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A Guide to the Arrondissements of Paris

Getting to Know the Districts of the City of Light is Your Passport to Paris Pleasure

Paris is a city made up of villages, each one with its own number and name. They are this amazing capital's arrondissements, or districts. Understand them and you'll experience Paris as locals do. Will your favourite Paris arrondissement be the 1st, at the very heart of Paris, or perhaps the 4th, the bohemian Marais? Use our guide to Paris arrondissements to help you find out.

Paris Arrondissement Basics

Think of the arrondissements as a snail, curling out from the center of the city on a map. The outer boundary is the ring road, the Peripherique. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements in total. The 1st is where much of the tourist action takes place, for instance, while you're unlikely to spend much time in the 20th on the eastern outskirts. The arrondissements themselves date from the reimagining of Paris by Baron Haussmann in the 19th century. Paris arrondissement names are easy to learn, often identifying an area's defining feature. Parisians tend to use just the numbers, which are simple to figure out once you get the hang of it!

The Heart of the City

Royal power is the key to the 1st Paris arrondissement. The Palais Royal is open to visitors now, but its magnificence once ruled the whole of France. The Louvre gives its name to this arrondissement, and for some it's the nicest arrondissement in Paris. Crowned by its contemporary glass pyramid, the Louvre is one of the world's greatest art museums and home to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. There's so much to see, so wander around, stopping here and there to admire yet another masterpiece. The church known as Sainte Chapelle on Île de la Cité is another masterpiece. This is a temple of light, truly breathtaking on a sunny day, while the Tuileries Gardens offer an essential break for a Parisian promenade.

Stocks and Sublime Secrets

Tiny but powerful: welcome to the smallest Paris arrondissement. The 2nd is called Bourse, the name of the French stock exchange, an imposing building that speaks of its status. But pay attention: there are secret finds here. The Rue Montorgueil is pedestrianized with cafes and bars on the street. For foodies this is heaven, with stalls selling the finest French produce. Search a little and you'll also find the last remaining concealed shopping arcades from the early 19th century, known as The Galleries. La Gallerie Vivienne is particularly well preserved with upscale shops. Passage Choiseul does what it always has: provide services like shoe shines and newspaper stalls for busy commuters, making it an enjoyable stroll through time.

Bohemian - At a Price!

The lively Marais, a once bohemian and now distinctly pricey neighborhood, starts in the 3rd Paris arrondissement. For food lovers, the covered market on rue de Bretagne is the oldest in Paris, and a great place to pick up a gourmet snack. Yum! The museums are plentiful and scrumptious too. If you go to only one museum in the 3rd, it has to be the Picasso Museum. Pablo Picasso was Spanish, but his most important work was produced here in Paris. This extraordinary collection is a celebration of the greatest of 20th century artists. The eccentric Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers displays prototypes of structures and inventions such as the first monoplane and of the Statue of Liberty, and is a great find for the child in everyone!

Old and New Rub Shoulders

Welcome to medieval Paris in the 4th and part two of the Marais, named Hotel de Ville, or City Hall. Here, narrow streets speak of the ancient past of Paris. These days, being the Marais, they give you a wide choice of delightful cafes and restaurants, so just take a walk and pick your favorite. Trendy boutiques are on every corner, and at night the area is alive with bars and nightclubs. The Centre Pompidou, the extraordinary inside out piece of contemporary architecture that houses the city's most important modern art museum, is a must-visit in the 4th Paris arrondissement. Climb to the top for the view and the delightful cafe. Inside the museum there are changing exhibitions of cutting edge art to suit all tastes.

Romance and Writers

Parisians love literature and philosophy, celebrated in the lively Latin Quarter in the fifth Paris arrondissement. This area is thronged with students because this is the city's intellectual heart. The magnificent Sorbonne, the first university in Paris, is located here. You can't miss the grandeur of the Pantheon, a breath-taking monumental church in honour of Paris's patron saint, St. Geneviève. Take a stroll down rue Mouffetard which has a lip-smacking food market every day. After a breather in a cafe, there is one essential stop: Shakespeare and Co., a legendary Paris bookshop. Browse the many shelves of English language books, mostly used, and pick out something special as a souvenir of your visit.

Philosophy Over a Coffee

For many, the cafes, the parks and the small art galleries of Saint Germain des Pres, the 6th Paris arrondissement, make it the nicest arrondissement in Paris. Start by taking out a notebook at a table in Cafe de Flore, the legendary pioneer of Parisian cafes where Jean Paul Sartre worked out his theories. The arrondissement takes its name from the oldest church in Paris, the breathtaking Église Saint Germain des Pres. Nearby, take your pick of the art in the surrounding commercial galleries. You really mustn't miss the area's magnificent green gem, the Luxembourg Gardens. Their are chairs everywhere so it's the prefect time to take out that notebook and sketch the beautiful surroundings. After all, nothing could be more Parisian!

Up the Eiffel!

When the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, Parisians hated it. Now, dominating the 7th Paris arrondissement, the tower is the city's most loved structure. A trip to the top is essential, and be sure to go at night to understand why Paris really is the City of Light. Also unmissable in the 7th are the Monets, Manets, and Van Goghs at the former railway station that is the magnificent Musée d'Orsay, the greatest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world. Take in the sculptures at the Rodin Museum, the work of a true master. Some consider this to be the safest arrondissement to stay in Paris.

Riches and Fashion

Stroll up one of the most famous avenues in the world, studded with showcase boutiques. The Champs-Élysées forms the heart of the exclusive 8th Paris arrondissement. While its shops are only for those with large budgets, the views are free! The Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Napoleon, crowns the vista up the avenue. Insider's secret: take the underground passage to access the arch and pay a small fee to climb the Arc de Triomphe itself. You'll truly be inside history. A short stroll away is the Grand Palais, with soaring glass domes over impressive exhibition spaces: an architectural wonder.

Shop Until You Drop

The city's finest department stores, the gorgeous Galeries Lafayette and Printemps among them, are temples to shopping on the Grand Boulevards of Opera, the 9th Paris arrondissement. Take the lift to the top of either of these magnificent stores to admire the views before engaging in some essential shopping therapy. Offering a sharp contrast is Pigalle, to the north of the 9th, once an edgy area that was home to artists such as Picasso and Henri Toulouse Lautrec. Pigalle is still not for the faint hearted. Connoisseurs of cabaret can visit the renowned Moulin Rouge, featured in much of Toulouse Lautrec's work, to enjoy classy burlesque shows with dinner.

A Haven of Peace and Quiet

After the bustle of the center of the city, the 10th Paris arrondissement offers an unexpected haven. Here you'll find the Canal St. Martin lined with luxuriant greenery and some fine cafes and bars. Hip young Parisians come here at the weekends to cycle, rollerblade, and hang out by the water. The streets around are free of cars on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday, so this is the key time to join them. For the fashionistas, trendy boutiques line nearby streets.

Where the Hipsters Go

Every city has its up and coming area where the young, trendy crowd hang out, and the 11th Paris arrondissement is just such a place. Here, as the sun goes down, the bars and cafes open up. You may be surprised to find that many of these new places have a Latin American vibe, reflecting the multi-cultural nature of the area. Elsewhere, particularly around rue Oberkampf, things become a little more traditionally French, while still remaining edgy.

Where Kings Went to Hunt

The city's finest department stores, the gorgeous Galeries Lafayette and Printemps among them, are temples to shopping on the Grand Boulevards of Opera, the 9th Paris arrondissement. Take the lift to the top of either of these magnificent stores to admire the views before engaging in some essential shopping therapy. Offering a sharp contrast is Pigalle, to the north of the 9th, once an edgy area that was home to artists such as Picasso and Henri Toulouse Lautrec. Pigalle is still not for the faint hearted. Connoisseurs of cabaret can visit the renowned Moulin Rouge, featured in much of Toulouse Lautrec's work, to enjoy classy burlesque shows with dinner.

A Library, But Not As You Know It

Francois Mitterrand, French president in the 1980s, is responsible for the breathtaking structures that make the 13th Paris arrondissement worth a visit. President Mitterand's grand projects became notorious, and none more so than the French National Library in the 13th. Four large glass towers, each one L-shaped to resemble a partially opened book, remain hugely controversial. A grand project, or an expensive flight of fancy? Either way, it's worth a look.

Going Underground

The prime attraction of the 14th Paris arrondissement is right under your feet. The Catacombs of Paris were once part of Paris's ancient mines. They then became the city's prime place to bury the dead after cemeteries became overcrowded. It sounds gruesome, but most tourists who do choose to go agree that this is one of the unexpected and memorable sights of their visit to Paris. This network of tunnels is both unusual and unique. You may not want to take your children, since there are piles of bones and skulls, but for those with a taste for it, this is an essential sight.

Exhibitions and Medicine

There's always a large show of some kind on at the Parc des Expositions in the 15th Paris arrondissement. This is one of the largest exhibition centers in Europe. Many are trade shows, but it may be that there's a large car show - if, for example, you're a motoring enthusiast - during your stay. Our advice would be to take a look and book ahead for a fascinating day out. The Pasteur Museum is small but equally fascinating, set in the apartment of Louis Pasteur, renowned for his ground-breaking discoveries on vaccinations that changed medical science forever. Here you can see the place where this great scientist lived. Nothing flashy, yet seriously interesting.

Upscale, with Landmark Views

Welcome to the Parisian equivalent of New York's Upper East Side. The 16th Paris arrondissement is very affluent. For the visitor, there's much to see. The Trocadero Gardens, adjoining the Seine, has an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower. Here you'll find the impressive Palais de Chaillot. Once the headquarters of NATO, now it houses a series of museums, among them the excellent Naval Museum. The Marmottan Museum on rue Louis-Boilly is a bit of a Paris secret, housing the world's largest Monet collection, along with masterpieces by Gauguin and Renoir, among others. For some time out, on the edge of this Paris arrondissement is the sublime Bois de Boulogne, another one of the city's great parks.

Tasty, Very Tasty

At first blush, there's little to detain the visitor in the 17th Paris arrondissement. Insiders know better, however. The Batignolles Covered Market on rue Lemercier may be in an anonymous 1970s building, but inside is an authentic and lively Paris food market. Japanese snacks? Check. Paris style pizza? Present and deliciously correct. Choose some delicacies from the Lebanese delicatessen for your next picnic or just wonder around, tasting here and there; a real flavour of authentic Paris.

The Sacred Heart of Paris

The famous steep hill of Montmartre is the most famous feature of the 18th Paris arrondissement, topped by the dazzling white domes of Sacre Coeur, the Sacred Heart Basilica. Walk up to to the top for some truly breathtaking views of the city beneath you. In the past the winding streets leading up the hill were home to penniless artists, from Picasso to Van Gogh. The Montmartre Museum is hidden away in an old farmhouse, where many artists worked. Not only does it have an impressive art collection, but it captures the atmosphere of old Montmartre like nowhere else. There's a cafe and a beautiful garden when you can imagine that these artists sat, working and swapping ideas.

A Haven for Children

If you have children, you'll want to head out to the north of the city and the 19th Paris arrondissement. Away from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist areas, you'll find the Cité des Enfants, the City of Children, a huge science museum aimed at youngsters aged between 7 and 12. There's a wide range of interactive exhibits - and even a real submarine. For adults, there's the Cité de la Musique, the City of Music which, in a landmark piece of contemporary architecture, offers tours by headphones of the history of music and culture.

Visit the Greats

To the east of the city center, the 20th Paris arrondissement has one great attraction. The elaborate tombs of the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery attract visitors from all over the world. Many come on a pilgrimage to see the grave of Jim Morrison, the legendary lead singer of The Doors. Others travel to admire the beautiful tomb of Oscar Wilde, the British playwright who died penniless in Paris. Also buried here is the composer Chopin and Edith Piaf, the most famous of French cabaret singers. You'll spend an entire day here, easily. 

Paris Arrondissements to Avoid

Paris is a very safe city and just about anywhere within the Peripherique is safe for visitors and there is really no Paris arrondissement to avoid. However, as in any great metropolis worldwide, some areas are considered to be less safe than others. Local advice is that all but the most adventurous tourists may want to avoid the Chateau Rouge neighbourhood of the 19th arrondissement and the St. Blaise district in the 20th arrondissement. Montmartre is, of course, very safe indeed, but the northernmost part of the 18th arrondissement is considered best avoided. In general: look after your valuables wherever you are and always be careful when out at night.

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