Possibly the most famous neighborhood in Paris, the 5th arrondissement is the vibrant and tourist-rich area of the Left Bank that includes the Latin Quarter, a favorite subject of Lost Generation writer Ernest Hemingway. Like the 6th, it’s one of the best neighborhoods to take an aimless stroll in because you’re bound to run into something interesting, whether it’s a restaurant, bar, or 18th century neoclassical mausoleum filled to the floor with some of the greatest minds in the history of France.
Speaking of which, the Panthéon and its vaulted ceilings and domes is one of the most staggering interiors in all of Paris, and that’s before you get to the crypt, which, along with Les Invalides and few other places, numbers among the most exclusive real estate in the city. Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Émile Zola are interred there, and while Marie Curie wasn’t the first woman to get a reservation at the Panthéon, she was the first to be granted posthumous entrance based on her accomplishments, not her choice of spouse. Careful not to wake the residents while you’re there.
The 15th century Église du Saint-Étienne-du-Mont is worth a chiropractor-chilling look, with its painstakingly upkept French Gothic interiors. The northwestern steps of the church are famous in and of themselves—Owen Wilson uses them to travel back to the days of the Fitzgerald and the Lost Generation in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris.
It may not be the original American bookstore opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919—that one was closed because of World War II—but the current Shakespeare & Company on the rue de la Bûcherie has inarguably been the torch-bearer since George Whitman opened its doors in 1951, with its fantastic aroma of books, close quarters, and sharp turns. The current owner, Sylvia Beach Whitman, hosts students visiting from abroad and a full schedule of readings, author appearances, and writers’ workshops in the store’s two stories. Their former antiquarian book section was recently renovated and turned into a lovely little cafe with sidewalk seating that affords a great view of Notre Dame.
place du Panthéon
Métro Cardinal Lemoine, RER Luxembourg
+33 01 44321800
10am-6pm daily. Admission: 7€ adults, 4.5€ ages 18-25
Eglise du Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
place du Panthéon & rue Clovis
Métro Cardinal Lemoine
+33 01 43541179
Open 8:45am-7:45pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Shakespeare & Co.
37 rue de la Bûcherie
Métro Saint-Michel, Cluny-La Sorbonne, RER Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame
+33 01 43254093
Open 10am-11pm daily.
The absolutely massive Jardin des Plantes is the 5th’s answer to the 6th’s Jardin du Luxembourg, which, while it may win out in terms of aesthetic beautiful, doesn’t come close to hosting as many other attractions as the Jardin des Plantes does. It’s a sort of small version of Central or Prospect Park, with its very own zoo, La Ménagerie, and a natural history museum called the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, which offers some fantastic special exhibits throughout the year.
Just around the corner is the Institut du Monde Arabe, housed in a building as worth of sightseeing as any exhibit inside. The museum holds four levels of art and artifacts from century after century of Arab history and puts on showings of contemporary art, like the work of street artist Combo and a biannual exhibitons of modern Arab photographers.
It’s back to the Middle Ages at the Musée National du Moyen-Âge, a museum carved out of the stunning Hôtel de Cluny, a 15th century abbey that has been home to Mary Tudor and the working observatory of Charles Messier, the discover of many of the largest celestial objects known to man. The collections of Middle Age weapons, armor, and artifacts is deep and entrancing, including their huge collection of tapestries, an entire room of which is devoted to the famous Lady And The Unicorn works.
Jardin des Plantes
rues Cuvier, Buffon, and Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, Quai Saint-Bernard
Métro Jussieu, Gare d’Austerlitz, RER Gare d’Austerlitz
Open 7:30am-8pm (summer) and 8am-5:30pm (winter) daily.
57 rue Cuvier
+33 01 40795601
Open 9am-5pm (winter) and 9am-6pm (spring and summer) daily.
Admission: 14€ adults, 10€ students and ages 3-17.
Grande Galerie de l’Evolution
36 rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire
Métro Place Monge, Saint-Marcel
+33 01 40795479
Open 10am-6pm Wednesday to Monday.
Admission: 12€ adults, 10€ ages 4-25.
Institut du Monde Arabe
1 rue des Fossés saint-Bernard
+33 01 40513838
Open 10am-6pm Tuesday to Thursday, 10am-9:30pm Friday, 10am-7pm Saturday and Sunday.
Admission: 8€ adults, 6€ job-seekers, 4€ under 26.
Musée National du Moyen Âge
6 place Paul Painlevé
Métro Cluny-La Sorbonne
+33 01 53737800
Open 9:15am-5:45pm Wednesday to Monday.
Admission: 8€, 9€ during exhibitions.
Started by three comedic actors in 1962, Le Coupe Chou has been a landmark of the quartier ever since. A “historically research” restored 17th century interior meets with rustic appointments makes up the physical side of the restaurant, and the menu offers some affordable and attractive prix fixes that could land you terrine with onion jam, duck confit with potatoes and mushrooms Paris, and a crème brûlée for 33€. The waitstaff, too, is as charming as the interior, and if you need any more convincing that the proprietors take tradition seriously, check out the history section of their website—or ask your waiter for an anecdote.
Homesick Americans and the few Supertramp fans still alive will enjoy Breakfast In America, the “American Diner in Paris.” Rather than being a French paean to fetishized Americana, the restaurant was owner and expatriate Craig Carlson’s attempt at bring a little bit of home to Paris and exposing the French to real American comfort food. Both locations offer the standard diner menu of eggs, pancakes, and burgers, with some wraps thrown in and a collection of USRDA sanctioned appetizers like chili con carne, nachos and guacamole, and wings.
With its questionable historical background, the Tour d’Argent is still provably one of the older restaurants in Paris. Its high views and high prices are both features of the restaurant, which has seen its Michelin rating fall from three stars to one since 1996, but as with everything else related to money, that’s not precisely the point—the restaurant remains very well-reviewed and has no trouble matching patrons to expensive options, like a 145€ caviar and blini appetizer, a 98€ filet ficelle with carrots and truffles, or crêpes Belle Époque for the table at 38€, among other frankly scandalous choices.
Le Coupe Chou
11 rue de Lanneau
Métro Maubert – Mutualité
+33 01 46336869
Open 12-2pm and 7-10:45pm daily.
Breakfast In America
17 rue des Écoles
Métro Cardinal Lemoine
+33 01 42724021
Open 8:30am-11pm daily.
La Tour d’Argent
15 quai de la Tournelle
Métro Maubert-Mutualité, Jussieu
+33 01 43542321
Open 7am-11pm Monday to Saturday, 9am-1pm Sunday.
With so many French tourists mobbing the American Jazz Belt that is Christopher Street in New York, it’s only fair we send some Americans on exploratory tourist missions to Parisian jazz joints like Le Piano Vache, which is the best sort of jazz bar—absolutely dive-y, close and unkempt.
For cocktails, you’ll get a literally encyclopedic list at Le Crocodile Bar, with (again) a dive bar ambiance and fantastic happy hour specials. It’s the perfect place to diverge from your usual and try something you’ve never had before—of which there are endless possibilities.
If Piano Vache isn’t dive enough for you, there’s always Le Caveau des Oubliettes, a subterranean jazz club off a pedestrian street just south of the Seine. The vibe is sedate, the crowd is talkative, and there’s a guillotine if things get out of control.
Le Piano Vache
8 rue Laplace
Métro Maubert-Mutualité, Cardinal Lemoine
+33 01 46337503
Open 6pm-2am daily.
Le Crocodile Bar
6 rue Royer Collard
Métro Cluny-La Sorbonne
+33 01 71934968
Open 6pm-2am daily.
Le Caveau des Oubliettes
52 rue Galande
Métro Cluny-La Sorbonne, Saint-Michel
+33 01 46342309
Open 5pm-4am Wednesday to Sunday, Monday and Tuesday 5pm-2am.