Where to go in Paris to retrace the footsteps of the 1920's 'Lost Generation'

When you think of Paris in the 1920s, you think of “The Lost Generation”. This legendary group of artists, writers and creators flocked to the French capital in search of an escape during America’s “back to normal” campaign after WWI. They spent their time working on their art, poems and novels and socialising in their favourite hangout spots like bohemian cafés and boozy jazz bars – many of which you can still visit today. Imagine the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Pablo Picasso, and Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, all swapping ideas, hopes and dreams… Then see these historic places for yourself! From bars to gardens, here is where to go in Paris to retrace the footsteps of the Lost Generation, plus books to read to inspire your trip to France.

“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other… But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Where to go in Paris to find the Lost Generation

The cafés – Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore and La Closerie des Lilas

If you’re wondering where to go for an introduction to the Parisian café culture of the 1920s, this is it. These three cafés were the favourite hangout spots for the Lost Generation in the 1920s. They were something of a headquarters for almost all of the famous writers and artists including Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Pound, Picasso and Man Ray, and they would come here to work, drink, eat and discuss. 

Hemingway loved La Closerie des Lilas, set in the Montparnasse quarter, as it was a peaceful place to work when he wanted to be alone. It’s believed he finished his first draft of ‘The Sun Also Rises’ here. Today, the cafe has a plaque on one of the bar stools with Hemingway’s name and his face features on the menu.

Café de Flore is just around the corner from Les Deux Magots on Boulevard Saint-German in the trendy Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter of Paris, and they’ve been drawing artists since the 1880s. Grab a seat here and you might even be lounging in the same spot where Hemingway and E. E. Cummings sat, drank and discussed literature and life. All three cafés are almost identical to how they were when the Lost Generation wined and dined here, so you can kick back and enjoy a drink just as they once did. 

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Shakespeare and Company

It’s one of the most legendary bookstores in the world, opened in 1919 by American expat Sylvia Beach. Set in the heart of Paris, Shakespeare and Co quickly became a favourite stomping ground for the Lost Generation in the 1920s, including Hemingway, Stein, Eliot, Pound and Joyce. Sylvia even lent books to Hemingway when he couldn’t afford to buy them, and published the most controversial works, like Joyce’s Ulysses, when no one else would.

The bookstore was forced to close in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris. While it never opened again in the same location, George Whitman re-opened the bookstore in a second location by the River Seine in 1951. You can visit this bookstore today, which still pays tribute to the original Shakespeare and Co and is a hotspot for literature lovers. The shop even holds regular workshops and festivals with some of the best writers in the world.

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Harry’s New York Bar

It’s no secret the Lost Generation loved to drink, and Harry’s New York Bar was one of their favourite spots. The bar is located just steps away from the Opéra Garnier and has remained almost unchanged since the 1920s. It’s said that the great Paris intellectuals loved to gather here for a chat and a cocktail, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Hemingway, Stein and Fitzgerald. Other celebrities like Coco Chanel and Humphrey Bogart also liked to come here for a drink. As if the bar wasn’t already dripping in star power, they also claim to have invented the Bloody Mary and the French 75. 

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The Dingo Bar

Famed as the bar where Hemingway first met Fitgerald in 1925 (as described in ‘A Moveable Feast’), the Dingo American Bar and Restaurant (or just, The Dingo), was another popular bar of the Lost Generation. They favoured it as it was one of the few bars at the time that was open all night. It’s located in the beloved Montparnasse quarter of Paris, where much of the artistic community lived in the 1920s.

Besides Hemingway and Fitzgerald, you would often see Picasso, Nancy Cunard and Aleister Crowley. Isadora Duncan was also a frequent customer, and she would stroll over from her apartment across the street. The Dingo Bar has since transformed into the Italian restaurant L’Auberge de Venise, but fans can still enjoy a drink at the same bar where Hemingway famously invented some of the cocktails described in his books, like the Long Island Iced Tea.

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Jardin de Luxembourg (The Luxembourg Gardens)

green lawns flowers palace Jardin de Luxembourg Paris France

Sprawling through the 5th arrondissement, the Luxembourg Gardens are famed as a favourite hangout spot of Hemingway. He was known to relax there with his wife and child when the weather was fine. He describes his visits to the gardens and the Musée du Luxembourg in ‘A Moveable Feast’. The gardens have changed little since the era of the Lost Generation, so you’ll really feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of some of its greatest authors. 

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Le Marais

Although it’s now known as a trendy district in the 4th arrondissement, Le Marais was once a working-class district in the 19th century – and the Paris artists quarter. Many of the Lost Generation lived in Le Marais, as the rent was cheap. They sold their works in the markets or on the bridges of the nearby Seine. By night, they revelled in the nightlife around the neighbourhood. 

The famous French authors Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo lived here and today you can see the Musée Victor Hugo where the writer lived. James Joyce also made his home here while he finished writing Ulysses. Hemingway loved this place too, and one of his characters in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ speaks about it with loving nostalgia. You can still see his nearby apartment in the 5th arrondissement in the Left Bank. As you wander through the neighbourhood, you can almost imagine the artists and writers of the Lost Generation living and working here in 1920s Paris.

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Books to read to inspire your ‘Lost Generation’ Paris trip

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Renowned as Hemingway’s greatest work, the legendary author wrote ‘The Sun Also Rises’ during his time in Paris. The now iconic phrase “The Lost Generation” was first published in this book in 1926. The book tells the story of a group of Britons and Americans travelling from Paris to Spain. The characters are based on real people who travelled with Hemingway to Pamplona to watch the bullfighting. The drama that ensued was interesting enough for Hemingway to write about, so it’s sure to inspire your trip to Paris.

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The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

Famous writer Gertrude Stein wrote this book about the life of her partner Alice B. Toklas, and it takes the reader on a wonderful journey to Stein’s 1920s Parisian salon. Stein is famed for coining the term “The Lost Generation”. It describes the collective group of creative expats living in Paris at the time, after observing their ‘lost’ nature and values during her weekly artist’s salon. Her salon was located on Rue de Fleurus in Paris’s 6th arrondissement and was frequented by Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, Matisse and more. She shared the phrase with her friend Hemingway, who then published it so it would live on forever.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway is famed as a wandering soul, and although he fell in love with Paris, he only spent six years living here in the 1920s. However, the time he spent in the city had such an impact on him, he coined his own phrase about Paris, calling it “a moveable feast”

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” 

Ernest Hemingway

The book is an ode to Hemingway’s time spent in Paris with his first wife, Hadley, and their baby, where he dedicated his time to his works. He beautifully describes his beloved city and it’s one of the most treasured records of this era in Paris. Here he met other famous members of the Lost Generation including Stein, Fitzgerald and Pound. The book is also a great guide to their favourite hang-out spots, from the Latin Quarter to Rue Mouffetard.

Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach

You’ve heard of the iconic bookstore, but what about its owner, Sylvia Beach? She was close friends with many legends of the Lost Generation like Hemingway, Stein, Joyce and Pound. This book tells the tales from her time spent in the bookstore with them, focusing on her friendship with James Joyce and her controversial publishing of Ulysses. It’s an incredible insight into the Lost Generation and the literary world of 1920s Paris.

Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story by Amanda Vaill

Remember the dramatic adventures of Hemingway and friends in ‘The Sun Also Rises’? Gerald and Sarah Murphy were one of the couples who joined Hemingway on his journey to Pamplona. This book tells the story of the Murphys and their three children, who joined the many Americans seeking an escape in Paris in the 1920s. Gerald was a talented painter and the couple loved to throw parties. They quickly became friends with many of the famous Lost Generation artists. 

The Murphys are also the inspiration for the characters Nicole and Dick Driver in Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender is the Night on the Murphys’. ‘Living Well Is the Best Revenge’ by Calvin Tomkins is yet another book about the couple’s life story with intimate photos of them and Gerald’s paintings. With so many famous authors writing about them, you’ll definitely want to know about the iconic Murphys and their captivating life in 1920s Paris.

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The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

We’ve all heard about Hemingway’s perspective on Paris, but what about his wife? This book tells the story of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, and their heartbreaking relationship from its romantic beginning to stormy ending. They shared a son who they lovingly called Bumby, and the book gives an insight into how Hemingway repeatedly chose his work and social life over his family. 

Paris Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner

As the first Paris correspondent for The New Yorker, Janet Flanner was an expert on Paris in the 1920s. She wrote the ‘Letter from Paris’ column for 50 years starting in 1925. Flanner wrote about everything from the Parisian art world to the gripping crimes of the time. She was also a part of the Lost Generation and was friends with Gertrude Stein. As you read through this brilliant collection of Flanner’s works, you’ll get an extraordinary insight into Paris and the Lost Generation in the 1920s.

Have you visited any of these ‘Lost Generation’ places in Paris? Let us know in the comments below!

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