Getting to know the Paris arrondissements

While we’re traveling/en route back to the US, I’ve scheduled a couple posts summing up our year in Paris. Today: the Paris arrondissements.

This year, Colin and I took on a number of different challenges in an effort to get to know Paris better. The big one was our To Do For Fun list (I’m due for an update!), but we also challenged ourselves to explore each of the Paris arrondissements.

A brief explanation: Paris is organized into 20 arrondissements, which are small administrative districts. Each has its own mayor and city council with limited authority, but all are ultimately governed by the Paris mayor and the Paris city council. To keep things interesting – and tourists hopelessly lost – the Paris arrondissements are numbered snail shell-style, starting at the Louvre with the 1st and spiraling outwards from there. Colin and I live in the 4th, which is directly east of the 1st. If I walk north from home, I go through the 4th to the 3rd to the 10th and finally to the 18th, where Sacré Coeur is. It’s impossible to keep track of.

(Luckily street signs tell you which arrondissement you’re in.)

In any case, each of Paris’s arrondissements has its own personality, and we wanted to experience them all. Paris is actually quite small geographically-speaking, so we didn’t have to try very hard to hit them all. We only had to make a special trip to two—the 13th and 17th.

Here’s what we did in each:

1. Louvre | 2. Passage des Panoramas | 3. Musée Picasso | 4. Home! Le Marais | 5. Jardin des Plantes | 6. Jardin du Luxembourg | 7. Eiffel Tower | 8. Champs-Élysées | 9. Galeries Lafayette | 10. Canal Saint Martin | 11. Bastille | 12. Parc Floral | 13. Chinatown (Quartiers asiatiques) | 14. Cité Universitaire, Catacombs | 15. Parc André Citroën | 16. Musée Marmottan Monet | 17. Parc Clichy-Batignolles | 18. Sacré Coeur | 19. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont | 20. Père Lachaise cemetery

There wasn’t an arrondissement that we didn’t like, but we were surprised at how much their different personalities shone through. The 1st through the 8th are definitely the glitziest, and they’re also the most touristy. The 3rd and 4th – the Marais – are a little more hipster and artsy, but not nearly as artsy as the 18th (Montmartre). The Bois de Boulogne in the 16th and the Bois de Vincennes in the 12th are huge wooded parks (each is nearly four square miles), which was shocking to find so close to central Paris. The 17th had surprisingly modern architecture.

But which is my favorite? It’s not even a competition—the 4th. Home. A short walk to the Parc Rives de Seine, with views of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, and home to the world’s best falafel sandwich at L’As du Fallafel. I’ll miss you, Paris! I’ll miss all 20 arrondissements, but especially le 4eme, chez moi.

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