Saint-Germain Itinerary Map
Since there are so many things to do in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, I’ll do something different this time. Instead of taking you through a set itinerary of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, I’ll mention all the neighborhood highlights. It’s not possible to see all of them in one day but you can pick and choose what you like best and plan your perfect day in Saint Germain!
All places mentioned in this itinerary can be found on this companion map. Simply click on the image to open in Google Maps.
Famous Landmarks in Saint-Germain
Pont des Arts
The two banks of the River Seine are connected by many bridges but among the most famous is the Pont des Arts. Connecting the Louvre with the Institut de France, you’ll surely recognize the Pont des Arts – the bridge of romance. This is the spot where couples would mark their eternal love by placing love locks with their names on the bridge’s wire fencing, then tossing the key into the Seine.
Unfortunately for us (and fortunately for the bridge), the city has removed the locks from the bridge itself during June of 2015. The 45 tons of love locks have taken their toll on the bridge, which was at risk of collapsing under the weight of eternal love. Crossing the bridge is a great way to enter Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
On the Saint Germain side of the bridge, you’ll see the famous Bouquinistes – those wooden ‘pop up bookstalls’ on the banks of the Seine. These stalls have traditionally been selling antique and rare books even to this day, though for the sake of diversification they’re now mostly selling souvenirs. You’ll also find many on the other side of the Seine, primarily around the islands of Île Saint-Louis & Île de la Cité.
Institut de France
As you cross the Pont des Arts, you can’t help but notice the beautiful dome right in front of you. This is one of the entrances to Saint Germain but more importantly, it’s the home of the Institute de France. The institute consists of five academies of arts & sciences, one of which awards prizes to literary Immortels for preserving French literature.
As you can imagine, it’s a tough place to enter – however, if you like ‘Harry Potter-like libraries’, try making it inside the Bibliotheque Mazarine, where religious history scholars plow their way through thousands of ancient books in search of their next discovery.
Occupying a beautiful former railway station that was due to be demolished, the Musée d’Orsay is second only to its neighbor on the other side of the river – the Louvre. The Musée d’Orsay is famous for its prized treasures from the Impressionist and Post Impressionist eras, a time of revolutionary experimentation. It houses some of the most exquisite works by the likes of Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and Picasso.
You can spend a half-day just visiting the Musée d’Orsay as there’s so much to see here. Even if you don’t classify yourself as an art lover, you’ll be amazed at what you see inside. I highly recommend paying a visit at some point and wrote extensively about planning a visit to the Musée d’Orsay.
Musée National Eugène Delacroix
Tucked away in a quiet part of Saint Germain, is a museum dedicated to one of France’s finest painters of all time. Delacroix lived here until his death and the former house now turned museum, holds some of his works. To enjoy Delacroix’s masterpieces, you should visit the Musée d’Orsay but especially the Louvre, where some of his most important work is on display. If you’ll visit the Père Lachaise Cemetery (highly recommended), be sure to pay a visit to Delacroix’s grave, where he’s buried along with many French and international ‘celebrities’ of the past.
Église de Saint Germain des Prés
You cannot miss the tower dominating Place Saint Germain and this is, in fact, one of the oldest churches in all of Paris! Starting as an old Benedictine monastery, parts of the Church of Saint Germain des Prés dates back to the 6th century!
Built, destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries, the church is influenced by both Gothic and Roman styles. Between the marble columns and colorfully painted plastered walls, walking along the perimeter of the church reveals some of these layers in time.
Place Saint Germain
Just outside the church, Place Saint Germain is one of the centers of the quarter and has to be among the best spots in all of Paris. On a sunny day, musicians entertain the crowd walking past and the cafe dwellers in the nearby legendary cafes of Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore (see cafes & restaurants section). If those are full, try your luck at Le Bonaparte or simply enjoy the magical vibe in this tiny little square!
Église & Fontaine Saint-Sulpice
Another one of my favorite squares in Paris, there’s always something happening here. To start with, the beautiful lion fountain in the square sets the tone with its gushing water. You won’t be able to help yourself but take a break under one of the chestnut trees, or better yet, in the terrasse of the Café de la Mairie, overlooking the square.
The church itself is magnificent, even if one of its towers has been left unfinished. Inside, you’ll find a chapel decorated with work by the one-time neighborhood resident Eugene Delacroix. His murals depict the lives of angels and have withstood the test of time so far.
Moving along, don’t forget to look up above the entrance. If you’re lucky, you might just need to follow your ears as one of the finest organs in the entire world might be blasting away. When we visited, we were lucky enough to hear this beast in action – what you won’t be able to feel through the video, is the vibration going right through your body.
Without a doubt, one of the main attractions for visitors to the Saint-Sulpice church is owed to the bestselling book and Hollywood blockbuster The Da Vinci Code. Inside the church are the remains of an old solar observatory where, back in the day, a lens was used to shine a light on a brass ball to measure the winter and summer solstices (and with that the exact dates of important religious holidays). If you look down, you’ll see a line running the length of the floor towards the instrument and this is the famous ‘Rose Line’ which was depicted in the Da Vinci code (though completely fictional).
Smack in the middle of the prime shopping area of Saint Germain is a weird-looking 5-meter tall statue of a mythical Greek creature called a Cenature. This half man half horse can be seen if you’ll be taking the slight detour west, in the direction of Le Bon Marché department store.
Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse
Certainly not an architectural highlight, a visit to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal will be interesting if you believe in miracles. Tucked away in a small alley, lies one of the great mysteries in all of Paris! It is believed that in 1830 a young nun witnessed the Virgin Mary dressed in silk with her feet on a globe. The nun heard a voice instructing her to fashion a metal coin with this exact image of the Virgin and those who wear it will, of course, be blessed with good fortune. Ever since then, the main attraction is the purchase of one of those coins from the shop run by the nuns. The chapel itself is also a pilgrimage spot, especially on Sundays. I paid a quick visit only to find a full chapel with quite a few patrons bursting to tears – apparently, there’s something powerful here!
Place de l’Odéon
A charming little square right before the Luxembourg Garden, the highlight here is the famous Odeon Cinema, built in classical Roman style. The theatre has been restored and is a popular hangout spot for students from the nearby universities of the Latin Quarter – en route to a film or just people watching in the cafe terrace.
An absolute must-visit, the Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the best parks in Paris and perhaps one of the nicest urban parks in the world. This is perhaps due to the royal heritage of this garden and palace – the latter of which is now home to the French Senate.
The Luxembourg Garden is a world of its own, right in the heart of Paris. Every day, thousands pass through the park which in my opinion is a perfect example of just how much Paris is a city that’s made for living in it. A true urban oasis, the grounds are dotted with beautiful classical sculptures, lots of randomly distributed metal chairs, one fine museum, and quite a few attractions that can keep you here for a good few hours!
At the heart of the garden is the famous pond overlooking the palace. The pond is a popular spot for children sailing toy yachts and for folks chilling on those metal chairs.
The area just south of the pond is home to rows of finely chopped trees shading the only grass lawn in the park that you can sit on. It’s the absolute perfect place for a weekend picnic or just catching some sun with the rest of Paris!
In the northeast corner of the park, you’ll find a well-shaded area that has a few cool cafes for passing the time. There’s also a small gazebo that plays host to concerts throughout the summer so don’t be surprised to suddenly hear some classical music out of nowhere. This side of the Luxembourg Garden is also home to La Fontaine Medicis, a fountain built by the widow of King Henry IV of France.
The western end of the garden seems to be less explored by the tourist crowds but it has to be popular among the neighborhood locals. You’ll find here tennis courts, a children’s playground, even pony rides for the little ones and how can we forget about the Pétanque area! A bit further west, honey is harvested in beehives, and fruit trees are grown in what has to be the least obvious place for an orchard. This area of the park is the perfect place to just grab a book and kill a few hours, with the sound of the birds everywhere and the big city seeming to be miles away.