The Bohemian Side of Paris

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The Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, France, is also often referred to as “the gardens of seduction,” or “the lovers' gardens.” The story goes that if a single girl sits down on a bench here, it will take less than 4 minutes and 30 seconds for a man to come and ask her out on a date.

And no, I did not test it out.

But, strolling through the colorful Italian-style gardens in Paris' 6th arrondissement, it's not that far of a stretch to believe that it could be true.

Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris

Paris is a massive city. It has 20 different arrondissements (districts, or neighborhoods), and, much like in San Francisco, each one is slightly different from the next. Even areas WITHIN each arrondissement can often vary wildly in terms of the vibe you'll find there. While I enjoyed the classically artsy vibe of Montmartre, I wanted to experience other Paris neighborhoods, too.

Because, let's get real here — Paris is MUCH more than just the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa.

Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris

Much like Montmartre, some of Paris' most interesting areas today at one point were separate villages outside the borders of Paris. Saint-Germain-des-Pres, for example, used to be a poor village on the outskirts of the city. Just like in Montmartre, artists and writers and other Bohemian types eventually flocked here, giving the area a young population and a reputation as a party spot.

Existentialist philosophers like Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir called this area home. The “Lost Generation” too was drawn to this part of Paris — writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald could often be found sipping coffee (and other, stronger drinks) at cafes in Saint-Germain.

Today (again, much like Montmartre), this picturesque part of Paris is one of the most expensive to live in.


Not far from Saint-Germain lie some of Paris' most touristy spots — like Saint-Michel and Notre Dame. Saint-Michel is a maze of overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops, and the Notre Dame Cathedral often has lines that wrap around the building.

But there are still plenty of interesting things nearby if you know where to look.

Like this courtyard inside a hospital/hotel (yes, both).

Down a little side street near a cafe is the place where the guillotine was invented — a killing machine that was actually used to execute people in France up until 1977, if you can believe it.

Also nearby is the Pont des Arts bridge, which connects the French Institute — where the French language is guarded and “preserved” — and the Louvre. It's also where you can find thousands of love locks attached to the bridge. Here, lovers write or carve their initials on a padlock, lock it to the bridge, and then toss the key into the Seine, thus sealing their love forever.

I wonder if any of them met in the Jardin du Luxembourg?

Pont des Arts love locks

Tucked down a little alley near the Pont Nuef bridge (the “New Bridge” which is ironically the oldest in Paris since it was the first bridge in the city made of stone) you can have cheese and smoked meats and play a game of pétanque (similar to bocce ball) in a quiet little square.


Ending up back at Notre Dame, it's like a shock to the system. The place is almost always thronging with people (especially in the summer months).

It's almost ironic, really. At one point, the church was on the verge of being torn down. It was only the popularity of Victor Hugo's book (yes, that one) that saved it and turned it into the tourist attraction that it is today.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Across the river, though, there's one last nod to the Bohemian inhabitants that originally made this part of Paris so romantic and desirable. With books spilling out onto the sidewalk (and tourists even more so) the Shakespeare and Company bookstore is probably the only part of Saint-Michel that I really loved.

With a nod to the old tradition of carrying English-language books and promoting the work of new writers who would work in the store in return for their books being sold there, Shakespeare and Company still feels special.

It's not the original shop opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 (that store was closed during the German occupation of Paris in WWII and never reopened), but it hosts things like poetry readings and writers' workshops today, catering to the “new” Lost Generation in Paris.

Shakespeare and Company

While the typical tourist spots in Paris are unarguably iconic and worth seeing, it's the glimpses into the other, less-well-known parts of Paris that were my favorite.

Yes, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night and the traffic zipping around the Arc de Triomphe was special. But reading lovers' names on the Pont des Arts, hearing stories in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and playing a friendly game of pétanque will be the sorts of things I remember most fondly about my first trip to Paris.

All of the things mentioned in this post were seen on a tour of “Bohemian Paris” with Urban Adventures. This was my attempt at a slightly different sort of tour review — hopefully one that has you more interested in some other neighborhoods of Paris!

What do you think of the alternative side of Paris?



*Note: Not only do I need to thank Urban Adventures for this cool walking tour, but a shoutout also goes out to Go With Oh for providing me with my accommodation in Paris.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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29 Comments on “The Bohemian Side of Paris

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  1. Wow, Amanda, that’s a very nice itinerary! Love the photos, too 🙂

    I’ve only seen Paris during rainy months, so I always regret not having much colour in my photos. So jealous of yours with so many flowers in them!

    Happy travels!

      It was actually super hot when I was there – but I loved it!

    Hey, next time you can also go to the Buttes-Chaumont and the Butte aux cailles for a taste of bohème. And by the way, it is Pont nEUf and not nUEf haha 😉

    Awesome post, We are planning a trip to Paris in May.. Got a great insight..

    I love that fact that no matter which direction you turn and no matter how far you walk, you’ll almost always find something fantastic and incredible to see in Paris.

    I can’t believe we’ve never been. We’re saving it, for when I have no clue… Love your photo post as well, nice work!

      Thanks, Pete! I can’t believe you two have never been either!

    You can’t go wrong seeing the touristy sites or just getting lost and wondering down the streets or sitting in a café and people watch, its all about being in Paris!

    I had to check that statistic about the last guillotining being in 1977 because I just couldn’t believe it! Stunned. I love Paris – I lived there for a year when I was 15 and it was the best part of my life. Great post, thanks.

      I know, that guillotine fact is amazing, isn’t it?? Crazy.

    There’s clearly still so much more for me to see in Paris! I’ve seen some of these things, but not even half.

      I know exactly what you mean. There’s just SO MUCH to do/see there. Luckily I liked Paris, and would gladly go back.

    Great look at the less visited places in Paris! And Paris is huge – I’ve been 3 times and still have so much yet to discover.

      Yes, Paris is indeed huge! I kind of liked that about it, though – there’s so much to uncover.

    I recently read The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, the fictional account of Hemingway’s first marriage. The story is told from the point of view of his wife, Hadley, and is a fascinating glimpse into the real Bohemian Paris. If you haven’t read it yet, you should!

    I can’t believe I STILL haven’t been to Paris. It’s embarrassing. I’ve only been to Disneyland Paris!

    Your photos are gorgeous! Next time I’m in Europe… 🙂

      Haha that IS a bit embarrassing, Lauren, especially since you’re from Europe and not far away at all! 😛

    It’s great to see some of the lesser known areas of Paris. I have never been, but now I see how much more there is to offer besides the Eiffel tower and expensive coffee. Nice photos, by the way!

      Yes, there’s MUCH more to Paris than what you see on postcards!

    You really captured some of my favorite spots in the Latin Quarter beautifully. Have you ever been to Paris in the fall? I’d highly recommend it. I can’t even imagine all the summer crowds.
    Happy Travels <3

      Nope, this was my first time in Paris! I would love to see it in the fall or winter, though – I’m sure it would be an entirely different experience!

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