Tours and Things to Do In Paris’ Latin Quarter
This post is a review and comparison of the various tours and things to do in the Latin Quarter in Paris. The former epicenter of bohemian Paris, the Latin Quarter is one of the most popular destinations for visitors from around the world. Popular attractions include the Luxembourg Gardens, the Sorbonne and the Panthéon, amongst several other highlights. Whether you prefer a traditional walking tour, a specialty tour, a food tour, or even a bus tour, all are available in the Latin Quarter. However, with so many tour companies operating in the area, it can be difficult to decide which company is best. So that’s where we come in! We’ve broken down all of the different types of tours by category and then compared them by quality and price, so that you can find what’s right for you!
LATIN QUARTER WALKING TOURS
Paris’ Latin Quarter is one of the most popular neighborhoods in the city to visit. There are several companies offering guided walking tours of the area, but 3 in particular stand out above the rest. Though traditionally bike tour companies, Holland Bikes and Fat Tire Tours Paris both run 2 hour walking tours that costs $22 and $20 per person, respectively. My Urban Experience is another company offering guided tours of the area, though theirs is more condensed (1.5 hours) and costs just $14 per person. Alternatively, Discover Walks is the only name-your-own-price tour company running operating in the Latin Quarter. Like Holland Bikes’ tour, theirs is also 2 hours and departs very frequently.
Each of these companies are equally rated with 4.5 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor and generally cover the same attractions, such as Notre Dame Cathedral, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Sorbonne and the Panthéon. Therefore, it should really just come down to which tour time works best for you!
Fat Tire Tours Paris
One of the most popular companies, Fat Tire Tours Paris offer a 2 hour walking tour of the Latin Quarter. The evening tour (8pm departure) covers all the major attractions in the area, including the Notre Dame, You will also spend time walking along the Seine and enjoying the beautiful views of the city lit up at night. Though a bit more expensive than some of the other companies, the unique timing of this tour and the high quality of the guides makes it worth every penny!
Paris: Latin Quarter
- Departs Tuesdays and Fridays at 8pm
- From €20 per person.
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Fat Tire Tours Paris
The reviews for this particular tour, like the rest of Fat Tire Tours Paris, are remarkable. People seem more than impressed with the extremely high standards maintained by this company (read the reviews). The only criticism seems to come from a handful of guests who found the tour to be too short. However, at 2 hours, most other guests think that it gave them the perfect amount of time to explore the neighborhood.
My Urban Experience
My Urban Experience lead a 90 minute tour of the Latin Quarter for only $14 per person, making this the most budget friendly tour on offer. Like the other companies, you visit the Sorbonne and Luxembourg Palace, in addition to visiting down many side streets and seeking out local hidden gems. The tour is available in both French and English, and departs 3 times weekly at 12pm.
Paris: The Unmissable Latin Quarter Tour
- Departs Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 12pm
- From €12 per person.
- More information or to book.
Reviews of My Urban Experience
As a smaller company, My Urban Experience has few reviews and only a couple of those publicized refer specifically to their Latin Quarter Tour. However, the few that do refer to it rate it very highly (read the reviews). Also, if their other tours are any indication, Paris: The Unmissable Latin Quarter Tour must be a fantastic experience! TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
Discovery Walks specialize in name-your-own-price walking tours around Paris. Their Latin Quarter Left Bank Tour is a popular option with those looking to explore the university district and learn more about the city’s bohemian history. The tour begins at the Notre Dame and takes past the old haunts of Picasso, Hemingway, Jack Kerouac and Cyrano de Bergerac before finishing near the Pantheon.
Latin Quarter Left Bank Tour
- Departs daily at 2:30 pm (14:30) –
- Additional 11:00 am tour (May 1 till Oct 15)
- Name-Your-Own-Price (they suggest €12/person)
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Discovery Walks
Discovery Walks’ Latin Quarter Left Bank Tour is their most popular one on offer. Visitors rave about the guides who are consistently described as both entertaining and informative. Many also comment on how the tour made them feel like a local during their trip to Paris, which doesn’t always come easy! There are a handful of negative reviews, but all that fall below 4 stars date back at least 3 years, suggesting they’ve fixed whatever issues they once had! TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
On this tour with Holland Bikes, explore the popular gardens, markets, and nightlife of the Latin Quarter. The tour is approximately 2 hours and visits major attractions such as the Luxembourg Gardens, the Sorbonne and the Panthéon. With 2 daytime departure every Tuesday-Sunday, there is plenty of opportunity to squeeze in a tour with Holland Bikes. Tours depart from Place Saint-Michel and end in the neighborhood.
Paris Walking Tour: Latin Quarter
- Departs Tuesday-Sunday at 10:15 am and 3:00 pm
- From €29 per person
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Holland Bikes
Though a smaller company, Holland Bikes has an excellent reputation amongst visitors who were very pleased with the high quality and low cost of the tour (read the reviews). Most of the reviews are in regards to their bike tours, though the few that reference the Latin Quarter are very complimentary. There are, however, a handful of negative reviews that were disappointed with the customer service, though the number of 5 star ratings definitely outweigh the amount the few that fall below that! TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars.
SPECIALTY WALKING TOURS
Set in Paris Movie Tours is the only company offering a specialty tour of the Latin Quarter. As their name suggests, they run film-based tours around the city, which point out the locations where different movies were set. This tour is slightly more expensive than the traditional guided walking tours listed above. However, it is a big hit with visitors who have opted to join it.
Set in Paris Movie Tours
Set in Paris Movie Tours offer a specialty tour that features the locations of famous films and TV shows set in Paris. You will see where The Devil Wears Prada, The Three Muskateers, Marie Antoinette, Safehouse, and many others were filmed in Paris. Additionally, you will also explore the backstreets of the Latin Quarter to learn about the neighborhood’s bohemian history before setting off on a stroll past the Notre Dame Cathedral, one of Paris’ most iconic landmarks.
Paris Walking Tour: Movie and TV Show Locations
- Departs daily at 10am
- From €25 per person
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Set in Paris Movie Tours
Set in Paris Movie Tours have a really impressive online reputation. Though a smaller company, they have dozens of 5 stars reviews from recent visitors who were thrilled with their experience on the tour (read the reviews). In fact, of their many reviews, only a few were less than outstanding. Even those who weren’t initially that bothered about visiting filming locations seem to have a lot of fun! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
LATIN QUARTER BIKE TOURS
There are 2 companies offering excellent bike tours of the Latin Quarter. The first is done through Blue Fox Travel, which runs a Paris Off the Beaten Path Bike Tour, which focuses primarily on the Latin Quarter and surrounding area. In addition to visiting several major attractions, you will also get a taste of the less touristy parts of Paris. Bike About Tours, on the other hand, offer a 3.5 hour tour that covers the Latin Quarter in addition to several other neighborhoods around the city. Both are great tours and only cost $40 per person, but the one run by Bike About Tours is a much broader introduction to Paris while the Blue Fox Travel tour gives you a very in-depth look at the Latin Quarter. Learn more about other Paris bike tours.
Blue Fox Travel
Blue Fox Travel offers a Paris Off the Beaten path 4 Hour Bike Tour, which promises to visit all of the quaint side streets and local haunts that are missed in other tours. Though several areas of the city are covered (as it’s much quicker getting around on 2 wheels!), the Latin Quarter is one of the two neighborhoods the tour is focused on. You also get a snack break about halfway through to enjoy some tasty Parisien treats. In addition to all the major attractions in the area, you will also cycle past the world’s oldest café, Shakespeare & Co Bookstore, and lots of great street art, amongst other things!
Paris Off the Beaten Path 4 Hour Bike Tour
- Departs daily at 10am
- From €35 per person
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Blue Fox Travel
Visitors of all ages seem to LOVE this tour for making them really feel like one of the locals (read the reviews). Many even comment that it was the highlight of their trip and a great way to learn more about the Latin Quarter’s history. Though this company receives outstanding reviews for all of their tours, this is definitely one of the most popular! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Bike About Tours
Bike About Tours offer a very similar bike tour that covers the Latin Quarter, Le Marais, and the historic Place de la Bastille before continuing down along the river towards the Eiffel Tower. As you see so much of the city in just 3.5 hours, there is less time spent in the Latin Quarter compared to the Blue Fox Travel Tour. However, if you’re looking to cover as much as possible in a short amount of time, this could be the tour for you!
Hidden Paris Day Bike Tour
- Departs daily at 10am or 3pm, depending on the season
- From €35 per person
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Bike About Tours
The reviews for this tour are equally impressive, with a vast majority rating it at 4 or 5 stars on TripAdvisor and Viator (read the reviews). People seem especially impressed with the high quality of the guides, in addition to the comfortable and clean bikes. A small handful of reviewers found the company to not be very family friendly, but these comments are rare. TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
With so many incredible restaurants, bakeries, and wine and cheese shops, the Latin Quarter is one of the best neighborhoods in Paris to take a food tour! There are 3 companies that are offering particularly impressive food tours. Food Tours of Paris is a relatively new company that specializes in intimate food tours that blend history with interesting food facts. The extensive menu features 9 different tastings at several different stops in the neighborhood. Secret Food Tours Paris also offer a similar tour, which includes stops at 5 different places over a 3 hour period. Finally, Paris Urban Adventures run a 4 hour walking tour of the Latin Quarter, which concludes with a game of Pétanque, a plate of charcuterie, and a glass of wine. The cost of the tastings is included in the price of each of these tours.
Food Tours of Paris
The Latin Quarter Food Tour offered by Food Tours of Paris brings you to 9 different establishments, including a creperie, an authentic fromagerie, a boulangerie, and many others. At €75 per adult, this is a bargain considering how many different samples you get to enjoy — all of which are included in the price of the tour. With a maximum group size of just 10 people, this company also guarantees a intimate experience led by a passionate foodie and guide.
Latin Quarter/5th Arrondissement Food Tour
- Departs Tuesdays through Sundays at 11:30am
- From €75 per adults, €65 per child
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Food Tours of Paris
Their Latin Quarter Tour is their most well reviewed tour yet! Most people rave about their experience, often describing it as the highlight of their trip to Paris. Some even say that the experience made them really feel like a local Parisian, thanks to the choice of shops and charisma of the guide. Only a few people seem to have found the tour a bit lackluster, but these experiences seem to be very uncommon! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Secret Food Tours
Secret Food Tours is another popular food tour company with a tour of the Latin Quarter. This company visits 5 different stops on the 3 hour tour, with tastings that include foie gras, French cheese, pastries, and a ‘mystery secret dish’ that promises to excite any foodie. In addition to sampling many different types of French cuisine, you will also learn about the history of the neighborhood. Both red and white wine, as well as water and coffee, is included in the tour. All tastings are part of the price.
Latin Quarter Secret Food Tour
- Departs 11am on Mondays and Saturdays, and 4:30pm on Wednesdays
- From €95 per person
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Secret Food Tours
Secret Food Tours is one of the most well established food tour companies in Paris and their excellent reviews definitely reveal why they’re so popular! Some describe their experience as the best activity that they did in Paris, while others talk at length about their great guide. Though their Latin Quarter tour is rather new compared to their others, it’s sure to be a favorite! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Paris Urban Adventures
Though it isn’t a ‘food tour’ per se, the Paris Walking Tour: Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Latin Quarter, Including Charcuterie Tasting and Bowls offered by Paris Urban Adventures will certainly give you a taste of the city! In addition to learning about the neighborhood’s fascinating history, you will also get to visit a famous old English bookstore, play a game of Pétanque (lawn bowling) in Place des Vosges, and enjoy a plate of charcuterie at a wine bar on the banks of the Seine River. The food and wine is included in the price of the tour, making this a pretty good deal!
Paris Walking Tour: Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Latin Quarter, Including Charcuterie Tasting and Bowls
- Every day but Sunday @ 2 pm (14:00)
- From €59 per person
- More information or to book.
Reviews of Paris Urban Adventures
People seem to absolutely adore this tour offered by Paris Urban Adventures. People of all ages enjoy the game of Pétanque and the tasty charcuterie board, in addition to the tour itself. The only common complaint comes from people who had a hard time locating the Pantheon, which is the starting point of the tour. In order to avoid this issue, be sure to allow plenty of time before the start of the tour! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
Paris is a beautiful city to explore at night and the Latin Quarter is one of most beautifully illuminated neighborhoods. Explore the quaint, winding streets of the university district before taking a walk along the River Seine to enjoy the Eiffel Tower from afar. Fat Tire Tours Paris offer an 8pm tour on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which departs from the Pantheon and takes you toward the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Fat Tire Tours Paris
Though they specialize in bike tours, Fat Tire Tours Paris run a very popular 2 hour night walking tour of the Latin Quarter as well. Every Tuesday and Friday evening at 8 pm you can join their entertaining guides for a walk around the Sorbonne, Notre Dame, and the Cluny Museum, amongst several other places. For those keen to learn more about the neighborhood’s bohemian past, this tour also shares stories of Jim Morrison and Ernest Hemingway who frequented the area. The tour costs $23 per person and departs near the Pantheon.
- Departs Tuesdays and Fridays at 8 pm
- From €20 per person
Reviews of Fat Tire Tours Paris
Fat Tire Tours are one of the most well-liked tour companies in all of Europe. In fact, they maintain a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor and Viator (read some of the reviews) with nearly 6,000 reviews. Visitors who joined for their night tour of the Latin Quarter seem especially thrilled with their experience. Any less than stellar reviews date back several years, suggesting that this company has been nothing but outstanding ever since! TripAdvisor Rating: 5 stars.
DEALS AND DISCOUNTS
There are several different tourist passes available in Paris, which offer discounts on major attractions and tours. For example, hop-on, hop-off Big Bus Tours and Fat Tire Tours is included on the Paris Pass. Additionally, the Turbo Pass Paris features discounts for a few different tour companies, including Big Bus Tours. These are a great way to save serious cash and really make the most of your time in the city. Also consider checking websites such as GroupOn and TravelZoo for additional discounts on tours.
SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF THINGS TO SEE IN THE LATIN QUARTER
Cité Metro Station (Line 4, the purple line)
Exit the metro and you’ll find yourself in the heart of a small island in the River Seine. You cannot tell yet that we are on an island but we’ll see both banks of the river soon enough.
The first known people to live on this island were a Gallo-Celtic tribe called the Parisii, there are many theories about what they called the city but the first recorded name comes from Julius Caesar who called it Lutetia, probably because of the marshy land on the North bank on the river where today most of the famous monuments are found.
The Parisii stood up to Julius Caesar and the Romans with the rebellion of Vercingetorix, who is normally depicted looking a lot like the cartoon character Asterix (or rather the cartoon is based on him!). Vercingetorix’s men camped on the South bank of the river where today you’ll find the magnificent Pantheón in which France buries her most illustrious sons and daughters.
The Gaul’s were crushed by Caesar whose legions then constructed the Roman city of Lutetia. The straight roads leading north-south across the island at either end of this little street are part of that original Roman grid system. Most of the Roman city was built on the hilly, left (South) bank, where today you can still find the remains of an aqueduct and the amphitheatre. In the 3rd Century the Romans began persecuting Christians and on the right (North) bank, up on the hill of Montmartre, the first Bishop of Paris, Sant Denis was martyred (See our Self-Guided Montmartre Tour). As the Roman Empire began to fall the city was renamed Paris after its original inhabitants.
With the metro entrance steps at your back, turn right towards the Boulevard du Palais where you’ll find the Sainte Chappelle.
Behind the ornamental gates today you’ll find the Palais du Justice. Justice has been dispensed here since the middle ages. Originally this complex, which stretches from one side of the island to the other, was the Roman governor’s fortified residence. Later it became the main royal palace until the 14th Century when they moved to the Louvre. During the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette was imprisoned here but you’ll have to check out our Banks of the Seine Last Rulers of France Tour for more on that.
The oldest remaining parts of the Royal Residence are the Sainte Chappelle whose Gothic Chapel tower you can see rising up out of the Palais to the left of the gate, and the Conciergerie which we’ll see in a moment.
The Sainte Chappelle is testament to the power and piety of Louis IX who was made a saint after his death. Louis had fought in the crusades and purchased a number of Holy Relics from Baldwin the Christian king of Jerusalem (although he actually had to pay the Venetians to whom Baldwin had pawned the relics- times must’ve been hard!). Today those relics; a piece of the crown of thorns, holy lance (which pierced Jesus as he hung on the cross), and a piece of the cross, are still housed in the Sainte Chappelle. Perhaps more impressive still is the building itself with gravity defying arches and beautiful stained glass windows, it’s well worth a visit.
For now, turn right (North) and stop outside the Conciergerie.
The basement of the Conciergerie is all that remains of the original palace. Once the kings moved to the Louvre Palace this became a prison. Richer prisoners could buy nice suites but the commonest were left to sleep on damp straw among plague infested rats. During the Revolution 2,700 prisoners were detained and tried here before being led to the guillotine in today’s Place de la Concorde.
As you reach the edge of the island the corner tower of the Conciergerie is known as the clock tower (for obvious reasons!). In 1370 they installed the first public clock in Paris here. The current clock has allegories to law and justice.
To your right the bridge leads to the Right Bank and central Paris, but we’re going to turn right along the north bank of the island. You’ll pass a traditional flower market. Walk through the bustling passageways of the market and turn left once you come out the other side. The building across the Rue de la Cité is the Hotel Dieu, turn right (South) along it’s imposing walls and then left into Place Notre Dame Jean Paul II. The first thing you won’t be able to help looking at is Notre Dame Cathedral, but have patience. Walk along the front of the Hotel Dieu and stop by the main entrance (Picture).
The Hotel Dieu is the oldest hospital in Paris, and the oldest still operating in the world. It dates right back to 651! The current building dates from the nineteenth century and above the door you’ll see written- Liberté, egalité, fraternité: freedom, equality, brotherhood – the three mottos of the French Revolution and the foundation of modern French ethics.
Ok, now you can turn to the famous church!
Notre Dame was built between 1160 and 1345. The grandiose building was started by the Bishop of Paris, Sully, because “Paris had become home to the kings of Europe and they needed a Cathedral fitting their status”. It is probably the most famous example of Gothic architecture in the world and one of the first to use flying buttresses (the supports that stick out from the sides and back like spiders legs) to allow such a massive construction.
During the Revolution the Cathedral was sacked and damaged and then used to house the cult of reason. Napoleon chose Notre Dame for his coronation as Emperor, inviting the pope to come and crown him, and then snatching the crown from the Pope and crowning himself!
Apart from its magnificent beauty, Notre Dame is famous because of a great marketing campaign. Like many historic buildings, Notre Dame had fallen into disrepair in the late nineteenth century. Victor Hugo’s famous story was written to ignite interest in the Cathedral and raise funds for its restoration. His book was called Notre Dame de Paris and only in English has become known as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. His idea worked and a lot of the modern restoration was carried out by the famous restorer, Viollet le Duc.
In the story the hunchback falls in love with a beautiful gypsy girl. Today there are still many gypsies around here, but be very, very, careful of their scams. It may seem rude, but tried to avoid engaging them or letting them get too close.
No visit to Paris is complete without a visit, but try to plan in advance to avoid the lines.
On the southern side of the square, towards the river, you’ll find a statue of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor and father of modern Europe.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe fell into small kingdoms scrapping for power but in the year 800, Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire united modern France, the low countries and Western Germany and stretched down into Italy where the Pope crowned him Holy Roman Emperor with the crown you can see him wearing here. The title of Holy Roman Emperor was passed on through various royal dynasties until the kings of Austria were defeated by Napoleon in 1806.
For now, we’re going to leave the Île de la Cité and head across the pedestrian bridge (Pont au Double) to the Left (South) Bank.
Shakespeare & Co. (37 Rue de la Bûcherie)
Turn right on the Left Bank and you’ll walk past a little park, just after the park, looking out towards the River Seine, you’ll find the famous Shakespeare and Co. bookstore opened by Sylvia Bach in 1919.
The original shop was further into the Latin Quarter, away from the River. The Latin Quarter takes its name from the fact that this was the University district where scholars studied and spoke in Latin. The Left Bank in general has long been associated with artists and intellectuals. In the 1920’s this was where the art collectors Gertrude & Leo Stein lived and many ex-pat writers and artists used to hang out. Gertrude Stein described them as the lost generation. Ernest Hemingway called the Paris of those years ‘a moveable feast’. The English language bookstore was central to their Paris world and even today attracts writers from all across the globe. Writers can stay there for free if they volunteer to help out in the store!
If you buy a book, make sure you get them to stamp it and then leave and head along Rue Sainte Julien le Pauvre to the side of Shakespeare & Co. Turn right on Rue Galande and cross the Rue du Petit Point into the little streets of the Latin Quarter.
Turn left at the Church of Saint-Séverin and stroll along the quaint streets until you reach the Boulevard Saint Germain. This area is packed with café bars and crepe stalls if you need a snack.
The Boulevard Saint Germaine runs through the heart of the Left Bank and for bohemians the Café les Deux Magots and the Café le Flor further along the Boulevard are a must. Every famous writer who passed through Paris sat at the tables, perhaps most famously; Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre. The building opposite is the Sorbonne University, the second oldest university in Europe, dating back to 1150!
Head around the University on the Rue de Cluny and right on the Rue du Sommerard.
Hotel de Cluny University
The incredible building on your right (Pic) is the Musée de Cluny medieval history museum. Packed full of archaeological and artistic artefacts, it’s well worth a visit. The building is one of the best examples of civic architecture in the city, is built on top of ancient Gallo-Roman thermal baths, and used to be part of the much larger Cluniac Monastic complex.
Head back downhill towards the river on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, you’ll cross the Boulevard Saint-Germain again as you go. These Grands Boulevards were designed by Baron Haussmann during the Second Empire under Napoleon III, Napoleon Bonaparte’s Nephew. By the time he came to power Paris and France had had three revolutions since 1789. The people of the Paris slums would pull up the paving stones and blockade the narrow streets making it very hard for the authorities to regain control. Napoleon III tasked Baron Haussmann with redesigning the city and the most abiding legacy of that today are these Grands Boulevards with their magnificent views up to many Paris monuments. Haussmann also designed many of the beautiful parks and limited the height of the buildings ensuring Paris retains her distinctive skyline today.
One thing he missed was those paving stones. Parisian’s continued to pull those up in their revolts against the government. In 1968 student’s inspired by Jean Paul Sartre, revolted using the slogan ‘under the paving stones the beach’ meaning after the revolt utopia. Instead, after the 68 riots, they finally cemented down the paving stones!
Place Saint Michel
Continuing down the Boulevard Saint-Michel, you’ll come to the Place Sant-Michel with its magnificent fountain depicting the arch-angel Saint Michael vanquishing the devil.
Napoleon III original wanted a sculpture of his more illustrious uncle here, but at the time he was not so popular and they opted for the religious image instead. Continue north across the Point Saint-Michel Bridge.
We’re back towards where we started. The building on your left is the Palais du Justice (Pic) which we saw earlier. On the corner facing the river you’ll see bullet marks in the walls from French Resistance fighters who attacked the Nazi occupiers here at the end of WWII.
We’re going to take the steps at the far island side of the bridge, down to the banks of the Seine.
Walk West (straight) after descending the steps.
The banks of the Seine and the Île de la Cité have seen countless raiders and attackers conquer and be repelled. Perhaps the fiercest were Viking raiders in the 9th Century who repeatedly sailed up the river from the coast of Normandy.
These huge warriors were significantly taller than the average Parisian at the time and struck fear into their hearts. In 845 Ragnar arrived with 120 ships carrying 5000 men, they easily overran the Frankish armies placed on the two banks of the Seine and hung 110 soldiers here on the Île de la Cité while praying to Odin. The Franks had no choice but to pay them off with 2600 kg (5,600 lbs) of gold and silver, but this just whetted the appetite of the north men who returned demanding tribute three times in the 860s.
The Count of Paris ordered tbe building of two bridges to connect the Île de la Cité with the Left and Right Banks, the fortification of the city’s walls, and two defensive towers on each bank, but this didn’t deter the Vikings who raided with 300 ships and tens of thousands of warriors in 885. This time Odo, the Count of Paris, held the Vikings off for four months and eventually paid them to sail on up river to attack Burgundy instead! After this siege Odo was elected king of Francia, ending the Carolingian dynasty of Charlemagne. The Vikings were given control of Normandy (the land of the North Men!) to stop other Vikings from raiding down to Paris.
It’s hard to imagine those fierce attacks today as you stroll the pleasant banks of the Seine. Keep going towards the next bridge covered in small faces.
Pont Neuf Bridge
Walk under the arch of the Pont Neuf.
Just to confuse you the Pont Neuf or New Bridge is today to oldest surviving bridge in Paris. It was commissioned under Henri III but due to religious wars between Protestants and Catholics it wasn’t finished until the reign of Henri IV, who we will meet on top of the bridge.
This was the first bridge built without houses on top and the first bridge with a sidewalk to keep pedestrians out of the horse poop. The faces carved in stone are based on classical forest and field gods.
The tip of the island on the far side of the bridge was not here when the bridge was first built but sand built up over the years and now we have the Square du Vert Galant, or Square of the Green Galant. Henri IV was known to court his young mistresses here as an old man. In French a green gallant is an old man who chases after young lovers.
Jacques de Molay and the curse of the Knights Templar
As you head up the steps onto the Pont Neuf, you’ll find a plaque commemorating the death of Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar were a military order founded to fight in the crusades to take the Holy Land, but evolved into one of the first Christian banking systems. Up to that point lending money for profit was forbidden by Christian doctrine, but the Knights Templar began offering protection to pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. Among their services was protection and safe keeping of Pilgrims money. They amassed a huge fortune and lent money to princes and kings, many of whom ended up with huge debts to the Templars.
Faced with costly wars against England and rebellions in Flanders, Phillipe IV found himself in financial meltdown. Owing debts to various groups, he expelled the Jews and Lombard Bankers from the country but still owed huge debts to the Templars. In 1307 the Templars were accused of heresy over some of the strange practices in their initiation ceremonies and Phillipe seized his chance.
French agents arrested the Templars, including their Grand Master, who was tortured into confessing to heresy. The Pope ordered the arrest of all the Templars in Christendom and planned to put the whole order of trial, but Philippe found 54 Templar leaders guilty in his own courts and burned them at the stake here in May 1314.
As Jacques de Molay was burning he is reported to have cursed Phillipe and the Pope to be judged by God for their crimes with a year. One year later the Pope had died and Phillipe fell from his horse while hunting and died of his injuries. The curse didn’t stop there. Within 14 years all of Philippe’s sons had died and his royal dynasty came to an end, not only that, but the English took huge swathes of France in the Hundred Years War and almost took over the entire country until Joan of Arc turned up. We wouldn’t recommend hanging around on this cursed corner of Paris, head on up the steps to meet the man who finished the bridge, and let’s leave Jacques du Molay to rest in peace.
Meet the green gallant, in later life Henri was known as a lover, but from an early age he was a fighter. He was born to a protestant Calvinist mother, the Queen of Navarre (a Kingdom on the borders of modern France and Spain), and joined protestant forces during the 14th Century wars of religion. When his mother died he inherited the Crown of Navarre and was invited to Paris to marry the daughter of Catherine de Medici, the Catholic Queen Regent of France.
With Royal finances exhausted Catherine had arranged a peace with the Protestants but few in her court accepted the deal. The Pope and Felipe II of Catholic Spain condemned the union and when Henri’s protestant wedding party stayed in Paris after the wedding to debate the deal they were assassinated. Common Catholic Parisians were starving after failed harvests and increased taxes to pay for the wedding. On hearing of the assassinations the city began rioting. Lynching of Protestants spread throughout France and between five and thirty thousand people were killed. Henri had to convert to Catholicism to avoid death and escape the city, but he renounced the conversion as soon as he re-joined his own forces.
When his brother-in-law died with no heirs Henri decided to renounce Protestantism in order to be crowned king of France. He famously declared “Paris is worth a Mass”! As king, he passed the Edict of Nantes, a law allowing tolerance of French Protestants. He is generally regarded as having restored Paris to greatness, sorted out the Royal finances, encouraged agriculture, protected forests and sent the French to lay claim to Canada, but he could never shake off the hatred of some Catholics.
In 1610 a Catholic zealot called Francois Ravaillac jumped into Henri’s carriage while it was stuck in traffic and stabbed him between the ribs. Henri died instantly and Ravaillac was tarred with burning oils before being ripped into four by horses tied to each of his limbs. Not a nice way to go.
Across the river on the Right Bank you can see La Samaritaine. The department store closed years ago and is now offices and apartments but it remains iconic. You may recognise it from the Jason Bourne films.
We’re going to head back to the Left Bank and walk further West.
The green boxes on the banks of the Seine used by street vendors of books and postcards were installed after the Franco-Prussian wars of the 1870s to give returning veterans a way to make a living. Today they’re a nice place to find some good souvenirs (A word that means memory in French!)
When you reach the next pedestrian bridge, you’ll find a grand building looking across the bridge from the Left Bank towards the Louvre on the Right Bank (See pic). This is the Académie Française, first established by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635, “to labor with all the care and diligence possible, to give exact rules to our language, to render it capable of treating the arts and sciences”.
The Académie remains the ultimate authority of all things French, editing new versions of the dictionary and deciding important things like whether new nouns taken from other languages, like iPod for example, should be masculine or feminine!
The Académie is made up of forty members known as the immortals who elect new members and hold their posts for life. Turn your back on the immortals and head across the Pont des Arts.
Pont des Arts
This was the first metal bridge in Paris built during Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign. It was rebuilt in the 1970’s but collapsed in 1979 when a barge hit one the supports. Quick, look around and make sure no barges are heading for you now! Just kidding. You’ll usually find the fence covered in padlocks which couples attach throwing the keys into the Seine below to symbolise their love. The bridge has become a favourite spot for lovers to sit and enjoy fantastic views of the most romantic city in the world.
We’d recommend that you do just that, across the bridge on the Right (North) Bank is the most famous art gallery in the world. We have another self-guided tour which begins there but for now we’re done. We hope you enjoyed our wander through the ancient city of Paris.