the luxembourg gardens and French senate building

The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, Episode 184

 The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris


When we do  a tour in Paris, we always start with the Luxembourg Gardens. Why? Because it’s a haven of peace and simple joy for everybody we know who has ever visited it. Our tours also always start on a Sunday, and Sundays and Wednesdays are the best times to go to the Luxembourg Gardens, not that there is a bad time to go, mind you.

In this episode of the podcast we explain how the Luxembourg Gardens came about historically and we list most of the things you can enjoy there today. The Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the best places to take a walk in Paris, and it is also something we recommend to everyone, even first-time visitors to Paris.

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Luxembourg Gardens, pond and toy boat with the Senate building in the background

What You Will Learn About in this Episode

 The Luxembourg Gardens Are a Favorite

[02:00] The Luxembourg Gardens are a favorite for both Annie and Elyse and for most people who know Paris well. Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens are roughly of the same size, but have a different feeling to them.

The Origins of the Luxembourg Gardens

[04:06] At first there was a large Palace and they built the Luxembourg Gardens around it. The large Palace you see today is the French Senate, this dates from the late 1500s. But first, there was a smaller palace that is now off to the side. The small palace dates from the late 1300s. It was the residence of the Duke of Luxembourg, and it had a small garden and orangery to begin with.

Marie de Medici Commissioned both the Palace and the Luxembourg Gardens

[07:00] Marie de Medici was the wife of Henri IV and a cousin to Catherine de Medici (who was the wife of Henri II and they are hard to keep straight!) Marie grew up in Florence with the Boboli Gardens. When Henri IV was assassinated in 1610, she became the regent. She hated the Louvre, so she hired Italian designers and engineers to build her a wonderful palace and gardens. You can’t visit the French Senate other than on the Week-End du Patrimoine each September.

The Life of Marie de Medici and Henri IV Painted by Rubens

[10:53] Marie de Medici also commissioned a series of 24 paintings on her life by Rubens. You can see them in a special wing at the Louvre. When you visit the Louvre it is good to target a particular area to look at so it is not so overwhelming and this cycle of paintings by Rubens would be a good choice for that!

The Medici Fountain at the Luxembourg Gardens

[12:57] Marie de Medici kept the name Luxembourg for the park, but she had the fountain named after herself. It is not a large fountain, but it was a replica of one in Florence. The reflecting pool was added later. This fountain is really dark by now, it would look much nicer it they cleaned it up. This is in stark contrast with the Senate that looks lovely and creamy.

Luxembourg Gardens Medici fountain and reflecting pond
The Medici Fountain and Reflecting Pond, photo Annie Sargent

A Symmetrical Garden

[14:58] The style at the time was to build symmetrical gardens and that’s what they decided to do at the Luxembourg Garden, except for a small part of the garden that is more English-style. The Statues were not part of the original design of the garden, they were added in the late 1800s, Annie will talk about that later on.

 

Historical Tidbit: Marie and her Son Louis XIII Didn’t Get Along!

[165:48] In 1642, Marie’s son kicked her out of the Palace and the Luxembourg Gardens and she had to go live in a different palace. The palace was turned into the French Senate after the French Revolution. In the meantime it was a museum that has since moved to the smaller building that was owned by the Duke of Luxembourg, a good place to visit if it starts raining while you are visiting.

An Official Government Building

[18:25] The Luxembourg Gardens today belong to the French Senate. As such, it is an official governmental center, it is well protected and could be closed on account of a terror alert, but we’ve never seen that happen.

luxembourg gardens senate building with dramatic grey sky
Photo Annie Sargent

The Attractions You Will Find at the Luxembourg Gardens

Small Is Beautiful

[20:18] The Luxembourg Gardens are tiny compared to major parks in world capitals. It is only 23 hectares of which 21 are open to the public. By comparison, Central Park in New York is 315 hectares. Hyde Park in London is 256 hectares. A small park is better in Annie’s opinion because there is so much in a small space, it’s easy to enjoy because all the different attractions are near one another.

  • The French Senate
  • The Medici Garden and reflecting Pond
  • Circular pond in the middle with little boats you can rent
  • Large children’s playground, fenced, good for people with toddlers who tend to run off!
  • Puppet Show: Guignol. This is a classic show that won’t suit everybody, it’s like English Pantomime but simpler. All in French, the idea is to interact with the children, if your kids don’t speak any French they won’t understand anything.
  • Pétanque Club. Anybody can play if they buy a yearly membership for about 20€. Super friendly people that welcome people from all over the world. Great place to go try pétanque!
Pétanque game at the Luxembourg Gardens
Pétanque game, photo Annie Sargent
  • Statue of Liberty that was made to test the bigger one you see in New York. There’s another one near the entrance of the Art & Métiers Museum in Paris.
  • Music kiosk where amateurs get to play, your mileage may vary.
musical kiosk at the luxembourg garden
Music Kiosk at the Jardin du Luxembourg, photo Annie Sargent.
  • Paths for joggers.
  • Wonderful chairs that are free now, but you had to pay to sit on them long ago. Free today! You will see people reading, chatting
Couple sitting in chairs at the Luxembourg Gardens
Photo Annie Sargent
  • There are two cafés where they make crêpes and sell good coffee.
Luxembourg Gardens café with chairs
Photo Annie Sargent
  • It is very scenic, the trees are cut in a rectangular shape, topiary-style to maintain the one point perspective.
  • Les Reines de France and Femmes Illustres: this is a hodge-podge collection of French women who are mostly wives and mothers of French Kings.
statue of the famous women of france at the luxembourg gardens
Notable women of France, photo Annie Sargent.

Other Major Attractions You See Near the Luxembourg Garden

[33:00] The Pantheon is nearby (episode 71). You also have the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is next to the Pantheon, Annie’s favorite church in Paris. You can also see the magical steps in Midnight in Paris next to the church. The neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Près is also nearby. Beautiful stores, lively most of the time. The theater of the Odeon isn’t far, Elyse thinks it’s gorgeous. The Marie Curie Museum (episode 79). It is also a lovely area to stay in if you like a quiet area.

The Luxembourg Gardens Are a Must-See

[37:43] If you are going to Paris, even if it is your first time, go to the Luxembourg Garden. You will feel a part of French life that is genuine, posh, historical, and pleasant. There are also photography exhibits outside of the garden, it’s fun to walk around the outside of the gate to see that too. We like the café called Le Petit Suisse on rue Vaugirard. It is full of Parisian charm, you will love it!

Is It OK to Bring a Bottle of Wine to the Luxembourg Gardens?

[39:42] Whenever Annie goes to the Luxembourg Gardens she sees people enjoying wine there. They bring a bottle of wine to share with friends. It’s a bit crass from a French perspective, but not forbidden. Open container rules in France are very lax, unless you’re a homeless person or it’s an area where students get out of control.

Free WiFi in Paris

[43:00] Like any other fenced park in Paris, you will find free WiFi at the Luxembourg Gardens.

 

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