Oh mon Dieu, Paris. The book lover in me loves Paris — deeply. And you will too (if you don’t already) after checking out this book-lover’s guide to Paris; filled with everything from the best bookstores you’ll want to spend hours browsing in and tips on the most bookish places to have an espresso, to finding the home where Gertrude Stein hosted her legendary literary salons and the street corner where Ernest Hemingway paused to blow his nose. (OK, so maybe not that specific, but you get where I’m going with this.)
Known to travelers as the City of Light, Paris could have just as easily been dubbed the “City of Literature.” Home to some of the most celebrated writers and poets of both French and English lit, Paris has provided inspiration to French laureates like Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert, and Jules Verne, while sending out a siren call to dozens of expat writers from Ernest Hemingway to Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald to Milan Kundera, and more. It was, after all, Ernest Hemingway who wrote: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
Here are 13 places every book lover must go in Paris. Bons voyages, amoureux des livres!
1Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company, located just across Le Seine from Notre Dame, has been called the most famous bookstore in the world — and it really might be. The English-language bookstore you’ll find today opened its doors in 1951, but it’s inspired by the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919 — a place where French and American expats writers gathered regularly. As one of the centers of Parisian literary life, Beach’s original bookstore hosted writers like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. In similar fashion, today’s Shakespeare and Company has been visited by writers like Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and James Baldwin.
2Café de Flore
Put down your Starbucks, because Café de Flore is one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris — and one of the coolest. Located in the artsy Left Bank, Café de Flore is one of the most famous bookish hangouts in all of Paris (and a perfect place to snag that French breakfast you’re dreaming about.) This place has been central to Parisian art culture since it opened in the 1880s, and hosted countless writers, painters, and other creative thinkers — like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, poet Jacques Prévert, and painter Pablo Picasso.
3Les Deux Magots
A fierce competitor with Café de Flore for artistic coffee consumers (so much so that the two locales inspired the New Yorker essay "A Tale of Two Cafes" by American writer Adam Gopnik,) Les Deux Magots is located just doors down from the Flore, and also boasts an impressive cast of former clientele: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, (apparently those two could drink a ton of coffee) plus writers like Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, James Joyce, and James Baldwin. Order the hot chocolate — you won't regret it.
4Salon at 27 rue De Fleurus
The exclusive literary salon hosted by the writer Gertrude Stein in the home she famously shared with her partner (and frequent editor) Alice B. Toklas, at 27 rue de Fleurus, is one of the most iconic pieces of Parisian literary history. Located in the 6th arrondissement, 27 rue de Fleurus no longer hosts the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder, and Sherwood Anderson — but wandering the neighborhood to stand in Stein’s former doorway is still totally worth channeling your inner-flâneur for.
Now that you’ve fought through the tourists at Shakespeare and Company, it’s time to do some serious book browsing. Librairie Galignani is said to be the oldest English bookshop — wait for it — in Paris, in France, and in all of Europe. The independent bookstore has been run by the Galignani family for six generations (in case you still had any doubt this place knows its stuff) and rumor has it they’ll be able to find anything you’re looking for. Be sure to take note of their window displays, which often comment on current and cultural events, and change frequently.
6Violette and Co.
Violette And Co. is another Parisian bookstore you won’t want to miss. Located in Paris's 11th arrondissement, the bookstore features novels, essay collections, thrillers, comics, YA titles, coffee table books, and more that celebrate women, members of the LGBTQ community, sexuality, and feminism in all its manifestations. The mission of Violette and Co. is to bring risky, off-beat, rebellious, challenging, and alternative literature to all readers.
Though less famous than some of its Place Saint-Germain des Prés neighbors, Les Éditeurs is a café/restaurant/library hybrid with amazing floor-to-ceiling windows and thousands of books to browse. Local publishers are known to hangout here, and they have a calendar of literary events. They also offer a weekend brunch… so, I mean, need I say more?
8Café de la Paix
Located across the street from the breathtaking Opéra Garnier, Café de la Paix opened in 1862 and was declared a historic site by the French government in 1975 — and luxurious doesn’t even begin to describe the experience of this literary locale. From the food and drink, to the architecture and history, you’ll definitely want to take your time here, and take in everything. (Seriously, all the dessert.) Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde are all legendary regulars.
9Bar Hemingway at the Ritz
Rumor has it that at the end of World War II, when Ernest Hemingway was in Paris working as a war correspondent, he appeared at Bar Hemingway with a group of soldiers, declared the bar liberated from the Nazis, and ordered champagne all-around. Rumor also has it that Hemingway once wrote that when envisioned heaven, he saw the bar at the Paris Ritz. So it’s no wonder the place now bears his name. In addition to joining the annals of Hemingway lore, Marcel Proust wrote parts of Swann's Way in the Paris Ritz garden, and Truman Capote and Orson Welles were known to stay in the hotel as well.
10The Bouquinistes of Paris
The Bouquinistes (aka: the booksellers of Paris) definitely need to make the top of your literary Paris to-do list. Arranged along both sides of the Seine, the Bouquinistes’s famous green stalls are filled with used and rare books, posters and postcards, souvenirs, and more. Located between the Quai du Louvre to the Pont Marie on the Right Bank, and between Quai de la Tournelle and Quai Voltaire on the Left Bank, the Bouquinistes have had a place in Paris since the 16th century, and are now recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.
11Cimetière de Montparnasse
Often considered second to the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery, Cimetière de Montparnasse is often far less-touristy, while still offering up an afternoon’s worth of literary icons’ final resting places. Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir were all buried here, as well as Carlos Fuentes, Guy de Maupassant, Susan Sontag, and Charles Baudelaire. If cemeteries don't totally freak you out, this one is rather peaceful and scenic, IMO.
12Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Cimetière du Père Lachaise still makes the list, of course, as the world’s most-visited cemetery. Oscar Wilde, Honoré de Balzac, Colette, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Marcel Proust, and Richard Wright are all buried here, as well as tons of other culture icons (Chopin, Jim Morrison, Isadora Duncan, Édith Piaf, Josephine Baker.)
1213 rue des Beaux‑Arts
Simply called L'Hôtel, the hotel at 13 rue des Beaux‑Arts is the place where writer Oscar Wilde spent the last years of his life — then called Hôtel d'Alsace. 13 rue des Beaux‑Arts is also where Wilde died, on November 30, 1900. (The hotel is rumored to have some epic wallpaper, inspiring Wilde’s last words: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” In reality, in the weeks before his death Wilde was reported to have said: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.” Either way, I think we can all agree a visit to see if the legendary wallpaper is still there is a must.) A plaque on the wall outside the hotel notes that Wilde lived and died there, and a similar plaque recognizes that Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges lived at L'Hôtel at one point as well.