Picking an arrondissement in Paris

I’ve been to Paris three times and each time I’ve stayed in a different arrondissement, which in English are known as administrative districts. The number of the arrondissement is indicated by the last two digits in most Parisian postal codes, beginning with 75001 and going up to 75020. The city’s 20 arrondissements are arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral, starting in the middle of the city, with the first on the Right Bank of the Seine (the Louvre is located in the 1st arrondissement).

Deciding in which arrondissement to stay is usually one of the toughest quandaries for tourists when planning a trip to the City of Light. On my first visit there, I did none of the planning (it was a group tour) which probably accounted for why I had such an abysmal time; well, that and contracting a tonsil infection. The hotel where was located in the 18th arrondissement, which is where the Montmartre neighborhood is situated. I like Montmartre as it has the ever striking Sacre Coeur Church, charming side streets to wander on and a slew of inexpensive ethnic eateries. However, it has some negatives too. It wasn’t until 1860 that Montmartre became part of Paris; until then it had been its own entity and so it’s somewhat removed from popular sites such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower, in addition to requiring a lengthy ride on the metro with the possibility of one or more transfers depending on where you’re coming from. It’s also home to a plethora of shops and theaters in some less than desirable areas (i.e. seedy) to be walking around in, particularly at night. On my last visit to Paris, D and I rode the metro to the Pigalle Station. As we were walking along the Boulevard Clichy trying to figure out which side street to turn onto to get to Sacre Coeur,we passed by a woman who was rubbing a certain sex toy on her face. If that was not disturbing enough, she was entirely into it, complete with dialogue and facial expressions. While this was a scene I could have witnessed anywhere in the world, not just in Paris’ 18th,  the arrondissement is renowned for these types of “pleasures,” so it seemed more likely to go on here. Also, the 18th offers some extremely cheap lodging options (well, for Paris that is) but cheap does not always mean safe surroundings. While countless tourists stay in the 18th arrondissement every year without issue, it’s perhaps a district to be more aware of one’s surroundings, especially at night. Personally I would not stay there again due to the time it takes to get to many of the city’s prime attractions.

On my second visit to Paris I traveled alone. While I was a young college student and not swimming in an abundance of funds, I didn’t want to stay in a hostel. Although I certainly had enough pleasant hostel experiences in different countries, I had always stayed in them with friends, never by myself. The problem was finding a hotel that wasn’t overly expensive but not a complete trash heap either. I finally located one in the 11th arrondissement, which is home to a growing nightlife scene as well as a vast array of cafes and restaurants, markets and parks. It also features the Place de la Bastille, which is where the Bastille Prison stood until its storming and subsequent physical destruction between July 14, 1789 and July 14, 1790 during the French Revolution; nothing of it remains today. A plus to staying here was that my hotel was in walking distance to three metro lines at the Filles du Calvaire and Oberkampf stations, which was great as I packed in a considerable amount of touring during my visit. While the 11th is not as tourist heavy as some other areas, especially at night, it still offers convenient access to endless amounts of eateries and cafes.

My last visit to Paris involved staying in the 7th arrondiseement. For anyone not Paris obsessed, the 7th is home to a slew of popular sites but none more famous than the Eiffel Tower. Although hard core Paris fiends might naysay actually staying in the 7th since it does not have any significant metro stations (those that have multiple lines going through it), I feel its walkability factor outweighs the former. We specifically stayed in the Rue Cler area, which is primarily residential but becoming more beset with tourists anxious to seek out authentic neighborhood dining spots and other charming food and drink stores. (I’m sure those locals that are not affiliated with the tourism sector are cursing the day that popular guidebook author Rick Steves ever spoke in praises about staying in the Rue Cler section.) My biggest regret from my last trip to Paris is that we never had a picnic on the banks of the Seine that I had so wanted to do, even though within a block of our hotel was not only a charming fromagerie (cheese store) but also a boulangerie whose windows boasted some of the freshest baguettes and other breads I’ve ever seen. Thankfully, we did take advantage of a patisserie one night after dinner where we feasted upon some incredible pastries. All in all, being able to stay within walking distance of Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower for starters was fabulous. On our last night in Paris we took a dinner cruise on the Seine and afterwards while walking back to our hotel we were treated to seeing the very top of the Eiffel Tower sparkle during its nightly on the hour 15 minute light display.

Tips for picking an arrondissement

-Ask yourself what you would like to do, what you would like to be near. While Paris’ metro is one of the best in the world in terms of scope and accessibility, the city is meant to be explored by foot and so it’s a good idea to experience some of it in this medium. However, being near a metro stop is always an added plus. 
-Scrimping on accommodations by staying in a neighborhood far from the main sights is not always a good thing, especially if you need to ride the metro to get to anywhere. If you only have a short time in Paris factor in traveling time on the metro each day when making your decision. 
-If it comes down to having to choose between what appear to be two hotels in two different arrondissements that both have innumerable positives, go with the hotel in this instance rather than let location of the arrondissement sway your decision. Most likely, you’ll still end up visiting the arrondissement you didn’t end up staying in so it’s not as if you’d be missing out.
-The 1st arrondissement, home to the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens, is one of the most expensive arrondissements to stay in. Just an fyi.

Sacre Coeur is stunning but the arrondissement that it’s located in is too far from
 the “action” (i.e. long rides on the metro to get to prime areas)

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  • Reply
    December 9, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    I wish you had posted this before my trip to Paris. Hee hee. It would have made my selecting a hotel much much easier! I ended up staying in the 6th and love love loved it. It was super convenient (metro across the street) and within walking distance to many things. Great post!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    December 10, 2012 at 2:35 am

    I would love to stay in the 6th sometime. It has such a charming air to it and so many delightful cafes. I also just read Tatiana de Rosnay’s latest book which is set in it and she did such a great job of giving life into 1860s Paris 🙂

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