An Introduction to Quartier Latin, the Fifth Arrondissement of Paris
My introduction to Paris was living on Ile Saint Louis. It's a quiet neighborhood smack dab in the center of Paris between the 4th and 5e. Things don't really pop off until the weekends when the tourist hordes descend on to every bridge connecting it to other parts of Paris. It makes you want to stay in on the weekends.
Despite this nuisance, I loved it. it was a peaceful little oasis conveniently located in the middle. Everything in the neighborhood is relatively expensive and the one grocery store on the island isn't open like two days out of the week but in this case aesthetic trumps convenience.
My first flat was on the corner of Rue Boutarel and Quai d'Orleans facing Notre Dame. I didn’t realize it when I first booked it, but in hindsight the location couldn't have been more perfect. I love gothic architecture (in the French style) and I couldn't have had a better sight to see everyday when I left my flat. Actually it's kind of scary and ominous when they turn the lights off at night. But beautiful none the less. For whatever reason this led me to making trips to the 5th for groceries and that.
My second flat was located on Quai du Bourdon, on the other side of the island facing Hotel de Ville. I still made stops to Monoprix in the 5th (cheaper) but Rue Jean du Bellay turns into Rue Vieille du Temple so I started to spend much more time in Marais. I prefer the medival streets of Marais, although I've often wondered what happens if a fire breaks out. Those streets are tiny. Cars can barely fit through them. There was once a fire on Ile Saint Louis, but it was on Quai du Bourdon, and somehow on river level, so the firefighters took up one side of the bridge, and with the exception of the tourists, everyone went on their way.
About two months into my stay in Paris I moved to the Latin Quarter, which I was deeply unhappy about. Gone were the cute little streets, tiny buildings, and small village feel of Saint Louis. I didn't think it was pretty either. Buildings were newer and they didn't have the quintessential Juliet balconies and arched windows. They're there, but mostly on Sainte Germaine and Rue des Écoles before it turns into Monge. Everyone used to tell me "it's a good area" but I didn't see it like that. I was two blocks from Jardin des Plantes, which felt like the outer edges of Paris. It's not really now that I know more (my border is probably Austelitz now). It could have been worse, I could have moved to an area that wasnt a direct neighbor.
The Latin Quarter is much younger feeling. This is probably due to the number of universities, and the sheer number of students that live in the area. It has a lot of bistros and cafés. The most notable street for this being Rue Mouffetard. There are tons of bars and restaurants lining the street. and through a courtyard, down some steps you'll find an underground bowling spot. While a lot of people rave about Mouffetard, really any street in the area will provide you with restaurants and bars. There aren't a lot of "quiet streets".
It's just as historic as Marais. It's home to the Arènes de Lutèce and Thermes de Cluny, which sadly I admit I used to pass everytime I went to Monoprix (it's across the street) and used to think "what is this hideous structure?, why does it exist? Yuck". It's not particularly beautiful in the cold grey of winter surrounded by non-decrepit buildings (but McDonald's has a good view overlooking it).
Geographically it also quite hilly. Although nothing like Montmartre, I still used to curse having to walk up Lacepede. The only reward of all of my hard work trudging up and down that hill was that my flat afforded a great view of all of Paris. It provided unobstructed views, and because my building was modern, my flat was floor to ceiling windows. Not ideal at night because people could see all of your business, but I had views of the Sacre Coeur and the high rises of the 20th. I could practically touch the roof of the Pantheon, and from the other side of my flat the modern high rises of the 13th, and the light shows from the Tour Montparnasse and the Eifel Tower offered cheap entertainment. I don't know what's up with the light shows. The Sorbonne Nouvelle also did one at around 11pm and Hotel de Ville used to get lit up around that time too. And for some reason bright lights used to shine on Notre Dame for about 15 minutes around 10pm.
I'm not sure of it's specific boundaries. I always though it bordered Saint Michele to the west (I would consider Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th even if it's right on Saint Michel), the Seine to the north, and Saint Marcel to the east (although I never went past Rue Censier/Buffon). While I did get used to it, I'm just not a fan of areas that house uni kids. If you're interested in a younger neighborhood, where most of the residents are under 25, it's definitely the place to be.