Each of the 20 arrondissements, or neighborhoods, that make up Paris is as unique as the four corners of the world. From one area to the next, the things that make every section tick can be different. Before you visit, find out which ones should go at the top of your list, depending on what you hope to eat, drink, see or experience in Paris. Looking to find the best up-and-coming restaurants, shopping galore, beautiful parks or historic museums? There’s a side of town for that.
What’s important to know about making your way around Paris is that the arrondissements are organized in a spiral, starting with the first in the city center and working clockwise out until you arrive in the 20th. On the east side of the city, you’ll find a different vibe, while the west is characterized by the bourgeois Haussmannian buildings extending out to the large park, the Bois de Boulogne, on the border of town. Also to the west is Paris’ business district, La Défense.
Similarly, Paris’ Right Bank (Rive Droite) varies vastly from its Left Bank (Rive Gauche). There is a hustle and bustle in the Right Bank’s streets, while history-laden winding roads and art galleries are found in the Left.
Arrondissements for Foodie Favorites and Music
The Right Bank, specifically the 11th Arrondissement, has underground music and restaurant scenes. In the area lovingly known by locals as “Oberkampf” for the nearby Metro stop of the same name, you’ll find concert venues like Le Bataclan, Nouveau Casino and Café de la Danse frequented by the young, artsy crowd and up-and-coming bands from around the world.
The 11th is also where you can go for some of the city’s best néobistrot (new bistro) restaurants. Young chefs are making their mark on the prestigious Paris restaurant scene with spots like Au Passage with its gastronomic tapas and Le Dauphin with its modern interpretations of classic French dishes. The common thread in each of these places is the creative emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients, sourced from the finest producers in France. There are also some amazing open-air markets in the 11th, such as the large one at Place de la Bastille that offers everything from antiques to clothes and fresh flowers.
Just northwest of this neighborhood, you’ll encounter the Canal Saint Martin in the 10th Arrondissement, whose banks are full of hip picnickers in the summertime with pink balloons, indicating they ordered pizza to go from Pink Flamingo, one of the canal’s many restaurants. Other spots around here that you must try are organic wine bar Le Verre Volé and coffee shop Ten Belles.
Arrondissements for Sightseeing
In the center of Paris (in the 1st, 8th and 9th arrondissements), you’ll find most of the historic buildings worth visiting — think Opera Garnier and its golden gilding, the Louvre, Palais Royal and its incredible gardens, and Place de la Concorde. Standing in Place de la Concorde at sunset is one of the most impressive views of the city, as you can see the cars swirling around, the Eiffel Tower just lit in the background, the Champs-Élysées extending into the distance and the Tuileries Gardens mirroring it on the other side.
Arrondissements for Shopping
For shopping and department stores, you can’t go wrong on either the Left or Right banks. If you’re looking to hit as many stores in one run as possible, the area just behind Opera Garnier in the 9th is where you’ll find shops like Zara, Uniqlo and the two big department stores of Paris, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. There are also several shopping passages that are like outdoor malls, and shoe stores galore. On the Left Bank, head down the Boulevard Saint Germain for some luxury boutique hopping in the 6th Arrondissement.
A stop in the Ralph Lauren store is a must, as is lunch or dinner in its stunning interior courtyard. The five-story, 13,000-square-foot flagship shop houses the designer’s first restaurant outside of the U.S., and it’s great for a mid-shopping meal. The department store Le Bon Marché is also in Saint Germain and is an incredible place for all things specialty and luxury. If you want to break up your shopping with a bit of sightseeing, Saint Germain is also home to monuments such as Les Invalides, and not far from that are (of course) the Eiffel Tower and the Champ de Mars in the 7th Arrondissement. Also worth visiting on the Left Bank is the Musée Rodin, a mansion and its gardens dedicated to the sculptor’s works.
When you want unique boutiques and vintage shops, head to the Marais in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, where you will fall in love with places like Mimi’s Beer — yes, she sells clothing and beer — COS, The Broken Arm, L’Eclaireur and Merci, where you’ll find a concept store, an art exhibit gallery, a restaurant and a used-book café.
Photos courtesy of Famile Summerbelle, Arun Sundar, Manger and Le Bon Marche Pari