One of my favourite things to do in Paris, is to wander through the couple of hundred bouquiniste stalls along the Seine. Described by many as an “open-air bookshop”, they combine my love of books, antiques, bookshops and market stalls in such a picturesque way.
At these stalls, you will find a huge selection of French second-hand and vintage books, magazines, posters and souvenirs. You get a sense of nostalgia whilst looking through the vintage posters and the aged book spines from bygone eras.
Les bouquinistes on the Seine have been around for centuries and form a part of Paris’ literary history, tradition and landscape. What started out as a way of life for wandering merchants in the 17th century to sell used (salvaged) books along the Seine, the practice has evolved over time, through the revolution and the world wars. With such a history, it is no wonder that they gained UNESCO world heritage status in 1991.
Each stall consists of four boxes that are attached to the walls along the Seine. As local rules dictate, the exterior of each box has to be dark green in colour, and at least three of the boxes must contain books. These stalls are well regulated by the Paris city council, and are subject to regular inspections. The bouquinistes are frequented by the locals (as the majority of material is in French), but the stall holders have had to adapt to the numerous amount of tourists by selling souvenirs – much to the dismay of the Parisians. An interesting article I came across from The Guardian in 2008 describes the booksellers’ plight of needing to make a profit while trying to keep to the city council’s rules (and local opinion).
You can find these booksellers on the Right Bank from Pont Marie to Quai du Louvre, and on the Left Bank, from Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire. They are open every day, with the exception of poor weather.
On past visits, I’ve bought a few children’s books at these stalls (a copy of Le Petit Prince and a few French Mister Men and Women stories). Each of them were carefully wrapped in cellophane and in pristine condition. On my next visit, I hope to find the perfect vintage print from the Babar series for my daughter’s room (I couldn’t decide on one the last time I was there).
Les bouquinistes are lovely to walk through, make sure you stop to admire (or even buy) the beautiful books!