Thursday, 16 August 2012

Paris Left Bank Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 6.7 km (4.2 miles), terrain flat: one gentle hill of 30 meters

Paris Running Routes:
Seine island of St. Louis, St. Paul, botanical garden  
Left bank and Luxembourg Gardens 
Paris' green heart: Bois de Boulogne   

Canal St. Martin  
Rock formations of Parc Chaumont  
Seine loop with Champs Elysees and Eiffel Tower  

Seine riverside run  
Bois de Vincennes 
Versailles Palace Gardens 
For more running routes, see Route List

When people think of Paris street life, they're thinking of the Left Bank, also known as the Latin Quarter. As the storied home of the Sorbonne University and the city's main restaurant area, it attracts tourists in droves. For more than a hundred years the Latin Quarter has attracted artists, philosophers, free-thinkers from the world over, and almost everyone who has ever wanted to become one.
Left Bank at night: Place de la Contrescarpe on Rue Mouffetard
There isn't a lot of green parkland on the Left Bank for running, but if you're interested in experiencing a lot of the main sights, here's the route for you.

It will start out front of Notre Dame cathedral, head west through the restaurant quarter of St. Michel, and then through St. Germain, with its galleries and boutique hotels. It then heads south to loop through the green oasis of Luxembourg Gardens. After that, it leads eastwards, past the Sorbonne campus and the Pantheon and up the cool nightlife-street, Mouffetard, before heading back past the medieval palace, Cluny, and the Cluny Roman bath ruins to then lead back to the Seine and Notre Dame.

There are a few spots on this route with large crowds, but you'll get through those quickly enough. So, sound like something for you? Let's go!

NOTE: The only two halfway-large parks in the area are Jardins du Luxembourg to the west (covered in this run) and the Jardin du Plantes (botanical garden) to the east, next to Austerlitz Station. If you want to totally avoid street-traffic and crowds, stay in one of those parks, but they are only a few hundred meters long.
The Left Bank Run
Standing there on Parvis Notre Dame, the square in front of the great cathedral, you're located in the heart of Paris. The statue of Charlemagne on his horse stands a bit neglected to the right, and the church-front dominates the scene. Notre Dame's stumpy twin towers are not especially high, but the detail above the three portals is fascinating.
Notre Dame, the perfect spot to start a run through the heart of Paris
Run towards the cathedral, then turn right to cross the Pont au Double bridge southwards over the Seine. There's a little park square on the other side, Square René Viviani. Run through it diagonally towards the right (or run around it on the right side, if it's closed). 
Square René Viviani
To the right side, along the river, is my favorite bookstore, Shakespeare's, with its cramped maze of rooms.
There's always something going on at Shakespeare's
Just past the park is an ancient church, St. Julien-le-Pauvre, about 1400 years old.

Turn right at the church, on Rue Galande, at the Aux Trois Mailletz pub, which often has live music to enliven your evening runs. After a couple of houses, cross busy Rue du Petit Pont, and continue westwards past St. Severin church. This is another ancient church, with gargoyles hovering above, along the low roof-line.

This is the main neighborhood for tourist restaurants, and very lively. After four blocks of crowded pedestrian traffic, you'll come to busy Boulevard Saint-Michel. Turn right here to run around to the front side of the building across the street, with its World War I victory fountain at the Metro station. This spot is also normally full of worn-out tourists, trying to recover from too much walking, and often busking musicians are busily playing, competing for their attention.

Now run past the right side of the fountain to the next little square to the west, where you turn right and run westwards, up Rue Saint-André des Arts.

This street will be fairly crowded at first, but soon opens up.
Cours du Commerce Saint-André
After about five blocks, at the Mazet Irish pub, there is a little alleyway to the left, Cours du Commerce Saint-André. Take a detour up the alley to see one of the most interesting old backstreets in the city. It's lined with a few great old restaurants and cafés, but watch out for the bad pavement: don't break a leg!
Café mosaic on Cours du Commerce Saint-André
Return to Rue Saint-André des Arts and continue westwards. At the next corner, the street name changes to Rue Buci, which has some great restaurants and cafés. The crowds are no longer the tourist masses, but richer visitors who stay in the nearby, expensive boutique hotels.

At the next corner, at the Rue de Seine, turn right. Notice the facades of the next restaurants on the right side, with their art nouveau mosaics. This street continues to the Seine with dozens of art galleries and design shops, and suddenly you realize that you're in the world capital of art.
Restaurant on Rue Buci
Turn left at the next corner, Rue Jacob. There are a lot of those boutique hotels on Rue Jacob: the lucky people who get to stay there, so close to the action, instead of the cheaper hotels around Gare du Nord!

At Rue Bonaparte, turn left to run south. After a block, you'll come to another of Paris' great old churches, the abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres.

Continue southwards by crossing busy Boulevard Saint-Germain, staying on the left side, Rue Bonaparte, where the street forks.
Boulevard Saint-Germain
After two blocks, you'll come to still another interesting church at Place Saint-Sulpice. This massive church facade was never finished. The inferior, quickly eroding limestone that they used must have caused them to give up on carving the rest of the stone. Dan Brown fans will remember that this church was one of the showplaces in "The Da Vinci Code", where a nun was murdered while trying to protect a secret buried under the floor.

After another block, the street ends by running into the fence of the Luxembourg Gardens. Turn left to run along the fence, and take the first entrance into the park, next to the Café Médicis.
In the Jardins du Luxembourg
Now run south through the park, near the western edge. The route now starts going gently uphill, continuing all the way to the Pantheon, one kilometer further.

When you get to the south end of the park, turn left and continue to the east, coming to the southern park entrance.

Turn left again at the southern park entrance and run towards the big fountain in front of the palace, which houses the French Senate.
Luxembourg Palace, home of the French Senate
This pleasant, but small park is almost over for us already. At the fountain, turn right and run out the eastern exit, onto Boulevard Saint-Michel again. Cross the street at the zebra stripes and then turn left and run to the next intersection, with the roundabout.

Turn right here on Rue Soufflot and run eastwards towards the imposing Pantheon dome down the street. The side-streets to the left pass the main Sorbonne University buildings.
Heading to the Pantheon
At the Pantheon, run along the left side, past the old university library and then past church St. Etienne du Mont.

At the end of the next block, turn right on Rue Descartes. This is the beginning of one of the most interesting streets for nightlife in Paris, lined with restaurants and pubs of all types, filled with students and tourists, including an amazing number of Americans.
Rue Mouffetard
The street name changes to Rue Mouffetard and goes by a pleasant, leafy square. When you get to the corner of Rue du Pot de Fer, turn right and run up this little alleyway lined with restaurants and their outside tables.

At the next corner, Rue Tournefort, turn right and head back north again along this quiet old street, home to many students and Latin Quarter dropouts. It ends at Rue Thouin, where you turn right and run the 100 meters back to Rue Descartes again.

At Descartes, turn left and head north again, running downhill past the old polytechnical college.

At Rue des Ecoles, turn left and run west. You'll pass the elegant College de France and discover a strange phenomenon of the neighborhood: the many Au Vieux Campeur stores. Almost the entire neighborhood has been taken over by this camping-supply merchant. Each little shop sells a specific type of camping ware: maps, backpacks, boots, clothing, tents, you name it.

When you come to the little tree-filled square on the right, turn right to see the Musée de Cluny directly behind it, a medieval museum placed in a medieval palace.

Turn left at the museum and continue westwards past the ruined Roman baths next door.
Cluny Roman baths
The baths border on Rue Saint-Michel, where you turn right and run straight back up past the victory fountain again, to the River Seine. At the Seine, turn right and run the one block to the next bridge, which you cross to find yourself back at Parvis Notre Dame.