Grand brasseries, shady boulevards and offbeat galleries have made Montparnasse a magnet for artists and gourmands since the days of Oscar Wilde and Pablo Picasso. These days, it represents the essence of the Left Bank, and is one of the most laid-back quartiers to explore in Paris.
Paris has plenty of neighbourhoods where you can idle in corner cafés, admire great art and stroll through overgrown cemeteries – but none are quite like Montparnasse. “It’s the traditional Left Bank,” says photographer Becca Gerbino, “an infusion of French culture, art and history. I love shooting here because I am able to capture local and traditional Parisian life.”
You’ll find authentic experiences in spades, perhaps shopping on market streets like rue Daguerre or eating chantilly-smothered crêpes in an institution such as La Crêperie de Josselin. Then there are the cutting-edge installations at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, creepy subterranean experiences at the Catacombes and magnificent city views from the Tour Montparnasse.
What was once the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul hospital, lying in a no man’s land between Port-Royal and Denfert-Rochereau, is now a creative live-work utopia, thanks to the ambitious vision of Les Grands Voisins. The project is still a work in progress, but 2,000 people – including refugees, artists and craftspeople – are already living and working here. Visitors are welcome to stop by for a coffee (pay it forward and buy one for a neighbour, too), drink at the bar (open evenings from Wednesday to Sunday), or shop in the boutiques and ateliers. The on-site restaurant, L’Oratoire, is a great space to stop for lunch (three courses for €13 (£11.50)), especially in summer, when you can eat at tables in the courtyard.
Rosebud’s white-jacket-clad bartenders have been mixing martinis, manhattans and moscow mules at this old-school, wood-panelled bar for more than 50 years, and it still regularly makes lists of the best bars in the world. This isn’t the kind of place where you come to see and be seen, but to put the world to rights over a quiet cocktail or three. Expect a jazz soundtrack and beautifully made classic drinks. Consider eschewing the traditional old fashioned and order a new fashioned (Peychaud’s Bitters, maraschino and bourbon for €14 (£12.40)) instead.
Paris doesn’t have a theatreland equivalent to London’s West End or New York’s Broadway, so theatres are scattered throughout the city. La rue de la Gaîté is one of the few spots where they’re clustered together. This street has been a hub of stagecraft since the 1870s: the music hall stars of the belle époque performed here, as well as legends such as Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. If you’re not sure about seeing a show in French, check out musical comedies like Tutu and Les Franglaises at Théâtre Bobino.