If you’re planning a short getaway to Paris, it’s likely you’re keen to see all the most famous sites – especially if this will be your first visit. While this is all very well and good, I think it’s definitely worth exploring some lesser-known attractions too, and you’ll find some weird and wonderful ones in the districts of St-Germain-des-Pres and Saint-Michel.
These areas, which you’ll find in the 5th and 6th arrondissements (this is just the word used to describe the different parts if Paris), are particularly well-known for historically being intellectual and artistic hubs. This is especially true of St-Germain-des-Pres, which fascinated the likes of George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway.
Plus, this is also a good place to find a decent, inexpensive hotel in Paris. And, as there’s plenty to do in the vicinity, staying here doesn’t mean sacrificing a good location for the sake of saving money.
So, what do you need to know about Saint-Michel and St-Germain-des-Pres? Well, they are each home to some incredible attractions, ranging from impressive ecclesiastical buildings and galleries to brilliant shops and bars. Here’s a rundown of the ones that most appeal to me.
Musee d’Histoire de la Medicine
There are some great museums in St-Germain-des-Pres, and I like the sound of this one because it’s a little unusual. As you may well have guessed from its name, it looks at the history of medicine.
You’ll find it at the Universite Rene Descartes on rue de l’Ecole de Medicine and, as well as showcasing exhibits like an 1960s electrocardiograph, it displays much older – and more gruesome – medical artefacts, including old embalming and amputation tools.
While both areas are well-known for their impressive architecture, Saint-Michel has some particular gems, such as Saint-Chapelle. This historic shrine dates back to the 13th century, when it was built to house a somewhat ill-advised purchase by King Louis IX.
The monarch was a keen collector of religious artefacts and bought what he was told was the Crown of Thorns, which led to the building of the shrine. The most impressive thing about Saint-Chapelle is the vast windows in the upper section, which are 15 m high and depict hundreds of biblical scenes. While the building’s certainly wonderful, the same can’t be said of the Crown of Thorns, which turned out to be fake.
Saint-Michel is also home to a fair few arthouse cinemas, with Le Champo particularly catching my eye. What’s charming about this place is that it has been running for around 70 years, and is now a national historic monument. This status hasn’t stopped it from welcoming film fans, though, and every once in a while it hosts its fun Nuits du Champo – three films screened back-to-back overnight, followed by breakfast.
There are some great shops to be found in the 5th and 6th arrondissements too. Personally, I’m keen to visit Village Voice, which is a bookshop on rue Princesse where you can find English literary magazines and all kinds of books, as well as hear readings.
Prescription Cocktails Club
Now, this cocktail bar is said to feel like a speakeasy, thanks in no small part to its 1930s theme. So, I’m really interested in going there – but the one thing that puts me off is that it gets very crowded, especially at weekends. If you’re like me and prefer venues that are a little less packed, it’s worth coming here quite early on a weeknight to avoid the bulk of the crowds.