Last updated on February 8th, 2022
If there’s one part of Paris that will keep you coming back for more, it’s gotta be Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Cool Parisian chic, abundant cafes, delicious bistros, artsy pastry shops and what might be the nicest park in the world – spending a day Saint-Germain-des-Prés is a real no brainer. So if you’re looking to experience Paris at its best, you’ve come to the right place.
Paris is a city that’s made for living in it and there’s no better place to experience this than with exploring Saint Germain – that is if you can afford living here. Located in the 6th arrondissement (district), this large chunk of town feels very small and always teeming with life. Designer bags hosting designer dogs are quite the norm around here and having one espresso after another, as you hop from one sunny cafe terrasse to another, is not unusual.
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Don’t forget to look around you at the classic Parisian apartments, this is as good as it gets. But all that chic comes with a price so don’t come searching for bargains. There is one thing that is free in Paris and that is to experience its beauty by walking its streets. So get your walking shoes on ‘cause we’re about to make good use of them!
There are loads of things to do, eat, and see in Saint Germain. I will do my best to cover the highlights as well as my secret tips. This Saint Germain itinerary is a bit long but you can skip through the sections based on what you like and use the map to help you get oriented. There’s even a secret bonus tip to those who make it to the end of the itinerary!
Saint Germain started as a small village in the 6th century, built around the Benedictine monastery where the Church of Saint Germain stands. It was actually outside the Paris city walls and remained a small village until one royal arrived here.
In the 17th century, the King’s widow moved to the newly constructed palace in what is today the Luxembourg Garden and that’s when things started to change. Soon after, Parisian aristocrats left their mansions in the now crowded Marais in favor of the wide-open spaces of Saint Germain. The old village was now on the map.
When Baron Haussmann’s grand makeover of Paris arrived in Saint Germain, the wide-open boulevards that we see today beautifully combined with the old alleys that escaped demolition – creating a unique area of old and new.
Saint Germain’s real claim to fame, however, is owed to the magical period in Paris that followed the horrors of WWII. Intellectuals, actors, philosophers, and musicians – all set up shop here and the quarter’s cafes became legendary hangout spots.
Today, the intellectuals and their friends are mostly gone but Saint Germain retains so much of its charm, that you can’t help it but fall in love.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 has to be one of the nicest urban parks in the entire world, perhaps due to the royal heritage of this garden and palace – the latter 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.
With so many options, listing all the best places to eat in Saint Germain would be impossible and pointless. Instead, I’ll share with you my highlights which include a mix of the well-known spots as well as ones I discovered randomly – in no particular order.
Right by the charming Place Saint Germain, Les Deux Magots & Cafe de Flore are pretty much synonymous with Saint Germain and symbolize the neighborhood’s heyday. These two legendary cafes hosted Paris’s literary, artistic and intellectual elite of the time. Simone de Beauvoir, Picasso, Hemingway, James Joyce, and many others dined here. Today, these cafes are visited by thousands of tourists looking to relive some of that old Parisian magic.
If you’re lucky, find a spot on the front terrasse of Les Deux Magots and listen to the music that’s surely coming from the direction of the square, popular with street performers. Though these two spots are super touristy, they are still what you would consider classic Parisian cafes and they’re worth paying a visit.
If the terraces of Les Deux Magots & Cafe de Flore are full, try the nearby Le Bonaparte. Though there’s nothing special about the menu but the terrasse is just perfect on a sunny day!
Commanding prime real estate in one of the best people-watching spots in Saint Germain, there is something very appealing in just grabbing a spot in the terrasse under the chestnut tree and killing some time.
There’s nothing fancy about this cafe but the location is everything and it’s one of my favorite cafes in Paris. Right across from Place Saint Sulpice, you’ll want to wait for a spot to free up on the outside terrace. Drinks are reasonably priced and nobody will rush you to leave.
Outside of the main neighborhood attractions, this cafe was one of the first places I sampled when moving to Paris for three months and one of my favorites. Once again, the outside terrace is the place to be but aside from that, the staff is surprisingly friendly, the baguettes are fresh and the salads super generous.
This former market street is now dotted with cafes and restaurants. It’s always busy around here and you’ll surely find something you like. Though a bit touristy, Le Bar du Marché still retains some old Parisian charm – the waiters still dress in traditional overalls and French caps.
I dined here with two buddies of mine who visited me as part of our culinary weekend in Paris. Procope has been around since 1686 and even Voltaire and the great Napoleon wined and dined here. Not the cheapest dining option around as you can imagine, but if you come here for lunch, you won’t have to tap into your savings account. For about €45 each, we had foie gras for starters, duck breast, and steaks with bone marrow for mains, along with red wine on the side. Be sure to check out the private dining rooms on the top floor – so cool!
Isabelle and I came across this place totally by chance, really out of sheer hunger. It turned out to be one of the best lunches we had in all of Paris. Though things get quite tight outside on the terrace, the food is delicious. We had the tuna steaks which were out of this world and for dessert decided to be adventurous with some vanilla ice cream over strawberries with get this – basil sauce.
Along with the Marais district, the boutiques of Saint Germain offer classic Parisian styles at somewhat affordable prices. If you’re looking for boutique fashion, the streets stretching in either direction between Saint Sulpice and Le Bon Marché are where you want to be – even Yves Saint Laurent had his first boutique right here in Saint Germain.
But since boutique shopping is not my thing, I’ll share with you other mentionable shopping highlights.
No photography is allowed in this shop and for good reason (I of course managed to sneak one out). If you’re an animal lover you might want to skip the visit to Deyrolle but your curiosity might prevent you from doing so. Taxidermy might be a thing of the past but news hasn’t gotten to this secret little shop on Rue du Bac. You might as well head right upstairs where a few thousand Euros will buy you a stuffed bear or maybe even a zebra. For souvenirs that are easier on the pocket, choose from hundreds of exotic butterflies, all dried up and ready to go. Needless to say I am totally against this kind of stuff.
Looking for some fine ceramics to take home with you? This shop has been selling it for over 200 years. Prices aren’t cheap but quality comes with a price.
On a tiny street just off Rue de Buci, Boucherie Le Foll is one of those places where you can stuff yourself just by sampling. Choose from dozens of cured meats, sausages, and cheese!
Another one of those cute Parisian passages, the cobblestones are super crooked – a sign of the centuries that have passed. There are lots of bars, restaurants, and shops to choose from – away from the noise of the busy boulevards just outside.
There are better markets in Paris but if you’re already here, you might as well check out Saint Germain covered market. You’ll find here all the goodies you’d expect from a Parisian market but the prices here are anything but normal. Nonetheless, the area surrounding the market is quite cool and it’s on your way to the Luxembourg Garden.
Every Sunday from 8 am – 1 pm, the street just outside Rennes Metro station is home to the city’s wandering bio market. On Saturdays, you can catch the market uptown in the Batignolles quarter and like any open-air Parisian food market, you can do no harm just by walking by and seeing locals do their shopping (gotta love those shopping trolleys).
Prices are quite high as you would expect from a bio market in Paris but if you plan on doing a picnic somewhere today (did anyone say Luxembourg Garden?), you might as well grab a few things from here.
It’s the world’s oldest department store, that’s right! Opened in 1852 the Bon Marché doesn’t stay true to its name (a good deal) and is today quite an upmarket department store. There is, however, a fantastic food hall that has people raving about it.
And now for the sweet part of this Saint Germain itinerary guide! Keeping in line with the chic neighborhood vibe, you’ll be overwhelmed by the high concentration of excellent bakeries, high-end pastry shops, and fine chocolatiers. I must admit that I’ve compiled this list through ‘hard’ work – throughout a few visits to Saint Germain so I wouldn’t recommend trying to sample them all in one visit – that can’t be good for you. Moreover, don’t even think about using the term ‘cake’ around the patisseries. These are more like sweet works of art – and they cost accordingly at around €5 and up! Aside from the great taste, it’s all about the packaging. Even the smallest delights that’ll be eaten in just a few seconds are packaged with so much care and perfection.
Bringing the wonderful flavors north from Saint Tropez, if you love vanilla custard, you must try one of these. Inside a delicious pair of brioche slices is a creamy vanilla filling that is irresistible (I am such a sucker for vanilla custard).
Probably in the top 3 pastry shops I’ve visited in Paris. It also doubles as an overpriced bakery. The pastries are best eaten quickly but you’ll have plenty of time to snap some pictures (outside, of course).
Right next to Des Gâteaux et du Pain, it’s all about the display in this one. Sweet works of art are protected by futuristic glass contraptions that rise when you move for the kill.
They’ve been around since 1819 so surely they know what they’re doing – right?
Dubbed the ‘Picasso of Pastries’, Pierre Hermé is famous for his macarons though the ice cream ain’t bad either. There are quite a few locations throughout Paris but no matter which one you visit, you won’t be able to resist filling up a box (these small babies aren’t cheap though). The flavors are so deliciously unusual and there are always seasonal concoctions. Try the rose, passionfruit, grapefruit, and my favorite – the pistachio. Who am I kidding, try everything!
Rivals with Pierre Hermé, Ladurée is world-famous for its macarons. They’ve been making them since 1862 and they are widely recognized as colorful works of art! Like their rivals, there are Ladurée shops all around town but the one in Saint Germain also has a pleasant-looking restaurant and cafe.
Tucked away in one of the quietest spots in Saint Germain, La Maison du Chou makes one thing but does it well. These tiny fluffy pastries are filled with white cheese and vanilla, coffee, or chocolate.
Sometimes too much choice can make things difficult for you and that’s exactly the problem you’ll face over here. Should you go for the strawberry tart? Or maybe for the chocolate mousse? Tough choices – ah?
A lot more down-to-earth than its neighborhood rivals, this shop is the kind of place you’ll come to stock up on some pastries for a party. That shouldn’t stop you from you just popping by for a quick bite and buying a fresh baguette on the way. The vibe is a lot less poshy than in some of the other places I’ve mentioned (and so is the taste).
One of the finest chocolatiers in Paris, you’ll find a few shops bearing this brand. The best time to visit is on a holiday, where the chocolates put on their festive looks – just like on this particular Easter.
If you’ll feel like you’ve just experienced the perfect day in Paris, strolling through the streets of Saint Germain, you are not alone! Every time I came here on a sunny spring day, I felt like I simply didn’t want to go home! The good news is that there’s a perfect way to end your perfect day in Saint Germain and that’s by the banks of Seine.
It’s been a few years now that a large chunk of highway that ran parallel to the Seine has been closed off to cars and handed over to pedestrians. Every spring/summer, the best place to end your day in this part of town is right on the river, on either side of the Pont Alexandre III. Lively péniches (riverboats- but referred to by Parisians as ‘bars on barges’) and pop-up bars spring to life in what has to be one of the nicest spots in all of Paris.
So grab a drink or better yet bring your own, grab a seat on the river and watch the City of Lights come to life! Have a flip through this sliding picture show for sights from this magical spot taken throughout May & June.
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