THE RIGHT BANK
Louvre & Ile de la Cité (1st Arrondissement)
This is where it all started: Back in its misty and uncertain beginnings, the Parisii tribe set up camp on the right bank of the Seine, and then started hunting on the Ile de la Cité. Many centuries later, the Louvre popped up, first as a fortress, and now as one of the world’s mightiest museums. The city’s epicenter, this area packs in a high density of must-see monuments and museums, but don’t miss the opportunity for aimless strolling in the magnificent Tuileries Gardens or over the Pont Neuf. This section includes the entire Ile de la Cité, though technically half of it lies in the 4th arrondissement.
The New Les Halles
Famously called “the belly of Paris,” Les Halles was the city’s primary wholesale fruit, meat, and vegetable market for 8 centuries. The smock-clad vendors, beef carcasses, and baskets of vegetables all belong to the past, as the market was relocated to the suburb of Rungis in the early [‘]70s. In a fit of modernity, all the pretty 19th-century pavilions were torn down and in their place a weird, partly underground shopping mall was constructed around a giant hole in the ground: the Forum des Halles (1–7 rue Pierre-Lescot, 1st arrond.). Fortunately, in 2010, the city embarked on a massive renovation program to overhaul the shopping center and the surrounding gardens, which is why the entire area has been temporarily transformed into a construction zone. By the end of 2014, the whole thing will be covered by “the canopy,” an immense, undulating sheet of glass and metal that will gently float over the Forum. It won’t be finished before 2016, but the underground mall remains open and operational during the renovations. For information, visit www.parisleshalles.fr.
Le Marais, Ile St-Louis and Ile de la Cité (3e and 4e)
Home to royalty and aristocracy between the 14th and 17th centuries, the Marais still boasts some remarkable architecture, some of it dating back to the Middle Ages. One of the few neighborhoods that was not knocked down during Baron Haussmann’s urban overhaul, its narrow streets are still lined with magnificent hôtels particuliers (such as mansions) as well as humbler homes from centuries past. The Pompidou Center is probably the biggest and most well-known attraction, but the Marais also harbors a wealth of terrific smaller museums, as well as the delightful Place des Vosges. Remnants of the city’s historic Jewish quarter can be found on rue des Rosiers, which has been invaded by chic clothing shops in recent years. Nowadays, the real Jewish neighborhood is in the 19th arrondissement.
The Bridges of Paris
Despite its name (neuf means “new”), the Pont Neuf (Quai du Louvre to Quai de Conti) is the oldest bridge in Paris. The bridge was an instant hit when it was inaugurated by Henri IV in 1607 (its ample sidewalks, combined with the fact that it was the first bridge sans houses, made it a delight for pedestrians), and it still is. For a quiet picnic spot, take the stairs by the statue of Henri IV (in the center of the span) down to the Square du Vert Galant.
The Pont des Arts (Quai François Mitterrand to Quai de Conti) was originally constructed at the beginning of the 19th century. Delicately arching over the river, the iron pedestrian bridge was actually quite fragile, a fact that was confirmed when it was hit by a barge and collapsed in 1979. Fortunately for us, it was reconstructed. This is probably the most romantic bridge in the city—with its splendid view of the Ile de la Cité and its itinerant artists sketching along the railing—and a must at sunset.
A modern way to get from the Left to the Right bank is via the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir (Quai de Bercy to Quai François Mauriac). A graceful pedestrian passage, the bridge consists of two arching bands of oak and steel, which somehow intertwine and cross the river without the support of a central pillar. The central lens-shaped structure was constructed by the Eiffel factory, which was founded by Gustave.
With its enormous pillars topped by gilded statuary, it’s hard to miss the Pont Alexandre III (Cours de la Reine to Quai d’Orsay). Linking the vast esplanade of the Invalides with the glass-domed Grand Palais, this elegant bridge fits right in with its grand surroundings. The span was named after Czar Alexander III of Russia, and inaugurated at the opening of the Paris Exposition of 1900.
Incredibly, the small and lovely Pont Marie (Quai des Célestins to Quai d’Anjou–Ile St-Louis), composed of three gentle arches, was once loaded down by some 50 houses. The structure could not hold its charge, and during a flood in 1658, the Seine washed away two of its arches and 20 houses fell into the water. The tragedy, which claimed 60 lives, got city officials to thinking, and finally, in 1769, homesteading on bridges was outlawed.
Champs-Élysées and Western Paris (8e, 16e and 17e)
Decidedly posh, this is one of the wealthiest parts of the city in both per capita earnings and cultural institutions. While the Champs-Élysées is more glitz than glory, the surrounding neighborhoods offer high-end shops and restaurants as well as some terrific museums and concert halls. This is also where you will find grand architectural gestures, like the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde, which bookend the Champs and the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, leftovers from the legendary 1900 Universal Exposition.
Opéra and Canal St-Martin (9e and 10e)
The impressive Opéra Garner dominates its dynamic neighborhood, which delivers perhaps more opportunities for outstanding retail experiences than for cultural ones. But perhaps the greatest attraction in this area is the picturesque Canal St-Martin itself. It connects the river Seine, near Bastille, to the Canal de l'Ourcq, near the Villette in the 19th arrondissement. When Parisians talk about le canal, they are usually referring to the popular stretch of the Quais Jemmapes and Valmy, which begins just above République and runs up by the Gare de l'Est. The canal was inaugurated in 1825 with the aim of bringing fresh drinking water to the heart of the city. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, this water highway attracted much commerce and industry to the surrounding areas. Painter Alfred Sisley was inspired by this canal -- you can admire his painting "Vue du canal Saint-Martin à Paris" (1870) at the Musée d'Orsay. After almost being destroyed in the 1970s to make way for more roads, the canal was classified as a historic monument in 1993, and today, visitors can explore the canal at their leisure. If you'd like to take a scenic boat tour of the canal, contact Paris Canal (tel. 01-42-40-96-97; www.pariscanal.com) or Canauxrama (tel. 01-42-39-15-00; www.canauxrama.com).
Pigalle and Montmartre (18e)
There are few places in this city that will fill you with the urge to belt out sappy show tunes like the butte (hill) of Montmartre. Admiring the view from the esplanade in front of the oddly Byzantine Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, you’ll feel like you have finally arrived in Paris, and that you now understand what all the fuss is about. Try to ignore the tour buses and crowds mobbing the church and the hideously touristy place du Tertre behind you and wander off into the warren of streets towards the place des Abbesses, or up rue Lepic where you’ll eventually stumble across the Moulin de la Galette and Moulin du Radet, the two surviving windmills (there were once 30 on this hill).
République, Bastille and Eastern Paris (11e and 12e)
While you can’t really point to any major tourist attractions in this area, this part of town has great nightlife and clothing stores for the young crowd. There are also some important historical sites: The French Revolution was brewed in the workshops of the Faubourg St-Antoine, and was ignited at the Place de la Bastille. The former stomping grounds of the medieval Knights Templar, the recently remodeled Place de la République is a potent symbol of the French Republic.
Place de la Bastille -- This square is symbolic of the French Revolution, which began here with the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. (This date continues to mark Bastille Day, a French national holiday.) Almost nothing remains of the prison, except for a few foundations -- you can see one from the platform of line 5 at Bastille Métro station. The statue in the middle of the square, the July Column, was inaugurated in 1840 in commemoration of the Trois Glorieuses, or 3 days of insurrections in 1830 that brought down the French monarchy for a second time. The square's rich political symbolism makes it a preferred location for various public meetings and demonstrations, hosting everything from the Gay Pride Parade to Socialist Party events. Former president François Mitterand even celebrated his 1981 election victory here. Note that the city's second national opera house, l'Opéra Bastille, is located on the southeastern rim of the square; it's regularly criticized for its architecture and reportedly average acoustics.
Place de la République -- The colossal bronze monument in the middle of the Place de la République was inaugurated on July 14, 1883, in celebration of the French Republic. The figure of Marianne, a symbol of the French state, sits on a carved stone column that is decorated with allegories of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. Marianne holds an olive branch as a symbol of peace in her right hand, and in her left, a tablet inscribed with the Rights of Man (les Droits de l'Homme). Because of its powerful symbolism, the monument is the preferred departure point for many left-wing demonstrations.
Belleville and Northeast Paris (19e and 20e)
One of the most picturesque attractions in this area is the Canal St-Martin itself, which extends up to La Villette, a former industrial area that has been transformed into a gigantic park and cultural compound. Other intriguing outdoor attractions include the romantic Père-Lachaise cemetery, the resting place of France’s most noteworthy notables, and the verdant Buttes Chaumont park. The Belleville neighborhood is home to one of the city’s bustling Chinatowns, as well as many artists’ studios.
The Canal St-Martin
The Canal St-Martin is a pretty waterway that connects the river Seine, near Bastille, to the Canal de l’Ourcq, near the Villette in the 19th arrondissement. When Parisians talk about le canal, they are usually referring to the popular stretch of the quays Jemmapes and Valmy, which begins just above République and runs up by the Gare de l’Est. Inaugurated in 1825 with the aim of bringing fresh drinking water to the heart of the city, it narrowly escaped being entirely paved over in the 1970s. Finally listed a historic monument in 1993, today its tree lined banks and high arched bridges make it a delightful place to stroll, especially on Sundays, when the east side is closed to cars. You can take a boat tour with Paris Canal ([tel] 01-42-40-96-97; www.pariscanal.com) or Canauxrama ([tel] 01-42-39-15-00; www.canauxrama.com).
THE LEFT BANK
Latin Quarter (5e)
For several hundred years, the students that flocked to this quarter spoke Latin in their classes at the Sorbonne (founded in the 13th c.). Today students still abound around the Sorbonne, and even though classes are taught in French, the name stuck. Intellectual pursuits aside, this youth-filled neighborhood is a lively one, with lots of cinemas and cafes. History is readily visible here, dating back to the Roman occupation: The rue St-Jacques and boulevard Saint-Michel mark the former Roman cardo, and you can explore the remains of the Roman baths at the Cluny Museum.
St-Germain-des-Prés and Luxembourg (6e)
In the 20th century, the St-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood became associated with writers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and the rest of the intellectual bohemian crowd that gathered at Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots. But back in the 6th century, a mighty abbey was founded here that ruled over a big chunk of the left bank for almost 1,000 years. The French Revolution put a stop to that, and most of the original buildings were pulled down. You can still find remains of both epochs in this neighborhood, notably at the 10th-century church St-Germain-des-Prés and the surviving bookstores and publishing houses that surround it. After your tour, relax at the delightful and nearby Jardin du Luxembourg.
Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides (7e)
The Iron Lady towers above this stately neighborhood, where the very buildings seem to insist that you stand up straight and pay attention. Stuffed with embassies and ministries, you’ll see lots of elegant black cars with smoked glass cruising the streets, as well as many a tourist eyeing the Eiffel Tower or the golden dome of Les Invalides, and scurrying in and out of some of the city’s best museums, like the Musée du Quai Branly, Musée d’Orsay, and Musée Rodin.
Montparnasse and Southern Paris (13e, 14e and 15e)
For the "Lost Generation," life centered around the cafes of Montparnasse, at the border of the 6th and 14th arrondissements. Hangouts such as the Dôme, Coupole, Rotonde, and Sélect became legendary, as artists -- especially American expats -- turned their backs on touristy Montmartre. Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Man Ray, and Hemingway frequented this neighborhood, as did Fitzgerald when he was poor (when he was rich, you'd find him at the Ritz). William Faulkner, Archibald MacLeish, Joan Miró, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and even Leon Trotsky spent time here. Even though its heart was ripped out of it in the early 1970s, when the original 19th century train station was torn down and the Tour Montparnasse, an ugly skyscraper, was erected, this neighborhood still retains a redolent whiff of its artistic past. Today the cafes are mostly filled with rich tourists, but there are still quiet corners and even artists’ studios.
BEYOND CENTRAL PARIS
With regular Métro, train, and bus service, it is easy to access the major attractions outside of Paris, like Basilique St-Denis and La Grande Arche de la Défense.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.