Where to stay in Paris: A guide to the Arrondissements

Where to stay in Paris: A guide to the Arrondissements

The city of Paris is made up of 20 neighborhoods, known as arrondissements. Every Parisian has their favorite, and equally passionately, heartily dislikes another area. (Not as much as they dislike the suburbs, but that is another story!)

So, Left bank vs. Right bank, the Marais vs. Latin Quarter, or Passy vs. Buttes aux Cailles. Here is a guide on what to see and what to do in each area.

What is an arrondissement and what does it mean?

An arrondissement is more than just a neighborhood, it is a district with its own mayor, town hall, and individual bureaucracy. The arrondissements can be as different from one another as chalk and cheese, with each one having its own special “personality”.

And above them, the City of Paris has a larger governing Mayor and Hotel de Ville (town hall) above them. The French certainly like their layers of government! We don’t have the English equivalent of the word “Mille Feuille“, which is a french cake, but also refers to the many layers of bureaucracy.

So to give an example, if you are getting married, or trying to get your child into créche (nursery), it is the individual town hall of your arrondissement that you will be dealing with.

But for the overall management of Paris, such as cleanliness, housing issues, school openings & closings, it is the large Hotel de Ville in the 4th arrondissement that is in charge. (There is not a quiz later on all this, I promise.)

Illustrated map of Paris and its arrondissements
Illustrated map of Paris and its arrondissements

In recent news, it has been announced that the arrondissements 1-4, that center of Paris on the Right Bank, are going to merge into a single arrondissement at the next election in 2020, as more and more Parisians leave for the suburbs. If you would like to understand why, here is my post about the truth about living in Paris: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Anyway let’s zoom in on each neighborhood, shall we?

1e – The Louvre Museum & Chatelet

The center of Paris! Here you will find the mother of all Metro stations: Chatelet Les Halles.  It is one of the largest metro stations in the world and probably one of the ugliest as well. The main connecting point for most of the public transit in Paris.  

With many 5-star Hotel Palaces and the lovely Jardin des Tuileries right around the corner, this is Haute Paris.

Don’t miss:

  • Louvre Museum, the world’s largest art museum, and a UNESCO historic monument.
  • Pont Neuf bridge and the little Square du Vert-Galant park at the tip of the island, to catch a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. 
  • Conciergerie, the palace turned prison, where Marie Antoinette spent her last days.

If you have time:

  • The high-end shops on Rue Saint-Honoré.
Close up of Louvre museum in Paris

2e – Palais de la Bourse

One of the smallest arrondissements in Paris, it used to be organized around the ancien Palais de la Bourse, or Palace of the Stock Market.   With everything being online these days, the Bourse now holds events such as exhibitions and private cocktail parties. (Link in French).

Don’t miss:

  • The hidden covered passageways such as Passages des Panoramas and Galerie Vivienne.

If you have time:

  • Rue Etienne Marcel and Rue Montorgueil, two lovely and lively streets at the heart of Paris.

3e – The Marais

This is the heart of the Marais. With the bustling Rue de Rivoli and pedestrian shopping zones, this is the perfect area to while away an afternoon. The area has a ton of bars and restaurants, as well as a lively gay scene, so park yourself at a café terrasse and have a cocktail.

Note, if you are looking for a quiet apartment with not much street noise, the Marais is not the place to be.

Don’t miss:

  • the Marais pedestrian zone.
  • Visit the gorgeous Places des Vosges and its lovely art galleries. This is the oldest square in Paris, where French nobility and elite still live.

If you have time:

  • the Place de la Republique which is the place you see on TV where protestors usually gather.
  • the Picasso Museum, hosting many works of the artist Pablo Picasso.

4e – Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral

The Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Cité is under construction after its extensive fire in April 2019, but you can still admire it from the outside.

These days, the two islands in the middle of Paris, Ile de la Cité and its neighboring Île St Louis are charming quiet neighborhoods where understated shops and restaurants flourish.

Don’t miss:

  • Bertillon’s icecream on Ile Saint Louis.

If you have time:

  • The Centre Pompidou’s collection of modern art.
  • The Hôtel de Ville (Paris’s main town hall). While you cannot visit inside, the neo-renaissance building is spectacular and often has events in front of it (concerts in the summer and an ice-skating rink in winter).
Back view of Notre Dame Cathedral de Paris
Back view of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral

5e – Latin Quarter

Nicknamed the Latin Quarter for the university La Sorbonne that used to teach in Latin, this is the oldest part of Paris. The Romans used to hang out here. Today, it is still a student area, with many student bars and restaurants. Don’t be fooled though, the area is quite familial with many bourgeois Parisians also making their home here.

Don’t miss:

  • the Pantheon, where France’s national heros and legendary figures are buried.
  • Go shopping on Rue Mouffetard and people watch from the nearby cafés at Place de Contrescape.

If you have time:

  • Musée de Cluny, which houses an extensive collection of medieval art in a 15th-century abbey.
  • Shakespeare & Co’s bookstore near the banks of the Seine river.
Place de Contrescape in the 5th arrondissement

6e – Saint-Germain-des-Prés

This is the very exclusive quartier de Odeon and the most expensive part of Paris.  The famous café Les Deux Magots where Picasso and Hemingway were regulars, is also in the 6th, today attracting hordes of tourists.

Don’t miss:

  • Jardin du Luxembourg, the local backyard of central Parisians.
  • Church of Saint Sulpice, which is these days, most famous for being featured in the Dan Brown novel Da Vinci Code.

If you have time:

  • Transport yourself to medieval Paris with a visit to the Cours du Commerce Saint-André courtyard (link in French), a narrow passageway with cobblestone streets that looks like it belongs in Harry Potter.

7e – Tour Eiffel

La grande dame, the Eiffel Tower lives here, with the glorious Champs de Mars park at its base. The 7th is also home to the Musée d’Orsay, that “other” museum that gives the Louvre a good run for its money.

This is a quieter part of the city, with most of the arrondissement covered by large complex of Les Invalides buildings and the Champs de Mars.

Don’t miss:

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Musée d’Orsay, the world-renowned museum that is home to the Impressionists.
  • Les Invalides with its over-the-top tomb of Napolean Bonaparte and its military museums. It is still today a military base in the center of the city, and many important events take place in its courtyards.
  • The ornate Pont Alexandre III bridge which leads to the Grand Palais.
Napoleon's tomb in the Invalides in Paris
Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides in Paris

If you have time:

  • Musée Rodin, dedicated to the French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
  • Bon Marché, a grand department store that has probably every high-end item you can think of. Bring your chequebook.

8e – Place de la Concorde and Champs Elysées

We’ve done a circle and are back near the Louvre Museum and the Rue de Rivoli. Place de la Concorde is where Marie-Antoinette, King Louis VI and other members of French nobility had their heads guillotined. These days it is a giant roundabout, with a fountain in the middle and the American Embassy next to it.

Connecting to the Concorde is that famous shopping street the Champs Elysées, which has seen the invading armies of Napolean, Hitler, and busloads of foreign tourists.

Nearby is also the home of the French President, the Palais Elysées, but unless it is Patrimony Day, you will not be able to visit inside.

Don’t miss:

  • Avenue des Champs Elysées
  • Place de la Concorde

If you have time:

  • Stroll through the luxury boutiques on Avenue Montaigne. Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent Paris, and Prada are all located in the neighborhood.
  • See what special exhibitions are on at the Grand Palais and Petit Palais.
Palais Elysées - Residence of the President of France
Palais Elysées – Residence of the President of France

9e – Grand Boulevard and Opéra Garnier

The 9th is one of the best arrondissements for night-life. If you are looking for hip young bars, Grand Boulevard and So-pi (aka South Pigalle) are the places to be.

If you are looking for a show, the Opera house Palais Garnier, Folie Bèrgere or any one of the tiny theatres that are in the quartier can entertain you.

And if you need something to wear for all these wonderful outings, the Grand Magasins (department stores) Galarie Lafayette and Printemps will have you properly equipped.

Don’t miss:

  • The rooftop café of Galerie Lafayette, offering splendid views of the city.
  • Catch a show at the Opera Garnier, or take the tour of the opera house.

If you have time:

  • Rue des Martyrs is now a vibrant street for gourmands covered in artisan food shops, cafés, and restaurants.
  • If you missed out on the covered passages in the 2nd arrondissement earlier, not to worry, some of them such as Passage Jouffroy connect into the 9th!

10e – Canal St Martin

This is hipster central, the place where cool Parisians hang out for after-work drinks. With its iron footbridges, this 19th-century waterway is lined with trendy restaurants and bars.

Further north is the Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est train stations, which I will confess are probably two metro stations that you do not want to loiter outside of.

Don’t miss:

  • Take a river cruise from Canal Saint-Martin to the Seine River, where you will pass under the Place de la Bastille and the city of Paris.

If you have time:

  • Visit the edgy neighborhood of Belleville, a tiny corner that straddles the 10, 11, 19 and 20th arrondissements. This is the other Paris.
Artwork in Belleville Paris
Belleville in Paris

11e – Place de la Bastille

The epicenter of the French Revolution, Place de la Bastille is where the ancient prison was located before it was destroyed. Looking at the busy roundabout these days, you would never know it was there.

So instead wander over to the quirky Rue de Lappe with its many bars and discotheques, and let your hair down. And if you happen to have a nuit blanche (an all-nighter at the bars) and it is Sunday morning, you are in luck. The Marché Bastille, one of the largest outdoor farmers’ markets in Paris will be on.

Don’t miss:

  • Place de la Bastille and Rue de Lappe

If you have time:

  • Quartier Obercampf, another lively neighborhood with bars and restaurants.
  • Jardin du Port d’Arsenal, a lovely park on the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin, just before the Canal connects to the Seine River.

12e – Bercy Village

This is where the Instagram-famous Rue Cremieux can be found, but we really think you should leave its residents alone. The 12th arrondissement is one of the more residential neighborhoods of Paris, but there are still plenty of shops and restaurants around.

It is also home to the Opera de Bastille, otherwise known as the ugly step-sister, compared to Opera Garnier which looks like a jewel box. The ballets and other spectacles inside however, are just magnificent.

If you have time:

  • Coulée Vert is a 5km long elevated park that was built on top of an obsolete railway track. Talk about bringing the green back!
  • Outdoor mall Bercy Village, which has very expensive parking, but is otherwise a lovely outdoor mall that was implanted into restored white stone warehouses. A beautiful atmosphere on a sunny day.
Bercy Village Mall on a sunny day in Paris
Bercy Village on a sunny day in Paris

13e – Les Gobelins and Buttes aux Cailles

During the 1970s, city planners decided that they needed to increase the amount of housing in Paris, and so authorized a bunch of ugly tall buildings in the 13th (along with Montparnasse in the 15th.) These buildings probably wouldn’t be remarkable in New York or Toronto, but amongst the gorgeous 18th-century buildings of Paris, they stand out like a sore thumb.

Nevertheless, the 13th is home to the very quaint Buttes aux Cailles neighborhood, which is a village onto itself.

If you have time:

  • Buttes aux Cailles village.
  • Authentic Chinese food is renown in the 13th.
  • Les Gobelins Factory which used to and still makes tapestries that decorate many public buildings in France.

14e – Artists studios and the Catacombs

One of the more residential neighborhoods of Paris, this is also an area known for the artists who used to hang around there. The area became famous in the 1920s and 30s, les Années Folles (the Crazy Years), where Picasso, Zola, Manet and Hemmingway all used to gather and discuss the issues of the world.

At the same time, Ville Suerat (named after George Suerat) was opened as an artists’ residence, bringing even more artists to the area. Today there are still many art studios around, but unless you know them, you are not going to be invited over for tea.

Your better bet would be to check out the Paris Catacombs where the residents are more forthcoming (piles of skulls and bones of the dead). Do not visit if you are claustrophobic.

Don’t miss:

  • Catacombs of Paris, part of an underground tunnel network which holds the remains of more than six million people.

If you have time:

  • The restaurants and cafés of Boulevard Montparnasse which was the epicenter of the artists’ les Annés Folles.

15e – Tour Montparnasse

Montparnasse tower is the ugly building in the center of Paris that rivals the Tour Eiffel in height. The new Musée Jean Moulin about the French Resistance and WWII has also recently opened in the area.

Surrounding it are office buildings and family-oriented neighborhoods. If the north of Paris is a bit grungy and unclean, the 15th is the opposite, with large boulevards and residential quiet streets.

Don’t miss:

  • The view from Montparnasse, which provides excellent photos of Paris that include the Tour Eiffel. The restaurant at the top is not too shabby either.
  • Metro Line 6 which is above ground and gives you a wonderful view of residential Paris.

If you have time:

  • Musée Jean Moulin about the French Resistance and WWII
  • The mini Statue of Liberty given by the U.S. to France. It is located on the Pont de Grenelle bridge that traverses the Seine River.

16e – Passy & Bois de Boulogne

Passy and the historically affluent 16th is a practically a suburb, with its large apartments and quiet streets. You might be interested to know that one of the Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin lived here when he was ambassador to France.

The 16th also hosts Roland-Garros Stadium where the French Open of Tennis is played, and Parc des Princes which is a football stadium and concert venue.

The arrondissement connects to a large forest on the west of Paris, known as the Bois de Boulogne, which has within in Jardin d’Acclimatation, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Don’t miss:

  • Fondation Louis Vuitton in Bois de Boulogne, a modern art museum designed by Frank Gehry.

If you have time:

  • Jardin d’Acclimatation, an amusement park for small children.
  • Piscine Molitor, a hotel and outdoor swimming pool complex built in 1929 with an art deco flair.
Roland Garros during the French Open
Roland Garros during the French Open

17e – Arc de Triomphe and Batignolles

One of the more eclectic arrondissements in Paris, the 17th starts at the Arc de Triomphe and continues to edge of the city till it reaches the Peripherique (a six-lane highway that surrounds Paris.)

The infamous Metro line 13, in which passengers coming from outside the Periph’ are packed like sardines, also runs through the 17th. People who are looking to buy an apartment, usually run like the plague if their closest metro stop is on line 13.

North of the 17th is the quirky village of Batignolles, which was annexed into Paris by Napoleon III in 1860. It still maintains a village feel.

Don’t miss:

  • Climb up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and bow to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal Flame

If you have time:

  • Wander around the bobo-chic quartier of Batignolles, with your camera at the ready for classic Paris.
Arc de Triomphe during November 11 Remembrance day ceremony
Arc de Triomphe during November 11 Remembrance day ceremony

18e – Montmartre

Moulin Rouge, Pigalle and Sacré Coeur Cathedral perched on a hill, welcome to the 18th arrondissement. This was another area heavily frequented by the artists, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas, etc. during la Belle Epoque.

Walk past the cheesy souvenir shops, and head up the hill for a wonderful view of all of Paris. Montmartre is where the classic film Amélie Poulin was filmed and its iconic cobblestone streets will carry you past a ton of vintage and ethnic stores.

Note: This area is very hilly, so if you have trouble climbing and walking up stairs, you should limit your time in this area.

Don’t miss:

  • Sit on the stairs of Sacre Coeur Cathedral
  • Sip a glass of wine and watch the artists and caricaturists in Place du Tertre

If you have time:

  • Catch a show at the Moulin Rouge.

Be wary:

  • Certain metro stops in this area have a “reputation” for a lot of pickpockets and loiterers. Be wary and aware when walking around at night around the metro stops of Chateau Rouge, Barbès – Rochechouart, La Chapelle and Gare du Nord.

19e – Parc de la Villette and Buttes Chaumont

Parc de la Villette is a large flat park that surrounds the Canal d’Ourcq in the north of Paris, where there is always something going on. Concerts, picnics, festivals, and river cruises, this is where locals come to spend an afternoon.

Nearby is another large park, the Buttes Chaumont, which is a park with more trees and hills in it. It is also home to the classic bar the Rosa Bonheur, where cheap drinks and good times can be had by all.

Don’t miss:

  • Rosa Bonheur in Buttes Chaumont

If you have time:

  • Cité des Sciences (in Parc de la Villette); one of the biggest science museums and planetariums in the world.
Rosa Bonheur at Happy Hour
Rosa Bonheur at Happy Hour

20e – Bois de Vincennes

The equivalent of the residential 16th arrondissement on the west side, the 20th also has a large forest attached, the Bois de Vincennes.

The famous Père Lachaise cemetery is located here. While this is more of a family neighborhood, there are also some unexpectedly hip places around, such as the Belleviloise bar and the Mama Shelter restaurant and hotel.

If you have time:

  • Relax and watch local Parisians near the lake in Bois de Vincennes.
  • Père Lachaise cemetery

So have you picked a favorite yet? To visit or to live in? A neighborhood like the Marais can be great to visit, but perhaps too noisy? But maybe the 16th is too quiet?

C’est à vous de choisir! It is for you to decide. A bientôt!

☞ RELATED POST: Living in Paris: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

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