The best way to understand Paris is to learn about the different arrondissements or neighbourhoods that define the city.
Most Parisians refer to an area by its arrondissement, which is also displayed in the last two numbers of the 5 digit Paris postal code. These districts follow a clockwise spiral, starting with the 1st arrondissement north of the Seine River in the heart of the city, down and around ending with the 20th on the eastern outskirts. The Seine divides the city into the Left Bank on the south and the Right Bank on the north.
11th – Bastille
Formerly a working-class neighbourhood and location of the infamous jail, Bastille is now a trendy mix of bars, clubs and art galleries. Place de Bastille, a large, open square, touches three arrondissements, the fourth, eleventh and twelfth. The private Musee Edith Piaf, founded by a group of avid fans, is on Rue Crespin du Gast.
12th – Bois de Vincennes
Home to the ultra-modern Paris Opera House, Opera Bastille, loved and loathed by Parisians. The beautifully lush park Bois de Vincennes is on the south-east border of this district.
13th – Gobelins
This is primarily a residential neighbourhood. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France), designed to resemble four open books, is located here on the banks of the Seine. Stroll along Avenue de Choisy for a taste of Paris’s Chinatown.
14th – Montparnasse
Paris’s only skyscraper, Tour Montparnasse, is a landmark in this mostly residential neighbourhood. The Montparnasse cemetery and Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris anchor the north west and south east corners of this district respectively.
15th Arrondissement – Vaugirard/Grenelle
The north-east corner of this primarily residential arrondissement is appealing close to the Eiffel tower and a pleasant walk along the Seine.
16th – Passy
A more upscale neighbourhood with a lovely river side promenade, this arrondissement hosts a super selection of vintage clothing and accessory shops on Rue de la Pompe. The Palais de Chaillot, the Trocadero, (which offers superb views of the Eiffel Tower across the Seine) and the Museum of Modern Art (located in the Palais de Tokyo) are also here. The spacious Bois de Bologne park on the western edge features glorious gardens and lakes.
17th – Monceau
The seventeenth arrondissement is an upscale bourgeois neighbourhood, with quite good shopping along Avenue des Ternes. Restaurants catering to business travellers surround the Palais des Congres and Le Meridien Etoile Hotel.
18th – Montmartre
The landmark Sacré Coeur Basilica presides over this quaint artsy/touristy neighbourhood in the north of Paris. The Place du Tertre is the bustling main square. The Espace Montmartre Salvador Dali boasts a permanent exhibition of Dali’s art while the Musée de Montmartre features works by local artists. The only remaining vineyard in Paris is also here. Down the hill at Pigalle, the Moulin Rouge is still a draw and remnants of the area’s sleazier past remain.
19th – Chaumont/Belleville
The 19th and 20th arrondissements are sometimes referred to as Belleville, perhaps as the Rue de Belleville, a good location for ethnic food and produce, separates the two areas. A neighbourhood of new immigrants and the not-so-rich.
20th – Pere Lachaise
The famous Pere Lachaise cemetery is the final resting place of luminaries like the Door’s Jim Morrison, writer Oscar Wilde and singer Edith Piaf. The statues and monuments of other not-so-famous people also make Pere Lachaise a pleasant place to meander around.
This article was compiled using information from L’indispensable de Paris, an excellent Parisian map book and during numerous trips to Paris. Please note that while some of the descriptive names of the arrondissements may differ, the numbers, locations and boundaries do not.
© 2012 – 2013, Heather Zorzini. All rights reserved.