Paris is an endless maze of twisting medieval streets and broad romantic period avenues, where every corner and turn seems to bring you to a new neighborhood with an entirely different local culture. When looking for places to visit in Paris or neighborhoods to stay in, it’s important to have some idea of the layout of the city before you embark upon an exploration through its labyrinthine streets. Here is your handy Paris neighborhood guide to help you on your journey through the city of love.
The overall layout
They say that Paris is laid out like one of its famous escargots: unlike New York’s rigid grids, Paris’s meandering rues are divided into blob-shaped arrondissements, starting in the center and spiraling out like a snail shell. You’ll always be able to tell which arrondissement an address comes from by looking at the last two digits of its zip code (750 are the first three, followed by the number of the neighborhood). The River Seine divides the city in two, symbolically separating the city into the fun Rive Gauche to the North and the cultured Rive Droite to the South. Generally speaking, the farther you travel from the river, the less touristy and expensive the city becomes. In our opinion, the best neighborhoods in Paris are generally in the middle of the snail shell—past the core tourist area near the Seine, but not quite on the outer ring.
An overview of each arrondissement
The 1st arrondissement begins in the center of the city, just north of the river. It’s home to the oldest and most tourist-packed spots: the Louvre, the Tuileries Garden, and the Place de la Concorde. Just north is the second, a small and trendy neighborhood defined by Rue Montorgueil, a street lined with cafés, cheese shops, produce stands, and clothing stores. To the immediate east, the 3rd and 4th arrondissements make up Le Marais, whose history as the Jewish and Gay neighborhood creates a lively cultural mix that can always be counted on for unique restaurants and bars.
Before crossing the river to the 5th, you’ll encounter the Ile de la Cité and Ile St. Louis, two islands in the middle of the Seine that hold Notre Dame and form the medieval core of the city. While you’re there, you might as well take a cruise down the Seine itself, the 21st Paris neighborhood that you’d be sore to miss. University students from schools like the famous Sorbonne crowd into the 5th arrondissement, or the Latin Quarter (so titled because all the students used to speak latin), while the 6th, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, is host to the old haunts of celebrated writers and intellectuals, making it a fashionable and expensive area with famous cafés and abundant bookstores. The 7th is the stuff of cliché postcards: clean, quiet, picturesque Paris streets mixed with views of the iconic Eiffel Tower.
Breaking up the order for the sake of simplicity, the Northern side of the river to the east holds the 8th and 16th arrondissements, pricier neighborhoods that are defined by the wide avenues surrounding the Champs-Élysée, where stereotypes of impossibly sleek, high-heeled Parisians come to life. To the North, the 17th offers a quieter area, where artists can find pretty cafés, and to the east you’ll find the lively Grands Boulevards neighborhood of the ninth, where nightlife thrives every day of the week. On the northern edge of the city sits the diverse 18th, which holds the highest point in the city at Montmartre, and the lively West African neighborhood of Chateau Rouge. Continuing east on the spiral, the 10th and 19th arrondissements are some of the best Paris neighborhoods to stay in: both are home to many hostels and host the lively Canal St. Martin neighborhood.
On the east side of the city, crowded bars, hidden gems, and lively side streets define the 11th and 12th, while the 20th is one of the quietest areas in Paris, home to the historic Père LaChaise cemetery. Back on the outer ring of the Rive Gauche, the 13th, 14th, and 15th are more residential neighborhoods, each with their own character. The 13th reflects significant Asian influences along with the ancient-feeling Buttes aux Cailles neighborhood, the 14th has both sleep streets and lively energy near Montparnasse, and the 15th holds hidden charm behind 1970’s highrises. In case you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’ll soon discover that there’s as much complexity within each Paris neighborhood’s dense streets as there is in the artful design of the city itself.