While the Right Bank has the Tuilieries Gardens, the Left Bank has two major green areas: The Jardin des Plantes and the Jardin du Luxembourg. The latter is the most visited and a must-see for those looking to get a taste for the pruning prowess of the French. Marie de Medici’s home in Paris, the gorgeous palace at the entrance of the garden, once housed royalty and now, after a few revolutions, is home to the French Senate. Then, like now, we commoners can’t visit the palace, but the gardens are open to all. It’s worth planning a morning or afternoon to take the time to explore and relax here, while taking in the sights on the Rive Gauche.
Getting there is easy
The RER line B drops you off right in front of the gardens. Otherwise, the metro line 10 at Cluny-La Sorbonne is a quick walk up Boulevard St-Michel. The 10 and 4 at Odeon is also a short walk up boutique-laden rue de Seine (in case you need to stop at a bakery or chocolate stop on the way).
Things to do: play, relax and stroll
At first glance, the gardens are, well, gardens. There are trees. Flowers. Fountains. Miniature versions of the Statue of Liberty. You know, things normally found in green spaces in France.
But push a little farther, and you can easily spend an afternoon lounging about in its different sections. To the west there are plenty of pétanque players (French bocce ball), especially on the weekends. Once you sit to start watching, you’ll be hooked, rooting for your favorite French senior or rookie player.
Don’t neglect the museum as well, which is open every day for 11 euros. Rotating exhibits keep the art fresh. Also on the gates surrounding the garden there is always a free photo exhibit of one sort or another.
And if you feel like doing nothing at all, that’s even better. The gardens are also a great spot for relaxing and people watching, so don’t be afraid to pull a chair up to the fountain, kick your feet back and soak in the sun.
Kid paradise: playgrounds, pony rides and sailboats
Perhaps the biggest draw to the garden comes from the pint-sized visitors who are bored of art and history. Pony rides and playgrounds are the ordre du jour for kids at Luxembourg. There is a small fee (2 euros) to enter the fenced-in playground, but it’s worth it to give parents a second to breath. There are also marionette shows and a carousel designed by the Opera’s Charles Garnier, so at least the kids are doing something kind of historical.
A favorite activity is to rent the sailboats for children to push around the central fountain. They sell out quickly, but are supposed to be returned with 30 minutes, so keep checking back if they all seem taken.
Nearby cafes and chocolate shops
All of that fresh air has probably worked up an appetite, and luckily the Latin Quarter and adjacent St-Germain neighborhoods are brimming with cafés, bakeries, chocolate shops and boutiques. Also the nearby Pantheon, St-Sulpice church and Cluny Museum are all great compliments to an afternoon in the gardens. Head down rue de Seine on the north side of the park for food at Pierre Marcolini (chocolates) or Gerard Mulot (bread and pastries).