Around Paris in 20 Arrondissements
Paris proper is made up of 20 areas, called arrondissements municipaux, or most commonly just arrondissements. Administrative districts, they were established in 1860, redefining older divisions. Beginning with the 1st arrondissement in the center, right around Notre Dame, they spiral numerically like a snail’s shell outwards towards the original walls of the city. (This is a good map, although the site is in French.) Although they are not really neighborhoods (the true neighborhoods cross over the lines), they do have definite vibes to them. An address will always include which arrondissement it’s in, a very useful tool for figuring out whether something is just too far away. Also, the last digit(s) of a zip code are the arrondissement. Anecdotally, Parisians have been known to frequent just a few areas, usually the ones around where they work and live, and rarely, if ever, set foot in others, because even with the good, if sprawling, Metro system, a trip from one corner of the city to another can take up to two hours.
As part of Challenge:Accepted! I decided I wanted to visit every arrondissement in Paris. What better way to see all the unique and out-of-the-way corners of Paris? Taking photos of street signs seemed the obvious and charming way of documenting this. I was surprised that it took me 15 months, our entire trip to do it. I had expected to find myself in every arrondissement, either by wandering or being there for some purpose, and this was sometimes the case. Often I had already been to the arrondissement without knowing it. But occasionally, as with the 17th and 19th, I had to specifically make a trip.
Every visitor to Paris almost certainly steps foot in this area. The physical center of Paris, it is also home to several of the most popular attractions, including the Louvre, the Tuileries and extending into the Seine and part of the Île de la Cité, including the Conciergerie. Busy and touristy, with shops and restaurants and less housing. I found myself here a lot, either walking to or from other places, visiting sites, or just having a good wander. A must-visit, but a bit expensive to stay.
Just north of the 1st, the 2nd is another less residential district, focussed more on business, as well as upscale shopping. It’s commonly known as Bourse, which is the Paris Stock Exchange. It’s the smallest in actual area. I usually only found myself here when walking through it, say from the 9th, down to the Metro in the 1st.
Most travelers find themselves in the third at some point. It’s become a popular place to stay, as it’s so close to many sites, and it’s in the trendy Upper Marais district. Artsy and beautiful, it holds the Picasso Museum and the Carnavalet Museum, as well as lots of shopping, eating and drinking.
This is an area packed with goodies, including the oldest part of the city, the Île Saint-Louis, which is a magical little island, at the very least necessary for (arguably) the best ice cream in Paris, the picturesque Place du Vosges and also the lower half of the Marais which was once home to the very well-heeled, then became the Jewish quarter of Paris, and now houses the Gay quarter as well. It’s very heavily trafficked for all of these reasons, yet feels more tranquil than the 1st. A great place for walking, shopping, and getting a great bagel or falafel. Also would be great to stay here, if you can afford it!
Another must-see, this is the first district on the rive gauche, or left bank of the Seine, traditionally the home of artists and scholars. The Latin quarter is located here and The Sorbonne, as well as a ton of students and all of the attending restaurants, bars, bookstores, fast food and shopping.
Also on the left bank, this area, Saint-Germain des Prés, is a popular area for locals and tourists alike and attracts people to the Jardin du Luxembourg, perfect for strolling, picnicking and pétanque.
Mostly rich people, museums and monuments, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin, Musée du Quai Branly and Tour Eiffel are here, it’s very much a must-go, and quite beautiful, although if you’ve been to all these hot spots once (or okay, twice) I wouldn’t necessarily go back.
Back on the right bank, this neighborhood is great for shopping and sight-seeing, and that typical Paris style, as well as beautiful views of the Eiffel Tower. The Champs-Élysées, that famous (straight) avenue cuts straight through, and L’église de la Madeleine is a beautiful church. A popular neighborhood to stay in as well (though expensive).
Known as the Opera district, for the giant, beautiful Opéra Garnier, I only ever found myself here walking, either from Montmartre above it back down to the 1 Metro line below it, or walking West along the Boulevard Haussman, where all the department stores are (one department store, Galleries Lafayette, is in the 9th itself.) Again, mostly residential, I found it depressing and touristy in a bad way. But that may have been the rain.
The Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord – can be found here. This is a down-to-earth arrondissement with the Canal Saint-Martin, where Amelie went to skip rocks. A younger and slightly bohemian element with lots of cafes, restaurants and bars.
Commonly known as Bastille, for the famous building (that was actually torn down and is no longer there, so don’t go looking for it), this is a cool neighborhood, very residential, just east of the big 1,2,3,4 and west of the more bohemian 20th. Bordered on one side by the Boulevard Richard Lenoir with its giant market, and on the other with Père Lachaise cemetery, this is where I took French class, and where, my teacher informed us, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis used to live until they broke up.
I had walked through the 12th many times before without even knowing it, since it borders the Eastern edge of Paris, and Vincennes, where we lived, is on the other side. We often walked from Bastille through the 12th to Vincennes. The Promenade Plantée, an elevated walkway/park on what used to be train tracks, like the High Line but way before the High Line, also runs through here from Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes.
This mostly residential and very multi-cultural area encompasses Chinatown. I came here to go to a large and well-stocked grocery store that was located in the Place d’Italie, looking for some specific sea salt for my family back home, but there’s not much else.
This area holds most of what is known as Montparnasse, for the Boulevard Montparnasse. It also holds the Catacombs, a popular if macabre site for certain visitors, or ones who have seen the museums and the other usual things. As we venture further out from the center, all arrondissements become largely residential. This one has a younger feel because of the Cité Universitaire, plus plenty of bars and restaurants.
The largest in size and population, it is understandably very diverse, bordering the Seine on one side and Montparnasse on the other. The Tour Montparnasse is actually located here (a large black tower, ugly to look at, but nice to look from). We came here to visit the Parc André Citroën, a unique park and botanical garden on the former site of a car factory.
Located just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, this is another oft-touristed area. It spreads quite far to the West and bumps up against the Bois du Bologne on the periphery of the city. This is an area that attracts very wealthy people to live, such as politicians, businesspeople and the like.
A largely residential district (and up-and-coming and desirable, from what I’ve read) I had to specifically make a trip here. Although this is a very typical Parisian neighborhood, there really isn’t much to see here and not a lot of original character.
Contains the famous Montmartre, of artists and can-can dancers. All but the most staid tourists will find themselves here, perhaps to visit the Place du Tertre, home to artists, now home to portraitists waiting to draw you, the Moulin Rouge or, at the very least, Sacré-Coeur basilica with its stunning view of the city below. Touristy, and with some more seedy pockets, but still fun.
Another out of the way area, at least for me, I came here on one of my last days in Paris, but I almost wish I had discovered the lovely Parc des Buttes-Chaumont sooner. Residential, multi-cultural and working class.
A more out of the way area which still gets visitors because of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the final resting place of many Parisians, as well as the most famous residents, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. This area, once very working class, is gentrifying a bit thanks to its affordability and strong culture.