What to do in Paris and the Montparnasse

I lived in the City of Light many years ago, and, no surprise, I married a man who also loves France. These days, we travel to Paris as often as financially possible, usually going in late spring or early fall.

Travel in Paris: The 14th Arrondissement

Traveling on a budget is not difficult in Paris, especially if you look for an Airbnb. Paris is considerably less expensive than many major international cities. One of our favorite places to stay and visit in Paris is the 14th Arrondissement.

Our interests in Paris center on food, markets, walking, discovering, and seeing art. These days, we stay in the 14th arrondissement, which is on the Left Bank, not far from Jardin Luxembourg, Montparnasse.

Travel in Paris, 14th Arrondissement. Paris at sunset. Flickr/Moyan Brenn
Paris at sunset. Flickr/Moyan Brenn

14th Arrondissement

Montparnasse is not the most expensive area of the city, nor the least. It seems most comfortable for young or older singles or couples; families with young children are not quite as present here.

The Parisian quarter is most famous for its art history. You can frequently gaze upwards at historic and current artists’ studios with huge windows and skylights.

Two of the most famous Academies were Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, begun in 1906, and the Colarossi, from 1910, both on Rue de la Grande Chaumiere. (These are actually in the 6th but not far from the 14th.)

Although the Colarossi no longer exists, you can still take classes or workshops at the Grand Chaumiere.

Painters and photographers who worked in this neighborhood include Berenice Abbott, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Paul Gauguin and on and on.

What to see and do in 14th Arrondissement - Montparnasse. Musee Zadkine in Paris. Flickr/Art Poskanzer
Musee Zadkine in Paris. Flickr/Art Poskanzer

One small museum, Musee Zadkine, is worth a stop, for the striking art and the exquisite antique furnishings.

The museum, actually a recently renovated studio, is dedicated to the work of sculptor Ossip Zadkine. At l00 bis, rue d’Assas, it is open daily with no admission fee.

A large, spectacular site is the Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, at 261, Boulevard Raspail.

It can be accessed by metros Raspail or Denfert-Rochereau. The large structure, all glass and steel, has existed in Paris since 1994.

This spring’s special exhibition is “Autophoto”: 400 works made by 80 historic and contemporary international artists including Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Lee Friedlander, Rosângela Renno and Yasuhiro Ishimoto.

Although most of the major museums – Louvre, Gare d’Orsay, Pompidou Centre, Picasso or Rodin – are not in our neighborhood, they are within a l0 or 15 minute metro ride from Denfert Rochereau, Gaite or Vavin.

Metros are, overall, clean, convenient, frequent and safe.

Rue Daguerre, Paris (France). Flickr/Tommie Hansen
Rue Daguerre, Paris (France). Flickr/Tommie Hansen

Rue Daguerre

Although we have stayed on several streets, in two-star hotels and in small apartments, the area that we have become most attached to is around Rue Daguerre, a genuine neighborhood, one of the 14th’s most central streets.

We prefer to rent an apartment for our two-week stays. These are often more reasonably priced than hotels and offer the option of eating in and doing laundry.

Of course, you don’t get breakfast delivered to your door, new towels daily or, still present in some older hotels, a bidet.

Look on line under “Paris apartments” for options from inexpensive to luxury: I often use parisattitude.com

Rue Daguerre is named for Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype (a type of photograph) in 1839.

The area is bustling yet not boisterous with all ages of people on the streets and in the shops and bistros. One long block of Daguerre is set aside for pedestrians only.

A cafe along Rue Daguerre. Flickr/Jean-François Gornet
A cafe along Rue Daguerre. Flickr/Jean-François Gornet

On this charming and friendly street, you will find everything a traveler needs: two or three groceries (wine, yogurt and chocolate are great buys); an internet café; doctors’ offices; a hardware store; numerous restaurants, bars and bakeries.

There are also women’s clothing shops, one of which carries knitting yarn; a children’s book and toy store; a stocked to the ceiling used bookstore (which has some English language books) two minutes to the side; at least one pharmacy

Even takeout food stalls offering seafood, crepes, baked chicken and Mediterranean dishes; at least one thrift shop; a shop with small souvenir gifts including jewelry; a charcuterie; a cheese shop or two; an antique dealer and so on. Last April on the weekends, older women were selling bunches of lilacs in the street.

Shopping in the 14th Arrondissement

A small food market, Marche Mouton-Duvernet, situated at Place Jacques Demy, is open every Tuesday and Friday. Of course, markets exist throughout Paris; they are a great place to buy dinner and to practice your French skills.

At this one: fishmongers offer twelve different kinds of oysters, scallops in the shell, nine other kinds of shellfish and exotic fish of all sizes; farmers offer fruits, asparagus, artichokes the size of dessert plates.

A large selection of yogurts and cheeses await your discovery. We have become addicted to thin, warm flatbreads made by a delightful Lebanese gentleman; our favorite is thyme and sesame.

Of course, one does not visit Paris to shop in department stores. However, when needs arise – such as missing clothes or too few socks – one store is among my favorites. C & A consists of several floors of fascinating French merchandise.

For my interests, there are lovely journals, pens and notebooks, and women’s apparel. I have relied on them for scarves, underwear and socks, most far less expensive than they are in the States.

Scarves, socks, and leather goods are also often available at outdoor markets (including the one above), at sometimes-lower prices.

Dining at La Coupole in Paris. Flickr/Monica Arellano-Ongpin
Dining at La Coupole in Paris. Flickr/Monica Arellano-Ongpin

Dining in Montparnasse

The 6th and 14th are rightly known for their culinary history, especially linked to the “Lost Generation” expat Americans, in the 1920s. The big four are Café du Dome, Le Select, La Rotonde, and La Coupole.

All are situated in the Montparnasse-Raspail (metro Vavin) neighborhood. Luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented these restaurants and bars.

Although we visit this part of Paris because of the colorful art and literary history and its beauty, we prefer humble restaurants, less well known, but perhaps equally good –and sometimes better.

Traditional French cuisine for lunch: lapin a la moutarde, frites, and salade verte. Photo by Bruce Conklin
Traditional French cuisine for lunch: lapin a la moutarde, frites, and salade verte. Photo by Bruce Conklin

Rue Daguerre alone hosts at least a dozen restaurants and several take-out counters and bakeries serving salads and sandwiches. Each perpendicular street also has one or two establishments. Menus are usually posted in the windows. Be aware that not all are open on Sundays.

Here are two recent favorites. La Mere Agitee, which serves traditional French cuisine, is a five-minute walk from Rue Daguerre. Think French comfort food. Open since 1995, it is situated at 21, rue Campagne Premiere.

A small restaurant, with a main floor and a basement for larger parties, it has no menu; the offerings are generally listed on a chalkboard.

The walls are hung with paintings and photos, good and bad quality, some presumably done by satisfied customers. The cook/hostess is La Mere, Valerie Delahaye, herself.

She generally offers, as a prix fixe, a choice of two entrees, two plats, and two or three desserts and wine, all at a bit more than 30 euros.

All have been excellent; these are traditional French dishes: stews, soups, with crusty baguette, tartes or meringues. The ambiance is friendly; there are numerous regulars. Reservations are strongly suggested.

Although la Mere understands some English, she prefers to converse in French, as do we.

French pastries and desserts in Paris. Flickr/John Mason
French pastries and desserts in Paris. Flickr/John Mason

One other favorite, at 22 rue Daguerre, also small, is Le Petit Daguerre, which spills onto the sidewalk in good weather. This spot is hipper, more modern than my first recommendation. The menu is of moderate size and the quality of the food reliable.

My favorite is an English dish, fish and chips, but all plates have been fine. The extremely fresh fish is lightly breaded and not at all greasy. The frites are marvelous.

My husband loves the lamb shank served with a braising liquid reduction and pureed potato, in quite a large portion (some restaurants seem to be appealing to our traditionally larger portions).

Le Petit Daguerre offers friendly service, a lively atmosphere, and reasonable prices. Some young waiters speak English. Reservations have not been necessary when we have eaten there, but we tend to eat at 7:30 or 8, a la Americaine.

Remember, when in Paris, tips are not expected, as service is included.

Note: Paris is home to more than 12,000 restaurants, and competition is brisk. Many have existed for 50 years or more, others for only one or two. Always check anything you read to see if an establishment still exists.

Clearly, we are not wed to the 14th arrondissement; we often cross the line into the 6th arrondissement, the abutting neighborhood.

Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. Flickr/Tom Hilton
Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. Flickr/Tom Hilton

Visiting the 6th Arrondissement

For example, Jardin Luxembourg, about 55 acres in size, is a five-minute walk from Montparnasse, and is a great place to relax: you can spend hours sitting, picnicking, reading or people watching.

Kids with their toy sailboats, young lovers on interlocked metal chairs, kissing, or men playing boules. Sometimes children are riding ponies. Flowers, graceful trees and historical monuments are everywhere.

The 14th arrondissement, especially around Rue Daguerre, is, of course, only one of dozens of lively sectors of Paris. It’s a friendly and stimulating neighborhood. As Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, “Paris is a moveable feast.”

After visiting for more than 20 years, we continue to find it so. The area around Rue Daguerre has become our second home.

If You Visit Paris


Musee Zadkine, 100 bis, Rue d’Assas
Foundation Cartier, 261, Boulevard Raspail

C & A, Montparnasse Rive Gauche, Centre Commercial Maine Montparnasse, 3 Rue de l’Arrivee
Marche Mouton-Duvernet, Place Jacques Demy, open Tuesday and Friday.

La Mere Agitee, 21 rue Campagne Premiere.
Le Petit Daguerre, 22 rue Daguerre.

Helpful Information:

Online: Parler Paris by Adrian Leeds, a twice-weekly complimentary newsletter by an expat American who lost her heart to Paris. Parisbymouth.com focuses on food news and reviews.

In Print: Pick up l’Official de Spectacles every Wednesday to view what’s on for art, music, films and theater. Available at kiosks for 1 euro.

Photo caption: Traditional French cuisine for lunch: lapin a la moutarde, frites, salade verte

Author Bio: Deborah Straw is a writer, editor and teacher who lives in Vermont with her husband, Bruce, a dog and two kittens. She has visited Paris at least 20 times. Her two books are The Natural Wonders of the Florida Keys and The Healthy Pet Manual.

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