A Guide to Paris for Literature Lovers
Paris: the city that has inspired artists, writers, musicians, photographers and filmmakers for centuries. And within minutes of wandering the streets of the City of Light, it’s not hard to see why. If it’s literature in particular that tickles your artistic fancy, much as it does mine, you’re in luck. Home to around 1,000 bookshops and almost 100 libraries, Paris boasts an impressive literary history, having been home to great writers, both past and present. Here’s a literary guide to Paris, revealing where to head to follow in their footsteps.
Where to Eat
Les Deux Magots
6, Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in the 6th Arrondissement.
Perhaps the most infamous hangout of Paris’s literary and artistic elite, Les Deux Magots boasts the arty bohemia of Saint-Germain-des-Prés as its home. Opened in 1912, Les Deux Magots became a debauched rendezvous for the likes of Hemingway, Picasso and Breton in the 1920s, and Sartre, Camus and de Beauvoir in the 1950s. Envelop yourself in its charm and capture the magic of the great writers of the past by sitting in a window seat, nursing a coffee and letting those creative thoughts flow freely.
La Closerie des Lilas
171, boulevard Montparnasse, in the 6th Arrondissement.
An affectionate favorite of both Joyce and Hemingway, la Closerie des Lilas is as historically romantic as literary cafés come. With dark wood, dusky leather and jazz floating through the air, tables are adorned with engraved plaques of famous patrons past. When Prohibition was going strong in the United States, la Closerie des Lilas welcomed the likes of literary expats Fitzgerald and Miller throughout the 1920s and has remained a creative corner ever since.
Café de Flore
172, boulevard Saint-Germain, in the 6th Arrondissement.
One of the oldest and best-loved cafés in Paris, le Café de Flore sits romantically at the corner of the boulevard Saint-Germain and the rue Saint-Benoît. With a fascinating history, including previous clients such as Picasso, Sartre and Camus, le Café de Flore remains largely unchanged since its heyday in the early 20th century. Its classic art deco feel—gilt mirrors, deep reds and mahogany—lends itself perfectly to whiling away an afternoon sipping a coffee and musing about times past.
62, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, in the 11th Arrondissement.
Once known as the House with the Red Lantern and notorious as a place to take ladies of the street, l’Autre Café has come a long way in the century since. Now, it has the reputation of a modern-day les Deux Magots: a contemporary and cosmopolitan hangout for writers, filmmakers and artists. With a film-inspired interior, rotating exhibitions of visual art and photography, and plenty of spots to plug in your laptop, it’s a sure-fire hit to get those creative juices flowing.
Where to Stay
13, rue des Beaux-Arts, in the 6th Arrondissement.
The resting place of literary gods, L’Hôtel was once home to Oscar Wilde back in the days that it was known as l’Hôtel d’Alsace. It was inside the walls of room 16 that he famously declared, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” He died a few days later in 1900. L’Hôtel has come a long way since the time of Wilde and is now a fabulously luxurious four-star hotel, but it still retains that colorful and literary history that makes it so worthy of a visit.
L’Hôtel Pont Royal
5–7, rue Montalembert, in the 7th Arrondissement.
Follow in the footsteps of your favorite artistes and book a room at the Hôtel Pont Royal. At this exquisite left bank hotel, you can immerse yourself in the world of past guests such as Joyce, Camus, Sartre and García Márquez. The best part is that it’s just a stone’s throw from those literary haunts of le Café de Flore and les Deux Magots. What are you waiting for? Magnifique!
3, rue de Chevreuse, in the 6th Arrondissement.
In homage to the writing, poetry and art that have graced its surrounding streets over the years, Apostrophe Hotel makes for a literature lover’s Parisian home away from home. Everything inside this cozy hotel is decorated with literature in mind, from the staircase embellished with letters to the walls adorned with curling lines of poetry. Each room has its own design based on an artistic theme, such as humanity, making the hotel a quirky and fitting base from which to explore the rest of the city.
Where to Explore
Shakespeare & Company
37, rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th Arrondissement.
Surely the spiritual home of writers the world over, Shakespeare & Company is a sight not to be missed. This independent bookshop was opened in 1919 by Sylvia Beach and was a literary corner frequented by the greats: Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, to name just a few. Although the shop was moved to a new location because of World War II, today’s Shakespeare & Company sits happily in the shadow of its predecessor.
74, rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, in the 5th Arrondissement.
Make a visit to the street where it all happened: Hemingway’s Parisian apartment on the rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, shared with his wife at the time, Hadley. In a wet November of 1922, the newlyweds decided to move to the reasonably cheap and run-down 5th Arrondissement, in order to have more money to dedicate to their pursuit of travel, culture and hedonism. Although you can’t go inside the apartment, just being nearby is enough for most.
The Literary Salon of the Greats
20, rue Jacob, in the 6th Arrondissement.
For more than 60 years, American writer Natalie Clifford Barney hosted a literary salon at her home every Friday night. With a guest list reading like a who’s who of the artistic world, attendees included Pound, Capote, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Eliot and Proust. Here, writers and intellectuals listened and critiqued one another’s work and generally reveled in discussions of their common culture.
Where to Write
The Other Writers’ Group
37, rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th Arrondissement.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of your favorite literary heroes, then where better to do it than at Shakespeare & Company itself? A drop-in writing workshop, the Other Writers’ Group meets every Saturday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Here, throw caution to the wind and dare to take your writing along—no reservations required! Simply bring six copies of a sample of your work, and prepare to share your own and to critique that of others. If you’re not quite ready to take that step, you’re still more than welcome to give heartfelt advice to others.
Women’s Creative Writing Workshop
68, rue du Cardinal Lemoine, in the 5th Arrondissement.
This is the Girls’ Guide to Paris after all, so whether you’re a budding Gertrude Stein or a flamboyant Zelda Fitzgerald, come along to the Women’s Creative Writing Workshop at Write at the Top. Classes at this seven-week workshop are intimate, giving you the platform to nurture, inspire and collaborate with your fellow female writers. What’s more, classes take place in the delicious Sugarplum Cake Shop! Check out the website for course dates (see link below).
Paris Café Writing
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in an intensive week of writing, learning and exploring, Paris Café Writing might be just right for you. A weeklong writing workshop that includes with free time in the afternoons to explore the City of Light, this course is perfect for those looking for a little structure and guidance alongside their own inspiration. Including seminars, personal tuition and even meals, Paris Café Writing is a great kick-start to your life as a writer in Paris! Again, check the website for the most up-to-date information (see link below).
Get off the beaten track and see more of the best parts of Paris that tourists often miss. Download our self-guided walking tours as pdfs or smartphone apps.
Le Café de Flore
Shakespeare & Company