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As a major global city, Paris has a lot going on. The city itself is politically divided into 20 arrondissments that spiral out from the center in the shape of a snail (1 being at the middle and 20 being on the outer edge). However, throughout the centuries many distinct formed that don’t abide by these boundaries. They each have their own flavor and identity, while maintaining that typical Parisian feel. Here is a list of the main areas and their characteristics:
These two islands situated in the middle of the Seine, and at the heart of the city, are crammed with some of the most popular tourist destinations in Paris. The Ile de la Cité is the cradle of Parisian civilization. It was here that the Romans set up camp in 52 B.C. The island hosts beautiful Middle-Age monuments such as the Notre Dame cathedral, the Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie. It is a lovely place to walk around and admire the many old mansions that are still standing. There is also the Palais de Justice (main Paris Justice Court). Connected by the Pont Saint-Louis, the Ile Saint-Louis remains a quiet neighborhood despite its central location. It is also one of Paris’s most expensive. The island is small and peaceful. There are no metro stations, only two bus stops, so it is wonderfully deprived of the mass tourism found in many other Parisian districts including its neighbor, Ile de la Cite.
The Tuileries (1er arrondissement)
Centuries after the end of the monarchy, this part of the 1st arrondissement still has a royal feel to it. The Tuileries Gardens originally formed the front grounds of the Tuileries Palace (The garden is called Tuileries because there used to have a tile factory), destroyed in 1871 during the Paris Commune. These days they lead up to the big glass pyramids marking the entrance of the Louvre museum. With long rows of manicured trees (the garden was designed by Lenôtre who also did Versailles), they make for a lovely Parisian promenade. The Western end of the neighborhood is the Place de la Concorde, where nobles were guillotined during the revolution. Directly North of the gardens runs the historic Rue de Rivoli, the old arched walkways are lined with souvenir shops and small luxury boutiques.
The Champs-Elysées (8ème arrondissement)
Running from the Place de la Concorde to the Place de l’Etoile, home of the iconic Arc de Triomphe, this massive avenue in the 8th arrondissement is arguably the world's most famous street, and it has been dubbed by some as the most beautiful. Do not be surprised, however, if you discover McDonald’s more easily than trendy fashion boutiques, as commercialism and globalization have taken their toll on this once exclusive and aristocratic boulevard. At the bottom of the Champs-Elysées, near the Place de la Concorde, you can also see the French Presidency House and the American Embassy.
Les Halles (1er arrondissement)
This chic, bustling neighborhood straddling the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements is a popular destination for tourists. It’s centered around Paris’s former central marketplace, Les Halles (pronounced Layh-Al, not Layz-Al). The market was the "stomach of Paris" for centuries and the area remains a hub of activity today with its major train station and modern underground shopping mall, the Forum des Halles. A number of busy pedestrian streets stem from here, lined with sidewalk cafes and artisan food shops. On the other side of Boulevard Sébastopol, you find the high-tech Pompidou Centre, home to the National Museum of Modern Art, temporary exhibitions, a library and a top-floor restaurant. Outside the museum is a big open square where people often watch street performers or share a bite to eat.
The Marais (3ème arrondissement)
Located between Les Halles and République in the 4th arrondissement, Le Marais, also known as “Old Paris” is a blast from the past, containing some of the oldest buildings in Paris. It’s a stylish, lively neighborhood filled with hip art galleries, boutiques and cafés. The narrow, winding streets are lined with great old architecture, half hidden courtyards (Place des Vosges), and museums (Picasso Museum). It is known for being a historically Jewish neighborhood, many kosher specialty shops still line the Rue des Rosiers, and is also known for being Paris’s gay district, with a number of clubs and shops dedicated to this theme.
The Latin Quarter (5ème Arrondissement)
The legendary Latin Quarter is located on the left bank of the Seine, going approximately from St. Michel to Odeon and making up part of the 5th and 6th arrondissements. As one of the oldest districts in Paris, this is a swanky, high-class neighborhood well-known for its historical cafes and brasseries, as well as its vibrant student population (a result of the nearby Sorbonne). Nestled into the buildings along the Seine is Shakespeare & Company, the famous ex-pat English language bookshop. Also to be discovered here are the gorgeous Gardens of Luxembourg and architectural highlights like the Pantheon and Saint Sulpice. On the southern edge, the Rue Mouffetard offers a marvelous, winding array of cheese shops, wine cellars and bakeries to explore.
St. Germain-des-Pres (6ème Arrondissement)
Situated on the northern end of the 6th arrondissement, this vibrant section of the left bank used to be known as the bohemian meeting place for artists and intellectuals. Now it’s one of the most fashionable and expensive areas in Paris, with high-price art galleries and boutiques like Louis Vuitton and Armani, among others. The neighborhood is also home to famous cafes like Brasserie Lipp, Cafe Flore and perhaps the most famous of all, Les Deux Magots, which was the favorite hangout for great 20th century minds like Jean-Paul Sartre, but which is mostly full of tourists these days.
Montparnasse (14ème Arrondissement)
This neighborhood is located on the Northern edge of the 14th arrondissement, the area surrounding the highly controversial Montparnasse Tower, Paris’s only skyscraper. It’s known for its lively nightlife, most of which is based around historic brasseries like La Coupole, La Rotonde and Le Select. The area also has a long history as a hub for creativity, being a gathering point for numerous artists of all genres including Ernest Hemingway and Man Ray. Some of these great minds can still be found in the local Montparnasse Cemetery.
Trocadéro (16ème Arrondissement)
Located South of the Arc de Triomphe, on the North side of the right bank’s chic 16th arrondissement, Trocadero is a public square framing the Palais de Chaillot. The square itself is modest, but the name has become synonymous with the affluent neighborhood surrounding it. This ritzy district is filled with upper-class establishments and boutiques, all with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower.
The Opera District (2ème and 9ème Arrondissements)
Situated in the 2nd and 9th arrondissements, between the Louvre museum and the Grands Boulevards, this neighborhood offers many exciting things to see. The Palais Garnier Opera House is a gorgeous monument in itself and definitely worth a visit. The whole surrounding area, with its cafes, luxury boutiques, theaters and restaurants, makes a wonderful place to walk around. While the Place Vendôme is known for its fine jewelry boutiques and the Ritz Hotel, the large Boulevard Haussman offers two of the most famous department stores in the capital: Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, housed in gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings. In order to admire the whole district, it is possible to climb, for free, to the Galeries Lafayette balcony which is one of the best sightseeing spots of the area.
Bastille (11ème Arrondissement)
In the 11th arrondissement, around the Place de la Bastille, is a busy, animated neighborhood known for its hip bars and clubs. Here you can find beautiful hidden places like the charming Arsenal marina and the Promenade suspendue, a landscaped walkway built on the old railroad tracks of a viaduct. Underneath, in the Viaduc des Arts arcades, you can window-shop at exclusive art galleries.
Montmartre (18ème Arrondissement)
Set high on a hill in the 18th arrondissement, the Montmartre neighborhood looks grandly out over all of Paris. Dominated by the bright white Sacre Coeur basilica, it seems like a completely different area from the sophistication of Paris below. Offering one of the best views in the city, the neighborhood is known for its raunchy nightlife (Moulin Rouge) and for being the old headquarters of bohemia. Place du Tertre is still home to many street artists and performers, who attempt to recreate Montmartre's heyday when the district drew famous artists from all over Europe. A visit at night is an absolute must! Just one word of caution: it is VERY crowded at night and pickpockets are prevelant.