One of the most captivating cities in Europe, Paris retains its timeless legacy as an artistic, intellectual, and literary pacesetter. The Eiffel Tower, symbol of the city, dominates the skyline. North of the Seine, the Right Bank is home to monumental buildings, grand boulevards, and major museums, including the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou. The Left Bank (rive gauche) invokes a Bohemian and intellectual atmosphere with its university communities, cafés, restaurants, jazz clubs, and chic boutiques.
Though a metropolitan environment, Paris adheres to its dedication to small businesses and local vendors. Thus you will find yourself in quaint locales that immerse themselves in intimacy and friendliness. As such, keep these tips in mind when venturing throughout the city:
Paris is divided into 20 arrondisemonts (districts) that spiral out like a snail’s shell from the center. The Seine River then cuts across the entire city, dividing it into the right (droit) and left (gauche) banks. Each arrondissement offers its own unique character, just like the different neighborhoods and boroughs of New York. Though you’ll get to know your own arrondissement best, you will inevitably spend time in almost all of them, experiencing Paris’ diversity firsthand.
The city center. This quarter is bustling with tourists sightseeing and shopping and with 9 to 5-ers rushing to work at the area’s many office and government buildings. The first offers a lot of the attractions that you are already familiar with, but it is usually jam-packed with tourists, so it doesn’t give you a truly authentic impression of Paris.
The 2nd is the smallest arrondissement and home to the Bourse, Paris’ stock exchange. There’s not much to say about this neighborhood because it’s a little impersonal, just a stop on the way from the first to the Marais.
The 3rd and 4th arrondissements compose the Marais--a quaint, hip neighborhood that is now home to Paris’ Jewish and gay communities. It boasts some of the oldest houses in the city, known as hôtels, which belonged to the city’s wealthy elite. Some of these homes have been converted into museums. The Marais is a popular area for Sunday strolls, as most restaurants and stores are open here on that day, while the rest of the city is nearly shut down. It also hosts a lively bar scene at night. The 4th arrondissement is also home to Paris’ two islands, Ile-de la-Cite and Ile-Saint-Louis, both charming, compact neighborhoods that offer lovely views of the city from their banks.
Le Quartier Latin. This neighborhood sits across from Notre Dame and is the heart of traditional left bank intellectual and academic culture. It is home to a lot of students attending the Sorbonne, which adds to its youthful, lively atmosphere, rife with bars and restaurants.
St. Germain was once the center of the left bank’s artistic and literary community, but it’s now become one of the wealthiest and most fashionable neighborhoods in Paris. The quarter attracts with the charm of its twisting streets, filled with art galleries, boutiques, patisseries and bookshops. There are also some popular bars and restaurants to discover as you meander through the winding paths that diverge from the traffic filled Boulevard St. Germain.
This neighborhood hosts many important historical sites and government buildings. The imposing architecture offers a somewhat closed off atmosphere, but in general the area is very chic.
This quarter is characterized by the Champs Elysees, which runs its full length. Though the Champs Elysees is one of the most well known streets in Paris, you might be somewhat under whelmed at first visit. The area is very tourist and consumer driven, with an endless supply of nondescript flagship stores, including a Virgin Megastore. There are also a few major nightclubs, rendering the neighborhood popular with the late night crowd, but walking around alone at night is not recommended.
This neighborhood is a shopper’s heaven and an important business district. Major department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette are within walking distance on Boulevard Haussmann, warranting a visit. Galeries Lafayette, especially, boasts a wide variety of options from fashion, to home goods, to gourmet foods. The area near the stunning Opera Garnier, home to the Paris Opera, seems most like New York, with large buildings spread out over overwhelming boulevards. The Boulevard Pigalle, especially near the Place de Clichy, is always busy with people, no matter what time of day or night. This area is convenient to reach many different parts of the city, as it is located at the crossroads of the 8th, 9th, 17th and 18th Arrondissements.
Two of Paris’ major train stations are located in the Tenth, so it has a tendency to be loud with lots of traffic. But, the section around the Canal Saint Martin has become increasingly chic and residential. This sector spans the area from Place de la Republique to the east side of the district and is filled with trendy, urban bars, cafes and restaurants.
The Eleventh is a vibrant, youthful residential neighborhood that has seen a lot of gentrification in the past few years, but has managed to retain its sense of community with many family-run shops. Formerly a purely working class enclave, the cheaper rents have attracted student and young professional residents, leading to the development of a strong nightlife scene centered around the area to the east of the Bastille (Rue de la Roquette) and Rue Oberkampf off the metro stop Parmentier.
The Twelfth is a residential area with a lot of parks, most notably the Promenade Plantee. This park sits above the street, with boutiques situated under its stone archways (featured in the film Before Sunset). In the twelfth you will also find the beautiful Gare de Lyon and the Opera Bastille. Old warehouses at the Cour St. Emillion have recently been redeveloped into bars and restaurants that survive on the crowds from the Bercy Palais Omnisport, a major concert venue.
The Thirteenth is a middle and lower class residential area that centers around Place d’Italie and lies just south of the Latin Quarter. The Butte aux Cailles is a small hill southwest of Place d’Italie with a very lively community and a growing bar scene. The area is home to Paris’ Chinatown, offering the city more diversity. Many urban redevelopment projects are underway in the sections bordering the Seine, including France’s new national library and the high-tech Metro line 14. This
new line will surely help this district’s popularity in the near future.
The Fourteenth is home of the famed Montparnasse district, once a hangout for American ex-patriots in the 1920s, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Many of the bars they frequented still exist (Le Dome, La Rotonde) as expensive brasseries along the Boulevard Montparnasse. Here you will also find the much- debated and hated Tour Montparnasse towering over the neighborhood’s grand apartment buildings, as the only skyscraper within city limits. The area’s many middle to upper class families and students reside alongside two major macabre landmarks: the large Montparnasse Cemetery and the Catacombs.
The Fifteenth is a very residential neighborhood with no significant tourist sites, making it the perfect place to observe quotidian Parisian life. The area offers cheaper rents, attracting lots of middle class French families and a variety of cafes and local shops.
The Sixteenth is a very posh bourgeois district. The grand avenues are lined with leafy chestnut trees and beautiful 19th century architecture, housing lots of “old money” families and older couples. The sixteenth is also home to NYU in France’s campus. There are many expensive restaurants, cafes and shops to be found on every street, especially near school. Although living here is a welcome respite from the bustle of the city, it can sometimes be a little boring. Everything shuts down very early each night and on Sundays, so you will inevitably spend a lot of time on the train to get to the more vibrant areas. Keep this in mind when planning your nights out.
Rue de la Pompe
Musee Marmottan – Monet museum.
Bois de Boulogne
Palais de Tokyo – Contemporary art space.
Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Musee de la Mode
The Seventeenth is very quiet and residential, comprised of a lot of wide and somewhat sterile streets. Though less prestigious than the Sixteenth, the Seventeenth is equally expensive in the areas surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. But, the periphery of the district is much less desirable. The area, though, offers personality with its many parks and cute boutiques and its close proximity to Montmartre. The Arc de Triomphe offers a major metro hub, making access to the city center quite easy, yet the distance often makes the trips quite time-consuming.
The Eighteenth is home to both the very high- and the very lowbrow, making it an interesting junction of diverse Parisian life. The district combines the picturesque hill town of Montmartre with the infamous sex trade of Pigalle, birthplace of the Moulin Rouge and the can-can. Wandering through the meandering streets of Montmartre can be most rewarding, though the tourist traps near Sacre Coeur with their harassing portrait painters and overpriced cafes, should be avoided. The quarter surrounding the Rue des Abesses to the west of Sacre Coeur offers a more authentic village atmosphere.
The Nineteenth, though run-down and slightly uninviting, seems like the type of place where real Parisians live. Though the area is home to many housing projects for working class residents, it is slowly seeing regeneration and gentrification take place. It feels very bobo (bohemian-bourgeois) sort of like Brooklyn with warehouses situated between hip boutiques and galleries. The contemporary art space Le Plateau offers rotating exhibits for the artistically minded looking for a departure from the regular Louvre-Pompidou-d’Orsay loop. To the far north is the relatively new Parc de la Villette with its science museum. But, the gem of the district is the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. The hilly park offers a small lake surrounding a tall escarpment with a temple placed on top from which visitors can take in impressive views of the city.
The Twentieth is home to working class residents, like its neighbor, but its immigrant community, Belleville, has become increasingly gentrified. Père Lachaise, the famous cemetery, is a must-see for tourists looking to honor Paris’ most celebrated deceased laid to rest in a small city of tombs including Jim Morrison (Doors). The Twentieth, though somewhat uninviting in its current state, is a neighborhood on the rise and in the coming years can only grow in popularity.
Students are urged to travel light but to bring warm clothing to Paris. Clothing which can be easily layered is your best bet for remaining comfortable throughout the seasons you'll experience during a semester abroad. Although winter temperatures seldom drop below 30°F, it is frequently cool and rainy.