Guide to the 5th arrondissement: Historic Paris

The 5th arrondissement is old Paris at its best. You can find Roman ruins from the 1st century, the gobsmacking Pantheon where the greats of France are buried, and the ghosts of famous Parisians on seemingly every street. 

But also there are cool new restaurants, a lively bar scene, and jazz hotspots to dance the night away. Here’s what we found during our full-day visit, as part of the Paris countdown series.

The Earful Tower podcast episode

This podcast episode on the 5th district of Paris also includes a brief interview with jazz musician Matthieu Boré and writer Samuél Lopez-Barrantes, plus our final ranking on the district out of 100. 

Video guide to the 5th arrondissement

Here’s our visit, in video format, via our YouTube channel. We’ll be making one of these travel vlogs every week, so be sure to subscribe (you can do it in one click via this link). 

The Earful Tower’s guide to the 5th arrondissement

Visit the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont

A truly stunning church, with lovely stained glass windows and a breathtaking jube (pictured below). Address: Place Sainte-Geneviève, 75005

Stroll down Rue Mouffetard

Rue Mouffetard was supposedly so-named because of the mouffle, Old French for stink, that came from the river Bièvre at the foot of the hill. Nowadays, you’re much more likely to get a delightful scent from the many cheese shops, fruit stands, and bakeries on a very lovely and lively street.

Find vestiges of the Bievre river

You might remember us talking about this old river in the 13th arrondissement (read more about it here). But in the fifth you have a lot of commemorative plaques from mills that used to stand in the area (I found four!) and medallions marking the river’s confluence.

Find the famous Hollywood steps

Place de l’Abbé Basset: Here are the steps made famous from Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson’s character is transported back in time. Address: 1 Rue Saint-Etienne du Mont, 75005

Go back in time at the Cluny Museum

Also known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages, this is an exceptional and newly-renovated museum. The Roman ruins are the dream of ancient history fans, while the tapestries (especially The Lady and the Unicorn) will get your imagination going. (We discussed these more on the podcast). Address: 28 Rue du Sommerard, 75005

Find Josephine Baker’s tomb at the Panthéon

This has to be one of the most stunning buildings in Europe. If there’s a queue, buy an online ticket for the exact same price and waltz past everyone. Don’t forget to see the crypt downstairs where Josephine Baker now rests among many French greats like Victor Hugo and Marie Curie. Address: Pl. du Panthéon, 75005

Get inside the Bibliothèque Saint-Geneviève

You have to sign up to be a member to get into this place, but it’s free and relatively painless to do so. It’s not a tourist destination, but is exceptional to look at, so visit with discretion, respect, and most importantly, total silence. Address: 10 Pl. du Panthéon, 75005

Speaking of reading material, two good bookshops in the district are Shakespeare and Company and Abbey Bookshop, both of which stock our books!

Visit the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle 

Here’s something different! A dusty and ancient building full of skeletons. It’s a real cabinet of curiosities and great fun for the kids. Address: 2 Rue Buffon, 75005

Explore the Jardin des Plantes

This park may not have the grandeur of the more famous Paris parks, or the intrigue, but it’s certainly a lovely place for a walk. Don’t miss the wild statues on the southern end, especially the lion with what appears to be a severed human foot under its paw. Address: 57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 

Le Zoo du Jardin des Plantes: You can hear our honest review of this place on the podcast. It’s one of the oldest zoos in Europe and certainly has some redeeming features, but it might not even be the best zoo in Paris. Address: 57 Rue Cuvier, 75005

Drink tea at the Grande Mosquée de Paris

A great spot for a cup of mint tea, which we had chilled. Apparently it’s a top spot for a massage too, but remember: they only treat women. The old movie set here that we couldn’t name in the podcast was: Don’t Look Now… We’re Being Shot At. Here’s the scene. Address: 2bis Pl. du Puits de l’Ermite, 75005

Enjoy the Place de la Contrescarpe  

Hemingway lived just around the corner at 74 rue du Cardinal-Lemoine and he came here often. James Joyce finished Ulysses just down the road at number 71 on the same street. The square today is a vibrant hub of tourists, students, and locals – and those sprawling terraces offer some of the best people watching in Paris. Address: 2-2 Pl. de l’Estrapade, 75005

Find traces of the Philippe Auguste Wall

Now it wouldn’t be an Earful Tower blog post without a shoutout to the great PA wall. On rue Clovis you’ll find an exceptional chunk, pictured below. For more places to find this 800-year-old wall, here’s my in-depth guide.

Go dancing at Le Caveau de la Huchette

You may recognize this jazz club from the smash hit La La Land. It’s a fun surprise, this place, especially on your first visit. Through the front door, past the bar, and then down, down, down to the cave with the lively jazz scene and the dancers putting on a show. @caveaudelahuchetteofficiel Address: 5 Rue de la Huchette, 75005

Restaurants to check out in the 5th arrondissement

La Contrescarpe: We had a drink on this terrace and it was perfectly fine. I’d imagine all the restaurants on this square are about the same if you’re just looking for a drink with a view, go for the best seat and you can’t go wrong. Address: 57 Rue Lacépède, 75005

Le Loulou: An Australian cafe that’s very Instagram-friendly, beautiful interior, exterior, and food. @loulou_restaurant Address: 90 Bd Saint-Germain, 75005

Maison de Verlaine: It’s all about the story. Typical French food in the building where French poet Verlaine once lived.. and where Ernest Hemingway once lived too! Address: 39 Rue Descartes, 75005 Paris

That will do for now! Next week we’ll be taking you to the 4th arrondissement as part of this Paris Countdown series, where we’re spending a day in each Paris district. A big thanks to Augusta Sagnelli for the photos and Charlotte Pleasants for the additional reporting.

Here’s the podcast episode again in case you missed it, new episodes every Monday.

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2 thoughts on “Guide to the 5th arrondissement: Historic Paris

  1. Wonderful episode! For your readers, the part of the Natural History Museum that you visited was the Galerie Paleontologie et D’Anatomie Comparee — one of my favorite places in Paris. That’s the place with the parade of bones, led by the flayed man, in the cabinet of curiosities style building.

    The main part of the Natural History Museum is the gigantic Grand Galerie D’Evolution — wonderful in its own right but not nearly as cool. If someone were just to head to the Natural History Museum, that’s likely where they would end up.

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