The 3 best areas to stay
You visit Paris, so the pressure is on: Everybody loves it, so you should love it too. It's so romantic, so beautiful, so classy, so chic! But then it actually isn't. Probably because you didn't know where to stay and ended up in the wrong district, in your personal Awrongdissement.
Here are the 3 best areas to stay in Paris:
- Best Neighborhood N° 1 Saint-Germain-des-Prés
- Best Neighborhood N° 2 Le Marais
- Best Neighborhood N° 3 Passy
- OH NO! Maybe not
Saint-Germain – Cafés, bars and literature
If you got your image of Paris from films like „Midnight in Paris“ – artsy, poetic, nostalgic and decadent – then boy, Saint-Germain-des-Prés is your neighbourhood.
There are areas of Paris, so grandious and overwhelming, you will have a hard time feeling an emontional connection. In Saint-Germain on the other hand, the free-spirited past is still very, very present, shaped by artist like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sartre, Monet and Picasso.
While that could easily mean a run-down and alternative neighbourhood, quite the opposite is true. Saint-Germain is one of the most sophisticated areas of Paris. Not in the Hermès-Chanel-Champs-Élysées-way. More in the way of somebody who knows how to melt down a sugar cube into Absinthe because it's his daily routine. While pretend-reading french poetry maybe.
You will get:
- charming streets
instead of boulevards
- small boutiques
instead of flagship stores
- bars and cáfes
- a flair of literature and art
- a headache from absinthe
Being part of 6th Arrondissement, Saint-Germain is located on the left bank of the Seine. Due to its central location the neighbourhood is a good choice to stay even from a practical standpoint. But that's not what it's about.
It’s the flair that makes it. Food markets, bars, cafés and small boutiques – that occasionally attract the average Rolls Royce owner – make Saint-Germain popular amongst locals and visitors alike.
You will look at architecture differently here than in other good districts of Paris. No stepping back to make distance. No trying to capture enormous buildings in their entirety to understand their role in the big picture. Saint-Germain makes you look closer at that glossy painted door. Touch the golden fittings. Get a view into the shop through the carefully decorated display window. Sit down. You know where to stay now.
Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sartre, Monet and Picasso.
Saint-Germain was once the epicentre of art in Paris
Practical tip for Saint-Germain
Saint-Germain-des-Pres itself is not full of sights and spectacular buildings, but it is where to stay in Paris if you want to be right in the middle of most of them: Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Hôtel de Ville, Notre-Dame, Pont Neuf, Sainte Chapelle, Jardin du Luxembourg, Musée d'Orsay ... all of those are less then half a mile away. So use Saint-Germain as your base and walk as much as you can.
Le Marais – Jewish, gay and artsy
The first time I came to the Marais, I was stunned by how quiet it was.
"It's a jewish neighbourhood, you know?" – The receptionist at my hotel was surprised I didn't know it was Shabbat. "Jews and models. The girls love it here because there's a hairdresser at every corner. And they don't get harrassed in the evening. You know ... everybody is gay here as well!"
Everybody is a bit different in the Marais. What was once a swamp that the temple knights turned into liveable space, is a fascinating piece of Paris today. A neighbourhood of so many different microcosms. Nobody hides here. Nobody denies who they are. In the Marais, it's the people that define the atmosphere, instead of the architecture being the dominant factor.
You will get:
- a vibrant neighbourhood
- central location
- great falafel
- less tourists
- a fancy haircut
Situated north of the Seine, the Marais is the big exception. The Right Bank is dominated by glorious palaces and the amazing megalomaniac works of Haussmann, the city planner that shaped Paris: Six-lane-streets, mile-long alleys and breathtaking views everywhere. Not in the Marais though. Narrow streets, small squares and colourful graffiti on the wall; that's more like it.
Apart from it's unique, friendly but not always polished atmosphere, there is one factor that makes the Marais so attractive: It's very central.
Things that are very near: the Seine Islands, Notre-Dame, Centre Pompidou and the Louvre. Things that are literally in the neighbourhood: City Hall, Picasso Museum and the most beautiful square in town: Place des Vosges. This easily makes the Marais one of the best areas of Paris.
Everybody is a bit different. Nobody hides in the Marais.
It's the people that define the atmosphere here.
Practical tip for Le Marais
To get a great overview over the city quickly, visit Centre Pompidou and simply buy a "View of Paris" ticket for the terrace on 5th floor. In contrast to other central viewpoints (such as Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame and Arc de Triomphe), there are no waiting lines and overwhelming crowds usually. It's the best place to be in Paris during your first 3 hours, in my opinion.
Passy – Noble and green
If you live in the 16th Arrondissement you basically made it: into the high society of Paris, into the One-Percent, into an embassy or at least a gated community. "From the 16th" means that you are wealthy. Or hiding nuts in a park.
That’s because "Passy" – the actual name of the district – does not only consist of villas and roundabouts with fountains. Parks and sports facilities make up half of the Arrondissement's area, the biggest being "Bois de Boulogne". Not only is this one of the biggest city parks in the world, it's almost three times bigger than Central Park!
Between this enormous recreational area and the Seine lies a district, that has what the other two Favourhoods lack because they are in the center of the city: calmness and the vibe of a posh suburb. Passy consists of several formerly independent villages that nowadays are connected by one thing: noblesse. That makes it one of the best areas to stay in Paris without doubt.
You will get:
- suburban quietness
- a residential feeling
- culture and noblesse
- expensive cars behind security doors
- bored if you want
That noblesse has different faces though: In the northern part of Passy, between the Triumphal Arch and the Seine, you will still get a big-city-feeling, although the area is already much less stressful than nearby Champs-Élysées. The streets are quiet and narrow, with little space between buildings. There is a sense of neighbourhood here that other parts of the city do not have.
Going further south, the character of the district changes: streets become wider, the area itself flatter and houses lower. In exchange, gardens appear, growing roses, magnolias and surveillance cameras. If you are a french pharma executive or arms dealer, that’s where you stay in Paris and where you send your kids to private school.
Almost half of all parisian museums and embassies are in the 16th Arrondissement. Apart from that, the district is also home to "Stade Roland-Garros" (French Open, tennis) and the stadium "Parc des Princes" (Paris Saint-Germain, soccer).
Embassies, museums, parks & private schools.
If you live in Passy,
you basically made it
Practical tip for Passy
Get up on Arc de Triomphe shortly before sunset. If you are lucky, the sun will set behind the amazing skyline of "La Defense". But be clever and buy your ticket online before. Skipping the line at the ticket counter will save you a lot of time. Important info: to get to the Arch, do not cross the gigantic roundabout! Use the underground tunnels, even if it's challenging to find the right one. It's totally worth it and definitely where to stay in Paris for a romantic sun set.
Paris is one of those cities where you should really pay attention to the area you are staying in. The spectrum ranges from stunningly beautiful to plain scary:
- Not as interesting: Districts with two-digit numbers. With the exception of the 16th and parts of the 17th, that are decent residential areas. Especially the outher districts in the north and east are not for visitors and considered a bit unsafe.
- Avoid everything outside of the 20 Arrondissements. Especially the Banlieues in the north-east are not only far out but also unsafe.
- Avoid areas around railway stations (Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est) and big metro stations such as "Châtelet – Les Halles". Extremely hectic and attracting small crime.
- Don't stay directly next to big sights. Montmartre: although some areas are pretty and romantic, the neighbourhood as a whole is unpleasently touristy and partly dominated by sex shops. Directly at Champs-Élysées: stressful during the day and dodgy at night.
How is Paris structured?
- There are 20 districts called "Arrondissements". The first of them is in the very center of the city. From there on, they are arranged in a clockwise outwardly moving spiral.
- The river Seine divides Paris into left bank ("Rive Gauche") and right bank ("Rive Droite"). Both terms are used by Parisians to characterise their residents: left bank means artsy, bohemian and intellectual; right bank conservative, elegant and business-oriented.
- The two islands in the Seine – "Île de la Cité" and "Île Saint-Louis" – are landmarks on their own. Many of the popular sights like Notre-Dame cathedral are located in this area.
- On paper, Paris stops where the 20 districts end. Huge areas, that seem to be part of the city – like the notorious Banlieue suburbs and the impressive office district La Defense – are actually outside of the official borders.
How do I get from the airport to the city of Paris?
You will most probably arrive on one of the two big airports:
- A taxi ride from Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle (they also call it "Roissy", don't confuse it with "Orly"!) costs either 50 or 55 €, depending on which side of the river Seine you are going to. It's a fixed rate and will take you 35 to 45 minutes. Uber rides are usually a bit less expensive.
- The many direct busses get you to numerous places in central Paris (and also to the other airport) for between 11 and 21 € in about an hour. Here's a good overview.
- The RER trains (line B) are even less expansive. There are two stations at the airport, depending on which terminal you arrive. It takes the train around 30 minutes to get to the inner city stations. You can use the same 10 € ticket there to change to the Metro.
- A taxi ride from Paris-Orly costs only 30 or 35 € and takes around 30 minutes to the city center.
- The cheapest way to get to the city from Orly is the tram line 7. It will connect you to the Metro line 7 in around 30 minutes for only 2 €.
- Somewhere inbetween taxi and tram in terms of prices are the numerous bus and railway lines. Get an overview here.
How safe is Paris?
In security matters, Paris has had to deal with two issues in recent years: the yellow vest protests and individual terrorist attacks.
- The yellow vest protests and related riots seem to have more or less subsided by mid-2019 and are therefore no longer an issue to be expected.
- To counter the terrorist threat, the police and military presence in Paris has been significantly strengthened since 2015. So you have to reckon with identity checks and longer waiting times at some sights.
- In gerneral, as a visitor you should avoid the Banlieues no matter what. You have much more to lose there than to discover in those suburbs of Paris. The area around the railway station Paris North ("Gare du Nord") has a bad reputation in terms of on-the-streets safety as well.
How do I get around best in Paris?
- With its 300+ stations the Paris Metro is one of the biggest subway systems in the world. On average there are only 500 m between stations. That means that you can basically get anywhere with it in the city, but it may take a while. Combine that with the fact that 4.2 million people use the metro every day and you can imagine it is not always a pleasant experience.
- Walking might be the preferred way of getting around in a city as architecturally spectacular as Paris but do not underestimate the distances! The straight and wide boulevards with monumental buildings at the end might let you think you could go there in 5 minutes. You can’t most of the time.
- In addition to the metro there are also the train lines (RER) that, in the end, you can use for the exact same purpose: covering big distances.
- In regards of taxis, Paris is a quite typical european city: drivers are known to be more on the unfriendly side and often do not speak anything but their own language. Tourists might get a bit of an "extra tour" to increase the income of the driver, but over all prices are european average.
- The preferable alternative in my opinion is Uber. There are plenty of Uber cars, so waiting times are short. The rates are usually a bit lower than with taxis and there is no language barrier because the driver sees where you need to go on the Sat-Nav. Extra tours and impoliteness is almost never a problem due to the rating system.
- The car sharing program ShareNow (formerly Car2Go) is available in Paris and you can use it with your account from other countries.
What are the opening hours in Paris?
Shops in Paris are usually open monday to saturday between 9 am and 7 pm. On sundays and holidays they stay closed. Super markets are an exception, they often stay open until 9 pm and on sundays. Around Champs-Élysées you can go shopping basically all the time except from during the night.
What's the best time to travel to Paris?
- The best time to travel to Paris might be the months may, june and september – if you consider weather as the most important factor. It’s warm then, but not hot. Occasional rain can happen all year long in Paris anyway. The flip side of this months: lots of other visitors as well. Some locals even say during september Parisians are a bit more grumpy than usual because their summer vacation is over ;-)
- Speaking of a lot of tourists: If you don’t mind them, you can also visit during the hotter summer months of july and august. A lot of the residents leave Paris during this time and some restaurants stay closed.
- Be aware that during january, march, the beginning of july and in october there are fashion shows and trade fairs in Paris which makes it extremely hard to get hotel rooms for reasonable rates.