BY WENDY HUNG
The biggest concern every traveler encounters when planning a trip to Paris is deciding which neighborhood to call your home away from home. With 20 arrondissements (districts) to sift through, each one has a different culture, population and sights to see. Here are three important things to know:
- Rive Droite (Right Bank) refers to the northern part of the Seine river, while Rive Gauche (Left Bank) refers to all the arrondissements in the southern part of the river.
- 20 arrondissements are arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral, beginning with the first one in the center.
- It’s unfair to say that Left Bank is better than the Right Bank or vise versa. But as a traveler, I’d highly recommend looking for hotels or Airbnb in these arrondissements: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 11th. Go through the descriptions below and you’ll see why!
1st Arrondissement / Right Bank (mostly)
Reputation: Heart of the city. This is an area packed with touristic must-sees.
The 411: The central arrondissement carries some parts of the right bank such as Les Halles which has been there since the Middle Ages. In addition, a large part of this arrondissement is occupied by the Louvre and Tuileries Garden.
Don’t miss: The Louvre, Tuileries Garden, Les Arts Décoratifs, Les Halles, Palais Royal, Hôtel Ritz Paris, La Sainte-Chapelle, Pont Neuf, Place Vendôme, Palais-Royal, Place de la Concorde, Rue de Rivoli.
2nd Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: The smallest arrondissement but remains trendy.
The 411: During the 19th century, streets in Paris were dark without sidewalks. Some businessmen emulated after the Passage des Panoramas then lit the streets with paved pedestrian walkways. 2nd arrondissement has been known as the home of surviving 19th-century glazed commercial arcades.
Don’t miss: Café de la Paix, Paris stock exchange (Palais Brongniart, former headquarters), Passage des Panoramas, Théâtre-Musée des Capucines, a perfume museum, trendy store Etienne Marcel and Rue Montorgueil.
3rd Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: The quieter part of Le Marais (see 4th arrondissement) and old Jewish quarter.
The 411: You can find the oldest private house of Paris built in 1407 on rue de Montmorency. In Yiddish, this area is called “the Pletzel” which means “little place.” This ancient Jewish quarter now hubs trendy boutiques but you can still find stores that sell Jewish traditional foods.
Don’t miss: The medieval and quieter part of Le Marais, Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts), Musée Picasso, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme (Jewish History Museum), Les Archives Nationales (The National Archives).
4th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: Fusion of the Sohos of London (gay district) and Manhattan (designer boutiques). Or think of San Francisco in general. 4th arrondissement is fashionable, expensive with little shops and cafes galore.
The 411: Le Marais is a historic quartier in Paris where aristocrats used to live, hence a plethora of beautiful and historic architectures throughout this arrondissement. In 1240, the Order of the Temple built its church in the northern part of the Marais and turned the district into a coveted area with many religious institutions. During the mid-13th century, the King of Naples and Sicily, built his residence near the current n°7 rue de Sévigné. In 1361, King Charles V built the Hôtel Saint-Pol, a mansion where he resided during his reign as well as his son’s. Today’s Place des Vosges was teh 17th century Royal Square, and Le Marais became the French noble’s favorite place to stay. Today’s Marais is hip and trendy with a growing gay population since the 1980s.
Don’t miss: Centre Georges Pompidou, Hôtel de Ville, Le Marais, Notre-Dame de Paris, Saint-Louis-en-l’Île Church, Place de la Bastille (shared with 11th and 12th arrondissements), Rue de Rivoli (shared with 1st arrondissement), Place des Vosges (shared with 4th arrondissement).
5th Arrondissement / Left Bank
Reputation: Student life in the Latin Quarter since this area hubs some of Paris’ most prestigious universities (Sorbonne), colleges and high schools.
The 411: The oldest arrondissement in Paris, and was first built by the Romans dating back from the 1st century BC. It’s called Quartier Latin because the latin language was widely spoken in universities and was the international language during the Middle Ages.
Don’t miss: Jardin des Plantes and the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, Musée Curie, Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air, The Panthéon, Quartier Latin, Musée du Moyen Age, Musée de l’Institut du Monde Arabe, Grande Mosquée de Paris.
6th Arrondissement / Left Bank
Reputation: The hub of French intelligentsia, known for its café culture and the revolutionary intellectualism.
The 411: Starting in the 6th century, this area was dominated by the heart of Catholic Church, particularly the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. In 1612, with Queen Marie de Médicis’ establishment of Luxembourg Palace and its royal gardens, the 6th arrondissement became an expensive and fashionable district to the French aristocrats. In 1950s, with popularity of publishing houses and famous cafes (Café de Flore,Les Deux Magots), writers, intellects and the literary movement took place in this district, pushing for feminism, surrealism, and existentialism.
Don’t miss: French Senate (Luxembourg Palace), Jardin du Luxembourg, Medici Fountain, Pont des Arts, Pont Neuf, Pont Saint-Michel, Saint-Germain-des-Prés Quarter and former abbey, Latin Quarter (shared with 5th arrondissement), Saint-Sulpice church, Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots, Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés, home of Serge Gainsbourg.
7th Arrondissement / Left Bank
Reputation: Home of the Eiffel Tower and Karl Lagerfeld.
The 411: Since the 17th century, the 7th arrondissement has been home to the French elites. During the 19th century, 7th arrondissement also hosted numerous Universal Exhibitions which they opened the Eiffel Tower and Gare d’Orsay for these occasions.
Don’t miss: Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay, Hôtel des Invalides, Musée Rodin, l’Assemblée Nationale, Musée du quai Branly, Les Egouts de Paris.
8th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: Besides mobs of tourists on Champs-Élysées, 8th arrondissement is ultra luxe and undeniably elegant.
The 411: As one of Paris’ main business quartiers, the current executive branch of French government is based here as well as the Élysée Palace, where the French President resides. In this area, there are numerous embassies.
Don’t miss: Arc de Triomphe, Église de la Madeleine, Élysée Palace, Gare Saint-Lazare, Grand Palais, Hôtel de Crillon, Parc Monceau, Petit Palais, Pont Alexandre III, Pont de l’Alma, Avenue Montaigne, Musée Jacquemart-André.
9th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: Shaped like a butterfly, this is the “in between” district with heavy cultural history and French modern life. With a little bit of shopping and nightlife on Grands Boulevard, performances at Opéra Garnier, and red-light district of Pigalle.
The 411: The streets around St. Lazare were Parisian central for Impressionists. Today, the early 19th-century architecture and lovely courtyards have been preserved discreetly preserved. But, watch your safety on Rue Saint Denis.
Don’t miss: Boulevard Haussmann, Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin, Passage du Havre, Hôtel Drouot (auction house), Opera Garnier, Galeries Lafayette (flagship store), Printemps department store (flagship store), Musée de la Vie Romantique, Takashimaya Paris.
10th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: Stroll along Canal Saint-Martin.
The 411: Revolving around two of Paris’ main railway stations: Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, both were built during the mid-1800s, twenty years after the opening of Canal Saint-Martin.
Don’t miss: Canal Saint-Martin, Gare de l’Est, Gare du Nord, Porte Saint-Denis, Porte Saint-Martin, Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Church of Saint-Laurent, Musee de l’Eventail, Palais des Glaces.
11th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: Young and edgy.
The 411: Neighborhoods like Bastille and Oberkampf are filled with expats, “hipsters” and young Parisians. Nightlife is booming, but in a street alley kind of way (don’t expect red carpets). You want to fit in the urban crowd, explore little wine bars and tiny bistrots on avenue Ledru Rollin and rue de Charonne.
Don’t miss: Église Saint-Ambroise, Musée Édith Piaf.
12th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: A larger arrondissement makes affordable housing.
The 411: This quartier went through a major transformation in recent years, and now has modern shops and arena in Bercy. You’ll also see Opéra de la Bastille – the second largest opera house in Paris is also a much more modern architecture compared to Opera Garnier.
Don’t miss: Place de la Bastille, Opéra Bastille, Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Cimetière de Picpus, Parc de Bercy, Promenade plantée, Bercy Village, Jardin Yitzhak Rabin.
13th Arrondissement / Left Bank
Reputation: Little Asia.
The 411: This area hubs the Asian community in Paris, mostly Chinese and Vietnamese. Not an arrondissement that attracts tourists as it is more residential and business-oriented.
Don’t miss: La Bibliothèque Nationale de France, La Butte aux Cailles.
14th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: Residential quartier carries a sleepy charm of Montparnasse.
The 411: Home to many artists around the world and the Breton (northwesterners of France) community, this area may be residential but you don’t want to miss the vibrant cafes on Boulevard du Montparnasse and the rue Daguerre.
Don’t miss: Gare Montparnasse, Tour Montparnasse, Les Catacombes de Paris, Cimetière de Montparnasse, Balzac Monument, Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, Parc Montsouris.
15th Arrondissement / Left Bank
Reputation: Where the “ugly grenelle” is.
The 411: Another residential area where locals aren’t too keen on its 1970s high-rises, hence they’ve coined the term moche grenelle (ugly grenelle).
Don’t miss: Parc des Expositions, Musée Pasteur.
16th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: The Paris version of New York’s Upper East Side and London’s Kensington.
The 411: Locals call it le seizième, due to the affluent population in the French pop culture. Here, you’ll see the most prestigious residential areas in Paris. The 16th also welcomes the French Open tennis Grand Slam every spring. Don’t be surprised if you run into an expat family in which the parents have been relocated to work in France.
Don’t miss: Cimetière de Passy, Parc des Princes, Palais de Tokyo, Maison de Balzac, Musée Clemenceau, Musée Marmottan Monet, Château de la Muette, Palais du Trocadéro, Roland Garros Stadium, Stade Jean-Bouin.
17th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: Where artists live to keep a very low-profile.
The 411: the 17th is known for Batignolles district that was originally outside of Paris until Napoleon III included it as part of the city in 1860. A group of artists such as Édouard Manet based in this area to make a name for themselves by painting scenes of cafes. Today’s Batignolles was supposed to host the Olympic in 2012, but Paris lost its bid to London.
Don’t miss: Parc Monceau, Marché Poncelet, Batignolles Cemetery,
18th Arrondissement / Right Bank
Reputation: There’s no place like a bohemian Montmartre.
The 411: Montmartre means “mountain of the martyr”. The hills have been around since the prehistoric days, but during the 19th century, it was a gathering place for composers, writers and artists to live in a commune and draw inspiration from the area. Many have made their mark here, including: Salvador Dalí, Amedeo Modigliani,Claude Monet, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. Because Montmartre was outside of city limits, it became a popular drinking area where Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir flourished.
Don’t miss: Sacré-Cœur, Église Saint-Bernard de la Chapelle, Moulin Rouge, Cimetière de Montmartre, Place Pigalle, Van Gogh’s home, Place du Tertre.
19th Arrondissement / Right Bank
The 411: A residential area known for renowned music schools, but not for touristic attractions.
Don’t miss: Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Parc de la Villette.
Reputation: The cemetery you’re here to see.
The 411: Not an area you want to book a hotel in since it’s far too residential, but you want to spend a day trip here especially at Père Lachaise Cemetery. The largest cemetery in Paris is the resting place for Jim Morrison, Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Gioacchino Rossini.
Don’t miss: Parc de Belleville, Père Lachaise Cemetery.