Browsing Les Bouquinistes — Paris’s Seine-side Booksellers

On a beautiful fall day in Paris there are an abundance of places to visit, but one of the best ways to spend such a day is strolling along the riverbanks in central Paris to browse the bouquinistes.

Paris Rendezvous

You may have already visited the Parisian bouquinistes yourself, but if not, you’ve likely caught glimpses of them in images of Paris in print and film. After all, these green stalls lining the river banks on the left and right bank from the Louvre to Notre Dame are one of the most iconic images of Paris. So I thought you might like to know the story behind these famous booksellers.

They are truly a living piece of history. They have been open consistently for centuries. While the individual sellers themselves passed on with the ages and handed down to new generations, the stalls themselves have been open for business for nearly five hundred years now! There are few markets or shops in the world than can claim such longevity. During the Wars of Religion, they distributed forbidden protestant pamphlets, and after the French Revolution their business boomed as the libraries of the wealthy elite were raided and redistributed to the masses, starting here!

But rest assured these vendors have no common commercial lease. Things are done the old way, with the stalls handed down generation to generation on seniority. Last I heard the waiting list was eight years long! Each lucky vendor is given four stalls of a uniform size for which they pay a token rent of only 100 euros a year for the stone walls upon which they sit. But the rules state they must be open at least four days a week or their spot must be given up. Plus, they are responsible for all upkeep, notably keeping the signature green paint fresh.

Then all that’s left to do is fill their stands with the treasures they collect for shoppers, like you and I, to come and browse. I wanted to share the bouquinistes with you because they are one of the best places to catch retro visions of French culture and buy the most unique souvenirs. In addition to old French books, here you’ll find vast assortments of old French fashion magazines, film and concert posters, maps, comic books, and even historic newspapers. If it went down in history in print, chances are you can find it there. Many sellers have also taken to selling art, notably original sketches and paintings of Parisian landscapes. From time to time you can even shop a few antiques at the bouquinistes.

So whether you get the chance to visit and shop them someday, or just love a bit of Paris history, I hope you enjoyed getting to know more about these famous fixtures in the life and times of Paris!

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