Is there a city quite as impressive and daunting as Paris?
Planning a trip to the city of light can be challenging, especially when it comes to finding a place to stay. With 20 neighborhoods (arrondissements) to chose from, looking for accommodation can be terrifying, at least it was for me last spring when I was planning a 5 day trip to Paris. Luckily, one of my favorite bloggers lives in Paris.
The infamous, the glorious, mademoiselle Ella Coquine. Now I read a lot of blogs, because, well, I’m a blogger. But there are only a handful that I adore, and I read over and over again, and this is one of them. Lisa started her blog as a journal of 365 days of moving on from a relationship as an expat in Paris. The day I discovered her, I sat down and read her old posts from beginning to end, I was hooked! Filled with misadventure, humorous anecdotes and musings, I am never bored and always laughing as I read her stuff.
As soon as decided to head to Paris, I knew I needed her advice about the neighborhoods to stay in. She emailed me back with a fantastic reply, giving a good breakdown to all the arrondissements, to help me plan. Luckily, she squeezed me into her schedule and gave me an updated, detailed version of all 20 neighborhoods as a guest post while I’m in Turkey. Without further ado, Miss Coquine’s guide to the arrondissements of Paris!
So you’re finally taking that trip to Paris! The city of light, the city of love, the city of glamour! For any traveler popping their Paris cherry, planning it all from home can be as exciting as it can be a bit maddening. While most already know what they want to see and do before arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport, it’s finding a place to hang your hat at the end of the day that seems to be the crux of frustration for many new travelers. While searching for the right area, you’ll become familiarized with the clunky word arrondissements, which is just fancy French speak for districts. With there being 20 of them, how do you make a distinction from one to another, especially when theres a budget to consider?
When the lovely Liz the adventuress, contacted me last year looking for suggestions on where to stay in Paris, I sent her a rough and honest review of each one based on my four years of living here. Polishing it up a bit for you dear readers, here’s my take of each neighborhood.
The ultimate Paris must-see; you’ve got the Tuileries, Pont des Art, Place de Vendôme, Rue de Rivoli, and a long shot view of the Eiffel Tower overlooking the river Seine at Place de la Concorde. This is the Paris you see in Chanel advertisements. In particular, the one with Keira Knightly scooting around town in a leather jumpsuit. A dream, right? Well dreams are expensive, and moderate priced housing in this arrondissement will get you closer to the urban shuffle that is Les Halles than Le Louvre.
The second is the city’s smallest arrondissement where the trendy Etienne Marcel and Rue Montorgueil reside; two bustling pockets of the 2nd that are flushed with cafés and shopping. The second also homes the textile industry, so be careful of staying near Sentier as these textile workers get up early…as do their cacophonous delivery trucks.
3rd and 4th Arrondissements (The Marais)
As a former resident of what could be compared to Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, I hold a nostalgic fondness for this area that has something for everyone. Luxury independent designer boutiques contrast the plethora of vintage shopping that sell second hand goods by the kilo, as well as haute cuisine at Zagat celebrated restaurants versus local corner brasseries-turned hipster hangouts. Unfortunately, this neighborhood is notoriously pricey. A solution to those who have their sights set on the Marais would be to look into the outskirts like République as it is stone’s throw from this mecca of chic.
5th Arrondissement (Latin Quarter)
A fact about this area that is seldom communicated is that while there is the impressive Rue Mouffetard with its market, boutique hotels, and the old-world charm of the Latin Quarter, the area is brimming with students attending the universities and prestigious high schools. In short, French teenagers are everywhere, and in my experience down these tiny rues they walk in packs making it cumbersome to get around.
6th Arrondissement (Saint Germain-des-Prés)
There’s nothing about this iconic neighborhood, one that captures the true essence of the left bank that I can write that hasn’t already been written. One of my favorite things to do when I’m in the 6th is to pass the home of the legendary Serge Gainsbourg. The contrast between Serge’s home and the bourgeois 6th arrondissement is incredible. The neighbors cringe at the eyesore located in this otherwise upscale rive gauche neighborhood where they have rallied up to have the graffiti painted over, to find that it was tagged up again by fans and unfortunately vandals mere days later.
7th Arrondissement (Eiffel Tower)
The 7th is absolutely gorgeous. Case in point, Karl Lagerfeld lives here. Anything as beautiful as this classically Parisian district that homes someone like Karl as you can imagine is pricey but in my opinion, a little sleepy. An appeal to this area of course is the Eiffel Tower but luckily views of this main attraction can be found in many of the other arrondissements. I assure you, you will pass it many times during your trip, and that staying in its arrondissement isn’t vital to your experience, unless of course you’re planning on doing a Lagerfeld stake-out than I guess this would be the place for you.
All I can say is Ca-ching, ca-ching. This area is expensive. Expensive as in Oprah stays in here when she comes to Paris…just to give you an idea. If at some point you’re not sure you’re in Paris (after, say a trip up to Père-Lachaise), get off the metro line Alma-Marceau where you will be at the end of the ostentatious Avenue Montaigne (see: Sex and the City finale, anyone?) with a full frontal view of the Eiffel Tower. Ever wonder where the stereotype that Parisians have flawless style and impeccable taste came from? I’ll tell you where. It came from here.
9th and 10th Arrondissements
These two areas are lively areas with tons to see and do, and are great districts to look into. They’re also pretty spread out, so be careful because some parts can be pretty sketchy, especially the senior citizen prostitution hangouts off of Rue Saint Denis.
11th Arrondissement (Oberkampf)
It’s no secret that the 11th is of my favorite arrondissements in the city. Similar to the 9th, it’s young, fun and edgy. When looking for a place to stay, be careful because outside the hip and grungy Oberkampf, this neighborhood is not completely gentrified (which I think is a good thing), so it might be a little too “festive” for a first-timer, especially one without a working knowledge of French.
12th Arrondissement (Bastille)
One of the larger arrondissements in the city offers an influx of affordable housing by way of hostels, hotels and apartment rentals. I generally steer friends and family in the direction of this area as it is affordable and safe with access to major metro lines that will get you to many of the city’s major destinations.
13th Arrondissement (Chinatown)
This is my least favorite quartier in Paris. It’s out of the way, the boulevards are really wide where I feel like I’m more in Queens than I am in Paris. The one exception to this neighborhood is the hidden Buttes aux Cailles that boasts a stretch of restaurants, cafés and bars.
The 14th gets a bad rap for being boring and too residential. While it’s not exactly the most raging arrondissement in the city, there is still something to say about its sleepy charm and quiet streets, especially for those who are looking to return to peace and quiet after a long day of sightseeing.
The 15th is hit or miss. This is another neighborhood that has a stigma of being dull. Having lived here as well, I disagree. When closer to the 7th, you are close to Invalides, Ecole Militaire, and the Eiffel Tower. Just try to turn a blind eye to the concrete 1970s high-rises over by Beaugrenelle – or what locals refer to it as moche-grenelle (ugly grenelle).
It’s extremely safe (just don’t watch the film Taken), residential and quiet, and you’re a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomph and views of the Eiffel Tower. It’s also very upscale with a large American population of families who have been relocated professionally. Whenever I feel too boho to grace the sidewalks of this upper-class enclave, I head to the Palais de Tokyo for a dose of modern art at one of their free exhibits, and unwind with a cheap glass of wine in their café.
Another neighborhood that is making a name for itself, thanks to the up-and-coming Batignolles area that houses many established French artists and writers. Because of its low profile, finding decent housing in a neighborhood that grants you access to Champs-Elysees and Parc Monceau is more manageable as well as bit more affordable for this otherwise bourgeois neighborhood.
Please avoid any hotel or hostel that is off of the Barbès-Rochechouart or Château Rouge metro stop. If you happen to be staying in this district, use Google maps to make sure you are closer to the more populated Pigalle or Blanche metros. Parts of the 18th is like a vintage postcard of Paris (just don’t mind the controversial Starbucks that just popped up) with sights to see such as Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, and the Moulin Rouge. Just be wary about wondering around the desolate side streets at night. Really.
19th and 20th Arrondissements
For a first time visitor to Paris, I wouldn’t suggest staying in these neighborhoods. While there are things to see like the sprawling Parc des Buttes Chaumont, the markets and of course the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery, but these areas would make a better day trip. The increasingly large community of young prostitutes (again with the prostitution, but hey, it’s Paris!) in Belleville who aren’t as obvious as the 75 year olds dressed like Britney in the 10th could find you in a less than desirable tango in Paris.
Paris, a city seeped in the romanticism of history is abounding with places to see and experiences to absorb. These are just a few of my observations and discoveries of a place that will never cease to inspire me, and a place that I fortunately get to call home.
Lisa Czarina is a Paris-based writer who is a regular contributor to the Girls Guide to Paris, and has been featured in the Huffington Post Travel and on HGTV’s House Hunter’s International. She recounts her life as a brazen Italian-New Yorker on her award-winning blog, Ella Coquine. She can also be found on Twitter.