands in the river and explore them again by night. There are plenty of stations on both sides of the river and there is the station Cité on Île de la Cité very close to Notre Dame.
With these three walking tours, you would have covered the vast majority of the main tourist attractions in Paris. However, if you are lucky enough to have four or more days in Paris, then look out for part 4 when I will be telling you what else you can do in Paris on your fourth day there. I am off to Köln in Germany very shortly for work and will start writing up on part 4 when I get back from Germany. Thanks for reading and I hope you have found this useful.