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Paris Neighborhoods

Each Paris neighborhood has its own distinct character, including those where you're likely to spend most of your time. On the Seine's rive droite (right bank) are the elegant Champs-Élysées in the west, elegant shopping around Les Halles in the centre, the Opéra, Madeleine and Grands Boulevards to the north, and more shops in the trendy Marais, running east to Bastille. Artistic history hangs on in charming Montmartre in the north, while Paris’s bohemian northeast has some of the city's best nightlife.

In the centre of the Seine, linked by bridges, are the city's two islands, the Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis.

The rive gauche (left bank) harbors the Eiffel Tower in the west, stylish Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the centre, stretching south to Montparnasse, and the studenty Latin Quarter, extending east from the centre to the up-and-coming southeastern Paris neighborhoods.

Note that there's no hard-and-fast rule for Paris neighborhood names. Certain quartiers (quarters) cross arrondissement boundaries and many have sub-quartiers (such as the upper and lower Marais) often with seemingly arbitrary boundaries, while some neighborhoods aren't known by any particular name. An easy way to identify locales is via the name of the nearest metro station.

To really experience Paris’s local flavors, don't miss the open-air street markets selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to cheeses, breads, meat, poultry and pâtés, and usually clothes, house wares and more. Most neighborhoods have markets at least a couple of times a week (though there are none anywhere in Paris on Mondays). For individual markets' days and locations, including maps, click marchés (markets) on the Marie de Paris (City of Paris) website.

Western Right Bank

Paris vacationers (and even locals on occasion) are awe-struck by the sight of the axe historique (historic axis), which runs from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Élysées to the Egyptian obelisk on place de la Concorde and through the graceful symmetrical park, Jardin des Tuileries, to the glass pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre. This majestic part of Paris is home to the French president (at the stately 18th-century Élysée Palace) and haute couture houses and flagship boutiques in the Triangle d'Or (Golden Triangle), as well as many of the city's most lavish hotels and restaurants.

Central Right Bank

Paris neighborhoods around the Louvre become less grand and more focused on the hustle-and-bustle of day-to-day life as you head east towards the Les Halles area. The actual Halles­—Paris’s former produce markets—were relocated outside the ring road in the 1970s, but many of the market traders' old haunts, including late-opening or round-the-clock restaurants, remain. Below ground, the endless corridors of the shopping mall Forum des Halles link to the city's busiest metro and RER station, Châtelet-Les Halles.

To the north of this central stretch of the Seine, Paris landmarks include the colonnaded Madeleine church and the Palais Garnier opera house, as well as grand department stores in the Grands Boulevards neighborhood. Beaubourg, home to the Centre Pompidou, abuts the western edge of the Marais on the eastern right bank.

Northern Right Bank

Continuing north from the Grands Boulevards find Pigalle, Paris’s illustrious red light district (don't expect anything too sordid; it's actually well-lit and safe), which sits at the base of Montmartre. Famous cabarets here include the iconic Moulin Rouge. This fabled Paris neighborhood was home to pretty much anyone who was anyone in the art world, including Degas, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, and throughout Montmartre you'll find plenty of artists willing to sketch your portrait today. Montmartre's narrow streets and staircases twist uphill to its most famous landmark, the basilica Sacré-Coeur.

Eastern Right Bank

Heading south of the central right bank area, you come to the narrow, cobbled medieval lanes of the Marais. Eastern Right Bank, one of the most diverse Paris neighborhoods, is made up of two areas: the lower Marais, home to Paris’s Jewish community, gay and lesbian community and scores of one-off boutiques and cafes; and, to its north, the Haut-Marais (upper Marais), where burgeoning boutiques, galleries, bakeries, bistros and food shops include the city's best new gelato bar, Mary (1 rue Dupuis, 3e). High on the list of Marais museums is the mansion-housed Musée Carnavalet recounting Paris history. *Note that the Musée Picasso is closed for renovations until 2012.

The Marais stretches south to place de la Bastille, with its gilded statue-topped column at the centre reminding of the famously stormed former prison on that site. Across from the Opéra Bastille, one of Paris’s best street markets happens every Thursday and Sunday. Nearby, the cherry- and chestnut-planted elevated park, the Promenade Plantée, runs 2.8 miles south to the residential 12e.

Northeastern Paris

Paris’s long-neglected northeast has become hot property in recent years among Parisian “bobos” (bourgeois bohemians). The charming iron-bridge-crossed waterway Canal St-Martin flows through the western part before disappearing underground and re-emerging at Bastille (if you have time, board a canal cruise, which passes underground through this historic area). Further east are the neighborhoods of Ménilmontant and Belleville, both home to great bars, neighborhood bistros and ethnic restaurants. At Belleville's eastern edge, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and Belleville-born Edith Piaf are among the famous graves at the atmospheric cemetery, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.

The Islands

The Seine slices the city in half (more or less), but in the center of the river are Paris’s two small islands, the Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. The larger of the two, the Île de la Cité, plays shadow for the city's landmark cathedral, Notre Dame. As such, it's a busy, but peaceful place to escape with a park at the island's westernmost tip, square du Vert Galant. Also on the Île de la Cité is the beautiful 13th-century stained-glass church Sainte-Chapelle, which hosts spellbinding classical concerts. Little Île Saint-Louis doesn't even have a metro station, but it does have the most famous ice cream parlor in Paris, Berthillon (still run by the same family who created it here in the 1950s), along with cute shops and boutique hotels. The two islands are linked by the Pont St-Louis as well as to the Seine's left and right banks. 

Western Left Bank

Rising from the western left bank is Paris’s emblem, the Eiffel Tower. Despite harboring such a major crowd-puller, much of this Paris neighborhood is actually residential, with expensive apartments lining quiet, stately streets. Heading east brings you to Faubourg St-Germain (the even-more-upscale neighbor of St-Germain-des-Prés to the east) and the Musée d'Orsay's exceptional Impressionist collections. Other reasons you're likely to come here are to view indigenous art at the strikingly designed Musée du Quai Branly, and to pick up a river cruise.

Central Left Bank

St-Germain-des-Prés was a hotbed of intellectualism back in the early 20th century, with Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus and others keeping company at such cafes as Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. This Paris neighborhood is also home to the city’s most cherished park, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and elegant shopping extending south towards Montparnasse. While Montparnasse has lost much of its charm since its mid-20th century heyday, it's loaded with mainstream shops and cinemas, especially around the base of the hideous 1970s-built skyscraper, Tour Montparnasse. To be fair, Tour Montparnasse actually did Paris a favor: since its unveiling, planning codes ensuring such architectural abhorrences weren't repeated have prevailed. OK, two favors: the view from its 56th-floor observation deck might just be the city's best.

Eastern Left Bank

St-Germain-des-Prés runs east to the long north-south thoroughfare boulevard St-Michel. On the boulevard's eastern side is the Latin Quarter, where students at Paris’s most prestigious university, Université de Paris ("La Sorbonne"), used to converse in the now-defunct language. Students still hang out in the quarter's bookshops, cheap bars and cafes. English-language bookshops include the revered, ramshackle institution, Shakespeare and Company. Latin Quarter museums to put on your list include the Musée National Eugène Delacroix, with works by the artist who lived (and died) here, and France's medieval museum, the Musée National du Moyen Age (also known as the Musée de Cluny), built around still-visible ruins of Gallo-Roman baths. Further east are Paris’s botanic gardens, the Jardins des Plantes, with a natural history museum and zoo as well as tropical greenhouses. Further east still, highlights include one of Paris’s liveliest Chinatowns, and hip new fashion and design hub, Docks en Seine.