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 Triumph 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!
So, 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…)
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.
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.
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.
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
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!