Once just a village that settled on the "Ile de la Cité" (City Island) on the confluence of the Seine's two branches, Paris has vastly expanded over the centuries, taking the surrounding villages under its wing and making them its own. Nowadays the City of Light—a name Paris earned during the age of the Enlightenment—is made up of several arrondissements or districts, numbered from one to 20 and logically ordered with the 1st in the center and the others following in a clockwise spiral. The differences are vast and varied between the districts, both in terms of the populations and attractions, which together make up the multifaceted city we know and love.
With its impressive collection of paintings and sculptures, the
With its little back streets harboring galleries, cafes and boutiques, this district sets a typically Parisian scene. West of Rue Richelieu stands the theater district where a dozen or so playhouses throng. The
The Marais district prides itself on being one of the oldest and best preserved in Paris. In keeping with this yearning for yesteryear, a museum charting the history of the capital (
Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque districts. Wander across the bridge opposite the
This and the adjoining 6th arrondissement comprise the
Rue de Seine, de Buci, Mazarine and Dauphine, along with the whole area between Boulevard St-Germain and the river
More commonly known as the quartier des ministres (ministers' quarter), the 7th district also boasts some of Paris' most beautiful monuments—the
Naturally, any visit to the 8th arrondissement has to start on the most beautiful avenue in the world—the fabulous
Its impressive elegance makes the
Running the entire length of the
Formerly the haunt of furniture craftsmen, the Bastille district now plays host to an entirely different scene: that of Paris' young and trendy in-crowd. Rue du Faubourg-St-Antoine has seen many restaurants and nightspots spring up and flourish. Neighboring Rue de Lappe is probably the place to be seen on an evening, while others prefer the buzz of Rue Oberkampf a little further north.
Paris' pleasure beach can be found here, between the Seine and the
The easterly part of this district is known as "Chinatown," inhabited by numerous Chinese and Asian restaurants, shops and supermarkets. The
Rue d'Alésia stands out for its array of clothing shops, while
Set along the banks of the Seine, the delightful
There's no denying that this is the most fashionable district of Paris. The Trocadéro offers a remarkable view of the city, as well as the Naval Museum (
The most well-known cemetery in Paris, the
Cities with so many intact historical sites are rare. Monuments, museums, squares and gardens, in all their beauty, remind us of the extent to which Paris is and always has been in demand. It has been a theater in which major events have been staged, an intellectual, political and economic reference point since its foundation, and the residence of kings for several centuries. A city of the people and the middle classes, rich and poor, proud and sometimes treacherous, cosmopolitan yet insular. This cultural and sociological mix gives Paris an irresistible charm.
France's political, economic and cultural capital had modest and strictly rural beginnings; it started as no more than a little Celtic fishing borough, established in Third Century BCE in the middle of the Seine on the Île de la Cité. The fortified and prosperous Lutèce appealed to Caesar and his Roman army's greed, and they appropriated it in 52 BCE as one of the first Gallo-Roman cities. The first mention of the name Paris appeared in 207 CE, when the civitas parisiorum (literally meaning city of the Parisians) stretched from the left bank of the Seine to the thermal springs of Cluny. Paris quickly attracted the favor of two saints who were to contribute to its construction. Saint Denis was the first Christian bishop to be beheaded by the Romans in 280 CE; his remains now lie in the Saint-Denis Basilica. Saint Geneviève became the patron saint of Parisians after miraculously repelling the invasion of the Huns in 451. Monasteries and abbeys flourished, including the powerful abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Près, erected in 558 under the aegis of King Childebert I. Many kings of the Merovingian dynasty were buried here. The Abbey in itself doesn't exist anymore but you can visit the remaining adjacent church, the Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. While Charlemagne preferred Aix-la-Chapelle and suffered a long siege there at the hands of the Vikings in 885, Paris continued to repel the invasions of the barbarians with varied success until 987, when it regained its pride with the accession of Hugues Capet to the throne.
As capital of the tiny French kingdom, the city grew considerably between the 11th and 13th Centuries. The development of the city owed much to Philip II, known as Philippe-Auguste (1165-1223), son of Louis VII, who paved the streets and built the new market in the Halles, the circular ramparts, and the Louvre fortress (1204). These extravagant centuries saw the completion of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (undertaken in 1163), and the Sainte Chapelle under Saint-Louis (in 1248). The medieval town was divided, with the commercial, political and religious areas on the right bank and the bastion of dissident intellectuals on the left. The most famous of these was Robert de Sorbon, whose college was the precursor of the famous university of the Sorbonne. With a population of 200,000, Paris had become the biggest city in western Christendom in the beginning of the 14th Century. But some black years were to follow with the famine of 1315, the plague of 1348 and the Hundred Years' War, when Paris was besieged by the English until 1436. Fortunately prosperity was to return in the 16th Century with François I to whom we owe the Hôtel de Ville, the college of France, the Hôtel des Tuileries and the Pont Neuf. He also transformed the old Louvre fortress into a Renaissance palace.
Paris sank into chaos once again with the religious wars and the terrible St-Barthélémy massacre of the Protestants during the nights of August 23rd and 24th, 1572. The fiercely Protestant regent, Henri III, had to flee the city and was succeeded by Henri IV in 1594 after he gave up the throne. A convert to Catholicism, he courted the hearts of Parisians by building the Place des Vosges, the Place Dauphine, and the Quais de l'Arsenal and Orfèvres.
Even more beautiful extensions to the city came under Louis XIII with the building of the Marais district (which retains its original character), and the Saint-Honoré and Saint_Germain suburbs. This was followed immediately by the construction of the Luxembourg Palace by Marie of Médicis, the Val de Grâce by Queen Ann of Austria, and the Palace of the Cardinal (now the Palais-Royal) by Richelieu. The establishment of the Royal Printing House, in 1620, the botanical garden located now in Jardin des Plantes and the French Academy consolidated the intellectual character of the capital.
Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, installed his sumptuous court at Versailles, leaving Paris to deal with the Fronde from 1648 through 1652. This group protested against an absolute monarchy, but by isolating the king and his minions, it was only strengthened. Colbert, in charge of buildings, had superb monuments built by Mansart and Perrauls in honor of his sovereign: the colonnade in the Louvre, the Invalides, the Observatory, the gates of St-Denis and Saint-Martin, the Salpêtrière hospital, and the Jardin des Tuileries. The opulent architecture offered a stark contrast to the over-populated and poverty-stricken Paris of the ordinary people.
The proliferation of cafes and literary salons, including the famous Procope, fostered new egalitarian and libertarian ideas that preceded the French Revolution, and contributed to the cultural reputation of Paris. At this time were constructed the École Militaire, the Panthéon, the Place de la Concorde and the Palais-Royal Gardens, where the initial 1789 uprising was plotted; it was here that the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen were originally formulated, and numerous remaining royalists were executed. With the regent beheaded, Napoleon put Paris in the control of two prefects charged with establishing a government. He set about creating the capital of Europe, establishing the Arc de Triomphe, the Stock Exchange in Palais Brongniart, the Place Vendôme, the Vendôme Column and the Saint-Martin Canal.
During the 19th Century, the poverty of the people fueled the anti-royalist revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Napoleon III's Second Empire symbolized the start of a new era: above all a period of industrialization, efficiency and public health. Official architect, Georges Haussman, changed the face of the city, transforming its medieval character into the one we know today. Dirty lanes gave way to broad, tree-lined avenues and majestic buildings that were accessible by new means of transport. Parks and gardens were established, such as the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes. Success came with the Universal exhibition of 1889, whose specially built iron structure was designed as a temporary monument and is now the archetypal symbol of the City of Light; without the Eiffel Tower, Paris just wouldn't be Paris. The Sacré-Coeur Basilica was completed in 1910, as was the Palais de Chaillot.
Spared by the Great War, intellectual and artistic Paris attracted numerous important painters and writers, especially in the Montmartre district. World War II was a different story however, when the German army occupied the capital in June 1940; the city was eventually liberated in August 1944 by General Leclerc and General de Gaulle. The latter declared the Fifth Republic, which was to be challenged by a great social, economic and cultural upheaval in May 1968. This dissident movement arose in student circles and was led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit. The occupation of the Sorbonne and Nanterre universities degenerated into riots and barricades in the Latin Quarter. It was an unprecedented crisis whose shock tactics paralyzed the country with a general strike.
Just as all the monarchs had left their mark on Paris, naturally the presidents of the Fifth Republic wished to be remembered through their great monuments. De Gaulle bequeathed the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport; the Centre Georges Pompidou is a controversial memorial to the president of the same name; Giscard D'Estaing established the Musée d'Orsay and transformed the old abattoirs of la Villette into the Cité des Sciences. François Mitterand, during his 14 years as president (1981-95) carefully planned his monumental works to evoke controversy and excitement. Among these are the Arche de la Défense, the glass pyramid of the Louvre, the Opéra Bastille and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. When it comes to Paris, everyone has an opinion.
Paris, a capital famous for its fashion, history and artistic culture has numerous hotels. There are splendid palaces that epitomize French-style elegance. In the fashionable districts, luxury hotels cater to the needs of the most demanding clients and are also ideal for the business traveler. In the picturesque Montmartre and Marais areas, and on the Île de la Cité, the hotels are particularly charming. The intellectual Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Près entice visitors with the names of illustrious artists who have stayed there. In the bohemian east of town, you will find modestly priced accommodation.
1st, 7th & 8th Arrondissements (the Golden Triangle)
If Paris reigns supreme as the world capital of good living, it is a reputation built not only on the excellence of its cuisine but also on the quality of the accommodation on offer. Some of the most luxurious hotels are close to the Champs Elysées and the very elegant Avenue Montaigne including the palatial Hôtel George V, the Hôtel Plaza-Athénée and the Hôtel Franklin Roosevelt. These are also extremely convenient for the needs of the business community. Equally distinguished is the Ritz, a palace once graced by writer Ernest Hemingway, and Coco Chanel, founder of the eponymous fashion house. The Rue St-Honoré, one of Paris's most regal and elegant thoroughfares, is close at hand; the Hôtel Costes puts the Paris of Dior, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent within walking distance. Many of these palaces have revived the luxury and decor of a particular period, with all its attendant grandeur and splendor (the Louis XIII room at the Georges V, the Napoleon room at the Costes and the Louis XVI room at the Ritz). Similarly, some of them have haute couture on the spot, such as Hotel de Crillon and the very elegant Hotel Lutétia, which entrusted its redecoration to the famous fashion designer, Sonia Rykiel. For decades the richest people in the world have frequented these hotels. Should you have the means to stay in one of these palaces, you might well find yourself rubbing shoulders with celebrities in the hotel bar or restaurant.
On the other hand, you might want to try the art of cuisine in the Ritz-Escoffier School of Gastronomy located in the hotel of the same name. The Hôtel Costes, center of the empire belonging to the two Costes brothers from the Auvergne region, have followed up their majestic hotel by investing in numerous eating-houses in the capital. On the same spot there is a Costes restaurant, a Costes bar, not to mention a much-frequented sports club with a magnificent swimming pool in the basement.
3rd & 4th & 11th Arrondissements (the Marais)
The older, smaller hotels are concentrated in the most picturesque areas. One of the oldest districts, the Marais, harbors numerous little private hotels, all characterized by their charm, like Hôtel Saint Louis Marais or Hôtel de la Bretonnerie and Hostellerie du Marais. This is also Paris' gay quarter. Other establishments located in buildings dating from the same period (17th Century) include the Hôtel St Paul-le Marais and Hôtel des Deux Iles, located on one of the oldest parts of the Capital, Île-Saint-Louis. The Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis, where the two arms of the Seine meet, are ideal for a romantic stroll (Notre-Dame Cathedral is on Ile de la Cité).
5th Arrondissement (the Latin Quarter)
What can be said about the Latin Quarter? Elegance and intellect combine in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where in earlier times the great names of art and literature were drawn as to a magnet. If you want to immerse yourself in the bohemian universe of philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre you could check in at the Hotel Sully Saint-Germain. Saint-Michel neighborhood offer further more reasonable options like the Hôtel des Grandes Écoles or the Hotel Acte V, if you want to soak up the intellectual atmosphere and elite student's lifestyle.
18th Arrondissement (Montmartre)
Montmartre, with its Sacré-Cœur basilica and the Place du Tertre, is considered by some to be even more attractive. There, you will find some charming and picturesque hotels with reasonable rates, such as Hôtel Victoria or the Hôtel Caulaincourt Square.
In the city center, only a few establishments are affordable, but a little piece of heaven is to be found in Montorgueil pedestrian district: Hôtel La Marmotte, from where you will be able to find some of the trendiest shops alongside Rue Étienne Marcel. But most of the really inexpensive hotels can be found in the 10th Arrondissement near Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est. These hotels often gather an international and young crowd coming from all across the globe. Among the ones that offer good service and comfortable rooms, are the Hotel Jarry located in the bustling Indian district, the Hotel Le Cambrai and the Perfect Hotel & Hostel. Make sure you request a room furnished with a shower and a restroom if you wish so, as not all the rooms have both! The trendy Bastille area in the center of east Paris, once the district of furniture makers, also offers some reasonable options, such as the Absolute Hotel or the International Youth Hostel, very popular among hard-up globetrotters.
La Défense (North West)
Finally, if you want to be sure of comfort and good value for money, there are numerous hotel chains available. Some are within the city, such as the Timhotel Montparnasse near the tower of the same name. Others serve the business area, La Défense, such as the Hôtel Mercure Paris La Défense, Novotel Paris La Défense, Hôtel Ibis Paris La Défense Centre and Hôtel Kyriad Paris La Défense. These hotels fill up really quickly during trade shows, so make sure you book your room in advance if you wish to attend one of them.
If there's one word that symbolizes Paris, it is gastronomy. The French, always appreciative of the finer things in life, have a unique tradition of famous restaurants and great chefs. If you really love good food, you'll find true happiness here. The latest, most fashionable restaurants mix innovation with traditional culinary techniques to serve classic French cuisine that's full of unexpected flavors. The cafe-restaurants, which are the pride of Paris, fit into the gastronomic landscape better than ever, with their beautifully presented and affordable food. Paris, always so cosmopolitan, has also been enriched by exotic cuisines from the four corners of the earth.
In Paris, fine dining and great feasts (lasting up to three hours) are sacred, and the chefs in the most famous restaurants have turned their cuisine into a real art form. Paris features some of the most highly-praised restaurants and world-acclaimed chefs by International food critics, including the first arrondissement's Grand Véfour. Some other fine dining options can also be found in prestigious hotels, like Restaurant Le Meurice in the Meurice hotel. Combining touches of originality in both the food and design, the establishments of the Costes brothers are not to be missed. Café Costes was the first to set the trend quite a few years ago now. Highly popular during cocktail hours, notably among the business crowd, Fumoir is a comfortable lounge with leather coaches and an upscale restaurant, serving elaborate, traditional French food. The Pharamond, offers an extraordinary setting and a meal to match: its decor dates from 1832, proof, if any were needed, that Paris' tradition of exceptional gastronomy is still going strong.
If you're looking for pastries, the oldest pâtisserie in Paris is Pâtisserie Stohrer, carrying deserts and sweets fit for a queen. A bustling area for Sunday brunch is on Rue Montorgueil, notably Au Rocher de Cancale, which is completely packed after noon.
After a stroll in the narrow streets of Île-Saint-Louis, head to the oldest ice-cream artisan in the city, Berthillon. With more than 60 different flavors, their all-natural ice creams will enchant the whole family. The most exquisite include Caramel Beurre Salé (caramel and salted butter) and Cappucino. At one point in time it was very hard to find a Parisian restaurant that served brunch. That time is behind us now, and brunch has become so popular that, at some places, you will have to wait a quite a while for a table. Le Loir dans la Théière is definitely worth the wait. All pies, tarts, and pastries are hand-made and fresh, and prices are more than reasonable. For tea, Mariage Frères has the best reputation. As for nightlife, one of the hottest spots in Paris is Georges at the top of the Centre Pompidou.
5th & 6th Arrondissement
Tour d'Argent is one of Paris' culinary institutions, serving up dishes of worldwide renown.
Le Procope is decked out in the finest fashions of Paris' Années Folles, and Ernest Hemingway finished "Le soleil se lève aussi" at the world renowned Closerie des Lilas. Parisians think of Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore as historic monuments just like the Eiffel Tower or Notre-Dame Cathedral. Visitors should make a point of visiting these historical establishments to truly soak up the atmosphere of the capital's glorious past; it's easy to imagine past celebrities and intellectuals dining in the luxurious period decor. If you're looking for authentic country bread, Poilâne bakery is the best bet. You will find the famous Tartines made with this bread (toasted with cheese, vegetables, or prosciutto) at numerous cafes in the city. What is a good meal without an espresso in the end? Something is definitely missing–notably the chocolate served with it. The French are chocolate connoisseurs and you can find some chocolate artisans throughout the city, like the Maison du Chocolat that imports chocolate from Switzerland and Belgium.
The 8th arrondissement is home to some of the finest restaurants in France, with Pierre Gagnaire voted one of the best restaurants in the world by the British magazine Restaurant, and the oft-celebrated Restaurant Alain Ducasse situated in Plaza Athénée Hotel. Maxim's is a veritable institution devoted to classic French cuisine, and another excellent yet expensive spot is Taillevent, which has wines that cost as much as a dress from Chanel. Paris has numerous fashionable spots where you go to see and be seen. Most of these restaurants have chic and trendy interiors designed by popular architects. For fashionistas and celeb-watching addicts, L'Avenue, located on the prestigious avenue Montaigne where many famous designers have boutiques, is an ideal spot. For flavored and rare types of mustard and vinegar, the first established Boutique Maille is the best bet, and Hédiard and Fauchon stock some of the world's finest specialty foods. For desert, don't miss Maison de la Truffe for first rate truffles, and Haagen-Dazs for it's world-renowned flavors. For the best macaroons (a kind of soft cookie filled with cream) in town, head to Ladurée, a house that has been established since 1862.
A new trend arose in Paris as an alternative to cafes and bistros serving a rich food: healthy soup and juice bars. With an increasing number of vegetarians previously not having many dining options, they rapidly became a success. The soup and juice bar Soup & Juice perfectly illustrates the phenomenon. People don't always have time to sit at lunch for hours anymore, and they may want a healthy alternative to the sandwich booths and bakeries. With a dozen of locations across the city, you can grab a healthy meal at very reasonable prices.
Brasseries began in the Alsace region, where the beer was actually brewed, so the tradition is that most brasseries (which literally means brewery), not only serve sauerkraut (an Alsatian specialty) but also seafood and shellfish such as scallops, oysters, mussels, clams, etc. The Brasserie Flo, located in a remote and quiet court in the 10th arrondissement, is a bargain for seafood lovers. The ingredients are extremely fresh and the decor reminds some patrons of Grandma's kitchen. Bistros are certainly the best value for price if you cannot afford the star-rated restaurants but still want to enjoy the best of French food. You can find many bistros and brasseries in the capital, serving the traditional Entrecôte (rib-eye steak) or Bavette à l'échalotte (flank steak dressed in a shallot reduction) with French Fries, the cheese or charcuterie plate (cooked meats), and chocolate mousse or caramel creme. Julien, with its Belle Époque décor, is a great place to sample the cuisine of a traditional brasserie à la française. If you're looking for seafood, La Marine offers a lovely dining experience alongside Saint-Martin Canal. For dessert, try Furet Tanrade, which offers exquisite chocolates in a cozy atmosphere.
When Bastille became a hip district for nightlife, the spotlight fell on the restaurant-bar-club, Sanz sans, which consistently draws a lively crowd of revelers. For traditional meals from the Auvergne region, head to La galoche d'Aurillac. Try one of the specialties like the Lentilles from Le Puy or the charcuterie plate—notably the Fricandeau (a kind of pâté typical from that region). The cheese plate is a must-have here, since they mature the cheeses in their cellar. Another classic brasserie is Petit Bofinger in Bastille, more affordable than the original Bofinger. Chez Paul is one of the best bistros in Paris, but make sure to arrive early or be prepared to wait up to one hour for a table. The Bar à Soupes in Bastille is a charming place for healthy cuisine, and for oysters and shellfish, a great option is the Bar à Huîtres, an oyster bar in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Cheese is to France what tea is to England; it is part of the national identity. There are more than 300 varieties of cheeses coming from various regions of the country. Neighborhood farmer's markets are the best places to sample and buy all the kinds of cheese you can imagine and probably some you didn't know existed. Choose from fresh, creamy, or dry goat cheese, soft and milky Camembert, creamy Brie de Meaux, strong Munster or Époisses, and full-flavored Roquefort. The Aligre Market is without a doubt the largest and the most comprehensive market in the city.
Whether for sampling on site or souvenir shopping, wine is of course a must-have in France. You will find many wine shops in Paris, with an excellent selection of bottles coming from small French wineries or prestigious houses. The most widespread name in the city is Nicolas. The wine merchant has brown flagships all over the city and carries affordable ordinary wines and more elaborate vintages. All the sales associates are very professional and can give you good advice on wine and meal pairings. The wine bar, Bar à Vins Nicolas located alongside fashionable Cour Saint-Émilion in Bercy-Village is a great spot to sample the selection they carry.
Visitors should make a point of visiting several historical establishments to truly soak up the atmosphere of the capital's glorious past; it's easy to imagine past celebrities and intellectuals dining in the luxurious period decor. La Coupole offers all the splendor of Paris' Années Folles, and if you look out at the terrace of the Dôme, you may even see the ghost of Jean Paul Sartre. After all, Paris is magical.
The Café de L'Homme offers an intimate dining experience behind its red curtains and warm wooden decor. Paris has countless fine specialty food stores, each only dedicated to one sort of delicacy. For caviar, go to Prunier.
17th & 18th Arrondissement
The Paradis du Fruit (literally "fruit's paradise") will enchant those in search of a perfect smoothie. Wepler is a well-established brasserie on place de Clichy.