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Bouquinistes: the best souvenirs in Paris!

When you visit Paris, it’s only natural you’ll want a little souvenir to bring home – but how do you find something you’ll love forever?

I found just the place! Forget plastic trinkets of Eiffel Towers and snow globes of the Arc de Triomphe in winter, this place will ensure you have a piece of Paris in your home and on your wall as a lasting memento. Maybe even something your kids and grandkids will fight over!

As you might have deduced, I’m not one for collecting titty little souvenirs when I travel. (Mind you, what you and I consider tat versus souvenir may be a matter of opinion – I do have a Cuban doll that I stick a ciggie in her butt and she blows smoke out her mouth, but I digress…)

Cuban doll
My smokin Cuban lady!

I like to look for things like coffee table books or hand-woven picnic rugs and more lately, figurines and paintings. I don’t mind if the painting is done by a three-year old as long as it speaks to me of the place I bought it.

So you can imagine my delight when wandering along the Seine in Paris, I stumbled upon Les Bouquinistes.

It turns out that this little section of the Seine river walk is an institution in Paris.

bouquiniste boxes in Paris
The little bouquiniste boxes in Paris

What are bouquinistes?

Bouquinistes are antique book sellers and they have been plying their trade selling antique and second-hand books along this portion of the Seine for about 300 years from these little green kiosks (about 3 metres long by 1 metre wide) fixed to the stone walls.

They also sell leather bound note books, paintings and (sadly) some tat – athough there are rules against what they cannot sell.

A perfect day in Paris includes a wander along the Seine and losing yourself in extraordinary paintings, posters and antique books collected from flea markets around the region – and they’re happy to bargain on the price.

Bouquinistes Paris
You’ll find art, books and souvenirs to rummage through

The Seine has been described as ‘the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves’.

I spent hours browsing the little riverside kiosks to choose a hand painted oil on canvas. I rifled through replicas of Van Gogh and quintessential Parisian scenes, finally settling on this still life of a bottle of wine with grapes and textured bread for €60 that I am now saving up to get framed. Update: I finally got it framed – see below.

My Parisian still life
My Parisian still life. The framing will cost more than the painting!
Painting from Paris
I love my Paris painting! (And yes, the framing cost me $400!). The figurine came from Santorini, FYI.

The Bouquinistes started selling their “bouquins” along the banks of the Seine in the 16th century and if you take time to rummage you might even find books from those times!

It’s not uncommon to pick up a rare leather bound book with exquisite engravings dating from the late nineteenth century along this three-kilometre stretch on both sides of the Seine that is now declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

How to get to Les Bouquinistes

You’ll find them on the Right Bank, from Pont Marie to Quai du Louvre, and on the Left Bank, from Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire. There are more than 200 riverside booksellers with about 900 ‘book boxes’ filled with 300,000 old and modern literary works and paintings.

They are obliged to be open 4 days per week and Wednesdays seem to be best, although the local Parisinfo website says open every day from morning to dusk.

Bus – 21, 24, 27, 38, 39, 47, 58, 63, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72, 75, 76, 85, 89, 95, 96

Subway – Saint-Michel

What to eat in Paris and where to find it!

If you’re looking for quintessential French food, I’ve piled this list of 11 of the best things to eat in Paris, and the best places to eat it. I includes macarons, Paris Brest, onion soup, escargot, steak frites and of course, cheese!

Or for something truly breathtaking, head to one of these best rooftop bars in Paris for a drink. You’ll find some casual outdoor terraces and others that are a bit more posh! But you’ll also find stunning views to have with your coffee on top of the shops!

Best cafes in Paris
A typical scene in Paris

Where to stay in Paris

Whether you’re looking for a furnished apartment or a luxury hotel with views of the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Truimph, you can read the top picks from This Life is Travel for where to stay in Paris.

As well as strolling along the Seine, I can also recommend you take a tour inside breathtaking Opera Garnier. My post explains why you need to see it!

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!