It has long been known that Paris is the city to visit for romance, which is why I shocked many people when I told them that my main agenda was to revel in the literary destinations in Paris and not just hop over from one touristy attraction to another.
Now, before you think that I don’t have a romantic bone in my body, hear me out. I do think that romance is everywhere in France, especially in the city of Paris. But I also believe it is most prominent in the literary destinations scattered throughout this beautiful city.
During a similar trip to Barcelona last year I had observed that most bookstores there keep only Spanish language books. In Paris, I found many bookstores that offer both English and French literature.
While many of the literary delights I discovered in Paris were bookstores, there were also cafés and restaurants that I wanted to enter to see where the famous writers sat as they either wrote or contemplated their next masterpiece.
So without ado, here are the 9 most jaw-dropping literary destinations in Paris:
I began my travels in the 1st Arrondissement. On Rue de Rivoli, there is a charming bookstore called Librairie Galignani that opened in 1801.
This was the first English bookstore on the entire continent back then and it now has an excellent collection of French and English literature, as well as books on history, fashion, travel, and design.
I could have stayed there for hours, going from one book spine to the next, but I wanted to capture a glimpse of the Place de la Concorde before setting off to the next destination on my list.
Shakespeare and Company
My second destination was Shakespeare and Company – a bookstore that has attained a cult status over the years. It is one of the topmost literary destinations in Paris and a must-see for every bibliophile.
I saw Notre Dame on my way there and decided that I needed to explore that attraction in depth after my stop at the bookstore. I was beginning to see that doing just a literary journey in Paris was almost impossible, because there are so many other things of interest nearby!
By this time, I was getting hungry, so I decided to grab a bite to eat at the café next to Shakespeare and Company, which is over in the 5th Arrondissement.
After a quick bite to eat, I wandered into Shakespeare and Company and stopped dead in my tracks. The two floors are filled to the brim with both new and used books, as well as a piano, a vintage typewriter, a reading room, and beds. Now, I knew all this from the research that I did before my trip, but to see it all in front of me was a little more than mesmerizing.
And then there was Agatha – a residential cat snuggled into a wing chair.
As I was searching through the books, I realized why people sleep there so often. Upon asking someone who worked there, I even learned that 30,000 people have used the beds for multiple nights in a row and all they needed to do was volunteer a few hours of their time to help out in the store!
Comme un Roman
The following day, I decided that I would stick to the 3rd Arrondissement, as there are plenty of literary options in that part of the city.
I began inside Comme un Roman which literally means “Like a Novel” in English. Comme un Roman has a large selection of books in French. They do offer a few books in English on their shelves. Perhaps this is the reason why you won’t find many tourists here.
Mainly, you will find dapper Parisians going through the stocks of French books here. Many passers-by, mostly tourists, stop to gawk in front of Comme un Roman gazing at new titles in the window.
Librairie du Marais
The Librairie du Marais was my next stop and this quaint bookstore fits in nicely amongst the boutiques and cafés that are nearby.
I think this has to be one of the few underrated literary destinations in Paris. It is impossible to leave this bookstore without a purchase. They have books in both English and French. I purchased a couple of awesome coffee table books during my visit.
Librairie Le Gai Rossignol
Le Gai Rossignol was my last stop in the 3rd Arrondissement. This marvelous bookstore sits right in the middle of Rue de Rivoli and Le Centre Pompidou. This place just like Librairie du Marais also brims with numerous coffee table books. I, however, found myself drawn to all the cookbooks that they had out on the shelves.
Le Gai Rossignol also has more stock in French than English. So if you are looking to purchase books in english, there is not much choice here. But if you are visiting for the vibe, this is a great place to be.
The same day I decided to go for dinner at Restaurant Polidor in the 6th Arrondissement. Stepping through the door of this restaurant is stepping back in time.
In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, there was a scene where Owen Wilson’s character chats with Hemingway about his unfinished novel. That scene was shot right here.
This restaurant has not changed in the last one hundred plus years. That includes both the décor and the fabulous menu.
While Hemingway, Victor Hugo and James Joyce all ate here, today the diners are mostly from the two nearby universities. The crowd didn’t bother me though, as I was too busy imagining whether or not I was sitting at a table that a great writer dined at all those years ago.
I guess I need not emphasize this, but Restaurant Polidor’s got to be on your must-visit list of literary destinations in Paris.
Cimitiére du Pére Lachaise
Over the next few days, I spent hours inside other touristy attractions. However, my time in Paris was quickly coming to an end and there were two things that I had left on my list.
The first was to visit the Cimitiére du Pére Lachaise. This is where many of the famous literary people are buried. The graves of Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Susan Sontag, and many others lay in rest here.
The major attraction at this necropolis is Oscar Wilde’s grave. A friend told me that the grave used to be smeared with lipstick-laden kisses. In 2011, they erected a barrier around the grave. But his fans have now started smearing the glass barrier with kisses. I guess that’s what happens when your fame transcends your own lifespan and time.
Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra
My true jaw-dropping moment happened when I entered Palais Garnier. The glorious facade is just a sight to behold.
Upon navigating the breathtaking architecture, I arrived at the Bibliotheque (library) on the first floor. Here all the material lies protected inside huge frames. One needs a €5 day pass to access the library. Due to paucity of time, I had to skip it – something I regret as I really wanted to savour the experience inside the reading room.
I found out that the Library now conserves operatic archives comprising old documents, reference manuals, autographs, and libretti that run in hundreds of thousands.
The last thing that I did before leaving for the airport to return home was to dine at Le Procope.
This restaurant was opened back in 1686 and is the oldest restaurant in the city. Of all the literary people that dined there, Voltaire stands out the most. The legend is that he was there every day and would drink upwards of forty cups of coffee during each visit.
I finished my meal with one of their exotic sorbets here. I wondered if Hugo, Rousseau, Voltaire, or any of the others enjoyed the same one many years ago. After the waiter cleared the table, I decided to sit for some time and soak in the vibes before saying Au Revoir to Paris.
If you have never explored the literary destinations in Paris, I highly recommend that you do it during your next visit to this extraordinary part of the world.
Don’t worry, you will still see many of the touristy sights during your travels, but you will walk away with a greater understanding of what makes this city so amazing.
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