The City of Light is one of my favourite destinations for a European weekend break. Paris is heaving with iconic sights and attractions but it’s also loaded with literary landmarks of epic Parisian proportion. Over the centuries writers have sought inspiration from the city, used it as their muse and as a backdrop for many brilliant novels, books and plays. On a weekend break in Paris instead of rushing around to visit the city’s big sights we focused on its literary legacy. Having always been a bit of a bookworm I was in my element! If you love getting lost in a book, or a city for that matter, come with me on a literary tour of Paris.
Shakespeare and Company
My first literary landmark is one of my favourites. This bookstore is probably the most iconic independent bookshop in the world and a haven for bibliophiles. A literary weekend break in Paris wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Shakespeare and Co. This atmospheric bookstore on the Left Bank has seen writers from Ginsburg to Hemingway hang out among its volume laden bookshelves. Old and new books line every available space in the jumble of rooms. The two floors feature a piano, reading room and even beds.
Opened in 1951 by George Whitman the bookshop was a haven for artists and writers who found lodgings there when times were hard. It’s now run by his daughter Sylvia and book lovers can still stay there today, although there are rules. George Whitman referred to himself as a ‘tumbleweed’ (blowing from place to place) and that’s what they call the guests who stay there today. Tumbleweeds must read a book a day, help out in the shop for a couple of hours daily and write a one-page autobiography for the archives. It’s estimated that over 300,000 of these autobiographies fill the shelves.
If you’re looking for budget accommodation for your weekend in Paris you may have just found it! Or, keep reading to the end for details of a book themed hotel suite in Paris and how you could win a stay there.
37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris. Hours 10:00 – 22:00 hours. Metro stations near to Shakespeare and Co are Petit Pont, Saint Michel, Lagrange
Les deux Magots
Photo credit: Lucy Dodsworth of On the Luce
Paris weekend breaks mean coffee and croissant in cute cafés or exploring the winding streets of the older Parisian districts. I don’t know which I love more although it doesn’t much matter because in Paris there’re stacks of both. It seems the writers that lived in Paris also loved a cozy café. The seeds of many great books have been sewn amid the wafting aroma of coffee and Gauloises in Paris’ cafes.
Les Deux Magots in Saint-Germain-des-Prés is probably the most infamous of Paris’ literati hangouts. The café opened in 1912 and became the bohemian bolt-hole of both artists and writers alike. Hemingway, Picasso, Sartre and de Beauvoir all spent time in Les Deux Magots and so should you. Pull up a chair, order a coffee and a pastry and turn a page or two of a book set in Paris.
6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 75006 Paris. Hours: 07:30 – 01:00 hours. The nearest Metro station to Les Deux Magots is Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Le Maison de Victor Hugo
Think of a novel set in Paris and Les Miserables will surely top the list. Victor Hugo lived in an apartment on the beautiful Place des Vosges on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée. The narrow alleyways and lanes of Le Marais make the perfect setting for parts of the book which he started writing during his time there. Hugo’s apartment sits in the square’s north eastern corner and is now the museum Maison de Victor Hugo. Even if you don’t pay a visit to his home then do explore Place des Vosges and maybe while away a few hours on the lawns with a book set in Paris.
6 Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris | Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm; closed on Mondays and public holidays | Metro stations near to Le Maison de Victor Hugo: Bastille, Saint-Paul ou Chemin Vert
A must do on your Paris weekend break is a linger along the Seine where you’ll come across long rows of green painted stands. The Bouquinistes have been around on both banks of the Seine in one form or another since the sixteenth century. Second-hand books, rare books, posters, maps, postcards and other ephemera are sold by the stall-holders. A riverside stroll and some bookish browsing is a pleasant way to pass a Parisian hour or two.
You’ll find the Bouquiniestes along the banks of the Seine near to Notre Dame
Library in the Jewish Quarter
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Some of Paris’ late literary greats have laid down their pens and made Cimetière du Père Lachaise their final resting place. A leisurely literary stroll around the world’s most visited cemetery will lead you to the tombs of Balzac, Molière, Proust, Gertrude Stein and Colette. It may seem a little morbid to spend part of your weekend to Paris in a graveyard but this one is set out like a park and is pleasant to stroll through.
I wanted to visit the grave of Oscar Wilde because I once played a character in The Importance of Being Earnest. Lady Gwendolen Fairfax no less! Oscar Wilde’s tomb features a naked, winged sphinx-like figure said to be based on his poem The Sphinx. It became a thing to leave a red lipstick kiss on the tomb but the constant cleaning was eroding the stone. It’s now been covered with a glass barrier to stop fans leaving their scarlet mark on the memorial. It should also stop the statue’s appendage being stolen. The ‘unusually large’ testicles were purloined by vandals in 1961 although the other ‘bit’ remains.
The cemetery is on Boulevard de Ménilmontant | Metro Stations near to Cimetière du Père Lachaise are Philippe Auguste which is next to the main entrance. Gambetta on line 3 allows enty near to Oscar Wilde’s tomb.
Where to stay on your Weekend Break in Paris?
You’ll probably be wanting to stay somewhere appropriately bookish for your literary themed weekend break in Paris. So, if you love books and literature, which I assume you do as you’ve read right down to here, and you love quirky places to stay then I’ve got you covered.
The base for our Paris weekend break was Paris Boutik La Librarie. It’s a one room boutique hotel in a converted bookstore in the heart of the historic Le Marais district. Located in a quiet street just two minutes’ walk from Le Marais it’s the perfect book inspired Paris bolt hole. Imagine sleeping amid 4500 books and manuscripts. This has to be one of the quirkiest hotel stays ever and a book lover’s dream sleepover.
The concept boutique suite is one of two owned by Paris Boutik. La Librairie consists a large room with a big comfy bed, reading/study/dining area. There’s a bathroom with bath tub and shower and a kitchen corner with Nespresso machine, fridge and microwave. Décor is modern and calm with just the right amount of quirk. As you’d expect the bookshelves are loaded with more books than you’d get through in a lifetime let alone a weekend. Read my Paris Boutik Review.
La Librairie : 12 rue Caffarelli, Paris 3. Metros near to La Librairie are Temple and Filles du Calvaire
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Suzanne Jones is creator, writer and photographer at The Travelbunny. When she’s not indulging her wanderlust you’ll most likely find her enjoying coastal walks in her home county of East Sussex, UK.
Suzanne co-writes Sussex Bloggers which showcases the best of East & West Sussex.