You may have already familiarized yourself with Paris’ 20 arrondissements: districts that spiral out in clockwise form from the city center to the western and eastern edges. Most first-time visitors will want to target some of the city’s more iconic places to start before attempting to get off the beaten track. Here are a few areas that you shouldn’t miss, and that have charming details you might overlook by targeting only the most popular monuments and attractions.
Around Metro St. Germain, don’t just stick to big tourist sights like the Deux Magots or Café de Flore. Duck into the 6th-century Abbey just outside the metro Saint-Germain-des-Pres, where Benedictine monks made their home from the early medieval period. Admire the bell tower (circa 990-1014), one of the oldest in France.
For something even quirkier, head over to Deyrolle, first established in the 19th century and featuring a much-coveted curiosity cabinet and taxidermy museum (Metro Rue du Bac). Devoted vegetarians might feel better abstaining, though.
Foodies, be aware that the Grande Epicerie market at nearby the Bon Marche department store (Metro Sevres-Babylone) stocks gourmet goodies from all over the world; I highly recommend a stop hear to load up on truffle oil, a good bottle of wine, or even some delicious cheese.
Le Quartier Latin
Once you’ve had your fill of the posh St Germain area, head due east toward the Latin Quarter, home to scholars and intellectuals for hundreds of years. Around Place St Michel, admire a view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral from across the river, and the statue-fountain of the archangel triumphing over the devil. From there, I recommend exploring the sumptuous medieval-style garden, art and sculpture collection and Roman thermal ruins at the Musee de Cluny, France’s national medieval arts museum, before making an obligatory pit stop at the Place de la Sorbonne to admire the outside of one of the world’s oldest universities. Sorry, visits are generally not granted here.
Heading further southward in the 5th arrondissement around the elegant yet village-like Place Monge, enjoy the outdoor markets overflowing with fresh produce, fish, and other goods around Rue Mouffetard. Also nearby are the too-infrequently visited Arenes de Lutece, the remains of arenas dating to the period when Paris was called Lutece, and a major capital in the Roman Empire.
Had your fill of typical tourist destinations? Head north over the Seine to explore some of the neighborhoods most visitors overlook. Get off at Metro Goncourt and walk east to the Canal St Martin area, a favorite for artists and trendsetters. Scenes from “Amelie” were filmed here– notably showing Audrey Tautou atop one of the green iron footbridges– and it’s a favorite spot for spring and summer picnics. It also has more cinematic history, having been the subject of a 1938 film by French director Marcel Carne called “Hotel du Nord”, named after a hotel-restaurant-bar that still exists (102 quai de Jemmapes, Metro Goncourt or Jacques-Bonsergent). Entire sections of the neighborhood were reconstituted for the film. It can be great fun to go have a drink or dinner at the elegant Hotel du Nord, and mingle with the locals there…
Modern Paris: La Villette
Get on Metro line 5 at Jacques Bonsergent, change to line 7, and get off at Porte de la Villette to experience one of the city’s most contemporary areas, the Parc de la Villette (follow signs to the park entrance). Featuring elaborate green spaces, modern architecture, a science museum, concert hall, and more, La Villette is a great place to explore with kids, who will enjoy the colorful sculptures, museum exhibits designed just for them, and vibrant thematic gardens. A whole afternoon can be spent here…and you might just forget that you’re in Paris. Not that you’d want to!
We offer numerous walking tours throughout Paris that will help give you a better understanding of the city’s layout and the fascinating history each neighborhood has to offer. Kick off your visit with us and then take to the streets like a pro!