The basic layout of Paris: Major streets, sqaures, landmarks, and neighborhoods

Paris began on the Ile de la Cité, an island in the Seine River that is still the center of the city and home to Notre Dame cathedral.

It's also connected by a bridge to the nearby posh residential island of Ile de Saint-Louis.

Left Bank and Right Bank

The Seine River divides Paris between the Right Bank (Rive Droite) to the north and the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) to the south. (To the west, the Seine does curve to flow due south, so in the western parts of the city the "Left Bank" is, tecnhcially, on the east side of the river, which can be a bit confusing.)

Traditionally, the Right Bank is considered more upscale with Paris's main boulevards such as Champs-Elysées and museums such as the Louvre.

The Left Bank is the old Bohemian half of Paris with the Latin Quarter around the university.

That said, these old distinctions don't really hold anymore. The trendiest quarters these days are the Marais and neighboring Bastille/canal district—both on the eastern edge of the Right Bank.

The Paris arrondissement system

Paris is divided into 20 districts called arrondissements. These districts start with the first arrondissement (which includes the Louvre neighborhood and the tip of the Ile de la Cité) and then spiral out from there.

A Parisian address, spoken or written, isn't complete unless the neighborhood name or arrondissement is included. The last two digits of any Paris zip code indicate the arrondissement, so an address listed as "Paris 75003" would be in the third arrondissement.

Sometimes you'll see a number followed by an "eme" or an "e" (or in the case of 1, an "er”), such as 1er, 8eme, or 5e. That's the French equivelant of putting an "st" or "th" after a number to make it ordinal, and it's a shorthand way to refer to an arrondissement.

Most of these districts also correspond with traditional, named neighborhoods.

Major Right Bank neighborhoods

1er—Louvre

Sights in the 1er
• Louvre
Sainte-Chapelle
• Tuleries Gardens
• Musée de l'Orangerie
The oldest part of Paris comprises the sprawling Louvre Palace—now a rather famous museum—its adjacent Tuleries Gardens stretching along the Seine, and the western half of Ile de la Cité (including the chapel of Sainte-Chapelle).

8eme—Elysées

Sights in the 8eme
• Arc de Triomphe
• Musée du Petit Palais
The 8eme arrondissement is a natural extension westward of the 1er. It remains one of Paris's most posh areas, consisting of ritzy hotels, fashion boutiques, fine restaurants, and upscale town houses.

It centers along the grandest boulevard in a city famous for them: the Champs-Elysées. Although the sidewalks of this historic shopping promenade were recently cleaned up and widened, the Champs-Elysées has become merely a shadow of its former elegant self; it's no more than a string of international chain stores and movie theaters.

The Champs-Elysées beelines east-west from the place de la Concorde—an oval plaza at the western end of the Louvre complex where French royalty met the business end of a guillotine during the Revolution—to the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is one of the world's greatest triumphal arches, a monument to France's unknown soldier and to the gods of car-insurance premiums (surrounding the Arc is a five-lane traffic circle where, it seems, anything goes).

4eme—Hôtel de Ville (Ile de la Cité, Ile St-Louis, Beaubourg, Marais)

Sights in the 4eme
• Nôtre-Dame
• Parvis Crypt
• Centre Georges Pompidou
• Maison de Victor Hugo
The 4eme arrondissement includes the two islands at Paris' core—Ile de la Cité (home to Nôtre Dame Cathedral) and Ile St-Louis—as well as Paris's Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall (after which the quarter is named—and which often hosts free exhibitions).

The 4eme also includes the Beaubourg, a largely pedestrian zone just west of the 1er (i.e.: the Louvre), home to, among other things, the Pompidou modern art center.

East of the Beaubourg, the 4eme covers the southern, more happening half of the Marais, named for the fact that, long ago, this used to be swampland.

Today the Marais is a mix of medieval buildings and elegant, centuries-old townhomes that once had fallen on rough times but, in the past two decades, has come roaring back to become a trendy neighborhood of restaurants, bars, and small museums.

The Marais manages to remain a genuinely Parisian slice of the city amid the swirl of tourism in the city center. It also doubles as Paris's gay hub.

3emeTemple (Le Marais)

Sights in the 3eme
• Picasso Museum
Musée Carnavalet
• Musée Cognacq-Jay
This is the quieter, more residential northern half of the Marais disctict, home to several fine little museums, with some of central Paris's few remaining buildings from early 1400s and a small (but expanding) Chinatown.

16eme—Passy (Bois de Boulogne)

Sights in the 16eme
• Bois de Boulogne park
• Musée d'Art Moderne
• Maison Balzac
Paris's western edge, running south from the Arc de Triomphe area and the 8eme (techncially, this is the "Right Bank," but it's actuallly due west of the Seine—which turns to run south here—which makes if look "left" of the river on the maps).

Along with several second-tier museums, first-tier hotels and restaurants, embassies, and upscale residential streets (this is like the Upper East Side of Paris), the 16eme is most notable for the vast Bois de Boulogne, a forest-like park that takes up the entire western half of the arrondissement.

18eme—Montemarte, Pigalle

Sights in the 18eme
• Montemarte
Sacre Coeur 
• Moulin Rouge
• Cimitière de Montmartre
In the northerly reaches of the Right Bank lies Montemarte, still echoing with the ghosts of Bohemian Paris, topped by the fairy-tale gleaming white basilica of Sacre Coeur, and tramped by tourists. The neighborhood is so distinct and charming it gets its own page.

The 18eme is also home to Pigalle, the red light district famous for the Moulin Rouge cabaret and nightclub.

Major Left Bank neighborhoods

The Left Bank arrondissements include:

5eme—Panthéon

Sights in the 5eme
• Thermes de Cluny/Musée du Moyen Age
• Institut du Monde Arab
• Jardin des Plantes park
Musée Curie 
The famous old Latin Quarter is named for the language spoken by the university students who gave it its once colorful, bohemian atmosphere.

These days, those core streets of the Latin Quarter are another sad Parisian shadow of former glory, now replaced with gyro stands, souvenir shops, recent immigrants, and hordes of tourists wondering what all the fuss is about.

However, there are also some intriguing history and museums here, including Roman-era remains—the most famous of which, the Thermes de Cluny, an ancient Roman bathhouse, have been turned into a Museum of the Middle Ages—the technological marvel of the Institut du Monde Arab, and the elegant Jardin des Plantes gardens (my favorite park in Paris).

6eme—Luxembourg (St-Germain-des-Prés)

Sights in the 6eme
• St-Germain-des-Pres
St-Suplice
Musée Eugene Delacroix
Luxembourg Gardens 
Just west of the 5eme, the 6eme has been lucky enough to retain some of the counterculture charm that the touristy 5eme has lost.

The students of Paris's Fine Arts School help liven up things here, especially in the now highly fashionable but still somewhat artsy St-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of cafes, brasseries, and restaurants, which remains the neighborhood of choice for high-class intellectuals (at least those who can afford its stratospheric rents).

The 6eme is named for the early 17th century Luxembourg Palace (where the French Senate meets) and its ornate Luxembourg Gardens.

7eme—Palais Bourbon/Eiffel/Les Invalides

Sights in the 5eme
• Eiffel Tower
• Musée d'Orsay
• Musée Rodin
• Paris Sewers
Tucked into the wide arc of the Seine that marks the western end of the Left Bank, the 7eme intrudes a bit on the St-Germain neighborhood, but its major features are the Musée d'Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, and the Rodin Museum.

14eme—Montparnasse

Sights in the 14eme
Tour Montparnasse
• Cimitière du Montparnasse
• Catacombs
As most tourists are concerned, the southermost reach of Paris you'll deal with is the 14th arrondissement, known as Montparnasse.

It's easy to see from any part of Paris since (a) Montparnasse is a hill, and (b) atop of it, jutting out like an ugly sore thumb, is the 56-story Tour Montparnasse, the only skyscraper in all of Paris.

This tall building is only good for one thing: riding the elevator to the rooftop observation deck for a spectacular panorama across all of Paris (which has the added benefit of being the only view of Paris that doesn't include the hideous Tour Montparnasse).

Nearby are the Montparnasse Cemetery (final resting place of Baudelaire, Sartre, Saint-Saëns, Guy de Maupassant, Sam Becket, and others), and the creepily amazing catacombs, old mining tunnels now lined with the bones of thousands of dead Parisians—femurs stacked into walls topped by skulls, fiddly little bones artfully arranged into sculptural elements.

 

 

 



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