On the Left Bank, the Latin Quarter and Saint Germain des Pres is where you’ll find everything from world-famous cathedrals to some of the finest shopping in France, says Jill Sayles
1 - Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris
Starting at Cité Metro, a tour of the Latin Quarter is easily undertaken. A good place to begin is La Cathédrale de Notre Dame de
Paris, an outstanding example of French Gothic architecture which attracts around 12 million visitors each year.
Designed by Maurice de Sully it was constructed in three stages from 1163 to 1250 (the best view of the cathedral is from Square Jean XXIII just outside). A small donation is requested on entry and, once inside, look up at the two magnificent rose windows and you’ll see the
central choir with carved wooden stalls and statues, and the organ with its 7,800 pipes.
For a superb view of Paris, climb the 387 spiralling steps of the North Tower which can be accessed on rue de Cloitre Notre Dame, situated round the corner to the right of the main entrance. Open 8am-7pm daily. Free guided tours in English take place at noon on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 2.30pm on Saturdays.
For more information visit cathedraledeparis.com.
2 - Ile de la Cité
Notre Dame is located on Ile de la Cité, one of two small islands in the Seine at the heart of Paris, and the site of the first settlers in Paris some 2,000 years ago. “Point Zero”, a bronze plate set in the paving in front of the cathedral, is the spot from where all distances from Paris to other cities in France are measured.
Other places worth a visit include the Palais de Justice, Saint Chappelle (Holy Chapel) and the oldest flower market in Paris located at Place Louis Lepine, open Monday to Saturday 8am-7pm and transforming into a bird market on Sundays, 9am-7pm.
3 - Ile Saint Louis
The second and smaller of the two islands, Ile Saint Louis is linked to Ile de la Cité by Pont Saint Louis. Described as the most romantic “quartier” in Paris, it is the most covetable of the city’s addresses and home to around 6,000 people.
There are few must-see sights, but it is perfect for a stroll along the single lane streets and tree-lined quay among the elegant 17th century mansions. Here you will find quaint café, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Stop at M. Berthillon, 31
rue St Louis for arguably the most delicious ice creams and sorbets in Paris (€2 for one scoop).
4 - Jardin du Luxembourg
Occupying over 224,500 square metres between Boulevard St Germain and Boulevard St Michel, Jardin du Luxembourg is the largest park on the Left Bank. Designed in typically French style, with geometrical lawns, and tree-lined alleyways, it is a favourite for Parisians, and perfect for people-watching; boules, chess and bridge are all outdoor pastimes here. At the northern end of the park is the Palais du Luxembourg, built in 1615 for the Marie de Medicis, the mother of Louis XIV.
Built in the style of a Florentine Palace to remind Marie of her native city, the building was used as a prison during the French revolution and as the headquarters for the Luftwaffe during World War II. Since 1958 the building has housed the French Senate.
5 - Shopping in St Germain des Pré
St Germain des Pré has the feel of a small village, yet some of the biggest labels have boutiques on Rue de Rennes (Celine and Kenzo), Place St Suplice (Yves St Lauren, Rive Gauche), and Blvd St Germain (Sonia Rykiel). You will also find more affordable boutiques and quality high-street stores. By now you’ll need a rest. Try the Art Deco-style Café Flore on Boulevard Saint Germain, where the interior has
remained unchanged since Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus and Picasso drank there.
Alternatively, try the picturesque Rue Mouffetard – no more than six metres wide and 605 metres long, it has had its name since the 13th century and is part of the ancient Roman road to Italy. A pleasant place to stop for a drink is Place de la Contrescarpe, a provincial square at the top.