A centre of Roman life around 100-200 AD and the hub of student protests in the 20th century, the Latin Quarter is one of Paris's oldest and most interesting districts - vibrant, touristy, quiet, and local all at the same time.
The neighourhood's crown jewel is the Panthéon, the final resting place of France's greatest minds and heroes. Just this June, four new French men and women, who were active in the French Resistance, were inducted into the Panthéon. Their remains will now be placed near those of celebrities like Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and Rousseau. Cue the fanfare!
A snapshot into the Latin Quarter
Video credit: Bryan Pirolli
This huge sight sits alongside other iconic Paris must-sees, making the Latin Quarter an important stop on any visit to the city. Start off somewhere central, like the cathedral of Notre Dame - perhaps one of the world's most famous churches - just on the northern edge of the district.
Heading south along Boulevard Saint-Michel, past the fountain of the same name, you'll stumble across some old Roman baths that sit adjacent to the Cluny Museum, which is full of medieval artefacts. Just behind the baths is the historic origin of the University of Paris, often just called the Sorbonne, where countless French students have earned their degrees.
Many tourists tick off these classic sights, but don't really see much more of the neighbourhood. Pushing further afield, however, leads to a few surprises that are well worth taking in. They're not exactly hidden secrets, but they're sufficiently off the beaten track to feel undiscovered.
Next to the Panthéon, the Saint Etienne du Mont church sits in its shadow, but is a magnificent jewel of the neighbourhood. Built by Louis XIII, it houses the tomb of St. Genevieve, patron saint of Paris, though her remains were destroyed during the Revolution. It's an elaborate and refined church whose steps were famously used as the pick-up point for the main character of Gill in Midnight in Paris.
Down the street (behind the Panthéon), the student haunt rue Mouffetard bustles with activity. It's famous as the former stomping ground of a young Ernest Hemingway. A small market sells fresh produce at the bottom of the street, as well as on adjacent Place Monge, at various times during the week. Cheese, wine, meat, and chocolate shops line the street, and there's even a killer Mexican place called Bocamexa at the bottom of the street that I visit when I've had enough of crepes.
Just around the corner from rue Mouffetard is one of my favourite places in Paris - the Arenas of Lutecia. This former Roman amphitheatre was rediscovered during citywide renovations in the late 1800s. Today, children play football and locals gather for games of pétanque year-round. I like to stop here for a picnic after getting provisions along rue Mouffetard. There's even Wi-Fi here... just as the Romans intended.
Afterwards, head to the Paris Mosque, which is about five minutes away. This place of worship also features a quaint little café that seems plucked right out of Morocco. The star attraction here is their 2-euro glasses of mint tea that waiters bring to the table. It's a great change of pace from the typical Parisian café.
The Mosque is found just next to the Jardin des Plantes, a beautiful garden that's home to a series of natural history museums, greenhouses and one of Europe's oldest zoos - Ménagerie du Jardin des plantes.
The Grande Galerie de l'Evolution, located in the south-west corner of the garden, features a wide array of taxidermied animals. Louis XV's rhinoceros that lived at Versailles is one of the creatures housed here. It was the first large mammal to be preserved at the museum.
This is just a snapshot of the Latin Quarter, but it's more than most people ever see. Steeped in history, boasting a young, student vibe and ever-evolving, it's a neighbourhood well worth exploring during your next visit to Paris.
Credit: Anna and Michal
Credit: Aleksandr Zykov