Few cities have captured the literary imagination as Paris has. Ernest Hemingway called it “a moveable feast”. Visiting bookworms will find in its magnificent libraries and myriad bookstores not just new reads, but marvellous architecture and windows into the past of the city. Most will flock to the popular bookstore Shakespeare & Co on the Left Bank, but here are seven other spots for literary lovers to linger in.
Read amid architectural splendour
The newly revamped 19th-century reading room at the national library’s Richelieu site will take your breath away. The spectacular Salle Ovale soars four storeys; its vast glass roof, ringed by oculi, floods the room with light. Green opaline Art Deco lamps line the tables, while the ceiling frieze is inscribed with the names of other cities with famous libraries, from Alexandria to London. There are more than 20,000 books available for browsing, including a collection of 9,000 comics and graphic novels.
Don’t miss the Mazarin Gallery upstairs, with its regularly rotated display of rare manuscripts. Treasures glimpsed on a recent visit ranged from a bejewelled mediaeval psalter to a handwritten fragment of French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season In Hell.
What’s nearby: The Palais-Royal, a former royal palace with a park and shopping arcade
Nearest métro: Bourse, Quatre-Septembre
Alluring arcade adventures
Cross the road from the BNF Richelieu and enter the Galerie Vivienne, one of Paris’s loveliest 19th-century covered passageways. Straddling the L-shaped arcade where it bends is the charming Librairie Jousseaume, founded in 1826. Formerly known as Librairie Petit-Siroux, it was frequented by the likes of pioneering woman writer Colette. Leafing through antique volumes and vintage magazines in its cosy interior, it is easy to imagine oneself transported to the elegance of Belle Époque Paris at the turn of the century.
What’s nearby: Galerie Vivienne is itself worth a wander for its architecture and boutiques
Nearest métro: Bourse
Get lost in a literary labyrinth
The most iconic bookstore of Paris is unquestionably Shakespeare & Co, where writers such as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce gathered in the 1920s. Now in its second incarnation in the Latin Quarter, it is immensely popular – perhaps too popular.
If tourist hordes and snaking queues for entry put you off, mosey a few streets down to The Abbey Bookshop, which Canadian bookseller Brian Spence opened in 1989 in an 18th-century former hotel on the Rue de la Parcheminerie, named for the parchment-sellers who plied their trade here in the late Middle Ages.
Pick your way among the stuffed shelves and teetering piles of mostly Anglophone books. Non-fiction is in the cellar down a narrow flight of steps, above which a cheeky sign warns, à la Dante, “Abandon all bags, ye who enter here”. The friendly staff are quick to offer help, or a cup of tea or coffee on the house.
What’s nearby: The Panthéon mausoleum, the Sorbonne University and the Musée de Cluny, a museum about the Middle Ages
Nearest métro: Cluny La Sorbonne, Saint-Michel Notre Dame
Step back in time in a stately library
Fulfil your dark academia dreams at the Bibliothèque Mazarine, France’s oldest public library. Books line the length of its gorgeous wood-panelled gallery from floor to ceiling, and readers peruse their tomes beneath the gazes of the Roman marble busts that line the room. The library grew out of the personal collection of Cardinal Mazarin, top minister to the king in the 17th century. At its height, it numbered some 50,000 volumes. After his death, it opened to the public. Mind the creaky floor.
What’s nearby: The Louvre Museum and the Musée d’Orsay, world-class art museums that need no introduction
Nearest métro: Pont Neuf
Browse in the footsteps of legends
This is the oldest bookstore in Paris, having opened in the 1700s – though you would not be able to tell from its sleek modern interior that it has survived over three centuries.
Some of France’s starriest scribes have passed through these doors, from Guy de Maupassant to Michel Foucault. Here a young François Truffaut discovered the novel he would adapt into his classic New Wave film Jules et Jim. For today’s clientele, Delamain’s booksellers pin scribbled recommendations to the covers of books they fancy.
What’s nearby: The Louvre and the contemporary art museum Bourse de Commerce
Nearest métro: Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre
At home with the classics
Few loom as large in the Parisian canon as Victor Hugo, whose The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables are among the city’s defining novels. He lived from 1832 to 1848 on the leafy Place des Vosges. Today visitors can explore for free the rooms where he penned some of his greatest works.
Collected here are the raised desk where he wrote standing and the bed in which he died, as well as art pieces such as a bust of the author by celebrated French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
What’s nearby: Check out the trendy Le Marais neighbourhood
Nearest métro: Bastille
Art and coffee in a quirky museum
At the foot of steep Montmartre is this offbeat museum-café-bookstore in an old-fashioned market hall. The airy space offers a respite from the crowds thronging the steps of Sacré-Cœur.
The eclectic book selection ranges from the whimsical to the macabre, with unusual books by artists or tomes on the occult. Avant-garde art lovers should not miss the exhibitions at the museum, which highlights art brut, “naïve” art made outside of academic tradition.
What’s nearby: The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, the Dalí Museum and the Moulin Rouge nightclub
Nearest métro: Anvers
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