One of the nice things about Paris is that it’s relatively small. It’s not a sprawling megalopolis like Tokyo or London. Paris intramuros, or inside the long-gone city walls, measures about 87 sq. km (34 sq. miles) excluding the large exterior parks of Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne and counts a mere 2.2 million habitants. The suburbs, on the other hand, are sprawling.
Getting around is not difficult, provided you have a general sense of where things are. The city is vaguely egg shaped, with the Seine cutting a wide upside-down U-shaped arc through the middle. The northern half is known as the Right Bank, and the southern, the Left Bank. To the uninitiated, the only way to remember is to face west, or downstream, so that the Right Bank will be to your right, and the Left to your left.
The city is neatly split up into 20 official arrondissements, or districts, which spiral out from the center of the city. The lower the number of the arrondissement, the closer you’ll be to the center. As the numbers go up, you’ll head toward the outer city limits. The lower-numbered arrondissements also correspond to some of the oldest parts of the city, like the Louvre and the Île de la Cité (1st arrondissement) or the Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements). Note that the arrondissements don’t always correspond to historical neighborhoods.
If you are in the city for more than a few days, and still believe in maps, it’s worthwhile to invest in a purse-size map book (ask for a “Paris par Arrondissement” at bookstores or larger newsstands; or order before your trip from Amazon), which costs around 8€, and includes public transit and Velib’ stands. Modern souls may prefer to download the app created by the city’s transit authority, the RATP. Called “Next Stop Paris,” this free app (available on www.ratp.fr as well as iTunes) will guide you around town on public transportation. You may also want to download such usable offline apps as CityMaps2Go, MAPS.ME, and Citymapper.
Paris is old, so the logic of its streets and avenues is often as contorted as the city’s history. That said, some major boulevards function as reference points. On the Left Bank, boulevard St-Michel acts as a more or less north–south axis, with boulevard St-Germain cutting a vaguely east–west semicircle close to the city center and boulevard Montparnasse cutting a larger one farther out. On the Right Bank, boulevard de Sebastopol runs north–south, with rue de Rivoli crossing east–west near the river. As rue de Rivoli heads east, it turns into rue de St-Antoine; to the west, it jogs around the Place de la Concorde and becomes the Champs-Élysées. Farther north, a network of wide boulevards crisscrosses the area, including boulevards Haussmann, Capucines, and Lafayette.
There are also several enormous star-shaped traffic roundabouts, where several large avenues converge: On the Left Bank place Denfert-Rochereau and place d’Italie are major convergence points; on the Right Bank Place de la Bastille, place de la Nation, and place de la République reign to the east, and place de Charles de Gaulle (also called Etoile), home of the Arc de Triomphe, commands to the west.
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.