The Bookworm's Guide to Paris (and What to Read Before Your Visit)

To quote The Picture of Dorian Gray, "When good Americans die, they go to Paris." That said, neither readers nor writers (American or otherwise) have to die to feel that they've gone to heaven while visiting the City of Lights. From stunning parks to rickety, independent booksellers to the cafes where literature's most brilliant minds met and mingled, here's a look at six places and spaces that every bookworm should scope out on their next trip to the French capital . . . plus the books to read while visiting. After all, what's more magical than wandering the same streets as your favorite literary characters (fictional ou pas)?


Place des Vosges

If you enjoy reading on shady park benches or stretches of freshly cut grass — perhaps with a few bubbling fountains and string instruments providing the soundtrack — definitely bring your book bag to Place des Vosges in the Marais. Not only is this tree-lined square one of the oldest and most charming in Paris, but it's also right next to the Maison de Victor Hugo (the acclaimed author's former home, now a museum documenting his life and career).

What to read: One of Hugo's greatest works, like Les Misérables or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.


Shakespeare and Company

Arguably the best known independent bookstore in the world, Shakespeare and Company is a must visit for any and all bookworms (particularly those looking to purchase a novel or two in English). The store was opened by George Whitman in 1964 and has since become a "Left Bank literary institution," hosting weekly events and providing a haven for aspiring and accomplished writers alike.

What to read: A play written by the bookstore's namesake (I'd recommend All's Well That Ends Well, as it's set in France) or Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart, to give you a greater appreciation for the shop's unique story.


Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots

Less than a block apart in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you'll find two of the literary and art worlds' favorite spots: Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. Frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, and Pablo Picasso, both cafes are ideal for sharing cafe au laits and some high-brow conversation with friends (or strangers).

What to read: Anything by Hemingway or Capote (like A Moveable Feast) or — if you'd like to expand your knowledge of the city's evolving cafe and coffee culture — The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta.


Les Bouquinistes

"Les bouquinistes," or second-hand booksellers, line the banks of the Seine, stretching from Notre Dame to Pont Neuf. If you're on the hunt for vintage postcards, fun artistic prints, or some classic French novels (often available in an array of languages), be sure to stroll by and browse these little green stalls.

What to read: You'll have a hard time finding these books at a bouquiniste, but throw a copy of Jojo Moyes's Paris For One or Julia Child's My Life in France in your bag for this little excursion — they're charming, heart-warming, and perfect for reading by the river on a sunny afternoon.


Sainte-Geneviève Library

Of course, no book-lovers' vacation would be complete without a trip to the library, and Paris happens to have one of the most beautiful "bibliothèques" in the world. Located in Place du Pantheon, the Sainte-Geneviève Library is home to more than 2 million documents (and some stunning vaulted ceilings).

What to read: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The story might not be set in Paris, but libraries are all about exploring other worlds, right? And that's exactly what this beloved children's classic does.


The Hemingway Bar

Last but certainly not least, end your bookish adventure with a drink (or several) at Le Bar Hemingway at The Ritz Paris. Legend has it Ernest Hemingway "liberated" the hotel bar from German soldiers in 1944 by knocking back 51 dry martinis . . . Oh, and Colin Peter Field — the head barman — is a legend and hero as well (he's even authored a book of cocktail recipes).

What to read: If you'd like to take a deeper (albeit fictional) dive into Hemingway's life, read Paula McLain's The Paris Wife. If you'd prefer something with more of a World War II focus, opt for Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.