Paris is made up of 20 arrondissements (districts), but we’re going to focus on the first seven as they make up the true city centre and offer a wide variety of things to see and do. The arrondissements were created by Emperor Napoleon III in 1860, with the 1st arrondissement situated in the historic centre of the city. The rest of the arrondissements curl around and outwards like a spiral – each one with its own distinct ‘flavour’ and attractions.
At the centre of what was originally the seat of royal power, you’ll find elegance and grandeur. It’s home to the Palais Royal and the world-famous Louvre museum, the largest art museum in the world. Be sure to visit the beautiful Tuileries Gardens and check out the rather upmarket Vendôme Square. The Pont Neuf bridge is also located in this arrondissement. Even though the name means ‘new bridge’, it’s actually the oldest bridge in Paris.
Travel to arrondissement 2 and you’ll be in the business district, otherwise known as Bourse. The Palais de la Bourse was once the stock exchange and is the area’s most notable landmark. Other buildings to see are the National Library and the Opera Comique. Check out the Grands Boulevard neighbourhood for its old-world regal style and covered shopping arcades.
You’ll find the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (National Museum of Arts and Crafts) along with the Picasso Museum in arrondissement 3. The district is also known as Temple as there was once a medieval fortress built by the Templar Knights amongst the bustling commercial and quiet residential streets. Be sure to check out the Marais neighbourhood that spills over into the 4th arrondissement.
Arrondissement 4 is popular with tourists, as it not only includes part of the Marais district but the Ile de la Cite which includes Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the city’s most popular attractions. You’ll also find Centre Pompidou in this district, which is amongst the oldest in the city centre of Paris.
Marais is one of the most visually interesting quarters of Paris. This area was once a swamp and that is what Le Marais means. It has evolved from a working-class neighbourhood to an affluent and upmarket area, popular for eating, drinking and strolling.
It has retained the narrow streets of the Renaissance and Medieval eras, despite an overhaul of the city’s layout by Napoleon and Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann the mid-19th century. You can still see dramatic residences, boutiques and galleries that escaped modernisation. Examples of Haussmann’s great works include the Champs Elysees and Montparnasse, as well as the city’s modern water and sewage system.
After a visit to Notre Dame, head across the Seine to look at what’s on offer at the stalls of the art and booksellers. Marais is also where a Jewish community has lived on and off since the 13th century. It is the location of a moving monument to the 200,000 French people killed in concentration camps during WW2.
Enjoy the outstanding neoclassic architecture of the Pantheon as well as the botanical gardens, known locally as the Jardin des Plantes. You’ll also find the Sorbonne University here, attended by the crème de la crème of intellectuals. The Pantheon is now a mausoleum housing the remains of the most distinguished French citizens, such as Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Louis Braille.
The 6th arrondissement was the stomping ground of writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The area has now been transformed into a hotspot for antique furniture and designer boutiques. You’ll also come across leafy residential streets, outstanding architecture and fabulous restaurants.
This district of the city of Paris is home to the sensational steel structure of the Eiffel Tower and the Orsay Museum. Boats leave from here for lunch and dinner cruises on the Seine – an opportunity to see the fantastic buildings from the water without traffic being in the way.
The Hotel des Invalides is not a hotel at all, but the resting place of Napoleon I and army museum, as well as a former military complex. If you’re a fan of shopping and gourmet food, be sure to stop by the Bon Marche Department Store and Gourmet Market.
We’ve now covered the 7 arrondissements at the heart of the city. However, there are of course many more sights to see and things to do around Paris! Come to the city centre and see for yourself how impressive, beautiful and fascinating it is! Bon vacance!
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