Paris Neighborhood Guide: the 6th Arrondissement

Molli Sébrier
The American In Paris
5 min readMar 25, 2024

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The 6th arrondissement, or as I like to call it, quintessential Paris-ville, is one of the most central neighborhoods in the city. It’s also one of the oldest — the Left Bank of the Seine has been inhabited since ancient times and was once called Lutetia — and is home to the Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, one of the oldest churches in Paris.

It also happens to be the first place I lived, the first time I lived in Paris when I did my semester abroad here. I call it “quintessential Paris” because it looks exactly as you would imagine Paris to look if you’ve never visited before. Haussmanian buildings line the streets, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were known to congregate in a few of the cafés, and there’s no shortage of picturesque photo opportunities.

While I could never imagine myself living in the area now for a myriad of different reasons, it remains one of my favorite areas to walk around. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia for a simpler time, or a desire to walk in the footsteps of some of my preferred literary stars, but I’ve spent many an afternoon in the sixième.

There’s much to see in the 6th arrondissement for both expats and tourists alike. My advice? Check out a few of the touristy attractions, then give yourself a few hours of free time to wander.

Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Visit the (recently restored) church and the neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood. Saint-Germain-des-Prés is a small quartier in the 6th. You’ll of course find the église (that was built in the 6th century AD), as well as some famous cafés that are known for their famous clientele:

  • Café de Flore: Centrally located on the boulevard Saint-Germain, Café de Flore has been frequented by intellectuals, writers, and artists since the 19th century. Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albery Camus, and Pablo Picasso are just a few. The terrasse is great for people-watching, but be prepared to pay for it.
  • Les Deux Magots: Just next door to the Café de Flore is Les Deux Magots. Like its neighbor, it was a gathering place for great thinkers, philosophers, writers, and artists. Hemingway and Fitzgerald, as well as James Joyce and André Gide, were all regulars.

My personal favorite place for people-watching in Saint-Germain-des-Prés is a very unassuming café on the corner of rue des Saints-Pères and rue Jacob called Le Comptoir des Saints-Pères. It’s usually quiet — except on the random nights they have live music.

Musée d’Orsay

Unpopular opinion: if you’re only in Paris for a few days or a week, skip the Louvre and go to the Orsay instead.

I know a lot of people probably wouldn’t agree, but unless you have an obsession with Egyptian art (the Louvre’s collection really is incredible), or have a burning desire to see what all of the fuss about the Mona Lisa is about, I don’t recommend going to the Louvre. It’s always crowded, overwhelming, and honestly kind of a letdown. I prefer the Orsay ten times over.

It’s the home to famous pieces by Manet, Renoir, Rodin, Degas, van Gogh, and more. I’m always moved when I see “Starry Night Over the Rhône” by van Gogh and “Bal du moulin de la Galette” by Renoir in person.

When visitors ask me which museum they should visit first, I always say the Orsay.

Shakespeare and Company

A guide on the 6th arrondissement wouldn’t be complete without a shoutout to the OG English bookstore of Paris. While its current location isn’t the same as its first incarnation, the store has always lived in the 6th.

Shakespeare and Company was first opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and was soon a gathering place for writers like Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, and many others. Beach actually took it upon herself to publish Joyce’s Ulysses when no other publishers would take the risk.

The bookstore shut down during the German occupation of Paris during World War II, and was reopened in 1951 by George Whitman in its current location, 37 rue de la Bûcherie. Today it’s made up of a café and a separate shop exclusively for antique books and some small apartments that budding writers can stay in (though I’ve heard the application process is a bit erroneous).

It also hosts events, chats with writers, and book signings, and there’s an area upstairs to read in. The first book club I ever joined in Paris met there every Sunday — it really was the perfect place for it.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Finally, the massive green space that is the Jardin du Luxembourg. There are plenty of paths to wander, fountains, sculptures, and playgrounds for children. The French Senate is housed in the Luxembourg Palace on the edge of the park, with the Musée du Luxembourg just next door.

It gets very crowded on nicer days as the garden is smack dab in the middle of student central — La Sorbonne is a few streets over. But, I have enjoyed many peaceful moments here, away from the throngs of étudiants.

As such there are a ton of inexpensive cafés and places to grab food that surround the Jardin du Luxembourg. A crêpe stand, aptly called Crêperie at 34 Rue Gay-Lussac (though technically in the 5th arrondissement) was a favorite of mine and my classmates during our semester abroad.

There are of course many other things to discover in the 6th arrondissement that I haven’t covered — the Églist Saint-Sulpice, Marché Saint-Germain, Pont des Arts, and the Institut de France are all located there as well — but use this guide as a jumping-off point before you go.

And don’t forget to give yourself ample strolling time to discover everything else there is to see in the area. You’re going to need it.

Photo by Emilio Sánchez Lozano on Unsplash

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Originally published at https://theamericaninparis.com on March 25, 2024.

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