To the rest of the world, Paris can be surrounded by enigmas...
Where are people buying all those blue and white striped shirts? Why are their hats flat? How is that tower so sexy? Even beyond the warm glow of Hollywood-crafted romanticism, there is a contradiction. The city seems at once nostalgic and à la mode, classic and modern. Yes, well-dressed people sip espresso in wicker café chairs, buy baguettes at boulangeries, and kiss each other on both cheeks, but a more dynamic view of the city reveals neighborhoods with distinct characters and plenty of people who are not too chic to laugh when someone trips, spill drinks while singing karaoke, let their dog just go right there on the sidewalk, or eat chicken McNuggets. Paris hasn’t been blissfully left in some golden age of the past; it faces contemporary challenges of globalization and immigration and confronts social issues like from wealth to race to religion. These factors combine with its rich history and tradition, creating a diverse city that’s livable, evolving, and exciting. So, while its landmarks reflect ancient influences, its museums house works from old masters, and its wineries take advantage of thousands of years of knowledge, there are always new and unique parts of the city to meet and explore. Enchanté, Paris.
They say that Paris is laid out like one of its famous escargots: unlike New York’s its rigid grids, Paris’s winding rues are divided into blob-shaped arrondissements, starting in the center and spiraling outward like a snail’s shell. You’ll always be able to tell which arrondissement an address comes from by looking at the last digits of its zip code (750 are the first three, followed by the number of the neighborhood). Arrondissements are also noted with the number and suffix -ème or -e (e.g. 8ème or 8e). The Seine River bends through the city’s center, providing a frame of reference and historically separating the city into the Rive Gauche and Rive Droite.
The first arrondissement begins in the center of the city just north of the river. It’s home to the big guns: the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens, and Place de la Concorde, along with beautiful but bank-breaking shops. To its eastern end near Les Halles, however, you’ll start to encounter more affordable living. Just north is the second, a small and trendy neighborhood defined by Rue Montorgueil, a street lined with cafés, cheese shops, produce stands, butchers, clothing stores—you name it. The third and fourth arrondissements make up Le Marais, whose youthful and slightly hipster crowd means it can always be counted on for unique restaurants and bars.
Before crossing the river to the fifth, you’ll encounter Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis, two islands in the middle of the Seine which hold Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame, and are some of the oldest parts of the city. Students from high school (lycée) and university (like the area’s Sorbonne) crowd into the fifth arrondissement, or the Latin Quarter. The Museum of Natural History and its surrounding Jardin des Plantes make up its eastern edge while the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg defines its western boundary with the sixth. The sixth itself, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, is host to the old haunts of celebrated writers and intellectuals, making it a fashionable and expensive area with famous cafés and plenty of bookstores. The seventh is the stuff of postcards: clean, quiet, picturesque Paris streets, in some parts mixed with the grand display of the Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars.
Back across the river to the north is the eighth, where stereotypes of impossibly sleek, black-clad, high-heeled Parisians come to life. The district is bisected by the famous wide avenue of the Champs-Elysées, with its endpoints at the Place de Charles de Gaulle (where the Arc de Triomphe stands) and the Place de la Concorde defining two of its corners and the lovely Parc Monceau lining its northern boundary. East of the eighth, you’ll find the Grands Boulevards neighborhood of the ninth, where young people can find thriving nightlife on even the slowest of nights and large department stores attract shoppers in droves.
The tenth, where many hostels are located (along with the eighteenth), reveals a grittier side of Paris, but still doesn’t lack in beautiful waterside views along the Canal St-Martin. The eleventh has scores of small brasseries, hidden gems, and lively side streets, while the Bastille area in the twelfth has more crowded bars. The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth are more residential neighborhoods, each with their own character: the thirteenth reflects significant Asian influences, the fourteenth has both cute sleepy streets and lively energy near Montparnasse, and the 15th holds hidden charm behind 1970s high-rises.
Continuing to spiral outward to the west, the sixteenth feels upscale, full of young professionals with seemingly important business. On the side facing the Seine you’ll find interesting museums and the Trocadero, from which you’ll find one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower the city has to offer. While the seventeenth is a haven for artists seeking pretty cafés, the eighteenth's Pigalle area is chock-full of sex shops and peep shows, and houses the Red Light District of Moulin Rouge fame. The eighteenth also features Montmartre, where Sacré Coeur beckons from the highest point in Paris and artists do sketches and portraits around Place de Tertre. Finally, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is the highlight of the nineteenth, and the Père Lachaise cemetery makes a daytrip out to the twentieth worth your while.
Paris may seem a daunting and large city, but its arrondissements are so diverse and distinct that you are certain to find one in which you feel right at home: all you need is a little time to explore.
Coming into Paris, you can fly into either Charles de Gaulle or Orly airports. From Charles de Gaulle, take the RER Line B into the city. Some trains go directly to Gare du Nord, which is close to many of the city’s hostels in the tenth arrondissement and connects to multiple other metro lines. The journey should take about 40min. and costs €10. From Orly, you can take RER Line C into the city for about €6, which will take approximately 30min. Most trains will either arrive at Gare du Nord or Gare de l’Est, both located in the 10th arrondissement. From there, you can take the metro to where you need to go.
The metro, SNCF, is definitely the easiest way to get around Paris. With tons of lines, it can get you anywhere you need to go. Tickets can be purchased in the stations, and get cheaper the more you purchase. Navigo passes can also be purchased at many stations for €5, and are valid on the metro, bus, and RER (the larger commuter trains). They can be charged with the weekly fare, about €22, or the monthly fare, about €73. Buses are also easy to take and provide an opportunity to get acquainted with the layout of the city above ground. Vélib, the Parisian bike sharing service, also has stations all over the city and bikes are available daily 24hr. Passes can be bought by the day for only €1.70 or by the week for €8. The first 30min. of a ride are always free.
Tourist Offices: The main tourist office can be found at 25 Rue des Pyramides, 1e; (open daily 10:15am-7pm).
Banks/ATMs/Currency Exchange: Major French banks include BNP Paribas, Banque Populaire, Société Générale, Crédit Mutuel, and more. ATM fees will apply.
Post Offices: The La Poste Paris, Louvre location is open all night at 16 Rue Étienne Marcel, 2e. Other locations include 18 Bd. de la Chapelle, 18e and 11 Rue des Islettes, 18e.
Internet: Many businesses in Paris don’t offer free Wi-Fi, so McDonald’s is going to become your best friend when you’re in a pinch. Free internet access is also provided at nearly all of the city’s most frequented museums.
BGLTQ+ Resources: The Centre BGLTQ Paris-ÎdF (63 Rue Beaubourg, 3e; 01 43 57 21 47; open M-F 3:30pm-8pm, Sa 1pm-7pm).
Emergency Number: 112
Police: Direction de la Police Judiciaire (36 Quai des Orfèvres, 1e; 01 53 71 53 71)
US Embassy: There is a US Embassy in Paris (2 Av. Gabriel, 8e; 01 43 12 22 22; open M-Th 7:30am-5pm, F 7:30am-12:30pm).
Rape Crisis Center: Institut National d’Aide aux Victimes et de Médiation (14 Rue Ferrus, 14e 01 45 88 19 00; 0884284637; help line open every day 9am-9pm).
- Hôtel-Dieu de Paris (1 Pl. du Parvis de Notre-Dame, 4e; 01 42 34 82 34).
- Hôpital Saint-Louis (1 Av. Claude Vellefaux, 10e; 01 42 49 49 49).
- Pharmacie de Garde Auber Paris Opéra (01 42 65 88 29).
- Pharmacie Monge (01 43 31 39 44).