Once just a village that settled on the "Ile de la Cite" (City Island) on the confluence of the Seine's two branches, Paris has vastly expanded over the centuries, taking the surrounding villages under its wing and making them its own. Nowadays the City of Light—a name Paris earned during the age of the Enlightenment—is made up of several arrondissements or districts, numbered from one to 20 and logically ordered with the 1st in the center and the others following in a clockwise spiral. The differences are vast and varied between the districts, both in terms of the populations and attractions, which together make up the multifaceted city we know and love.
With its impressive collection of paintings and sculptures, the Louvre attracts visitors from the world over, who often combine it with a stroll in the adjoining Tuileries gardens. Designers of haute couture, including Yves St-Laurent and Dior, have set up shop in Faubourg Saint-Honore , just a short walk from the majestic Place Vendôme , home to some of the finest jewelers in Paris. If luxury seems to be the prevailing feature in the 1st arrondissement, it has also lovingly accepted the Forum des Halles , the city's largest shopping center.
With its little back streets harboring galleries, cafes and boutiques, this district sets a typically Parisian scene. West of Rue Richelieu stands the theater district where a dozen or so playhouses throng. The Palais Brongniart reminds by-passers of what used to be the location of Paris' vibrant stock market, while certain clothing factories in the Sentier district are now home to Internet companies.
The Marais district prides itself on being one of the oldest and best preserved in Paris. In keeping with this yearning for yesteryear, a museum charting the history of the capital ( Musee Carnavalet ) can also be found here. Scattered with trendy bars, cafes and stylish boutiques, the Marais has also become the Mecca of gay nightlife in Paris.
Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque districts. Wander across the bridge opposite the Hôtel de Ville (town hall) and you will drift onto the capital's two islands—Île de la Cite and Île Saint-Louis—where a visit to the stunning Notre-Dame Cathedral is an absolute must. Back on the right bank, Place des Vosges , a beautiful old square lined with ancient buildings, is a wonderful witness to times gone by.
This and the adjoining 6th arrondissement comprise the Quartier latin (Latin Quarter), a bastion of student life and higher education in Paris. Within a 100-meter (328-foot) radius around the Pantheon you'll find some of the most prestigious schools and universities in all of France. The Jardin des Plantes , Paris' botanical gardens and zoo, is at once a calm and exotic place, and the Arènes de Lutèce (remains of a Roman amphitheater) remind us just how rich the history of Paris really is. You'll find the Musee National du Moyen-Âge in Cluny Square. As picturesque as you could possibly imagine, the quaysides double as an enthralling treasure trove of second-hand bookstalls. Come nightfall, the young crowds flock to Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue Mouffetard .
Rue de Seine, de Buci, Mazarine and Dauphine, along with the whole area between Boulevard St-Germain and the river Seine itself, are wholeheartedly characteristic of the allure of Paris. Discover the little cafes and boutiques of the chic-intellectual district of Saint Germain des Pres , and the bars and nightspots when the sun goes down. If on the other hand you want to escape, take some peaceful time out in Jardin du Luxembourg .
More commonly known as the quartier des ministres (ministers' quarter), the 7th district also boasts some of Paris' most beautiful monuments—the Invalides , the Eiffel Tower , the Champ de Mars—literally meaning "Field of Mars," which was originally a parade ground for cadets in the Ecole Militaire (Military Academy). Between Quai Voltaire and Rue de l'Universite, dozens upon dozens of antique dealers entice you into their shops on the Carre Rive Gauche, and if you are in an artistic frame of mind, the spectacular Musee d'Orsay is well worth a browse.
Naturally, any visit to the 8th arrondissement has to start on the most beautiful avenue in the world—the fabulous Champs-Elysees - which extends from Place de l'Etoile down to the finishing post on Place de la Concorde . Also worth seeing is La Madeleine , a neoclassical church, and the parc Monceau , a jogger's paradise. Music lovers will find heaven in a shopping trip along Rue de Rome. Other places of interest include the Grand Palais and the Palais de la Decouverte (the Palace of Discovery), which makes the fascinating world of science accessible to all.
Its impressive elegance makes the Opera (opera house) undeniably one of Paris' most exquisite monuments. You can take in the waxworks at Musee Grevin , and stroll through Nouvelles Athènes (New Athens) near the St-Georges metro, but this area is also characterized by large department stores, including Printemps and Galeries Lafayette .
Running the entire length of the Canal Saint-Martin , the Quais de Valmy and de Jemappes extend either side of the water to provide one of the most delightful walks in Paris; from Rue du Temple to Place de Stalingrad you will pass many a lock and maybe the odd barge or two.
Formerly the haunt of furniture craftsmen, the Bastille district now plays host to an entirely different scene: that of Paris' young and trendy in-crowd. Rue du Faubourg-St-Antoine has seen many restaurants and nightspots spring up and flourish. Neighboring Rue de Lappe is probably the place to be seen on an evening, while others prefer the buzz of Rue Oberkampf a little further north.
Paris' pleasure beach can be found here, between the Seine and the Place de la Bastille , where the imposing Opera Bastille stands. The Palais Omnisport de Paris-Bercy serves as the venue for a variety of sporting and musical events, which often sell out very quickly, so be warned! Located to the far west of the city, but still within its limits, the Bois de Vincennes is a wonderful place to wander, especially around the lake.
The easterly part of this district is known as "Chinatown," inhabited by numerous Chinese and Asian restaurants, shops and supermarkets. The Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library) has also taken up residence in this area, overlooking the Quai de la Gare on the Seine. To the west of the district, meander through the small village of Butte-aux-Cailles—an extraordinary find in the capital city.
Rue d'Alesia stands out for its array of clothing shops, while Parc Montsouris is arguably one of the most charming green spots in the city. The Cite Internationale, where international students reside, stands just opposite and is well worth a visit as it features architectural styles from all over the world. Finally, you can take a look at the Bronze Lion of Belfort or at Rodin's Balzac in Place Denfert-Rochereau.
Set along the banks of the Seine, the delightful Parc Andre-Citroën in this district was, of course, named in honor of the famous car manufacturer. A little further north, overlooking the river, you'll find Paris' skyline of skyscrapers peering down at a replica (or did this one come first?) of the Statue of Liberty.
There's no denying that this is the most fashionable district of Paris. The Trocadero offers a remarkable view of the city, as well as the Naval Museum ( Musee de la Marine ). Avenue Foch is destined to impress, as is Parc des Princes (Paris-Saint-Germain Stadium) . West of the ring road, roams the Bois de Boulogne forest, which although best avoided after dark, is a real delight during the day.
The Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (the Basilica of the Sacred Heart) is another must-see monument in the City of Light. Looking up at the basilica from the market below is sure to take your breath away (as will all the steps you have to climb to reach it!). A short walk from the Sacre-Coeur takes you to Place du Tertre , drenched in the atmosphere of "old Paris" which cannot fail to captivate, even if it is teeming with tourists. Rue des Abesses, with its trendy boutiques and bars, draws a hipper kind of crowd alongside the famous Pigalle area—Paris' former red light district, and home to a famous cabarets and bars.
The Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie (Science and Industry Museum) was designed as Paris' window into the world of science. The Buttes Chaumont —an area of natural parkland—is the ideal place for a relaxing walk or a picnic.
The most well-known cemetery in Paris, the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is the final resting place of many famous artists, and is one of the most visited sites in the city. Memories of Jim Morrison are obviously still very much alive as his tomb is permanently carpeted with flowers. While the young artsy crowds of the city tend to hang out further and further to the east of the city—mainly in the Bastille district which is rapidly surrendering to consumerism—this area has managed to hold on to its working-class origins, hence its charm.
If there's one word that symbolizes Paris, it is gastronomy. The French, always appreciative of the finer things in life, have a unique tradition of famous restaurants and great chefs. If you really love good food, you'll find true happiness here. The latest, most fashionable restaurants mix innovation with traditional culinary techniques to serve classic French cuisine that's full of unexpected flavors. The cafe-restaurants, which are the pride of Paris, fit into the gastronomic landscape better than ever, with their beautifully presented and affordable food. Paris, always so cosmopolitan, has also been enriched by exotic cuisines from the four corners of the earth.
In Paris, fine dining and great feasts (lasting up to three hours) are sacred, and the chefs in the most famous restaurants have turned their cuisine into a real art form. Paris features some of the most highly-praised restaurants and world-acclaimed chefs by International food critics, including the first arrondissement's Grand Vefour . Some other fine dining options can also be found in prestigious hotels, like Restaurant Le Meurice in the Meurice hotel. Combining touches of originality in both the food and design, the establishments of the Costes brothers are not to be missed. Cafe Costes was the first to set the trend quite a few years ago now. Highly popular during cocktail hours, notably among the business crowd, Fumoir is a comfortable lounge with leather coaches and an upscale restaurant, serving elaborate, traditional French food. The Pharamond , offers an extraordinary setting and a meal to match: its decor dates from 1832, proof, if any were needed, that Paris' tradition of exceptional gastronomy is still going strong.
If you're looking for pastries, the oldest pâtisserie in Paris is Pâtisserie Stohrer , carrying deserts and sweets fit for a queen. A bustling area for Sunday brunch is on Rue Montorgueil, notably Au Rocher de Cancale , which is completely packed after noon.
After a stroll in the narrow streets of Île-Saint-Louis, head to the oldest ice-cream artisan in the city, Berthillon . With more than 60 different flavors, their all-natural ice creams will enchant the whole family. The most exquisite include Caramel Beurre Sale (caramel and salted butter) and Cappucino. At one point in time it was very hard to find a Parisian restaurant that served brunch. That time is behind us now, and brunch has become so popular that, at some places, you will have to wait a quite a while for a table. Le Loir dans la Theière is definitely worth the wait. All pies, tarts, and pastries are hand-made and fresh, and prices are more than reasonable. For tea, Mariage Frères has the best reputation. As for nightlife, one of the hottest spots in Paris is Georges at the top of the Centre Pompidou.
5th & 6th Arrondissement
Tour d'Argent is one of Paris' culinary institutions, serving up dishes of worldwide renown.
Le Procope is decked out in the finest fashions of Paris' Annees Folles, and Ernest Hemingway finished "Le soleil se lève aussi" at the world renowned Closerie des Lilas . Parisians think of Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Flore as historic monuments just like the Eiffel Tower or Notre-Dame Cathedral . Visitors should make a point of visiting these historical establishments to truly soak up the atmosphere of the capital's glorious past; it's easy to imagine past celebrities and intellectuals dining in the luxurious period decor. If you're looking for authentic country bread, Poilâne bakery is the best bet. You will find the famous Tartines made with this bread (toasted with cheese, vegetables, or prosciutto) at numerous cafes in the city. What is a good meal without an espresso in the end? Something is definitely missing–notably the chocolate served with it. The French are chocolate connoisseurs and you can find some chocolate artisans throughout the city, like the Maison du Chocolat that imports chocolate from Switzerland and Belgium.
The 8th arrondissement is home to some of the finest restaurants in France, with Pierre Gagnaire voted one of the best restaurants in the world by the British magazine Restaurant, and the oft-celebrated Restaurant Alain Ducasse situated in Plaza Athenee Hotel . Maxim's is a veritable institution devoted to classic French cuisine, and another excellent yet expensive spot is Taillevent , which has wines that cost as much as a dress from Chanel. Paris has numerous fashionable spots where you go to see and be seen. Most of these restaurants have chic and trendy interiors designed by popular architects. For fashionistas and celeb-watching addicts, L'Avenue , located on the prestigious avenue Montaigne where many famous designers have boutiques, is an ideal spot. For flavored and rare types of mustard and vinegar, the first established Boutique Maille is the best bet, and Hediard and Fauchon stock some of the world's finest specialty foods. For desert, don't miss Maison de la Truffe for first rate truffles, and Haagen-Dazs for it's world-renowned flavors. For the best macaroons (a kind of soft cookie filled with cream) in town, head to Laduree , a house that has been established since 1862.
A new trend arose in Paris as an alternative to cafes and bistros serving a rich food: healthy soup and juice bars. With an increasing number of vegetarians previously not having many dining options, they rapidly became a success. The soup and juice bar Soup & Juice perfectly illustrates the phenomenon. People don't always have time to sit at lunch for hours anymore, and they may want a healthy alternative to the sandwich booths and bakeries. With a dozen of locations across the city, you can grab a healthy meal at very reasonable prices.
Brasseries began in the Alsace region, where the beer was actually brewed, so the tradition is that most brasseries (which literally means brewery), not only serve sauerkraut (an Alsatian specialty) but also seafood and shellfish such as scallops, oysters, mussels, clams, etc. The Brasserie Flo , located in a remote and quiet court in the 10th arrondissement, is a bargain for seafood lovers. The ingredients are extremely fresh and the decor reminds some patrons of Grandma's kitchen. Bistros are certainly the best value for price if you cannot afford the star-rated restaurants but still want to enjoy the best of French food. You can find many bistros and brasseries in the capital, serving the traditional Entrecôte (rib-eye steak) or Bavette à l'echalotte (flank steak dressed in a shallot reduction) with French Fries, the cheese or charcuterie plate (cooked meats), and chocolate mousse or caramel creme. Julien , with its Belle Époque decor, is a great place to sample the cuisine of a traditional brasserie à la française. If you're looking for seafood, La Marine offers a lovely dining experience alongside Saint-Martin Canal. For dessert, try Furet Tanrade , which offers exquisite chocolates in a cozy atmosphere.
When Bastille became a hip district for nightlife, the spotlight fell on the restaurant-bar-club, Sanz sans , which consistently draws a lively crowd of revelers. For traditional meals from the Auvergne region, head to La galoche d'Aurillac . Try one of the specialties like the Lentilles from Le Puy or the charcuterie plate—notably the Fricandeau (a kind of pâte typical from that region). The cheese plate is a must-have here, since they mature the cheeses in their cellar. Another classic brasserie is Petit Bofinger in Bastille, more affordable than the original Bofinger. Chez Paul is one of the best bistros in Paris, but make sure to arrive early or be prepared to wait up to one hour for a table. The Bar à Soupes in Bastille is a charming place for healthy cuisine, and for oysters and shellfish, a great option is the Bar à Huîtres , an oyster bar in Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
Cheese is to France what tea is to England; it is part of the national identity. There are more than 300 varieties of cheeses coming from various regions of the country. Neighborhood farmer's markets are the best places to sample and buy all the kinds of cheese you can imagine and probably some you didn't know existed. Choose from fresh, creamy, or dry goat cheese, soft and milky Camembert, creamy Brie de Meaux, strong Munster or Époisses, and full-flavored Roquefort. The Aligre Market is without a doubt the largest and the most comprehensive market in the city.
Whether for sampling on site or souvenir shopping, wine is of course a must-have in France. You will find many wine shops in Paris, with an excellent selection of bottles coming from small French wineries or prestigious houses. The most widespread name in the city is Nicolas. The wine merchant has brown flagships all over the city and carries affordable ordinary wines and more elaborate vintages. All the sales associates are very professional and can give you good advice on wine and meal pairings. The wine bar, Bar à Vins Nicolas located alongside fashionable Cour Saint-Émilion in Bercy-Village is a great spot to sample the selection they carry.
Visitors should make a point of visiting several historical establishments to truly soak up the atmosphere of the capital's glorious past; it's easy to imagine past celebrities and intellectuals dining in the luxurious period decor. La Coupole offers all the splendor of Paris' Annees Folles, and if you look out at the terrace of the Dôme , you may even see the ghost of Jean Paul Sartre. After all, Paris is magical.
The Cafe de L'Homme offers an intimate dining experience behind its red curtains and warm wooden decor. Paris has countless fine specialty food stores, each only dedicated to one sort of delicacy. For caviar, go to Prunier .
17th & 18th Arrondissement
The Paradis du Fruit (literally "fruit's paradise") will enchant those in search of a perfect smoothie. Wepler is a well-established brasserie on place de Clichy.