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 Île de la Cité. Many centuries later, the Louvre popped up, first as a fortress, and now 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 Île 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 food 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 1970s. 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: the Forum des Halles, 1–7 rue Pierre-Lescot, 1st arrond. In 2010, the city embarked on a massive renovation program to overhaul the shopping center and the surrounding gardens by building “the canopy,” an immense, undulating sheet of glass and metal that floats over the Forum. Despite its multi-million price tag, most Parisians complain that it’s unattractive, but it does house brand-new shops and restaurants (including Alain Ducasse’s Champeaux brasserie) and opens onto a wonderful, immense garden that sweeps across lawns and kids’ play areas over to 16th-century Eglise St-Eustache—a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. The underground will eventually get its makeover too, so some areas may be under construction. For info, visit www.parisleshalles.fr.
Opéra & Grands Boulevards (2nd & 9th Arrondissements)
The grandiose Opéra Garnier reigns over this bustling neighborhood, which teems with office workers, tourists, and shoppers scuttling in and around the Grands Magasins (Big Department Stores) on boulevard Haussmann. This neighborhood has more outstanding retail experiences than cultural ones.
Le Marais (3rd & 4th Arrondissements)
Home to royalty and aristocracy between the 14th and 17th centuries, the Marais still boasts 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 lined with magnificent hôtels particuliers (mansions) as well as humbler homes from centuries past. The Pompidou Center and Musée Picasso are probably the biggest attractions, 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 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 at its inauguration 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 is still the most romantic bridge in the city—with its splendid view of the Île de la Cité and its itinerant artists sketching along the railing—in spite of the fact that over-enthusiastic lovers attached so many locks to the railing that the barrier actually fell over and has now been replaced with plastic screens. It’s best to avoid any symbolic gestures (like writing your names on a lock, attaching it to the railing, and throwing away the key) and opt for romantic selfies instead.
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 intertwine and cross the river without the support of a central pillar. The central lens-shaped structure was constructed by the Eiffel factory (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, Trocadéro & Western Paris (8th, 16th & 17th Arrondissements)
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.
Montmartre (18th Arrondissement)
Few places in this city 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 toward 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 (of 30 that once stood on this hill). We have a walking tour on which will lead you to these less-touristed gems and others.
République, Bastille & Eastern Paris (11th & 12th Arrondissements)
While you can’t really point to any major tourist attractions in this area, this part of town is seriously up-and-coming, and has great nightlife and clothing stores, not to mention a booming restaurant scene. Some important historical sites are also here: 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, Canal St-Martin & La Villette (10th, 19th & 20th Arrondissements)
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 (www.pariscanal.com; 01-42-40-96-97) or Canauxrama (www.canauxrama.com; 01-42-39-15-00).
Long Live the Lizard King
Though the grave itself is unexceptional, the tomb of 1960s rock star Jim Morrison is possibly the most visited, or at least the most hyped, in the cemetery. For years, fans made pilgrimages, leaving behind so much graffiti, litter, and mind-altering substances that families of those buried nearby began to complain, and the tomb was surrounded by a fence. Still, nothing can dispel the enduring attraction of the Morrison legend. In 1971, battling a variety of drug, alcohol, and legal problems, the singer/musician came to Paris, ostensibly with the goal of taking a break from performing and getting his life back on track. Four months later, he was found dead in a Parisian bathtub, at age 27. Since no autopsy was performed, the exact cause of his death was never known (although there was good reason to suspect a drug overdose), which has led to wild speculation on the part of his fans. Rumors still circulate that he was a target of the CIA, murdered by a witch, committed suicide, or that he faked his own death and is currently residing in India, Africa, or New Jersey under the name “Mr. Mojo Risin’.
THE LEFT BANK
Latin Quarter (5th & 13th Arrondissements)
For several hundred years, the students who 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 & Luxembourg (6th Arrondissement)
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 Jardin du Luxembourg nearby.
Attention, Bored Kids & Tired Parents
Frazzled parents take note: The Jardin du Luxembourg has loads of activities for kids who need to blow off steam. First off, swings and slides fill an extra-large playground (1.50€ adults, 2.50€ children 11 and under). Then there are the wonderful wooden sailboats (2.50€/30 min.) to float in the main fountain, as well as an ancient carousel (2€, next to the playground). At the marionette theater (www.marionnettesduluxembourg.fr; 6.40€ each, parents and children; Wed, Sat, Sun, and school vacation days, shows usually start at 3:15pm; Sat–Sun additional shows at 11am), you can see Guignol himself (the French version of Punch) in a variety of puppet shows aimed at ages 2 to 6.
Eiffel Tower & Les Invalides (7th Arrondissement)
The Iron Lady towers above this stately neighborhood stuffed with embassies and ministries, where the very buildings seem to insist that you stand up straight and pay attention. 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.
Get a Workout & a Bargain at the Eiffel Tower
No need to go to the gym after marching up the 704 steps that lead you to the first and second floors of the Eiffel Tower. Not only will you burn calories, but you’ll save money: At 10€ for adults, 5€ ages 12 to 24, and 2.50€ ages 4 to 11, this is the least expensive way to visit. Extra perks include an up-close view of the amazing metal structure and avoiding the long lines for the elevator. If you do decide to go to the top, you can buy supplementary tickets from the machines on the 2nd floor.
Montparnasse (14th & 15th Arrondissements)
Even though its heart was ripped out 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. Back in the day, artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, and Man Ray hung out in cafes like Le Dôme, La Coupole, La Rotonde, and Le Sélect, as did a “Lost Generation” of English-speaking writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and James Joyce. Today the cafes are mostly filled with tourists, but the neighborhood still has quiet corners and even artists’ studios. Amazingly, La Ruche, the legendary artists’ studio from the Golden Years, is still standing (http://laruche-artistes.fr/). And of course, if you don’t want to look at the Tour Montparnasse you should take the lift to the 56th-floor observation deck and marvel at the 360° views of Paris (17€ adults, 9.50€ ages 4 to 11, free for children 3 and under), or sip a cocktail in its panoramic bar, Ciel de Paris (www.cieldeparis.com).
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.