Written by Linda Donahue
I discovered the Jardin du Luxembourg completely by accident. It was my first trip to Paris – my first day in the city – and I was staying at a lovely little hotel on the rue Monsieur Le Prince in Saint-Germain. I strolled up toward the Boulevard St-Michel and suddenly found myself walking through the gates of a beautiful sprawling park.
Spread out along 60 acres, the Jardin du Luxembourg offers fountains, statues, ponds, flowerbeds, tennis courts, pony rides, a marionette theatre, playgrounds, food kiosks and open-air cafes.
The formal gardens is dominated by a central parterre surrounded by terraces, which are in turn surrounded by allees of trees interspersed with towering statues. Surrounded the central space are about twenty figures of French queens and saints standing regally upon their pedestals. You’ll also discover homages to Beethoven, Delacroix, Georges Sand, Massenet, Paul Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire, along with the original bronze model for the Statue of Liberty.
Of course, one can’t help but notice the Palais du Luxembourg overlooking the Jardin, which was built for Marie de Médicis (mother to King Louix XIII) in 1615. It served as a prison during the French Revolution, as Napoleon’s first residence as First Consul of France, and as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe during the German occupation of France. Today, the Palais is the seat of the French Senate.
More than just a spectacularly beautiful place, the Jardin is a part of the fabric of Paris. At any given time of the day, you’ll find people of all ages gathered here. Students from the nearby Sorbonne studying. Old men playing chess. Joggers following the winding paths. Workers eating while meeting or reading during their lunchtime while children sailed their toy boats across the pond.
During my first visit to Paris, I came to the Jardin every single day at around 7:00pm. The gates close at sunset and, being that it was June, it was still light out until nearly 10:00pm. I would sit on one of the countless chairs that surround the main pond for hours and simply absorb all of the activity around me. One evening, I watched spellbound as a man shared his baguette with the pigeons and tiny birds that flocked around him, some eating right out of his hand. It was one of those magical moments that stay with you forever.
The Jardin du Luxembourg is open to the public during daylight hours only. There is no admission fee.