Paris has long been at the top of the list of the world’s most-visited travel destinations.
And for good reason. The number of legitimate attractions in Paris is almost too large to count.
For example: You could conceivably take just 1 of the city’s 20 illustrious central regions – called “arrondissements” – and have it contend in a “top destinations” contest all by itself.
Because of this, we thought it would be interesting to look at Paris section by section.
The 20 Parisian arrondissements form a clockwise spiral (or perhaps snail?) shape, starting on the North bank of the Seine River:
The city’s main attractions are found in arrondissements #1-8, which makes the somewhat daunting size of the city less so.
The 20 regions are surrounded by a ring road (“périphérique”), and from there the city turns into seemingly endless suburbs.
However, if you’ve come all the way to Paris, chances are you want a place in the center. The big question of course is “where?”
That’s where a bit of knowledgement of the arrondissements and their unique characters can be extremely useful.
Arrondissements of Paris
Part 1: The Inner 8
Each of Paris’ inner regions is so chock full of things to see and do that they could be reason enough for a trip to Paris on their own.
Together, they are why Paris has been the top tourist destination in the world in modern times.
Arrondissement 1 – Louvre
The first arrondissement is so packed with historic attractions that it is actually the least populated region, despite being the geographical center of Paris.
In addition to it’s namesake museum, The Louvre, you can find the Tuileries gardens, Pont des Art, Royal Palace, Rue de Rivoli, Place de Vendôme, Forum des Halles, Bourse du Commerce.
Part of the Île de la Cité (one of the islands in the city center), is also in the 1st, host to Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie.
The cherry on top of this buffet of monumental attractions is the view of the Eiffel Tower from the banks of the Seine from Place de la Concorde.
This region alone is reason enough to travel. But let’s not overlook the other 19.
Arrondissement 2 – Bourse
The city’s smallest region is no slouch. Early to rise and fast paced, this business district is typified by The Palais de Bourse, a former stock exchange center.
In addition, it is the home of numerous cafes and shopping opportunities which will no doubt help you keep your energy levels up.
Finally, if you need to take a break from all the hustle and bustle, you can pop on over to the National Library.
Arrondissement 3 – Temple
Here we have a trio of popular museums: The Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (“National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts“), the Carnavalet Museum (a museum of Parisian history) and the Picasso Museum.
Then we have the iconic Marais district, which is located in both Arrondissements 3 and 4.
It’s definitely not a budget-friendly neighborhood, but worth exploring for some of the interesting juxtopositions even if you’re not in a high-rolling mood:
Try luxury boutiques with top-dollar finery next to second hand stores selling well-loved items by the truck full. Or Michelan star fine dining next to hipster cafes. Just don’t spend all your travel budget yet. There’s still 17 more regions to go!
Arrondissement 4 – Hôtel-de-Ville
As stated above, the Marais district carries into arrondisement 4.
However, this isn’t really the heart and soul of Arr. #4. This region is most famous for being the oldest part of Paris, and with it home to the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Tour St-Jaques (a gothic marvel) and Place de Vosges.
As you may have noticed by now, Paris is a city of contrasts – in this region you’ll find the perfectly modern Centre Pompidou.
And if you’re on the lookout for something completely different, city hall is here too.
Arrondissement 5 – Panthéon
The Famed Latin Quarter.
As it is home to Sorbonne university and a number of prestigious high schools there will be no lack of students on the streets most days. And keep in mind that many of these are narrow Parisian streets.
Top of the attraction list is the Panthéon, an impressive neo-classical building with unmistakeable Corinthian columns.
There are also several notable churches, Val-de-Grace and St-Etienne-du-Mont; the Cluny museum; and the botanical garden (Jardin des Plantes)
Arrondissement 6 – Luxembourg
The Luxembourg Garden (Jardin du Luxembourg), is often considered one of the world’s great parks – and that alone is enough to make this Arrondissement worth a visit, as well as one of the most popular places for visitors to stay.
Don’t miss a chance to see the Odéon Theatre or two significant churches: Saint Sulpice, sporting non-matching towers; and Saint-Germain de Prés, the oldest abbey church in the city.
Arrondissement 7 – Palais-Bourbon
The Eiffel Tour makes this possibly the most famous arrondissment, as even those who aren’t familiar with the city’s subdivisions may be aware that the Eiffel Tower is in the “7th”.
This area is an absolute heavyweight when it comes to must-see attractions:
Invalides, the home of Napoleon’s tomb; the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin and the Musée du Quai Branly – all sufficiently popular in their own rights; the National Assembly (Palais Bourbon) and Military School (École Militaire).
You can even make a pit stop to the UNESCO headquarters here – sensibly located in the heart of Paris.
Arrondissement 8 – Élysée
Possibly the world’s most famous street is located in this region – The Champs-Élysées.
The iconic boulevard runs from the Place de la Concorde, with the fabulous ferris wheel & obelisk duo, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. Be prepared for dense crowds and top-dollar shopping opportunities.
The Grand Palais, Petit Palais, and Élysée help make a strong case for the 8th to be the top arrondissement in the city.
Part 2: The Middle 3
3 Parisian regions are nestled between those that touch the ring road that marks the outer limit of historical Paris and the “big 8”. They might not boast an Eiffel Tour or Arc de Triomph to boast about, but some of Paris’ most famous imagery comes exactly from these regions.
Arrondissement 9 – Opéra
Getting it’s name from the opera house Opéra Garnier, this district underscres just how much contrast a city like Paris holds.
The south is marked by fabulous boulevards and buildings, such as the Galeries Lafayette (also another shopping opportunity), whereas the north has a different sort of mark realised in 50 shades of red: Pigalle, the city’s boldly unashamed red-light district. Things can get a bit sketchy here, so best visit during sunlight hours.
Arrondissement 10 – Enclos-St-Laurent
Normally when a region of a city is most notable for 2 train stations we could pass it up without much thought, but the Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord are remarkable pieces of architecture.
It’s also easy enough to travel south from this region to get into prime sightseeing terriroty in the center either on the metro – or if you have the time and energy – on foot.
Bonus sights: Saint-Vincent-de-Paul church and Canal Saint-Martin.
Arrondissement 11 – Popincourt
This residential region has the least in terms of architectural and historical masterieces out of the first 11 areas.
Depending on your interests that makes it a must-see or must-avoid, as the Oberkampf district has a thriving nightlife that’s basically without compare in Paris.
Edgy and energetic, a decent understanding of French will prove more useful here than in more “classical” tourist regions.
Point of interest: The Cirque d’Hiver (winter circus).
Part 3: The Outer 9
You’d think that the outer reaches of the city would finally mean the pace wuld slow and we’d run out of things to see and do.
Not so fast! This is Paris we’re talking about, and we still have a ton of ground to cover.
Arrondissement 12 – Reuilly
Affordable accommodation abound in Reuilly! The region is well-connected by public transport and safe. I’ve stayed here a number of times, and there are hostels, hotels, and apartments to be had at reasonable rates and practically any taste.
In terms of attractions, you can check out Bercy Stadium, Bercy Park, and the Bastille Opera. And for a more relaxed pace you can head over to the massive expance of Vincennes park to the east.
The large Bastille Opera can be found in this mostly residential area, as well as the Bercy Stadium and the nearby modern Bercy Park. The arrondissement is bordered by the expansive Vincennes park on the east.
Arrondissement 13 – Gobelins
Home to the biggest Chinatown in Paris, this region is basically residential. It’s the area I’ve spent the least amount of time in.
Only the new National Library complex is particularly significant here.
Arrondissement 14 – Observatoire
Another region that’s largely residential, the 14th slightly missed out when it landed Montparnasse Boulevard and Montparnasse Cemetary, but the skyscraper that’s visible throughout the city landed in the 15th.
One notable non-hidden gem in the region is the famous catacombs, accessable from Denfert-Rochereau square. Just be warned, there’s a 200 person limit inside, so be prepared to wait if you’re not one of the day’s first visitors.
Arrondissement 15 – Vaugirard
Home of Paris’ most unmissable, if not most famous attraction: the skyscraper Montparnasse.
If you want to see the city from above without the atrocious lines at the Eiffel Tour, Monparnasse is the way to go. Plus, it’s way cooler to see the Eiffel Tower from the top of a huge skyscraper than it is to look at that same skyscraper from the Eiffel Tower.
Arrondissement 16 – Passy
One of the main reasons to come to the 16th is for the Palais de Chaillot, from which you can get a spectacular view from the Eiffel Tower.
Art fans can visit the Musée Guimet (Asian art), Palais de Tokyo (modern art), and/or Musée Marmottan (impressionist art).
Finally, if the weather is nice you can head on down to Boulogne park. Just don’t forget to pick up some wine & cheese for a picnic.
Arrondissement 17 – Batignolles-Monceau
A largely-residential region centered around Rue Clichy. The Batignolles area is where a lot of French writers and artists live, though you’ll be hard pressed to meet them.
If you plan on living in Paris, this is a sensible region to do apartment searching in. Otherwise the Palais des Congrès – a large convention center, – is about the best there is for attractions.
Arrondissement 18 – Butte-Montmartre
The famous basilica Sacré-Coeur is located on a large hill overlooking the center of the city.
Just watch out for the *ahem* salespeople who will try to tie rope bracelets on your wrists and then demand payment.
In these situations it’s best to be firm, say no, and put distance between yourself and the seller. The region is usually packed with tourists and this activity amounts to a nusiance – not a threat.
The Place du Tertre is a famous square that’s usually full of artists ready to do your portrait in any number of styles.
Last but not least, the Moulin Rouge is here, bordering on the 9th.
A word of warning, this is not a region to wander at night down deserted side streets. If you want to stay in this region, stick to accommodation near Pigalle or Blanche metros and away from Barbès-Rochechouart or Château Rouge.
Arrondissement 19 – Buttes-Chaumont
The 19th is sufficientlly far from the center and lacking in attractions that it doesn’t make sense to stay here on a short visit. A day trip to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont or Parc de la Villette is a viable option for a relaxing day away from the bustle of the center. But is that why you came to Paris?
Arrondissement 20 – Ménilmontant
This area punches above its weight in terms of tourist count exclusively thanks to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the most famous cemetery in Paris and home to the tombs of Frederic Chopin, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and many more.