Where to Stay in Paris for the First Time

Notre Dame Cathedral in France - where to stay in Paris for the first time (Jennifer Miner)

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

“Where to stay in Paris” must be a common refrain for first-time France travel planners, even before thinking about other aspects of their itineraries. Somebody recently asked me that question about travel and Paris, and after writing her back, it occurred to me that other readers may be planning a vacation in France, and may have similar questions. So, keeping in mind that this was an informal interaction between a reader and one of The Vacation Gals, here is a practically unbrushed-up version (typos are so sneaky) for everyone else. After all, where to stay in Paris for the first time is a question that many France vacation planners need answered.

Kelly B., who has never been to France, asked, “What is the best area of Paris, France, for Americans to stay in?”

My response: Hi, Kelly! I love Paris. The first thing you should know is that the city has districts called “arrondissements” that spread out across Paris in a spiral shape (sort of like a nautilus mollusk). So, someone researching where to stay in Paris for the first time usually needs to start by figuring out which arrondissement best suites her. The arrondissements are split in half by the Seine River, but I’m pretty sure that no arrondissement straddles the Seine. The “Left Bank” is on the south side of the Seine, and the “Right Bank” is on the north side.

Eiffel Tower and Seine River in Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower across the Seine River

Okay! So, the 1st and 2nd arrondissements are popular with Americans because between the two of them you are centralized, have the hue and bustle of Paris shops and bistros/cafes, and have the Place de Vendome and Tuileries right there with obvious views or easy walks to the Seine. The 2nd arrondissement is also where a lot of Parisians work so it’s more affordable. But, it’s the 3rd and 4th arrondissements that I really love and recommend for a feel of an immersive stay in Paris for a first-timer. This is the Marais. Even though you haven’t been to Paris yet, you have probably heard of the Marais before or during your travel planning research — it is such an exciting neighborhood, chock-full of modern, hip shops amid that old French village charm. The Notre Dame Cathedral is here. It is also, unfortunately, probably the most expensive place to stay in Paris. However, if you can find a vacation rental apartment by owner (there are reputable rental sites like HomeAway and AirBnB) then you can afford a stay in the 3rd or 4th arrondissement. You just have to be willing to forgo the turndown service and other amenities provided by deluxe hotels! Honestly, the Marais is so cool. If you are familiar with NYC it’s somewhat comparable to the West Village, or with Los Angeles, it’s a bit like West Hollywood…but with more museums and a richer, longer written history.

Snack Time in the Marais (D. Miner).jpg where to stay in paris for the first time

Snack Time in the Marais

I’ve never stayed in the 5th, 6th, or 7th arrondissement, but I remember that the 7th includes the Eiffel Tower. The 8th arrondissement is wonderful, but my favorite hotel there, the George V, has gotten so expensive it’s actually kind of shocking. But, you can walk along the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and see the Grande Palais there, as well. Paris is a walking city, and nothing elucidates this more than walking in the 8th arrondissement, along with a stroll along the Seine. The 8th is so pricy that I would bet even the apartment rentals are out of control (Paris is one of the top travel destinations in the world, not just France or even Europe, after all). But take the time to walk in the 8th arrondissement. It’s magical.

George V stop on the Paris metro in France

We couldn’t afford to stay in the George V hotel, but we COULD afford to stop there on the Paris metro

The 9th through the 12th arrondissements get progressively further away from the center of Paris and the 12th in particular has a bunch of cheaper hostel types of lodging. The 14th arrondissement is the last one I’ll mention here; the Montparnasse is bohemian and artsy.

dancing while waiting in line for the Orsay Museum in Paris, France

Spontaneous dancing while waiting in line for the Orsay

Now, Kelly, I would suggest to an American traveling to Paris for the first time to try to stay in 1-8 if you can afford it without blowing your entire travel budget on lodging, although anyone can still manage a Paris vacation and save lots of money by staying in a hostel. Since I’m sure you’ll be wanting to explore the center of Paris on foot, and visit at least the “Big Three” museums, though, it will ease your day to be in the 1-8th arrondissement to start with. Oh, and just in case you’re at the absolute beginning of your Paris travel plans, those “Big Three” are the Louvre, the Orsay and the Pompidou. The Louvre is in the 1st arrondissement, the Orsay is in the 7th (along with the aforementioned Eiffel Tower) and the Pompidou is in the 4th! As you can see, though, where to stay in Paris for the first time depends a lot on your individual goals for the trip, as well as your budget.

Outside the Louve, Paris (Jennifer Miner) where to stay in paris for the first time

Outside the Louve, Paris – it’s more crowded than it looks

Inside the Louve Museum in Paris

Inside the Louve in Paris – if, you know, you like Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa and all that stuff

Deciding where to stay in Paris for the first time can seem overwhelming, sure, but hopefully narrowing down which arrondissement (or arrondissements) to stay in will help focus a France travel planner’s point of view, and accordingly find a hotel or apartment for that perfect Paris experience. Have a wonderful trip.

The Thinker at the Musee Rodin in Paris, France

“Hmm, where should I stay in Paris? Oh yeah, I’m at the Musee Rodin in the 7th arrondissement.”

16 Responses to “Where to Stay in Paris for the First Time”

  1. 1
    jamie says:

    You almost can’t go wrong in 1-8. I love the 7th a lot, especially with little kids b/c of the access to the Champs de Mars. With just me and my husband, I love the 6th. If you just won the lottery, rent an apartment from ParisPerfect.com — every one has a view of the Eiffel Tower and kids love the nightly lights show (less fromage-y than it sounds).

  2. 2

    Unbelievably, I’ve never been to the capital of France. Your guide is perfect for a Paris virgin like me. Although, I’m not sure it will ever truly rival Marseille as my favourite French city.

  3. 3
    Andi says:

    Great tips!

  4. 4
    liz weis says:

    I just love the experience of the inexpensive hotels on the left bank with typical French touches like bidets, elevators that are just gates that you can see through, and European plumbing. Also, it’s fun to take the metro, so being anywhere near a metro stop is good, so long as you remember to take the train before it closes down for the night.

  5. 5

    You did a great job describing the different areas. I prefer the the Montparnasse area myself!

  6. 6

    What great tips! And you make me want to head back, ASAP!

  7. 7

    Great tips for helping first-timers pick a place to stay! Our family stayed in an apart-hotel in the 6th the last time we were in Paris and loved the location – don’t think we’ll every stay anywhere else now!

  8. 8

    I am a Paris lover, especially after four visits and taking a class in college called “Paris and the Art of Urban Life,” in which two U of Iowa professors mused on their lives teaching in Paris. I know I’ve for sure stayed in the 8th and also somewhere near Montmartre, but I think that Le Marais is the absolute! You’re close enough to all the big sites while still able to live and breathe the Parisian lifestyle.

    Sigh, Paris.

  9. 9
    Leona says:

    Nice tips. Just wanted to share that Paris is a great destination this year because of the Tours De France campaigning apparently. Source: http://travelrise.com

  10. 10

    This is the post I was looking for as it will be my 1st time in Paris in September, Gordon 2nd. It is a great breakdown of where to stay. I have certainly looked at airbnb and it is not that cheap but … Can you now do a London one for us :))

  11. 11

    Your break down of Paris neighborhoods is extremely helpful for first-time visitors. Thanks for sharing!

  12. 12
    James says:

    Anywhere that’s a good value and close to a transit line to cope with any distance from the center works for me personally!

  13. 13

    Great info for the first time visitor. I wish you have this post out when I plan my trip to Paris this past winter. We stayed at Marais (3rd arr) and couldn’t be happier. It was close enough to many attractions that we could actually walk back afterward. The area doesn’t feel touristy at all. Totally agree with you on NYC feel. Now I’m dreaming of Paris again. :)

  14. 14

    Great tips! During my last trip to Paris I stayed in 8th and I just fell in love with the arrondissement. It is not a tourist place and there are a lot of good local restaurants and little bakeries. You can really feel the atmosphere of the city.

  15. 15
    roger says:

    most shops in the marais are open on sundays (not like in the rest of paris). my favourite places are: palais royale (park & lovely shops near the louvre museum), canal st. martin (near place de la republique) & place de vosges in the marais). good food in a belle epoque bistro: bofinger (near place de bastille). always lovely to eat: onion soup and as a desert “tart tartine”. prepare for a long wait to get on the top of the eiffel tower. my favourite museums: musee rodin (lovely garden) & picasso museum in the marais. the metro (underground) is the best way to get around (buy 1-10 tickets from the vending machines at metro stations; with english instructions).

  16. 16
    Paige says:

    I agree with you that a great way to find a suitable place to stay in Paris (or any city, for that matter) begins with figuring out what you plan to do while there. Will you have your own transport? Will you use public transport? Can you walk to everywhere you want to see? What destinations do you want to tick off?

    Once you’ve consulted your trusty guidebook and marked off all the “must-sees” for your stay you’ll hopefully find that some areas are more obvious for a hotel search as they are central to the sites you want to see.

    I made the mistake once upon a time of staying on the outskirts of a city during a break only to have to travel in each day to see the sites, and back again every night. Not only did this mean more expenses in terms of travelling but also time wasted each day in which I could be site-seeing.

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