The Louvre Pyramid at sunset

The Louvre Pyramid at sunset © McCarthy

Paris Overview

Paris is the fifth largest European city at more than two million residents and yet it is a very livable city. Not only is the city dotted with small and large parks but the twenty Paris arrondissements (neighborhoods) have very distinct characters making the city feel more intimate and manageable. From the world famous Eiffel Tower in the Southwest to the ritzy Champs Elyssées across the river, to the rich historical center of Paris divided between the Right and Left Banks with their respective business and educational focus Paris is remarkably metropolitan and diverse but almost always with a sense of class and elegance.

Still holding strong against globalization, in Paris you’ll see endless small shops mixed in with some of the world famous names. Paris is a bustling city, much like New York or London but Parisians have different priorities than New Yorkers or Londoners. The French, contrary to what is sometimes said, are very serious and professional about their work but they do keep their work life from completely overwhelming their personal lives. Meeting with friends, having a leisurely meal or drink is of the utmost importance for the French.

  • The French, undoubtedly because of the symbolic power the French Revolution still holds over them, want their voices to be heard and one way this has been felt is in the mostly careful way the city of Paris has grown and developed over the centuries. One benefit of this protectiveness of the city they live in is that Paris, for the most part, is not covered with huge and ugly skyscrapers. The city has mostly limited buildings to a maximum seven stories, making its scale more human than some modern cities.
  • Likewise, the French have made concrete efforts to protect their family life and therefore many shops remain closed on Sundays with the exception of cafés and restaurants and occasional Sunday morning outdoor fruit and vegetable markets.  And during the week, you won’t find many shops open after seven at night.
  • Paris in the not so distant past, enacted a ban on smoking in indoor public facilities (restaurants, bars, cafés, shops, etc.) However, outdoor terraces are still open to smokers.

Paris is divided into 20 arrondisemonts (neighborhoods) that spiral out from the center. The Seine River then cuts across the entire city from West to East, dividing the city into the right (droit) and left (gauche) banks. Most arrondissements have their own distinct qualities.

Architectural and Cultural Highlights by Arrondissement

1er Arrondissement

Palais Royale

Palais Royal

The location of many important tourist sites, you will inevitably see many tourists in this neighborhood but there are also locals doing shopping or working in nearby government buildings.

  • Palais Royal Built by the Cardinal Richelieu in 1628, served as residence of young Louis XIV.
  • Le Louvre the world famous museum was once the royal palace and now holds one of the world’s great art collections from prehistoric art through the 19th century)
  • Le Jardin des Tuileries the former royal gardens in front of the Louvre
  • le Pont Neuf originally called the new bridge as it was the first ever built in Paris which didn’t also have housing and shops on it–and which allowed for a view from the bridge across the river.
  • La Sainte Chapelle a masterpiece of gothic architecture with breathtaking stained glass windows.
  • La Place Vendome – Central point around which flow many fancy fashion and jewelry shops.
  • Rue St. Honore (lots of haute couture fashion shops)
  • La Place de la Concorde built around a huge Egyptian obelisk brought back to France by Napoleon.
  • Musee de l’Orangerie  here you’ll find Monet’s famous waterlily paintings.
  • Le Jeu de Paume the sister building to the Orangerie, it now holds a museum of photography.

2ème Arrondissement

Passage Vivienne

Passage Vivienne

Home to the Bourse, Paris’ stock exchange. A bustling business district. Lots of popular lunchtime restaurants (including many Japanese restaurants).
  • Bourse (former stock exchange building)
  • Bibliothèque Nationale de France (original site of National library). Often holds excellent exhibitions in photography and other graphic arts, often from its own world class collection of graphic works.
  • Numerous passages (the original indoor shopping malls) are in the 2ème arrondissement (Galerie Vivienne, Passage Choiseul, Galerie Colbert, Passage des Princes, Passage du Grand Cerf and others). Home to a range of small shops, bookstores, restaurants.

3ème and 4ème Arrondissements (The Marais)

Hôtel de Sens

Hôtel de Sens

The historic Marais neighborhood today covers both the 3ème and 4ème arrondissements.  Probably the section of Paris which retains the most of its Medieval past that escaped the Baron Haussmann’s urbanization plans of the mid 19th century (which tore down enormous swaths of Medieval Paris).  The neighborhood is still home to a number of spectacular Medieval hôtels (town houses). Some of these homes have been converted into museums. The Marais is a popular area for weekend walks, with some streets closed to car traffic.  It also hosts a lively bar scene at night. The 4th arrondissement includes Paris’ two islands, Ile-de la-Cite and Ile-Saint-Louis. These are often filled with tourists (Notre Dame, la Sainte Chapelle, among others are on the Ile de la Cité) but in spite of this the islands, being the site of the original Paris (Lutèce), there is something moving about being at the center of what grew to become present-day Paris so many centuries later.
  • Notre Dame de Paris the church recently celebrated 850 years since its founding
  • la Conciergerie formerly part of the Royal palace, later a prison
  • Hôtel de Ville (Paris City Hall)
  • Hôtel de Sens Medieval townhouse
  • Hôtel de Sully Medieval townhouse
  • Tour St. Jacques All that remains of the 16th century Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie church 
  • Musée Picasso (housed in the Medieval Hôtel Salé)
  • Centre Pompidou art museum focusing on 20th century art. Check out their book store for one of the most complete art book collections in the city.
  • Musée Carnavalet (City of Paris history museum)
  • Place des Vosges (formerly Place Royale), elegant park and surrounding townhouses.
  • Berthillon – Ile Saint Louis’ famed ice cream shop.
  • Mariage Frères – (30 rue Bourg Tibour) Tea shop dating back to the mid 1800s.

5ème Arrondissement

Rue Moufftard market

Rue Mouffetard market

Le Quartier Latin. This neighborhood sits across from Notre Dame and is the heart of the traditional left bank intellectual and academic culture. It is home to students attending the Sorbonne and other high schools and universities, which gives a youthful, lively atmosphere, filled with bars and restaurants.

  • La Sorbonne (oldest university in France)
  • College de France (free university open to all with regular lecture series offered by experts in a wide range of fields. Institution offers no diplomas)
  • Ecole Normale Superieure (one of the most prestigious universities in France)
  • la Panthéon (once church, now museum and burial spot for famous French)
  • Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève (one of the most beautiful libraries in Paris)
  • Rue Mouffetard – street market by day, busy bar scene by night.
  • Institute du Monde Arabe (research center specializing on studies of the Arab world)
  • Jardin des Plantes – beautiful garden and fun zoo.
  • La Grande Mosquée de Paris – stop in for the mint tea and beautiful architecture.
  • Shakespeare & Co. Bookshop
  • Caveau de la Huchette (jazz club)

me Arrondissement

French Sénat and Luxembourg Garden

French Sénat and Luxembourg Garden

The St. Germain neighborhood was once the center of the left bank’s artistic and literary community (Sartre, Beauvoir and others), but it has steadily been gentrified into one of the wealthiest and most fashionable neighborhoods in Paris. It’s a wonderful neighborhood for visiting art galleries, antique and interior design shops as well as clothing. Off the main Boulevard St. Germain there are many small, quaint streets with a range of cafés and restaurants, some more for tourists, some for the locals (all a bit more pricey than in other parts of town) but we come back for the great Parisian sense of beauty evident everywhere in the neighborhood.

  • Saint Germain-des-Près church (the oldest in Paris)
  • Jardin du Luxembourg An italian style garden built by Marie de Medici to help sooth her homesickness for Florence
  • Palais du Luxembourg (The French Senate) the palace built for Marie de Medici surrounded by the Luxembourg garden.
  • Institut de  France (completed in 1688, home to Académie française and other learned organizations)
  • St. Sulpice church completed in 1870
  • Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe (part of the Comédie Française)
  • Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris (rue Bonaparte) One of the first state sponsored art schools in the world
  • Café du Flore and Café des Deux Magots famous hangouts of Hemingway, de Beauvoir, Sartre and other art and intellectual figures of the early and mid 20th century.

7ème Arrondissement

The Seventh is home to many government buildings and foreign embassies. Some parts are very residential but there are pockets of trendy shops centered near rue Cler, a pedestrian-only street not far from the Eiffel Tower. More sleepy than the Sixth arrondissement, the Seventh is still filled with many very beautiful and elegant shops and streets.

  • Assemblée Nationale (Equivalent of U.S. congress)
  • Hôtel Matignon (Prime Minister’s residence)
  • La Tour Eiffel Construction completed for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris
  • Musée Rodin (beautiful gardens and museum showing a wide selection of the sculptural words of Auguste Rodin.)
  • Musée d’Orsay (19th century art museum converted train station)
  • Musée du Quai Branly (Primitive art museum)
  • Institut des Etudes Politiques (better known as Sciences Po, one of the best political science schools in the world)
  • Rue Cler Ecole Militaire Métro stop. (great outdoor food market)
  • UNESCO (The French U.N. headquarters )
  • Hôtel des Invalides (burial spot of Napoleon)
  • American Library of Paris (English language library)

8ème Arrondissement 

This neighborhood is characterized by the Champs Elysées, which runs its full length. Though the Champs Elysées is one of the most famous streets in Paris (the world?), it can be very touristy and sometimes disappointing with its endless supply of nondescript flagship consumer shops. There are also a few major nightclubs, rendering the neighborhood popular with the late night crowd.

  • Arc de Triomphe Initiated by Napoleon in 1806 and completed in 1836
  • Les Champs Elysées (home to big fashion shops)
  • Grand Palais (Constructed for the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Home to temporary blockbuster art exhibitions and major art fairs such as the FIAC and Paris Photo)
  • Petit Palais (Also built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Currently houses a 19th century painting and sculpture museum)
  • Palais de l’Elysée (home of the French president)
  • American Embassy
  • Avenue Montaigne  (major fashion house shops)
  • Parc Monceau (small, elegant park)

9ème Arrondissement

l'Opéra Garnier

l’Opéra Garnier

The Ninth is a busy and dynamic neighborhood in Paris. Very active business district, it is also home to some of the biggest department stores which bring in tourists from around the world (Printemps, Galeries Lafayette) to see the latest fashion offerings.  The Opéra Garnier is the high-end cultural center of the Ninth with its opulent interior covered in marble where world renowned dance and opera productions are presented. The Place de Clichy is more populaire (working class), but is a neighborhood with lots of energy and in steady transformation.

  • Opera Garnier (Opulent 19th century theatre)
  • l’Olympia (concert hall)
  • Folies Bergère (dance hall)
  • Hôtel Druot (Auction house) Each work day there are as many as ten different auctions taking place. Visit in the mornings to get  a preview of what will be auctioned at some point in the week. You’ll find furniture, artwork, rugs, jewelry, clothing, posters, cameras, etc., etc.
  • Printemps (department store)
  • Galeries-Lafayette (department store)

10ème Arrondissement

Two of Paris’ major train stations are located in the Tenth, so it has a tendency to be a bit loud with lots of traffic. But, the section around the Canal Saint Martin has become increasingly chic and residential. This sector spans the area from Place de la Republique to the east side of the district and is filled with trendy bars, cafes, restaurants and small boutiques.

  • Canal St. Martin (canal running from north of the city down to the Seine and now host to a burgeoning neighborhood of trendy shops, restaurants and cafés)
  • Gare de l’Est (construction completed in 1849)
  • Gare du Nord (construction completed in 1900)
  • Artazart Bookstore Along the Canal St. Martin, not far from République métro stop. (one of the best art bookstores in the city)

11ème Arrondissement

The Eleventh is a vibrant, youthful residential neighborhood that has seen a lot of gentrification in the past few years, but has managed to retain its sense of community with many family-run shops. Formerly a purely working class enclave, the cheaper rents have attracted student and young professional residents, leading to the development of a strong nightlife scene centered around the area to the east of the Bastille (Rue de la Roquette) and Rue Oberkampf off the metro stop Parmentier.

  • Saint Amboise Church
  • Cirque d’hiver (Circus and other events)
  • Marché d’Aligre One of the best and most affordable outdoor food markets in the city.
  • Boulevard Beaumarché (at least a dozen photo-related shops on this street which connects the Place de la République and the Place de la Bastille)

12ème Arrondissement

Passage Plantée

Promenade Plantée

The Twelfth arrondissement, on the outer ring of Paris neighborhoods, is more residential than most of the central arrondissements. The Promenade Plantée was perhaps the earliest urban reconversion of an elevated train line into a park. One can have an extended walk from the Promenade out to the beautiful Bois de Vincennes.  Other highlights of  the twelfth include the beautiful Gare de Lyon and the Opera Bastille. Old wine warehouses at the Cour St. Emillion have  been renovated into trendy bars, restaurants and shops.  the Bercy Palais Omnisport nearby brings in major crowds for concerts and sporting events

  • Opéra Bastille
  • Bois de Vincennes (the closest to a forest found within Paris)
  • Vincennes Zoo 
  • Cinémathèque française (on-going film festivals from around the world)
  • Promenade Plantée (elevated train line transformed into a park)
  • Viaduc des arts (underneath the Promenade Plantée are artisan-oriented shops)
  • Cours St. Emilion (converted wine warehouses into shops and restaurants)
  • Parc de Bercy (elegant gardens)
  • Palais Omnisport de Bercy (sporting events and music concerts)

13ème Arrondissement

The Thirteenth is a mostly family-focused residential area that centers around Place d’Italie and lies just south of the Latin Quarter. The Butte aux Cailles is a small hill southwest of Place d’Italie with a very lively community and a growing bar scene. The area is home to Paris’ older Chinatown (now more centered in the North of Paris in the Belleville district). Many urban redevelopment projects are underway in the sections bordering the Seine, including France’s new national library and the high-tech Metro line 14. This new line will surely help this district’s popularity in the near future.

  • Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris (the new national library of France)
  • Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière (beautiful 19th century construction)
  • Gare d’Austerlitz (train station opened in 1840)
  • Buttes aux Cailles neighborhood (quiet, provincial feel to this neighborhood)
  • Asian Neighborhood (numerous asian food shops and restaurants)

14ème Arrondissement

The Fourteenth is home of the famed Montparnasse district, once a hangout for American ex-patriots in the 1920s, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Many of the bars they frequented still exist (Le Dome, La Rotonde) as now somewhat expensive brasseries along the Boulevard Montparnasse. Here you will also find the much-debated and hated Tour Montparnasse towering over the neighborhood’s grand apartment buildings, as the only skyscraper within city limits. The area’s many middle to upper class families and students reside alongside two major macabre landmarks: the large Montparnasse Cemetery and the Catacombs.

  • Tour Montparnasse (tallest building in Paris)
  • Fondation Cartier (contemporary art museum)
  • Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (hosts rotating exhibitions of photojournalistic photography)
  • Paris Observatory
  • Montparnasse Cemetery
  • rue Daguere (pedestrian only street with many outdoor food stands)
  • Paris Catacombs (underground site of thousands of human skeletons)

15ème Arrondissement

The Fifteenth is a very residential neighborhood with no significant tourist sites, making it the perfect place to observe quotidian Parisian life. The area offers cheaper rents, attracting lots of middle class French families and a variety of cafés and local shops.

  • Porte de Versailles (on-going trade center events)
  • Palais des Sports (Sporting events)
  • la Ruche (the beehive, artist studios)
  • Musée Bourdelle (housing large collection of Bourdelle’s sculptures of late 19th early 20th centuries)
  • Musée Pasteur (the former apartment of great French scientist Louis Pasteur)

16ème Arrondissement 

The Sixteenth is a very posh bourgeois district. The grand avenues are lined with leafy chestnut trees and beautiful 19th century architecture, housing lots of “old money” families and older couples. Although living here is a welcome respite from the bustle of the city, it can sometimes be a little boring. Everything shuts down very early each night and on Sundays, so you will inevitably spend a lot of time on the métro to get to the more dynamic areas of the city.

  • Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (modern and contemporary art exhibits)
  • Palais de Tokyo – Contemporary art museum–ostensibly the biggest in Europe.
  • Palais de Chaillot (Concert and theatre hall)
  • Musée Marmottan – Monet museum.
  • Musée de la Mode
  • Maison de Honoré de Balzac (19th century French author’s house)
  • Passy neighborhood (trendy and elegant shops and restaurants)
  • Bois de Boulogne (biggest park in Paris)
  • Roland Garros (home to the French Open tournament every June)

17ème Arrondissement

The Seventeenth is very quiet and residential, comprised of many wide but somewhat sterile streets. Though less prestigious than the Sixteenth, the Seventeenth is equally expensive in the areas surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. The area offers personality with its many parks and cute boutiques and its close proximity to Montmartre. The Arc de Triomphe offers a major metro hub, making access to the city center quite easy, yet the distance often makes the trips time-consuming. For photography lovers there is the wonderful gallery, le Bal (along with its excellent café) just up the street from the Place de Clichy.

  • Square des Batignolles (English style garden)
  • Cité des fleurs (small village-like area of 17ème)
  • Parc Clichy-Batignolles (on-going project to convert ancient freight yards into green space)
  • le Bal (photo gallery and café) They present an excellent exhibition schedule focusing on documentary work in photography from the last 100 years (mixing historic and contemporary artists).

18ème Arrondissement

Montmartre vineyard

Montmartre vineyard

The Eighteenth is home to both the very high- and the very low-brow, making it an interesting junction of diverse Parisian life. The district combines the picturesque hill town of Montmartre mixed with the infamous sex trade of Pigalle, birthplace of the Moulin Rouge and the French can-can dance. Wandering through the meandering streets of Montmartre can be most rewarding, though the tourist traps near Sacre Coeur with their harassing portrait painters and overpriced cafés, should be avoided. The neighborhood surrounding the Rue des Abbesses to the west of Sacré Coeur offers a more authentic village atmosphere.

  • Basilique du Sacré Coeur
  • Saint Jean de Montmartre Older, more charming church on top of hill next to the Sacré Coeur
  • Moulin Rouge (famous dance hall)
  • La Cigale (music concerts)

19ème Arrondissement

Buttes Chaumont park

Buttes Chaumont park

Together with the 20ème arrondissement, parts of these two sections of Paris comprise the town of Belleville which was annexed to Paris in 1860. Long an immigrant and working class section of Paris, there are high and low points to this section of Paris but it is worth the visit. The Marché de Belleville is extremely animated with foods from around the world catering to the large Asian and African populations living in and around Belleville. The neighborhood is steadily being gentrified with trendy shops, cafés, restaurants and nightclubs opening up.

  • Parc des Buttes Chaumont (beautiful English style garden built by éoNapoln III in the 1860s)
  • Parc de la Villette (large park which straddles the extension of the Canal St. Martin; host to several outdoor Summer music festivals)
  • La Géode (Imax theater)
  • Le Zénith (concert hall with 6300 seats)
  • Le Trabendo (small contemporary music venue with 700 seats)
  • Philaharmonie de Paris (symphony hall with 2400 seats for orchestral works in jazz and world music designed by world-famous French architect Jean Nouvel)
  • Cité des Sciences (the largest science museum in Europe)
  • Cité de la Musique (museum, concert hall and music conservatory)
  • le 104 (art center of dance, theatre and visual arts)
  • Le Plateau (contemporary art center)
  • la Mouzaïa Neighborhood (charming section filled with some 250 very rare two story homes with small private gardens build for the quarry workers of the area in the late 19th century).

20ème Arrondissement

Père Lachaise cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery

The Twentieth arrondissement has long been home to immigrant and working class populations but has also been the location of innumerable artist studios for the last thirty years. As the neighborhood is on one of the highest hills in Paris, it has had mixed urban development. There are a number of high rise apartment towers (mostly uninspiring if not downright ugly) but many smaller and charming provincial-like neighborhoods have also been preserved making parts of this section of Paris very unique and charming.

  • Père Lachaise cemetery (burial spot of innumerable famous people including writers La Fontaine, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde; painters Ingres, Delacroix, Géricault and Modigliani;  composers Chopin, Rossini and Bellini; singers Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison of the Doors; actors Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, many others.
  • Parc de Belleville
  • La Bellevilloise (art center, restaurant, concert hall)

Other PICA pages which may interest you: