What Neighborhood is right for you?
(c) 2007 Chris Card Fuller – Montmartre may be touristy but for many it still captures the essence of Paris.
Before booking your hotel in Paris, take some time to consider what Parisian neighborhood you want to explore. Choosing an inexpensive hotel when it’s located in a neighborhood that doesn’t match the Paris of your dreams is a mistake that can be avoided with a little research before you go.
I don’t claim to be an authority on all Paris neighborhoods. My hangout is Montparnasse – so naturally I’m biased. That being said, I’ll share with you what I know in the most general terms. You can look for more information on the websites of each arrondissement’s mairie – town hall.
Here’s a broad overview:
Romantic Paris: Look for hotels as close to the center of Paris as possible i.e
Ile St. Louis, Cite or the quays that border the Seine River. You want to be within walking distance of the Seine River to capture the river’s aspect at all times of the day. The little that’s left of medieval Paris tends to be closer to the Seine and the Ile St. Louis where Paris was first established.
Trendy, gay lifestyle: The Marais which includes Place des Vosges and the old Jewish district (around Rue de Rosiers) is one of my favorite neighborhoods. Great boutiques. Beautiful ‘hotels particuliers’ townhouses. It also has remnants of Philippe Auguste’s old Paris city wall, the Carnavalet Museum – which tells the history of Paris. Being gay is not a prerequisite for enjoying the Marais. The ambiance here is definitely fun (and romantic!)
(c) 1977 Chris Card Fuller
Museum Row: You can find museums in practically every Paris neighborhood, but if you plan on spending much of your time at the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, I’d suggest booking a hotel on Rue de Rivoli in the 1st arrondissement. You’ll be near the Tuilleries Gardens and can walk across the bridge to the Left Bank where you’ll find the Musée d’Orsay and Musee du Quai Branly. High end shopping is just one block way on Rue St. Honoré.
Night Life and Clubbing: Like museums, night clubs are scattered all over Paris, but you’ll tend to find more clubs on the Right Bank in general. They range from Queen just off of the Champs Elysées to clubs in the Bastille area. La Bastille neighborhood activity hovers around the new opera house at Place de la Bastille. It’s walking distance to the Marais. To get from the la Bastille to the Champs (if you’re going to Queen), you’ll have to grab a cab. (Metro’s stop running at 12:30 am.
Bastille is also a good neighborhood if you’re an antique or furniture collector. (Rue St. Antoine).
Avante Garde (Arts and Music). If you want to see what’s brewing, what’s new in the arts, fashion, music, world, spend some time in the 18th arrondissement. Less expensive than other Right Bank neighborhoods, the 18th is rife with music events, showcases for new dress designers and artists. The 18th includes romantic (but also very touristy) Montmartre. Don’t let that stop you from considering staying in the Montmartre neighborhood which surely fits many people’s image of what Paris is ‘supposed’ to look like.
That being said, there are two negatives – you are very far from the center of Paris ( that’s okay if you don’t mind using the Metro. Certain parts of the 18th (and the 10th) are considered ‘dicey’ by some travelers. In general, Paris is a reasonably safe city if you use common sense, but you must be the judge of how comfortable you are in lower income neighborhoods.
Beware of hotels or hostels that sound like exceptional deals that may turn out to be exceptional dumps. Read other travelers’ reviews – especially of Paris hostels. France uses the star system for hotels – you get below two stars and your hotel may not be what you had hoped for. No stars – you’re on your own.
Ethnic Melting Pot. Belleville and Goutte d’Or in the 10th arrondissement. (Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est are located in this arrondissement). If your heart is set on knowing the Paris beyond the Eiffel Tower – this is it. Belleville is synonymous with Chinatown – and if you love Chinese food no matter where you go in the world, you’ll find plenty of restaurant choices here. Take the Metro to Chateau d’Eau and you will know by the number of hairweaving salons along the avenue that you’ve found the epicenter of Paris’s West African neighborhood. (sometimes called La Goutte d’Or – there are Parisians who’ve never set foot in this neighborhood, but so much their loss. It has its own charm.
Chinatown South: Paris is one of the few capital cities I know that has two Chinatowns – Belleville and the 13th arrondissement around Blvd. Massena.
Unattractive low-income housing was built here in the mid seventies. There are some fascinating parts of the 13th you can discover – but it takes time and persistence. This is not a neighborhood that I’d recommend for a first-time visit to Paris unless you have a friend who has a specific hotel or street in mind. If you want to get to know the 13th arrondissement better, sign up for Paris a Velo, C’est Sympa’s bicycle tour: The Unusual 13th arrondissement.
The perpetual student in/of Paris. The Latin Quarter, Odéon, Rue Mouffetarde. Not only are the hotels here less expensive than the Right Bank, but you’ll get to rub shoulders with the latest crop of students. You can hang out at the cafes near the Sorbonne and pretend to philosophize even though you’re just gawking. Even though Boulevard St. Michel has been sterilized to some extent and has lost most of its soul, the Carréfour at Odéon still is thronged with students who seem to spend more time in the leafy outdoor cafés than they do studying.
(c) 2006 Chris Card Fuller A left-bank cafe in the student quarter.
More Neighborhoods to Choose From – continued.