A Guide to Paris for Lovers of Literature

Les Deux Magots side view with lady in long red scarf

Image source: Flickr user roger.salz

Guest contributors: Marta López and Josie Sampson
Paris: the city that has spent centuries inspiring artists, writers, musicians, photographers and filmmakers alike – and within minutes of wandering the streets of the City of Light, it is not hard to see why.

If, like me, it is literature in particular that tickles your artistic fancy, you are in luck. Home to around 1000 bookshops in the city and almost 100 libraries, Paris boasts an impressive literary history, having been home to the great writers, both past and present.

Here’s where to head to follow in their footsteps for yourself, including Websites of Paris writing groups.

Where to eat

Les Deux Magots
Perhaps the most infamous hangout of Paris’ literary and artistic elite, Les Deux Magots boasts the arty bohemia of Saint-Germain-de- 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.
6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 75006 Paris 

 Closerie des Lilas
An affectionate favourite of both Joyce and Hemingway, 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. With US prohibition going strong, Closerie des Lilas welcomed the likes of literary ex-pats Fitzgerald and Miller with open arms throughout the ‘20s and has remained a creative corner ever since.
171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris

Café de Flore with tables arranged out front and a lady in a pink scarf

Image source: Flickr user ayustety

Café de Flore
One of the oldest and most well-loved cafes in the whole of Paris, Café de Flore sits romantically at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue St. Benoit. With a fascinating history, including previous clientele such as Picasso, Sartre and Camus, Café de Flore remains largely unchanged since its heyday in the early 20th century. Its classic art deco feel – all gilt mirrors, deep reds and mahogany – lends itself perfectly to whiling away an afternoon sipping a coffee and musing of times past
172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris 

 L’Autre Café
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. These days, its reputation is as a modern day Les Deux Magots: a contemporary and cosmopolitan hangout for writers, filmmakers and artists alike. With a film-inspired interior, a regular rotation of visual art and photography exhibitions and plenty of places to plug in your laptop, it’s a sure-fire hit to get those creative juices flowing.
62 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011 Paris

Where to stay

Interior view of l'Hotel with framed drawing hanging from the ceiling of a female looking over her shoulder

Image source: Flickr user sarahstierch

L’Hotel
The resting place of literary gods, L’Hotel was once home to Oscar Wilde back in the days that it was known as Hôtel d’Alsace. It was inside the walls of Room 16 that he infamously declared, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go,” dying a few days later in 1900. L’Hotel has come a long way since the times of Wilde and is now a fabulously luxurious 4 star hotel, still retaining that colourful and literary history that makes it so worthy of a visit.
13 Rue des Beaux Arts, 75006 Paris 

Hotel Pont Royale
Follow in the footsteps of your favourite artistes and book a room at the Hotel Pont Royale.  It’s at this exquisite Left Bank hotel that you can immerse yourself in the world of past guests such as James Joyce, Camus, Sartre and García Márquez. The best part is that it’s just a stone’s throw from those literary haunts of Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. What are you waiting for? Magnifique!
7 Rue Montalembert, 75007 Paris

Apostrophe Hotel
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 from home. Everything inside this cosy hotel is decorated with literature in mind, from the staircase decorated with letters to the walls adorned with the curling lines of poetry. Each room has its own design based on an artistic theme such as ‘humanity’, making it a quirky and fitting base from which to explore the rest of the city.
3 Rue de Chevreuse, 75006 Paris

Where to explore

View of Shakespeare and Company storefront with people standing out front and someone entering the shop

Image source: Flickr user jimmyweee

Shakespeare & Company
Surely the spiritual home of writers the world over, the infamous Shakespeare & Company is a sight not to be missed. This independent bookshop 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. Moved to a new location due to the Second World War, todays Shakespeare & Company sits happily in the shadow of its predecessor.
37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005

Hemingway’s apartment
Make a visit to the street where it all happened: Hemingway’s Parisian apartment on the rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, shared with his wife of the time, Hadley. In a wet November of 1922, the newlywed pair decided to move to the reasonably cheap and rundown 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.
74 rue du Cardinal-Lemoine

The literary salon of the greats
For more than sixty 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 Ezra Pound, Truman Capote, James Joyce, F Scott Fitzgerald, TS Eliot and Marcel Proust. Here writers and intellectuals alike listened and critiqued each other’s work and generally revelled in discussions of their common culture.
20 rue Jacob, 75006 Paris

Where to Write

The Other Writers’ Group
If you want to follow in the footsteps of your favourite literary heroes, then where better to do it than at Shakespeare and Company itself? Home a drop-in writing workshop, The Other Writers’ Group every Saturday from 5 pm to 7 pm, throw caution to the wind and dare to take your writing along – no reservation required! Simply bring six copies of a sample of your work along and prepare to share and critique each other’s work. If you’re not quite ready to take that step, you’re still more than welcome to give heartfelt advice to others!
37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris

 Women’s Creative Writing Workshop
This is the girl’s 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.
68 rue du Cardinal Lemoine 75005 Paris

Paris Café Writing
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in an intensive week of writing, learning and exploring, Paris Café Writing might just be right up your street. A weeklong writing workshop combined with free 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.

By Marta López and Josie Sampson

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