City Layout

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 Vincinnes 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 Ile de la Cité (1st arrondissement), or the Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements). Note that the arrondissements don’t always correspond to historical neighborhoods.

Even if you’re only in the city for a week, it’s worthwhile to invest in a purse-size map book (ask for a “Paris par Arrondissement” at bookstores or larger newsstands), which costs around 8€. The book should include a street index and a detailed set of maps by arrondissement—one of the best is called “Le Petit Parisien,” which includes separate Métro, bus, and street maps for each district. To get a general sense of where the arrondissements are, see the map on the inside front cover of this book.

Paris is old, so the logic of its streets and avenues is often as contorted as the city’s history. That said, there are some major boulevards that 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, Capuccines, 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 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.