Paris Top Destinations

Take a Tour of Victor Hugo's Paris

As a film version of his Les Miserables hits theaters, consider traveling in the French writer’s footsteps

It was at the La Comédie-Française where Hugo brought his controversial new play, “Hernani,” that became a spark plug for Paris’s greater societal and political tensions (Wiki Commons/Frank Scherschel/Getty)

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Le Grand Véfour

One of Hugo’s favorite spots to eat was the Grand Véfour in the Palais-Royal, which first opened its doors (as the Café de Chartres) in 1784. Though the menu has changed, the restaurant’s gilded frames, neoclassical paintings and mirrored walls are original. During the 19th century, the Véfour served as a hangout for the literary elite; Hugo and his friends even ate there before the “Battle of Hernani.” The writer’s order was always the same: vermicelli noodles, mutton and white beans. Today, the Michelin-starred restaurant, helmed by Chef Guy Martin, is known for rich French dishes such as duck liver ravioli and Prince Rainier III pigeon. Reserve a seat at the “Hugo table” near the window, with its courtyard view.

17 Rue de Beaujolais
75001 Paris
Tel: 33 1 42 96 56 27
Metro: Pyramides, Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre

Notre-Dame Cathedral

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831), Hugo’s great tale about a disfigured bell ringer and a 12th-century cathedral, made him the most famous writer in Europe. Hugo was a frequent visitor to the church, and at its heart, Hunchback is a story about preservation; when the book was published, most Parisians­—when they thought of it at all—saw Notre-Dame as a shabby, moth-eaten antiquity. The novel’s popularity drew thousands of tourists to the grand edifice on the Îsle de la Cité, a natural island in the Seine, and it was finally restored in 1844. Today, visitors still flock for a chance to view the cathedral’s Gothic bell towers, flying buttresses and rosace stained-glass windows. Notre Dame offers free, hour-long tours each day, with information on its history, architecture and more.

6 Parvis Notre-Dame, Place Jean-Paul II
75004 Paris
Metro: Cité or Saint-Michel

Hours: Mon-Fri, 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.; Sat-Sun, 8 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.

Musée des Égouts de Paris (Paris Sewer Museum)

Paris’s underworld features heavily in Les Misérables, most famously its sewers, which once branched for a hundred miles beneath the city’s cobbled streets. It is here that Jean Valjean escapes in one of the book’s most dramatic scenes, fleeing the barricade with a wounded Marius on his back. “An abrupt fall into a cavern; a disappearance into the secret trapdoor of Paris; to quit that street where death was on every side, for that sort of sepulchre where there was life, was a strange instant,” writes Hugo. Baron Haussmann’s overhaul left few stones unturned, including the black, squalid sewer tunnels of Hugo’s day. But, visitors to the city can still catch a glimpse of Paris’ underground at the Musée des Égouts, which offers hour-long tours chronicling the sewer system’s modern development—no hazmat suit required.

Face au 93 Quai d’Orsay
75007 Paris
Tel: 33 1 53 68 27 81
Metro: Alma-Marceau


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