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A Self-Guided Literary Tour of Paris

Home > Paris > Books and Writing | Cafes | Literary | Walks
by Jordana Leigh (subscribe)
Jordana is a writer, performer, avid traveller, and keen observer of life. She has a somewhat disturbing obsession with musical theatre, Martha Stewart, Prince Charles, and the Oxford comma.
Published March 14th 2014
Walk in the footsteps of literary giants
A Self-Guided Literary Tour of Paris

Paris: the city that has inspired artists, writers, musicians, photographers, and filmmakers for centuries. And within minutes of wandering the streets, it's easy to see why.

If it's literature in particular that tickles your fancy, you're in luck. Paris boasts an impressive literary history, having been home to many great writers.
Shakespeare, Paris, literature
Shakespeare and Company bookstore on Paris' Left Bank.

Last time I went to Paris I wanted to see something different. I wanted to avoid long queues of tourists at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and just soak in the city and get to know another side of it. So, if like me you're tired of different guidebooks telling you the same things to do and see, why not try my self-guided 'Literary Tour of Paris'? Or maybe even create your own - the options are endless.

Walking is the best way to see all this magical city has to offer, and if it rains, even better. That's when the term 'City of Light' truly begins to make sense. Walk in the footsteps of literary giants and marvel in the wonders of the city that has inspired so many people to create so much.

Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare, Bookshop, Paris
Shakespeare and Company bookshop, Paris
The first bookshop to bear this name was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and quickly established itself as a popular gathering place for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.

The second store (the one still standing today) was opened by George Whitman in 1951. Originally named 'Le Mistral', it was renamed in 1964 as an homage to Sylvia Beach's store.
Shakespeare and Company has grown from a bookstore into an institution, having featured in a number of films and books, including Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris and Hemingway's novel A Moveable Feast. Here, you can browse the incredible array of texts, new and second-hand, and purchase books (in English) - don't forget to have your purchases stamped at the counter as a reminder of your Parisian literary adventure.

Les Deux Magots

Les Deux Magots, Paris
The breakfast basket at Les Deux Magots
If ever there was a cafe that brought St-Germain des Prés' early 20th century literary scene to life, Les Deux Magots is it. The former hangout of anyone who was anyone, you will spend big to sip a coffee in the wicker chairs on the terrace, but it's an undeniable piece of Parisian history.
Its reputation is derived from the patronage of artists, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Albert Camus, and Bertolt Brecht. Numerous works of literature make reference to the now iconic cafe, including Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.

The breakfast basket is a truly sumptuous sampling of the delightful pastries, sweet and savoury, synonymous with French cuisine - albeit at €24 per basket. If you're feeling especially decadent, order the famous house-made hot chocolate, served in porcelain jugs (€7.30).

The tomb of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, tomb, Paris
Oscar Wilde's tomb (Photo: Wikipedia)
Hundreds of thousands of visitors each year take the time to pop into the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to pay their respects to the wit and wonder of Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde. Adorning the tomb are thousands of lipstick kisses, tributes left from the many people who never knew the man but who still have his name on their 'if you could have anyone...' dinner party guests lists.
A glass barrier was eventually erected in 2011, rendering the monument kiss-proof. The ashes of Robert Ross, a former lover of Wilde's, are also buried in the tomb.

Other notable people buried in Père Lachaise include actress Sarah Bernhardt, and musicians Frèdèric Chopin, Èdith Piaf and Jim Morrison.

Maison de Victor Hugo

Located in the Marais district in the Place des Vosges, Maison de Victor Hugo is a museum dedicated to the Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame author.
Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris
Jordana Leigh at Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris

Hugo lived in the house for 16 years from 1832 to 1848, penning a number of his works here, including a substantial chunk of Les Mis.
The first floor is devoted to temporary exhibitions and displays Hugo's drawings. A vast library is open to the public by appointment. Upstairs, an antechamber leads through the Chinese-style living room and medieval dining room, to Hugo's bedroom where he died in 1885. A very tall desk in the corner is intriguing and well worth a look - the height allowed Hugo to stand while writing many of his works.

Opening times are from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm.

Hemingway's apartment

Ernest Hemingway, Paris
Ernest Hemingway's 1923 passport photo when he live in Paris. (Photo: Wikipedia)
In 1922 a young Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley moved into an apartment at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine. The old building is still there with a plaque indicating the couple's stay.
The apartment building conjures up the voice of Hemingway's character 'Harry' in The Snows of Kilimanjaro: "And in that poverty, and in that quarter...he had written the start of all he was to do. There was never another part of Paris that he loved like that".

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is a well-researched, yet fictional account of Hemingway's early years in Paris, told through the eyes of Hadley. It's full of Parisian references, and worth a read.

If you continue meandering up rue du Cardinal Lemoine and onto rue Mouffetard, you'll eventually come to the Church of Saint Mèdard, where Jean Valjean is pursued by Javert in Hugo's Les Miserables.

The ultimate experience

Jardin du Luxembourg, gardens, Paris
Pull up a chair and immerse yourself in your favourite book. (Photo by aconcagua from Wikipedia)

There's certainly no better place than Paris to be a writer, pretend to be a writer, or walk in the footsteps of writers old and new.
The places mentioned are just a few of the many literary adventures on offer in this magnificent city.

But one experience that's a must for any lover of literature, is free, located in the heart of the city, and completely up to you to make the most of. Take a book to the Jardin du Luxembourg, choose a chair, open your book, and know what it truly means to feel content.
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Why? To escape the usual tourist activities
When: Anytime
Where: Paris, France
Cost: Mostly free
Your Comment
Your article has gone straight onto my todo list, Jordana. This tour certainly looks amazing, inspiring and you can count me IN.
by Lucy (score: 3|1157) 3246 days ago
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