Where to go
Essential Guide to Paris Neighborhoods ('Arrondissements')by Claude Chaouloff
Paris owes both its development and much of its visual appeal to the Seine River, which weaves through its heart. Each bank of the Seine has its own personality; the Rive Droite (Right Bank), with its spacious boulevards and formal buildings, generally has a more sober and genteel feeling than the more carefree and bohemian Rive Gauche (Left Bank) to the south. The historical and geographical heart of the city is Notre-Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité, the larger of the Seine's two islands (the other is the Ile St-Louis).
The best way to get to know Paris is on foot, although public transportation, particularly the métro subway system, is excellent. Serious explorers should buy a Plan de Paris booklet, a city map-guide with a street-name index that also shows métro stations (note that all métro stations have a detailed neighborhood map just inside the entrance.
Paris first became a magnet for the international avant-garde in the mid-1800s, and the city remained Europe's most creative and bohemian capital until the 1950s. It all began just south of Montmartre, when Romantics including writers Charles Baudelaire and George Sand, with her lover, Polish composer Chopin, moved into the streets below boulevard de Clichy.
Impressionist painters Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and Mary Cassatt kept studios here, near Gare St-Lazare, so they could conveniently commute to the countryside or simply paint the bustle of the train station itself. By the 1880s, the neighborhood dancehalls had a new attraction: the cancan, a dance that flashed basic instinct-esque skin. By 1889 that cancan had become a sellable commodity, and the Zidler brothers opened the Moulin Rouge cabaret. Toulouse-Lautrec designed posters advertising the stars of the neighborhood and sketched prostitutes in his spare time.
Montmartre's influence had legs; the artistic maelstrom continued through the Belle Époque and beyond. In the early 1900s Picasso and Braque launched Cubism from a ramshackle hillside studio building, the Bateau-Lavoir. Today Montmartre is home to Bohemian Paris and the birth of cubism, cabarets and street artists.
Paris has the distinct recognition of being most visited city as well as the gay capital of the world. It was the first capital in the world to elect an openly gay mayor in 2001. Gay Pride in June fills the street of Marais with as many as 500,000 , Le Maris is made up of the 3 & 4th districts.
Once just a village that settled on the "Ile de la Cite" (City Island) on the confluence of the Seine's two branches, Paris has vastly expanded over the centuries, taking the surrounding villages under its wing and making them its own. Nowadays the City of Light, a name Paris earned during the age of the Enlightenment, is made up of several arrondissements or districts, numbered from 1 to 20 and logically ordered with the 1st in the centre and the others following on in a clockwise spiral. The differences are vast and varied between the districts, both in terms of the populations and attractions, which together make up the multifaceted city we know and love.
1st: With its impressive collection of paintings and sculptures, the Louvre attracts visitors from the world over, who often combine it with a stroll in the adjoining Tuileries gardens. Designers of haute couture, including Yves St-Laurent and Dior, have set up shop in Rue St-Honore, just a short walk from the majestic Place Vendôme, home to some of the finest jewellers in Paris. If luxury seems to be the prevailing feature in the 1st district, it has also lovingly accepted the Forum des Halles, the city's largest shopping centre.
2nd : With its little back streets harboring galleries, cafes and boutiques, this district sets a typically Parisian scene. West of Rue Richelieu stands the theatre district where a dozen or so playhouses throng. The Bourse de Paris (Paris Stock Exchange) draws its clientele from the surrounding business community, while certain clothing factories in the Sentier district are now home to new internet companies.
3rd: The Marais district prides itself on being one of the oldest and best preserved in Paris. This district was height of fashion in the 17th century. And one can still see the splendor with the glorious mansions formerly housing nobility. Today, Le Marais is the largest historic district in all of France. It is also recognized as one of the trendier neighborhoods in Paris. Ironically, the neighborhood still is known as the old Jewish quarter which was established back in the 13th century. The heart of the Jewish vibe is Rue des Rosiers, the main thoroughfare lined with falafel, cheesecake and Jewish delicacies. In keeping with this yearning for yesteryear, a museum charting the history of the capital (Musee Carnavalet) can also be found here. Scattered with trendy bars, cafes and stylish boutiques, the Marais has also become the Mecca of gay nightlife in Paris.
4th : Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque districts. The oldest wine bar in Paris packed with both locals and tourists is La Tartine. On Thursday and Sunday, Richard Lenoir roving market (one of Paris' best) is a delight and on Ruse St- Antoine stock up on your pre-made gourmet food. The Marais is the only neighborhood with shops open on Sundays. The largest concentration of individual museums is found in Marais, Kwok-On (Asian), Cagnacq-Jay (18th century art and furnishing), the unforgettable Picasso museum is a favorite and is housed in the Hotel Sales. Wander across the bridge opposite the Hôtel de Ville (town hall) and you will drift on to the capital's two islands - Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint-Louis where a visit to the stunning Notre-Dame Cathedral is an absolute must. Back on the right bank, Place des Vosges, a beautiful old square lined with ancient buildings, is a wonderful witness to times gone by, while the Beaubourg centre of contemporary art confirms its resolutely futuristic outlook.
5th: This and the adjoining 6th district comprise the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter), bastion of student life and higher education in Paris. Within a 100m radius around the Pantheon you'll find some of the most prestigious schools and universities in the whole of France. The Jardin des plantes, Paris' botanical gardens and zoo, is at once a calm and exotic place, and the Arènes de Lutèce (remains of a Roman amphitheatre) remind us just how rich the history of Paris really is. You'll find the Museum of the Middle Ages in Cluny Square. As picturesque as you could possibly imagine, the quaysides double as an enthralling treasure trove of second-hand bookstalls. Come nightfall, the young crowds flock to Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue Mouffetard.
6th: Rue de Seine, de Buci, Mazarine and Dauphine, along with the whole area between Boulevard St-Germain and the river Seine itself, are wholeheartedly characteristic of the allure of Paris. The core of St. Germain is the daily food market (except Monday) on Rue de Buci. Artfully arranged stalls of delicious food compete for attention from all your senses. Discover the little cafes and boutiques of the chic-intellectual district of St-Germain-des-Près, and the bars and nightspots when the sun goes down. If on the other hand you want to escape, take some peaceful time out in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
7th : Known as the mecca of embassies and grand avenues but more commonly known as the "quartier des ministres" (ministers' quarter), the 7th district also boasts some of Paris' most beautiful monuments - the Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, the Champ de Mars - literally meaning "Field of Mars", this was originally a parade ground for cadets in the Ecole Militaire (Military Academy). Between Quai Voltaire and Rue de l'Universite, dozens upon dozens of antique dealers entice you into their shops on the Carre Rive Gauche, and if you are in an artistic frame of mind, the spectacular Musee d'Orsay is well worth a browse. Rue Cler is the district's signature daily market ideal for fresh vegetables, fruits and on the weekends expect live entertainment.
8th: Naturally, any visit to the 8th district has to start on the most beautiful avenue in the world - the fabulous Champs-Elysees, which extends from Place de l'Etoile down to the finishing post on Place de la Concorde. Also worth seeing is La Madeleine, a neoclassical church - and jogger's paradise, the Parc Monceau. Music lovers will find heaven in a shopping trip along Rue de Rome. Other places of interest include the Grand and Petit Palais, as well as the Palais de la Decouverte (the Palace of Discovery), which makes the fascinating world of science accessible to all.
9th: Its impressive elegance makes the Opera (opera house) undeniably one of Paris' most exquisite monuments. You can take in the waxworks at Musee Grevin, and stroll through Nouvelles Athènes (New Athens) near the St-Georges metro, but this area is also characterized by large department stores, including Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, and Marks & Spencer.
10th: Running the entire length of the Canal St-Martin, the Quais de Valmy and de Jemappes extend either side of the water to provide one of the most delightful walks in Paris; from Rue de la Temple to Place de Stalingrad you will pass many a lock and maybe the odd barge or two.
11th: Formerly the haunt of furniture craftsmen, the Bastille district now plays host to an entirely different scene: that of Paris' young and trendy in-crowd. Rue du Faubourg-St-Antoine has seen many a restaurant and nightspot spring up and flourish. Neighboring Rue de Lappe is probably the place to be seen, while others prefer the buzz of Rue Oberkampf a little further north.
12th: Paris' pleasure beach can be found here, between the Seine and the Place de la Bastille, where the imposing Palais Omnisport de Paris-Bercy takes pride. The Palais Omnisport de Paris-Bercy serves as the venue for a variety of sporting and musical events, which often sell out very quickly, so be warned! Located to the far west of the city, but still within its limits, the Bois de Vincennes is a wonderful place to wander, especially around the lake.
13th : The easterly part of this district is known as "Chinatown", inhabited by an unbelievable number of Chinese and Asian restaurants, shops and supermarkets. The new Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library) has also taken up residence in this area, overlooking the Quai de la Gare on the Seine. To the west of the district, meander through the small village of Buttee-aux-Cailles an extraordinary find in the capital city. By way of contrast, but all within the same district, Place d'Italie boasts the biggest cinema screen in Europe.
14th : Rue Alesia stands out for its array of clothes shops, while Parc Montsouris is arguably one of the most charming green spots in the city. The international city university stands just opposite and is well worth a visit as it features architectural styles from all over the world. Finally, you can take a look at the Bronze Lion of Belfort in Place Denfert-Rochereau.
15th : Set along the banks of the Seine, the delightful Andre Citroën park, named in honor of the famous car manufacturer, while a little further north, overlooking the river, you'll find Paris' skyline of skyscrapers peering down at a replica (or did this one come first?) of the Statue of Liberty.
16th : There's no denying that this is the most fashionable district of Paris. Although some will debate that the distinction belongs to the 7th, regardless this district is home to many wealthy Parisians. The Trocadero offers a remarkable view of the city, as well as two museums (Marine - the Naval Museum and Homme the Museum of Mankind). Avenue Foch is destined to impress, as is the Parc des Princes. West of the ring road, roams the Bois de Boulogne wood, which although best avoided after dark, is a real delight during the day.
17th : This diverse district really contains more than one neighborhood, with the portion, in the west, near the Arc de Triomph and Parc Monceau, being very upscale.
18th : The Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (the Basilica of the Sacred Heart) is another must-see monument in the City of Lights. Looking up at the basilica from the market below is sure to take your breath away (as will all the steps you have to climb to reach it!). A short walk from the Sacre-Coeur takes you to Place du Tertre, drenched in the atmosphere of "old Paris" which cannot fail to captivate, even if it is teeming with tourists. Rue des Abesses, with its trendy boutiques and bars, draws a hipper kind of crowd alongside the famous Pigalle area, Paris' red light district, and home to a famous nightlife of cabarets and bars.
19th : The Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie (City of Science and Industry) was designed as Paris' window onto the world of science; an objective that has been reached mainly courtesy of the Geode, a hemispherical cinema. The Buttes Chaumont, is the ideal place for a relaxing walk, which you can finish off with the second part of Canal St-Martin as mentioned above.
20th : The most well-known cemetery in Paris, the Père-Lachaise is the final resting place of many famous artists, and is one of the most visited sites in the city. Memories of Jim Morrison are obviously still very much alive as his tomb is permanently carpeted with flowers. While the young arty crowds of the city tend to hang out further and further to the east of the city, mainly in the Bastille district which is rapidly surrendering to consumerism, this area has managed to hold on to its working-class origins, hence its charm.
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About the Author
Claude Chaouloff, Paris native, resides in NYC, 25 year travel veteran specializing in France. Senior Management at Accor Hotels, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, National Geographic Magazine. Claude provides a specialized apartment screening service, Parisluxeapt.com, to discerning travelers planning short-stay trips to Paris and who require the privacy, service and value of a luxury furnished apartment in the center of Paris.
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