I often get asked: “where is the best place to stay in Paris?”. Unfortunately, there is no right answer to that. Or rather, there are many different options depending on what tickles your fancy.
Like many capital cities, Paris is divided into multiple districts (a.k.a. “arrondissement“), which serve an administrative and organizational purpose. Each one has its own zip code and town hall (“mairie“). They are organized in a snail-like shape starting in the geographic and historic heart of the city and spinning clockwise. They tend to follow the historic neighborhoods roughly, but some (like the Marais) are divided across several districts.
Each arrondissement has its own identity, history, and general vibe that can be dramatically different from one to the next. You may want to hang in the heart of all the tourist attractions for a quick first visit. Or maybe, on the contrary, you want to experience life like a real Parisian away from the city center. Perhaps you have an interest in modern architecture, or you love ethnic food. The good news is that Paris has something for everybody!
From must-do attractions to hidden gems, this Paris arrondissement guide will help you decide where to stay, eat, and how to organize your visit to the City of Lights.
1st Arrondissement de Paris (The Heart of Paris)
If it is your first visit to Paris, you will likely spend a good bit of time in the heart of the city: the first district, or, as locals call it le premier. Not only is it the place where it all started, but it also has one of the highest concentrations of all the must-do places you have to visit the first time(s) you are in Paris. If you want to explore the Louvre, stroll through the Tuileries Garden, gawk at the windows of the jewelers in Place Vendȏme or do some shopping in the Halles, look no further. There is plenty to keep you busy for days in a small walkable area. It is the Paris of postcards, narrow streets, and grand monuments. On the downside, like any hyper-touristy area, it is overrun by crowds of visitors – especially in the summer months – and offers little to no glimpse of what the “real Paris” looks like.
What to Visit and Do in the 1st Arrondissement
- Jardin de Tuileries (my post on this beloved spot and another on those famous green chairs!)
- The Orangerie
- The Jeu de Paume
- The Louvre
- Galerie Vero-Dodat
- Place Vendome
- Rue de Rivoli
- St Eustache
- Sainte Chapelle
- La Conciergerie
- Musée des Arts Décoratifs
- Pont Des Arts
- Pont Neuf
- Palais Royale
- Place Dauphine
2nd Arrondissement de Paris (Passages)
The second arrondissement is the beating financial heart of the city, with the Bourse, at its center, housing the Parisian stock exchange. If you had visited Paris before the nineteenth century, it would have been a shady place to hang out, full of narrow unsanitary alleys and up-to-no-good ruffians. However, it was the theater of wide-scale urban changes in the early 1800s, which left behind an abundance of more polished Art Nouveau buildings and indoor shopping galleries. Those passages are one of my favorite spots in Paris to catch a glimpse of this fin-de-siècle glamour. The Belle Epoque may be long gone, but you wouldn’t know while strolling through those glass-covered alleyways bordered by old-school stores and restaurants. The Sentier area, once a no-mans-land only inhabited by wholesale textile businesses, is now one of the hottest spots in the city. If you want a good dose of Parisian trendy chic to excess, look no further than these pedestrian streets where the terraces of the cafes are the place to see and be seen.
What to Visit and Do in the 2nd Arrondissement
- Passage Des Panoramas
- Passage Choiseul
- Passage du Grand Cerf
- Passage des Princes
- Galerie Colbert
- Galerie Vivienne
- Passage du Caire
- Tour Jean sans Peur
3rd Arrondissement de Paris (Marais, SoMa [South Marais])
The third arrondissement includes part of the famed Marais (translated as “Swamp” in French), which extends into the fourth arrondissement as well. If you love small designer boutiques, artsy galleries, and swanky brunch places, you will feel right at home. My friend and fashion-insider Kasia is lucky enough to call the troisième home, and you can read more about her insider tips below. There is more to see in the area than hipster eateries among the charming medieval alleys – although that’s reason enough to visit. It is also the place to go to see some of the lesser-known, but worth the trip museums in Paris such as the Musée Picasso, the Arts et Métiers (Arts and Crafts), or the Carnavalet (a must-do for Parisian history buffs).
What to Visit and Do in the 3rd Arrondissement
4th Arrondissement de Paris (Marais, NoMa [North Marais])
Le quatrième includes two distinct areas. The area closest to the Seine is one of the tourist highlights of the city. It includes Ile de la Citée (on which sits Notre Dame), the posh Ile Saint Louis, which has been populated by the French crème de la crème and their grand hȏtels particuliers since the Middle Ages, and the elegant Place des Vosges. The banks of the river are closed to cars. Parisians of all ages rush over as soon as the sun makes an appearance to picnic and sunbathe with a breathtaking view of Notre Dame (something they can no longer do after the fire). And then, there is the former Jewish neighborhood, with its winding cobblestone streets, quirky boutiques, and a wealth of middle eastern eateries like the word renowned As du Falafel. While most of the city gets sleepy on Sundays, the Marais is still bustling with many restaurants and boutiques open and the streets closed to cars. Resident Charli was kind enough to tell me about some of her favorite hangouts!
What to Visit and Do in the 4th Arrondissement
- Notre Dame
- Centre George Pompidou
- Hôtel de Ville
- Place des Vosges
- Maison de Victor Hugo
- Hôtel de Sully
- Hôtel de Sens
- Ile de la Cite
- Le Marai
- Rue des Barres
- Igor Stravinsky Square
- Rue des Rosiers
- Au Vieux Paris Restaurant
5th Arrondissement de Paris (Latin Quarter)
Le cinquième has been a hub of the Parisian student life since the Middle Ages when La Sorbonne opened its doors in 1253. All the youngsters chatting in Latin – the teaching language at the time – gave the neighborhood its name: the Latin quarter. The area doesn’t appear to have changed all that much since then: there are still plenty of students, going to class, hanging at the terraces of the cafes, lounging on the lawns of the Jardin des Plantes. There are also plenty of tourists striding through the narrow cobblestone streets – including Rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest streets in Paris – and visiting some of the most famous Frenchmen and women, buried in the Pantheon. You can even visit one of the last visible remnants of Paris’ Roman past: Les Arènes de Lutèce.
What to Visit and Do in the 5th Arrondissement
- Sainte-Geneviève Library
- The Pantheon
- Arab World Institute
- Latin Quarter of Paris
- Jardin des Plantes
- Musée de Cluny
- Shakespeare & Company
- Quai Saint-Bernard
- Rue Mouffetard – Market Street
6th Arrondissement de Paris (Saint-Germain-de-Prés)
If the fifth arrondissement is where the French go to study, le sixième next door is the intellectual beating heart of the city. All the famous artists, writers, and philosophers have graced the streets and cafes of Saint Germain, from Diderot to Dali, Hemingway, and Simone de Beauvoir, among many others. Nowadays, the neighborhood is no place for a starving artist: luxury boutiques, upscale food stores, and overpriced coffee (you are paying for a slice of history along with your espresso after all!) are the name of the game. Nevertheless, it is one of my favorite places in Paris that I never get tired of visiting again and again. Once you are done discussing the meaning of life or the subject of your next groundbreaking novel at the Café de Flore, you can always escape into the green alleys of the Jardin du Luxembourg. Allegedly one of the most beautiful public gardens in Paris, it is a breath of fresh for Parisians and visitors alike.
What to Visit and Do in the 6th Arrondissement
- Luxembourg Palace (another spot to find the famous green chairs, they originated in THIS garden).
- Saint Germain des Prés
- Musée de la Monnaie
- Musée Eugène-Delacroix
- Jardin du Luxembourg
- Café Procope (one of the oldest restaurants in Paris!)
- Les Deux Magots
- Café de Flore
- La Grande Epicerie de Paris
- Cour du Commerce Saint-André
7th Arrondissement de Paris (Eiffel Tower)
You will undoubtedly make le septième one of your first stops on your maiden tour to Paris. Why? Because it is home to the most iconic of Parisian monuments: the Eiffel Tower! That said, you would be missing out if you missed to opportunity to linger awhile at the feet of the Dame de Fer. First of all, it is where you will find some of Paris’ best museums, including my favorite: the Musée d’Orsay. Besides, with its tranquil bourgeois atmosphere and old-school bistros, it is, in the words of part-time resident Ann Mah, “classic Paris”. Once you leave the obvious touristy areas, the streets belong to the locals. You will not necessarily find the trendiest bar and the hottest nightlife in the area – although the banks of the Seine have their share of hip spots – you won’t miss them one bit.
What to Visit and Do in the 7th Arrondissement
8th Arrondissement de Paris (Champs Elysées)
The Champs-Elysées is arguably one of the most famous streets in the world. It is hard not to have your heartbeat a little faster while ascending the majestic avenue from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. After all, it is very long, it climbs up, and the cars won’t slow down one bit if you attempt to take a picture of the iconic view for the ‘Gram. Parisians often argue that the area has lost some of its cache with the chain stores and restaurants taking over the leases on both sides of the streets. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to let go of your hard-earned cash in the luxury flagship stores and Michelin-starred eateries in the area. If you can steer away from all the bling, head to the Parc Monceau. It is the perfect image of the neighborhood surrounding it: polished, manicured, and extremely elegant.
What to Visit and Do in the 8th Arrondissement
- Arc de Triomphe
- Grand Palais
- Champs Elysees
- Place de la Concorde
- Galerie de la Madeleine
- Parc Monceau
- Jacquemart-André Museum
- Pont Alexandre III
9th Arrondissement de Paris (Opera)
As an unapologetic foodie, le neuvième ranks high on my list of favorite neighborhoods. Between the glitz of the grands magasins (excellent for shopping with amazing food courts!) and Garnier Opéra, and the grittier Pigalle district, where the ladies and gents of the night still roam, there is something for everyone. And let’s not forget about the unending delicacies of the Rue des Martyrs where you can apparently find every single type of specialty food shop under the sun.
What to Visit and Do in the 9th Arrondissement
- Musée Grévin
- Musée de la Vie Romantique
- Passage du Havre
- Galeries Lafayette
- Opera – Palais Garnier
- Pigalle District
10th Arrondissement de Paris (Canal Saint-Martin)
Brooklyn has its hipsters, but Paris has its “bobos” (the bourgeois-bohêmes or bohemian bourgeois). Le dixième once belonged to immigrant communities – and they still have an important presence in some pocket areas – but it is well on its way to gentrification. The Canal Saint-Martin area is an artificial paradise of small designer boutiques, organic community stores, and vegan bistros. Meanwhile, the area around Barbès and Gare du Nord feels a world away. Between small ethnic restaurants, hairdressers, and exotic grocery stores, the Paris of postcards and clichés feel very far away.
What to Visit and Do in the 10th Arrondissement
11th Arrondissement de Paris
Low-key and far from the “big” tourist attractions, le onzième is where real Parisians live and play. La Bastille and Oberkampf area are a hot spot for nightlife, with bars and restaurants open late at night. The last metros to the area are as crowded as rush hour and many students, attracted by the – relatively – affordable rent call it home. With its quirky street art, hole-in-the-wall type of places, and brunch galore, it may not have the shiny attraction of some more central areas, but it is definitely a local favorite with a cool-kid vibe that is hard to top.
What to Visit and Do in the 11th Arrondissement
- Cirque d’Hiver
- Cour Damoye
- Passage du Cheval Blanc
- Cour de l’Étoile d’Or
- Passage Alexandrine
- Passage L’homme
- Cité du Figuier
12th Arrondissement de Paris
Le douzième is the largest and one of the greenest neighborhoods in Paris. Aside from the area located near Bastille, with its bustling bars and hip restaurants, it is a fairly quiet district. If you don’t mind a short metro ride to get to the main attractions and want to experience how the Parisian middle class lives, it is a great choice to stay. There is plenty of parks and green spaces, like the Coulee Verte (a former railway reconverted into a tree-lined walkway), the Vincennes forest, and Bercy (old warehouses turned trendy shopping district). For food lovers, the open-air Marché d’Aligre is a must-see.
What to Visit and Do in the 12th Arrondissement
- Passage du Chantier
- Cour du Bel-air
- La villa du Bel-Air
- Promenade Plantée
- Bercy Village
- Bois de Vincennes
- Cité Debergue
- Rue Crémieux
13th Arrondissement de Paris
Le treizième has a long artistic tradition since the Gobelins, the royal tapestry factory made its home in the seventeenth century. Nowadays, there is still plenty of arts (and artists, thanks to the still affordable-ish rents), but it is a far cry from a museum neighborhood. It is still a blue-collar area, as well as the unofficial Chinatown of Paris. It may not be the prettiest arrondissement in terms of architecture, but it is young, dynamic, and one of the best places to stay if you like street art and modern design. The Butte-aux-Cailles neighborhood offers a plethora of cute boutiques and small eateries.
What to Visit and Do in the 13th Arrondissement
14th Arrondissement de Paris (Montparnasse )
Montparnasse was once the home far away from home for the Lost Generation in the mid-1920s. Hemingway, Satie, Cocteau, Modigliani, and the like may not recognize the area nowadays, however. It is a mostly sleepy and residential neighborhood dominated by one of the ugliest buildings and the only skyscraper in Paris: la Tour Montparnasse. However, there is still plenty to explore among the quiet streets. The Parc Montsouris is beautiful and out of the beaten path. The Catacombes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they are certainly a once in a lifetime experience. It also has the highest concentration of people from the Breton region and is fabulous for crepes! Plus you have historic brasseries like La Coupole where Miles Davis and Josephine Baker often appeared.
What to Visit and Do in the 14th Arrondissement
- Catacombs of Paris
- Montparnasse Tower
- Paris Observatory
- Quartier de la Mouzaia
- Square de Montsouris
- Rue des Thermopyles
15th Arrondissement de Paris
Le quinzième may not be a hotspot for nightlife and tourist attractions, but it has a quiet and homey feel, which is very welcome at the end of a busy day visiting the City of Lights. What the district lacks in wild parties, it more than makes up for it in friendly bars and green spaces like the Parc André Citroën (a.k.a. the place to go if you want a bird’s eye view over the city). And for the food lovers among us, it is also home to some of the most well-known cooking classes in Paris, like the original campus of the Cordon Bleu or L’Atelier des Chefs.
What to Visit and Do in the 15th Arrondissement
16th Arrondissement de Paris
Many well-to-do Parisians and ex-pats inhabit le seizième. It is a very proper residential district. Think elegant Art Nouveau buildings and small squares populated by perfectly coiffed old ladies and mild-mannered children wearing navy jumpers from Jacadi. You can get the very best view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadéro. Besides, the sixteenth also hides some excellent museums amid its quiet streets, like Musée Marmottan (a must-see of Monet’s admirers) or Galliera (all about fashion in Paris) or the Palais de Tokyo which offers some breathtaking exhibits.
What to Visit and Do in the 16th Arrondissement
17th Arrondissement de Paris (Batignolles)
Some will argue that there isn’t much to do in the dix-septième. And yet, it is slowly becoming one of the hotspots of the city, especially near the Batignolles neighborhood. It does not translate as trendy bars open late at night but in good traditional French food and a relaxed atmosphere. Since there is nothing to attract tourists here, a refreshingly authentic vibe inhabits the neighborhood. BUT it does have one of the best food markets in town on Rue Poncelet, so make sure to check that out and stock up for your picnics!
What to Visit and Do in the 17th Arrondissement
18th Arrondissement de Paris (Montmartre)
Le dix-huitième is very diverse in more ways than one. On one side, you have Montmartre, its hordes of tourists, and its charming cobblestone streets that feel a world away from the Haussmanian buildings you can see everywhere else. Then, there is the flamboyant Moulin Rouge with its showgirls and adult entertainment area. And then, there is the rest of the district: a patchwork of areas called Little India, Little Africa or La Goutte d’Or, which are mostly working-class residential neighborhoods. The eighteenth district doesn’t have the best reputation in town, so be careful if you will be walking alone late at night away from the tourist areas.
What to Visit and Do in the 18th Arrondissement
- Parvis du Sacré-Cœur
- Moulin Rouge
- Montmartre Cemetery
- Terrass Hotel (rooftop)
- Avenue Junot (Art-Deco Houses)
19th Arrondissement de Paris
On the weekends, Parisians everywhere head for le dix-neuvième as soon as there is a ray of sunshine. The nineteenth district may not have much to offer in terms of iconic tourist destinations – it is a mostly residential, working-class district. However, you can find two of the most beloved-by-locals parks here: La Villette and Buttes-Chaumont. In the summer, Paris Plage takes over the banks of the La Villette reservoir.
What to Visit and Do in the 19th Arrondissement
20th Arrondissement de Paris (Père Lachaise + Belleville)
Le vingtième – last but not least of the arrondissements – is still a bit of a diamond in the rough, but things are changing quickly. The big draw for tourists is the Père Lachaise cemetery, a realm of melancholic and breathtaking tombstones and the last resting place of the likes of Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, or Chopin among many others. The traditionally working-class neighborhood has been taken over by a wave of gentrification in the Belleville area, which is becoming a nightlife destination in itself. There is still plenty of mouth-watering ethnic eateries and neighborhood places, but for how long?
What to Visit and Do in the 20th Arrondissement
- Père Lachaise Cemetery
- Parc de Belleville
- Villa de l’Ermitage
- Cité Leroy
- Square Chauré
- Rue Jules Siegfried (The Countryside in Paris)
- Passage des Soupirs
Voilà ! You made it through Paris and now you are prepped and primed to get exploring! As you can see each Paris arrondissement or neighborhood has its own unique characteristics and offerings.
Before I leave you I thought I would answer some frequently asked questions about arrondissements!
How do I know which Paris Arrondissement I am in?
Look up! As you walk around Paris, you will notice that there are blue signs on buildings all over the place. Or maybe you haven’t noticed, especially if you are short like me! The signs indicate the street name, with a number above them. Above the street name (or place name) will be a number followed by “Arr” that will tell you which arrondissement you are in. It is very handy because sometimes you will be standing on the corner in one arrondissement and cross the street into another!
Why are the Arrondissement Signs Blue?
I did quite a bit of research to determine why the arrondissement signs are blue and it wasn’t easy! There is a lot of speculation. Like it symbolizes part of the French flag, which has blue, white, and red. That at the time, red and blue were the colors of Paris. The white was meant to symbolize royalty. During the French Revolution, the people that took down the monarchy wore red and blue. And that somehow this is tied to the history of blue in Paris.
In fact, Parisian street signs weren’t always the blue ones we see today. You can actually see some of the signs sometimes still placed near the current ones. It was under Napoleon I, at the beginning of the 19th century, that the use of street signs was generalized. The Emperor imposed that the houses be numbered in increasing order starting from the Seine. (If you are interested in the history of street signs then I highly recommend the book The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask which I’ve read and love!)
Then in 1844, the prefect of the Seine, the famous Rambuteau imposed enameled signs made from Volvic lava (the same Volvic mineral water you find in France which comes from Puy-de-Dôme department in Auvergne), where the name of the street is inscribed in white on a rectangle with a blue background with green outlines, very close to those that exist today.
In 1938 we come to the final version we know and love (and the ones we buy in souvenir shops!) today. They follow this model: white letters or numbers on a blue background. There is a precise standard for the height and the green bronze frame that surrounds them which is enhanced with a shadow effect of black and white lines to make them easier to read. So there you go, the reason the signs are blue is that they are easier to read!
How many have you been to? What are your favorites? Have any new ones caught your eye? Do share!
Illustration commissioned from Linden Eller.
Do you live in Paris in an arrondissement I haven’t covered yet? I’d love to feature your favorite local picks! Drop me a line at MisadventuresWithAndi AT gmail DOT com and I will send you the information I need, merci!
For a visual summary of this post, check out my Arrondissement Guide web story!
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