“Where is the best area 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 when visiting 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.
Here is my informal answer to the question posed by one of our readers:
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 which area of Paris to stay in 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.
1st and 2nd Arrondissements
Okay! So, the 1st and 2nd arrondissements are popular with Americans because between the two of them you are centralized, have the hussle 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, and it has the highest collection of metro lines, so you can shorten the walking distance to your favorite attractions.
3rd and 4th Arrondissements
But, it’s the 3rd and 4th arrondissements that I really love and recommend for a feel of an immersive stay in the heart of 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 Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris. It was a fashionable and expensive square to live in during the 17th and 18th centuries, and one of the central reasons Le Marais became so fashionable for the Parisian nobility.
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.
5th, 6th and 7th Arrondissements
I’ve never stayed in the 5th, 6th, or 7th arrondissement, but I remember that the 7th includes the Eiffel Tower.
The 5th and 6th are the central arrondissements of the capital and are notable for being the location of the Quartier Latin, a district dominated by universities, colleges, and prestigious high schools. The student life brings a lively atmosphere, and a number of bistros.
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 Rue de 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.
9th Arrondissement and Beyond
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.
The 18th arrondissement includes the district of Montmartre which includes the Moulin Rouge cabaret, other historic features, and the prominent Sacré Cœur basilica which sits atop the hill. It’s probably not the best location for a family to stay.
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, which area to stay in Paris your the first time depends a lot on your individual goals for the trip, as well as your budget.
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.
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