Paris, the cosmopolitan capital of France, is – with 2.2 million people living the small (105km²) central city, and another 8 million people in the suburbs (la banlieue) – one of the largest agglomerations in Europe.
It’s organised by different arrondissements of Paris.
Located in the north of the country on the river Seine, Paris has the reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historic associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design. Dubbed the City of Light (la Ville Lumière), it is the most popular tourist destination in the world.
Central Paris is officially divided into 20 districts called arrondissements, numbered from 1 to 20 in a clockwise spiral from the centre of the city (known as Kilometre Zero and is located at the front of Notre Dame). Arrondissements are named according to their number. You might, for example, stay in the “5th”, which would be written as 5e (SANK-ee-emm) in French. The 12th and 16th arrondissements of Paris include large suburban parks, the Bois de Vincennes, and the Bois de Boulogne respectively.
The very best map you can get for Paris is called “Paris Pratique par Arrondissement” which you can buy for about €2-4 at any news stand. It makes navigating the city easy- so much that one can imagine that the introduction of such map-books might be part of what made the arrondissement concept so popular in the first place.
Related Read: A Guide to Paris for Beginners
A Guide to the Arrondissements of Paris
Each Paris arrondissement has its own unique character and selection of attractions for the traveller
1st Arrondissement of Paris (1er)
The geographical centre of Paris and a great starting point for travellers. The Musée du Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, Place Vendôme, Les Halles, Palais Royal, Comédie-Française, and Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel are all to be found here.
2nd Arrondissement of Paris (2e)
The central business district of the city – the Bourse (the Paris Stock Exchange), Opéra-Comique, Théâtre des Variétés, Passage des Panoramas, Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens and the Bibliothèque Nationale are located here.
3rd Arrondissement of Paris (3e)
Archives Nationales, Musée Carnavalet, Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, Hôtel de Soubise, the Former Temple fortress, and the northern, quieter part of the Marais can be found here.
4th Arrondissement of Paris (4e)
Notre-Dame de Paris, the Hôtel de Ville (Paris city hall), Hôtel de Sully, Rue des Rosiers and the Jewish Quartier, Beaubourg, Le Marais, Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, Centre Georges Pompidou, Place des Vosges, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Saint-Jacques Tower and Parisian island Île Saint-Louis can be found here.
5th Arrondissement of Paris (5e)
The 5th Arrondissement of Paris is one of the best known of the city’s central districts, located on the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) of the river Seine.
Also commonly known as the “Latin Quarter” (le quartier Latin) because the first great Parisian university, the Sorbonne, was founded (and can be still be found) here and Latin was the language the medieval period students used once to speak. The 5th was also the core of ancient Gallo-Roman Paris, as revealed in a number of otherwise rare archaeological remains that can be seen within the district.
The area still has a significant student presence, with several universities and schools of higher education being located in the area. However, due to gentrification, most student and faculty have been forced to more affordable areas such as the 13th.
The 5th arrondissement is the perfect place to wander and people watch. If you are brave and have any French skills, engage a student in conversation – many if addressed in French will be more than happy to talk about politics and social issues in English.
The lower end of rue Mouffetard as it runs away from the Panthéon hosts an ongoing fruit and vegetable market, and is lined with food and wine shops of all kinds.
A lot of travelers arriving in the 5th from across the river are lured into the restaurants and fast-food outlets between rue St Jacques and boulevard St Michel (in Rue de la Huchette, rue Saint-Séverin). This area may be handy for a quick snack (say, a “Greek sandwich” in a pita), but the quality of restaurants there is not so good – beware especially of restaurants advertising typical French specialties. A similar phenomenon occurs around rue Mouffetard, where many students from the Jussieu Campus and the École normale supérieure have snacks; most of the “French” restaurants are overpriced tourist traps.
Highlights of the 5th Arrondissement in Paris
Originally conceived by Louis XV as a grand neo-Classical church honoring St. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. After the Revolution, the building was converted into a mausoleum for the great philosophers, military, artists, scientists and heroes of the French Republic. Occupants of the crypt include Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Zola, the Curies and, most recently, Alexandre Dumas (reinterred here in 2002). The view from the dome (206 steps) is marvelous, check tour departure time at the information desk. A fascinating reconstruction of Foucault’s Pendulum also hangs within the Panthéon. 7.5€ (”4.8€ reduced rate, museum card accepted”).
Place du Panthéon (‘Métro Cardinal Lemoine)
Tel: +33 1 43 54 34 51
Daily 10AM to 8PM
Jardin des Plantes
The Paris Botanical Garden, founded as the royal medicinal garden in 1626 by King Louis XIII’s doctor, contains over 10,000 species. The grounds also include a small zoo known as La Ménagerie and the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, which includes the recently renovated Grande Galerie de l’Evolution.
Arenes de Lutece
An ancient Roman theater, the only surviving above-ground ruins of the Gallo-Roman era in Paris (ancient Lutetia, French Lutece) apart the nearby Thermes de Cluny. The theater could hold approximately 15,000 spectators and measures some 132 m x 100 m. Built sometime in the 2nd century AD, the location of the actor’s dressing room, the platform of the stage and lapidary remains can still be seen. The remains were rediscovered in 1869, when new streets were being built – an excavation was subsequently ordered in 1883. The theater has been preserved as a quiet archaeological park removed from the bustle of Parisian streets. Entry free.
47 rue Monge et rue de Navarre (Métro: Place Monge, Jussieu, Cardinal Lemoine)
open 8AM – 5.30PM (winter), 8AM – 10PM (summer)
6th Arrondissement of Paris (6e)
As with Paris itself, the 6th Arrondissement of Paris is hard to write about without using superlatives.
There’s a bit of everything here, from the busy sidewalks of Paris’ main art Gallery scene to the expansive green spaces and under-tree cafés of the Jardin du Luxembourg, from the huddle of kebab joints around Place St. Michel to some of the finest restaurants in the world, the 6th has it all. Though, if you stay in the 6th perhaps you do risk not seeing much else of Paris.
Highlights and what to see in the 6th Arrondissement of Paris
The oldest church in Paris, founded in the year 542 by King Childebert. The church as it exists today dates mainly from the 11th century, the period in which it became the center of a powerful Benedictine abbey. The Revolution witnessed the suppression of the abbey in 1794, when most of the monastic buildings were put to the torch. Earlier, 318 priests had been hacked to death nearby by a mob on 3 September 1792.
The church underwent significant restoration in the 19th century, ensuring the preservation of the building, which by that date represented a fascinating mix of styles: 6th century marble columns placed alongside Gothic vaults and supported by Romanesque arches. Famous burials within the church include René Descartes (philosopher), Nicolas Boileau (poet) and King John Casimir of Poland, who later became abbot of the church’s monastery in 1669.
3 place St-Germain-des-Prés (Métro: St-Germain-des-Prés)
Open Daily 8.00AM – 7.30PM
Palais du Luxembourg
Visitable only by reservation and then only one Saturday every month. A richly decorated palace built for Marie de Medici in the early 17th century, currently the French Senate. For those interested in seeing a Parisian monument normally unavailable to the public, or for those interested in the inner workings of the French Government. The large Luxembourg Garden is open to the public year-round. Free.
15 rue de Vaugirard (Métro Odéon or Mabillon)
Tel: +33 1 44 54 19 49
10:30AM to 2:30PM
Food and cafés in the 6th Arrondissement
The stretch of rue Vavin between rue Notre Dame and rue d’Assas (right before Jardin du Luxembourg) is filled with cheap eats that students frequent, such as a bakery with a dirt-cheap formule and a Wokbar. You can also find an outlet from the famous Amorino gelato chain here. The 6th has two of Paris’ most famous cafés, side by side – both are more expensive than your average café (you’re paying for the history and the location, not for extraordinary fare or service….):
Café de Flore
this café is famous as the favored coffee and smoking venue for the Surrealists during the 1920s and ’30s, the Existentialists in the 1940s and ’50s, and still attracts an artistic / literati crowd…. Also does breakfasts and light meals.
172 boulevard Saint Germain (Métro: St-Germain-de-Prés),
Tel: +33 1 45 48 55 26
open daily 7 am – 1.30 am
Les Deux Magots
another famous literary café, right next door to its great rival Café de Flore. Sartre and Hemingway were regular patrons here and the café confirms its literary connections with an annual, somewhat prestigious book prize.
6 place Saint Germain de Prés (métro St Germain-des-Prés)
Tel: +33 1 45 48 55 25 (fax: +33 1 45 49 31 29)
open daily 8 am – 2 am
7th Arrondissement of Paris (7e)
Tour Eiffel and its Parc du Champ de Mars, Les Invalides, Musée d’Orsay, Assemblée Nationale and its subset administrations, Ecole Militaire, and Parisian mega-store Le Bon Marché can be found here.
Learn more about what to see and do in the 7th Arrondissement.
8th Arrondissement of Paris (8e)
Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, le Palais de l’Elysée, Église de la Madeleine,Jacquemart-Andre Museum, Gare Saint-Lazare, Grand Palais and Petit Palais can be found here.
9th Arrondissement of Paris (9e)
Opéra Garnier, Galeries Lafayette, Musée Grévin, and Folies Bergère can be found here.
10th Arrondissement of Paris (10e)
Canal Saint-Martin, Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Porte Saint-Denis, Porte Saint-Martin, Passage Brady, Passage du Prado, and Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul can be found here.
11th Arrondissement of Paris (11e)
The bars and restaurants of Rue Oberkampf, Bastille, Nation, New Jewish Quarter, Cirque d’Hiver, and Église Saint-Ambroise can be found here.
12th Arrondissement of Paris (12e)
Opéra Bastille, Bercy Park and Village, Promenade Plantée, Quartier d’Aligre, Gare de Lyon, Cimetière de Picpus, Viaduc des arts the Bois de Vincennes, and the Zoo de Vincennes can be found here.
13th Arrondissement of Paris (13e)
Quartier la Petite Asie, Place d’Italie, La Butte aux Cailles, Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), Gare d’Austerlitz, Manufacture des Gobelins, Butte-aux-Cailles and Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital can be found here.
14th Arrondissement of Paris (14e)
Cimetière du Montparnasse, Gare Montparnasse, La Santé Prison, Denfert-Rochereau, Parc Montsouris, Stade Charléty, Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, and Paris Catacombs can be found here.
15th Arrondissement of Paris (15e)
Tour Montparnasse, Porte de Versailles, Front de Seine, La Ruche and quartiers Saint-Lambert, Necker, Grenelle and Javel can be found here.
16th Arrondissement of Paris (16e)
Palais de Chaillot, Musée de l’Homme, the Bois de Boulogne, Cimetière de Passy, Parc des Princes, Musée Marmottan-Monet, Trocadéro, and Avenue Foch can be found here.
17th Arrondissement of Paris (17e)
Palais des Congrès, Place de Clichy, Parc Monceau, Marché Poncelet, and Square des Batignolles can be found here.
18th Arrondissement of Paris (18e)
Montmartre, Pigalle, Barbès, Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, Église Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, and Goutte d’Or can be found here.
19th Arrondissement of Paris (19e)
Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Parc de la Villette, Bassin de la Villette, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Cité de la Musique, Canal de l’Ourcq, and Canal Saint-Denis can be found here.
20th Arrondissement of Paris (20e)
Cimetière de Père Lachaise, Parc de Belleville, and quartiers Belleville and Ménilmontant can be found here.
Although it is not officially part of the city, this skyscraper district on the western edge of town is on many visitors must-see lists for its modern architecture and public art.
Beyond central Paris, the outlying suburbs are called Les Banlieues. Schematically, those on the west of Paris (Neuilly, Boulogne, Saint Cloud, Levallois) are wealthy residential communities. Those to the northeast are lower-class immigrant communities with high delinquency; keep in mind, though, that this is a very general classification.
Top highlights in Paris and where they are
These listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Paris. Bring enough time with you.
Good listings of almost everything to do in Paris can be found in ‘Pariscope’ or ‘Officiel des spectacles’, weekly magazines listing all concerts, art exhibitions, films, stage plays and museums. Available from all kiosks. (The number shows you in which district the travel tips lies in)
Arc de Triomphe (8th)
The Arc de Triomphe still exudes a certain grandeur despite the crowds of tourists and the tacky souvenir shops.
Arènes de Lutece (5th)
Built during the 1st and 2nd centuries, this amphitheater could seat up to 17,000 people, hosting gladiator fights as well as less bloody entertainment.
Assemblée Nationale (7th)
Seats the French Parliament, and was designed by Giardini and Gabriel in 1728.
Used to store the exhumed bones from the overflowing Paris cemetery.
Chateau de Versailles (Versailles)
France’s most exquisite chateau, on the outskirts of the city. Was once the home to Louis XIV.
The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) (7th)
No other monument that better symbolizes Paris – read more about story of the Eiffel Tower.
Grand Arche de la Défense (La Défense)
A modern office-building variant of the Arc de Triomphe. Has a viewing platform.
Notre Dame Cathedral (4th)
Impressive Gothic cathedral that was the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Opera Garnier (9th)
Masterpiece of theatre architecture of the 19th century built by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875 housing the Paris Opera since it was founded by Louis XIV.
Underneath, the final resting place for the great heroes of the French Republic including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Currie; above, a marvellous view of the city.
Père-Lachaise Cemetery (20th)
See the grave of Jim Morrison amongst many others.
Sacré Coeur (18th)
A church perched on top of the highest point in Paris. Behind the church is the artists’ area, in front are spectacular views of the whole city.
Sainte Chapelle (1st)
Far more beautiful than the famous, but gloomy, Notre Dame.
Le Musée de l’AP-HP (5th)
Paris’s medical history.
Le Musee des Arts Decoratifs (1st)
Showcasing eight centuries of French savoir faire.
Museum of Paris history; exhibitions are permanent and free.
Centre Georges Pompidou (4th)
The great museum of modern art, the building an attraction in itself.
Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie – La Villette, (19th)
Science museum for adults and children.
Paris’s medieval museum, housed in a part Roman, part medieval building.
National museum housed in the home of painter Eugene Delacroix.
Jacquemart-Andre Museum (8th)
Private collection of French, Italian, Dutch masterpieces in a typical XIXth century mansion.
Picasso Museum (3rd)
Contains the master’s own collections.
Les Invalides (7th)
Museum of arms and armor from the Middle Ages to today. Also contains the tombs of Napoleon Bonaparte and other French military figures.
The Louvre (1st)
One of the finest museums in the world of art, art-history, and culture. Home of the Mona Lisa.
Musée de l’Orangerie (1st)
[Jardin des Tuileries] Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Chaim Soutine, Alfred Sisley.
Musée d’Orsay (7th)
Home to the great artists of the 19th century (1848-1914). Incredible collection of Impressionist art housed in an old railway station. Every room you go into seems to have another incredibly popular painting. Degas’ballerinas, Monet’s waterlillies, etc.
Musée Marmottan-Monet (16th)[rue Louis Boilly]
Collection of works by Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. “Impression Soleil Levant” by Monet is on display in this museum.
Musée National de la Marine (16th)
From times of exploration to modern day vessels. Interesting but primarily in French.
Rodin Museum (7th)
His personal collection and archives, in a charming hotel and sprawling garden.
Musée en Herbe (1st and 16th)
An art museum just for kids with hands-on exhibitions and workshops.