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The Ultimate Guide To Paris: Everything You Need To Know

It’s difficult to say you’ve seen the world without seeing Paris. A city that often polarises travellers, Paris is still a place that holds many charms for both the newbie and seasoned nomad alike.

Classics such as the Eiffel Tower, River Seine and Louvre top many people’s wishlists and are grand in their own right, but Paris is a big city and offers so much more once you’ve got the tourist sights taken care of.

Countless cafes and fine dining spots, art galleries, street art, enclaves of different international cultures, and a sprawling maze of streets that hold numerous gems to stumble upon.

Not everyone leaves in love with Paris, but most everyone can’t resist the urge to at least come and see what it’s all about.


In This Guide


Map of Paris

As you’ve probably guessed, Paris is huge. And while its public transport network is excellent, where you base yourself will have a huge impact on your experience. Even just the feel of the streets is so different in each area, not to mention the style and price of the restaurants, the people, and the sights available.

In the map above I have outlined what I think are the seven best areas to stay in Paris. Each is unique, so think carefully before deciding where to book. Below I’ve helped you out with a little rundown of each neighbourhood (which Parisians call arrondissements), plus some suggestions on where to stay. Paris is intimidating for some, but follow my guidelines and you’ll be just fine (I promise!).


Where to Stay in Paris

Le Marais

Centre Pompidou, Le Marais

Made up of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements on the right bank in central Paris, Le Marais sits on the right bank of the Seine just across from Notre Dame (which still offers a breathtakingly beautiful view, despite the recent fire), and an easy walk to the Louvre Museum. This is the perfect place to stay if you want to experience Parisian romance as its best. One of the oldest parts of the city, it is full of cosy restaurants and independent galleries and boutiques housed in aristocratic looking mansions, surrounded by leafy green spaces. This is also where you will find some of Paris’ grandest hotels, and best boutique stays.

Start your exploration at Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, and home to the Maison Victor Hugo, where the author lived for many years and is now a small museum to his childhood and the writing of Les Miserables. For lunch make your way to Marché des Enfants Rouges, a covered market established in the 17th century that sells fresh produce and has some of the best and most affordable food in the city.

While Le Marais used to be the Jewish quarter, it is now an excellent place to stay if you want to discover the Parisian LGBTQ community, which took a foothold in the area in the 1980s. To discover the historic Jewish quarter, make your way to Rue des Rosiers, which is full of Jewish restaurants and quality vintage shops. For the best nightlife in the area head to La Mezcaleria for an eerie atmosphere and some of the most exotic cocktails in the city, the Labo for LGBTQ and Student nights, or RAIDD Bar for a decadent night out with gogo dancers and La Mensch for a bit of a fetish experience.

Other Things to see in Le Marais:

  • Centre Pompidou, a complex dedicated to modern art that houses a vast public library and a modern art collection.
  • Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, a 17th century Jesuit church with a sweeping stone interior and impressive chandeliers.
  • Jardin Anne Frank, a secluded garden named after the famous teenage victim of the Holocaust that offers an escape from the busy streets.
  • Le Carreau du Temple, a vintage clothing market that has been updated with boutiques, bars, restaurants and more.
  • Musee des Arts et Metiers, a science and technology museum housed in an old abbey.
  • Picasso Museum, featuring around 5,000 works by the artist as well as artworks from Picasso’s own collection by Cezanne, and Matisse.

Stay in Le Marais if you:

  • Want easy access to some of Paris’ most important sights.
  • Are looking for a vibrant and diverse nightlife, especially LGBTQ.
  • Are a fan of Les Miserables!

Where to Stay in Le Marais

For the Backpackers – Hotel Marais Home

While there aren’t any hostels in Le Marais, the Hotel Marais Home is an affordable basic hotel that is near the metro, and there is a great rooftop bar for socialising and getting to know other guests. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Jules and Jim

You’ll be grateful for the soundproofing in your room in this busy corner of Marais. Start the day with the great buffet breakfast, and finish the night with cocktails at the hotel bar. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Types – Hotel Dupond-Smith

This is affordable luxury in the heart of Paris. Notre Dame is right across the street, and you’ll be spitting distance to many other great sights as well. As well as enjoying classic French designed rooms, this luxury boutique hotel offers great views of the city, both from your room, and from the hotel’s cosy bar. Best rates here.


Bastille

Place de la Bastille

Famous for its role in France’s political history, Bastille is close to Le Marais, but quite a bit cheaper when it comes to accommodation. Any visit to the area needs to start with the Place de la Bastille, where the Bastille Prison stood until the end of the 18th century when it was stormed. The Genie de la Libertie on tip of the Colonne Juliet in the centre of the square was placed there to mark the 1830 Revolution. When you pass out of the Place, make your way through the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, one of Paris’ oldest passageways full of unique shops, to Place de la Nation.

L’Opera Bastille has a strong line up with shows, in particular ballet, if you are looking for a cultural night out. Seating 3,000 people, there are usually seats available at an affordable price. Before the show, take some time to explore the Promenade Plantee, a three-mile-long garden walkway built 10 metres above street level.

The area is full of great dining venues, such as Septime, and quality cocktail spots such as the Moonshiner and Badaboum. If you want something a bit more relaxing, head over to the Cat Café where you can mix coffee with some kitten cuddles. L’Atelier Charonne, otherwise known as the gypsy jazz bar, is also well worth a visit. The menu is limited, but go for the music.

Other Things to do in Bastille:

Stay in Bastille if you:

  • Are looking for an affordable stay in the heart of the city
  • Want to explore the history of the French Revolution
  • Want access to some of the best, but more affordable, bars in the city.

Where to Stay in Bastille

For the Backpackers – Bastille Hostel

Just half a kilometre from the Opera Bastille, the helpful staff here will help you plan your trip in the area, and to the further reaches of Paris. Everything a backpacker should need. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Auberge Flora

This basic but clean hotel stands out because the owner runs a gourmet restaurant. At breakfast there is a choice between an express breakfast and full option. Grab tapas and drinks at any time, or reserve a gourmet dinner. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Types – Hotel Paris Bastille Boutet

This hotel maxes comfortable and stylish rooms with a spa centre and a heated swimming pool, not to mention prime location in the heart of Paris. Have the breakfast buffet or get it sent to your room, along with room service any time of day or night. Books out often so reserve early. Best rates here.


Oberkampf

Oberkampf, Paris

Oberkampf is another trendy neighbourhood with a vibrant nightlife, cocktail bars and foodie havens on every corner. Located in the northeastern corner of the city, it is a former working-class neighbourhood that has developed into a hipster haven full of young artists and cutting-edge music scene. Take in as much of the area as you can at once at the rooftop bar Le Perchoir, then head to Le Bataclan to see some top-draw international and local live music acts. End the night with some modern French tapas at Aux Deux Amis.

Away from the tourist throngs that can overrun Paris, there is also a lively West African community in the area, bringing with them their incredibly vibrant cultures. Expect to find an abundance of interesting shows and restaurants. If you are looking for some authentic cuisine, make L’Equateur your first stop.

If you are keen on vintage shopping, head to La Petite Fripe which is an institution and is regularly frequented by locals from across Paris.

Other Things to do in Oberkampf:

  • L’Alhambra, an art-deco inspired music hall played by many now-famous artists.
  • Eglise Saint-Ambroise, a small but beautiful church in the heart of the area.
  • Passage Brady, an old Parisian arcade that has become the Indian heart of the city full of restaurants and merchants.
  • Passage l’Homme, a 122-metre-long passageway that is a stretch of calm among Paris’ noisy streets.
  • Rue Denoyez, an alley way simply full, from floor to sky, with colourful street art.

Stay in Oberkampf if you:

  • Are looking to discover the trendiest side of Paris
  • Want to get off the tourist track
  • Are interested in discovering Paris’ West African community.

Where to Stay in Oberkampf

For the Backpackers – Les Piaules

Comfortable rooms designed for space and a 24 hour front desk, this is a great place to call home for the typical backpacker. It also features a great onsite bar (nice!). Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Absolut Hotel Paris Republique

Value for money with this no-frills but very comfortable mid range hotel. Get a view of the nearby canal from your room which is complemented by a 24 hour front desk and a great continental breakfast. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Types – Hotel des Metallos

A classic boutique hotel, French style. This designer hotel uses eco-friendly materials to provide comfort and peace of mind. The room offers you your own comfortable private space, but they also provide great communal areas. Best rates here.


Canal Saint-Martin

Canal Saint Martin

The neighbourhood surrounding the Canal Saint-Martin is full of charming strolls around the 200-year-old walkways and offers a slower pace of life than the rest of Paris. Full of cool restaurants and bars, you can get anything from a Mexican burrito from El Nopal, to modern Parisian cuisine at Philou. It is also full of organic wine and cheese stores and craft coffee shops that will appeal to any foodie. The area is also full of amazing shops centred on the rue Beaurepaire and rue de Marseille.

Take some time to get back to nature by making your way to Buttes-Chaumont Park, full of waterfalls, grottos and an Italian style temple. From here it is possible to rent a bike a cycle all the way up to La Villette.

Other Things to do in Canal Saint-Martin:

  • Galerie Made, a photography gallery showing a wide range of interesting exhibitions.
  • Galerie Wallworks, a gallery dedicated to graffiti, paint bombs, tags and drip painting, it explores street art in all its forms.
  • Le Cent Quatre, a large artistic centre displaying exhibitions, concerts, ballets and plays.
  • Le Point Ephemere, a former warehouse and artist’s squat that is now a place to get a drink while surrounded by changing exhibitions.

Stay in Canal Saint-Martin if you:

  • Are looking for a slower pace of life
  • Are an enthusiastic foodie
  • Are a fan of waterfalls and waterways.

Where to Stay Canal Saint-Martin

For the Backpackers – Peace and Love Hostel

A classic place that should please any budget-conscious traveller. Offering both private and shared accommodation, it has 24 hour reception and fantastic TV room, cooking facilities and terrace pub. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Garden Saint Martin

Lots of style, not too expensive. Overlook the canal from the hotel’s patio as you enjoy their top-notch continental breakfast. Refresh yourself after a long day with some particularly good bathroom facilities. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Types – Renaissance Paris Republique Hotel

This is where Parisian magic really comes to life. First indulge in your minir bar – stocked only with local French delights. Reception will offer you a free vintage bicycle to explore once you’re ready to set out about town. You will also have at your fingertips an onsite restaurant, bar and spa facilities. Enjoy their quality breakfast during the week, and brunch on weekends. French living at its best. Best rates here.


Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Place Saint-Michel, Paris

On the right side of the Seine right in the centre of Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Pres is one of the city’s most famous quarters. This is the intellectual heart of the city, favoured by a number of literary and artistic celebrities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is where Godard and Giacometti frequented cafes and chatted with Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The area still has an intellectual feel, full of bookshops, independent stores, boutiques and coffee shops. You can pass many hours just sitting outside a classic French café people watching and imbibing the inspiration. Make sure Les Deux Maggots is on your list of cafes. It may be a bit pricey, but it was regularly frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and even Julia Child.

If you are looking for green spaces, then head to the Jardin du Luxembourg, created in 1612 to resemble the Baboli gardens in Florence. If you prefer to spend the day shopping, then make your way to Le Bon Marche. In this grand department store you can browse luxury brands. When you get hungry, cross the street to La Grande Epicerie, the best grocery store in the city where you can pick up cheese, wine and pastries.

At night make your way to the Latin Quarter, where you will find a strong mix of pubs, bars and clubs, with surprisingly reasonable prices. There are some great restaurants in the area, but also some not so great, so follow recommendations. For a start, think about Le Procope, Paris’ oldest restaurant, or Brasserie Lipp, a Parisian institution since 1880.

Other Things to do in Saint-Germain-des-Pres:

  • Debauve and Gallais, the oldest chocolate shop in Paris!
  • Eglise Saint-Sulpice, a magnificent 17th century church with an impressive fountain and the only fresco pained by Delacroix.
  • Musee Delacroix, dedicated to the leader of the French Romantic movement in the 19th century, you can learn about the artist’s life, work and studio.
  • Musee de Luxembourg, the first French museum to open its doors to the public in the mid-18th century now showing a range of changing exhibitions.
  • Musee de Mineralogie, is one of the less famous museums in the city it dates back to the late 18th century and feels like stepping back in time.

Stay in Saint-Germain-des-Pres if you:

  • Are looking for intellectual inspiration in the city.
  • Enjoy passing the hours people watching over coffee or wine.
  • Enjoy a fun and affordable night out.

Where to Saint-Germain-des-Pres

For the Backpackers – Young and Happy Latin Quarter Hostel

A great affordable place to stay if you want to meet other nomads and be close to the Latin Quarter nightlife, which you can start in the hostel’s own excellent bar. Popular place. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Des Saints Peres

Located in a 17th century private home, as well as excellent rooms with room service, the hotel offers a lounge, dining room and garden area. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Types – Hotel Montalembert

Prepare yourself for some classic French 5 star hospitality. Located in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, you will find original artworks on your walls. Traditional breakfast served daily. Room service is available, but you will probably want to indulge in a gourmet meal in the hotel’s stylish restaurant. Not cheap, but worth every penny. Best rates here.


Champs-Elysees

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

While the busy streets of Champs-Elysees can be expensive, there is so much to see in the area such as the Arc de Triomphe and Grand Palais, and it on the doorstep of the Eiffel Tower. While climbing the Eiffel is often first on the list, it is also possible to climb the Arc de Triomphe for some impressive views of the city.

This is a posh and sophisticated area of the city that is full of museums and galleries that will occupy any art lover, and restaurants and bars that will satisfy any food connoisseur. It is also home to Paris’ most famous shopping street, Montaigne Avenue, and also the Marche President Wilson, one of the best produce and flower markets in the city. If you are looking for a more indulgent meal, then head to Café Lenotre, ca garden conservatory that serves some very good desserts.

Champs-Elysees is also close to the Invalides, a church, museum, and final resting place of the emperor Napoleon. It contrasts the impressive golden dome of the church with military cannons.

Other Things to see in Champs-Elysees:

  • Place de la Concorde, the place where King Louis XVI was executed and now home to an impressive Egyptian Obelisk.
  • Palais de Tokyo, a museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art.
  • Parc Monceau, one of Paris’ smaller but prettier parks, lined with statues and classical columns.
  • Petit Palais, just across the road from the Grand Palais, the two buildings were built for the Exhibition Universelle in 1900 and are still home to some fascinating sights.

Stay in Champs-Elysees if you:

  • Are interested in the posher side of Paris.
  • Have come to Paris to shop for major brands.
  • Are fascinated by the idea of the Exhibition Universelle.

Where to Stay in Champs-Elysees

For the Backpackers – Hotel Cervantes by Happyculture

While you won’t find any hostels in the area, there are a few good budget hotels, like this offering from Happyculture. Enjoy your private room, as well as the sites great lounge bar. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Buddha-Bar Hotel Paris

This five star hotel couples luxurious rooms with a fully equipped fitness centre and a bar serving some of the best cocktails in the city. If you are too tired to go out, get a great international meal in the hotel restaurant. And not tooooo expensive. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Types – Relais Christine

Tucked into a 17th century mansion, this boutique hotel offers a fitness centre and spa, as well as rooms with their own balconies, terraces or direct garden access. Gorgeous rooms. Start the day with their buffet breakfast, and order from 24 hour room service when needed. One of Paris’ best gets it a deserving 5 stars. Best rates here.


Montmartre

Montmartre

If you are looking for the quintessential Paris experience, then Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement, is the perfect choice. Montmartre is a maze of cobbled streets filled with cafes and bars that surround the impressive edifice that is Sacre-Coeur, which is not only one of the most beautiful basilicas in the city, but offers some of the best views of the city from its 130 metre high mount.

To discover the history that has given Montmartre its unique feel, start your journey at the Montmartre Museum and learn about the history of this bohemian corner of the city that was once a separate village occupied by many poor but talented artists. While there you can view original works by the likes of Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec and Willette. You can then discover more about the personalities that you encountered there with a trip to Montmartre Cemetery which is the final resting place of the lies of Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and Edgar Degas.

When you have had enough of the history and want to dive into contemporary Montmartre, pop into some of the area’s best restaurants, which are far from tourist traps, such as Soul Kitchen or Le Coq Rico. Then head out for some sophisticated drinks at La Famille, the rooftop bar at the Terras Hotel, or the intimate Bar a Bulles on top of the Moulin Rouge, where it is always worth seeing a show.

Other Things to see in Montmartre:

  • Espace Dali, a gallery dedicated some of the artist’s lesser known works that provide a new perspective on his talent.
  • Musee d’Art Naif Max Fourny, a lesser known museum dedicated to the contemporary Montmartre art scene.
  • Musee de la Vie Romantique, an art exhibition housed in a space once frequented by the likes of Chopin, Delacroix and Liszt.
  • Place du Tertre, is the ideal place to discover art on the streets as you pass canvases in progress and colourful stalls all tucked into historic cobbled streets.

Stay in Montmartre if you:

  • Are looking for classic Parisian charm.
  • Enjoy cosy cafes.
  • Are an inspiring artist looking to follow in the steps of some of the greats.

Where to Stay in Montmartre

For the Backpackers – Jacob’s Inn Hostel

The perfect communal hostel to make friends in Montmartre, start the day with their solid breakfast before walking to the Sacre-Coeur or Moulin Rouge. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Montmartre

Just 400 metres from the Sacre Coeur Basilica, this hotel offers studio style accommodation with fully equipped kitchens and great quality Wi-Fi at a great price. Best rates there.

For the Luxurious Types – Mercure Paris Montmartre Sacre Coeur

The Mercure in Paris is a solid choice for upper end living in Montmartre. Less than 300 metres from the Moulin Rouge, you can enjoy being at the centre of the action but still get a good night’s sleep with the hotel’s excellent soundproofing. Order room service, or eat and drink in the restaurant’s upscale bar. There is also an open-space coworking facility for those needing to work on the go. Best rates here.


Getting Around Paris

Fortunately, Paris is pretty easy to get around with its extensive and affordable system of metros, trains, trams and buses.

The Metro has around 300 stations connected by 300 kilometres of tracks, so it is easy to get within a few blocks of anywhere in the central areas. Metro trains run from 5am to 12.30am, and you should have no problem navigating them if you are accustomed to the London Underground, New York Subway or any other major city subway line. Lines are clearly marked, and there are maps everywhere you look. After 12.30am, there are night buses, or you can easily grab a relatively affordable Uber.

If you are a little bit further out, the RER trains are just as frequent, so it is easy to get into one of the major metro stations in just a few minutes.

All the transport lines are integrated and can be used with a single ticket. You can but a book of 10 single trip tickets (which cost 1.90 euros each at time of writing), or buy tickets that last one, two, three or five days. They are available at most stations. You can also get weekly or monthly tickets if you are staying in the city for an extended period of time. If you want to take the RER train outside of the city centre, you can buy a ticket which you will also be able to use on the metro, but it will cost a little more.

If you are flying in and out of Orly airport, you can get the RER B train line, which connects with the Metro. From the Orly RER stop, called Antony, you will need to get the airport shuttle train, the Orlyval, to your selected terminal. In total, the ride is about half an hour and trains leave every 10 minutes. The ticket, which you can then use on the Metro to get to your final destination, will cost about 12 euros.

The RER B train line also services Charles de Gaulle airport, leaving every 10 to 20 minutes from terminal 3 (the trains from terminal 1 and 2 do not go to the city centre) and takes about 50 minutes. Tickets cost 10 euros one way at time of writing. To get between the city and the airport between midnight and 5am, you will need to get the dedicated airport bus, which can take up to 80 minutes. Tickets cost about 11.50 euros and need to be purchased from the kiosk in advance. The bus leaves from all terminals.


Getting a SIM Card in Paris

You can easily pick up a pre-paid SIM card without the need for identification. If you are just looking for the basics, you can pick up a SIM card only from the likes of Lebara at any corner store and buy credit top ups of a GB or so at a time as needed.

If you are looking for a more comprehensive package, then pop into any of the carrier kiosks that are ubiquitous everywhere, including at the airport. You will see Orange, SFR and Bouygues. They all offer SIMs with about 10GB of data for 30 days, that you can use anywhere in Europe, that will set you back around 40 euros, at time of writing. There really is very little to distinguish between their prepaid packages targeted at tourists.


Safety in Paris

Paris is a pretty safe city, and you will likely feel completely safe walking the streets even in the middle of the night. Of course, like all big cities, it does have its rougher areas to be wary of.

Pickpockets work the streets, especially around the touristy areas, so it is a good idea to keep a close eye on your belongings, and be wary about handing your phone to a stranger to take a picture. Women also report pretty regular incidents of minor sexual harassment on the crowded Metro, so be mindful.

More violent crimes are rare, but keep an eye out for people who may have had too much to drink after dark. There are also quite a lot of protests in the city, which can be troublesome, especially if you get caught in the crossfire of a police response. If you see a protest, best to avoid.

While most areas of Paris are pretty safe to walk, even at night, it can be best to avoid Les Halles, Chatelet, Gare du Nord, Stalingrad and Jauras very late at night if you are alone, or when the streets appear empty. These areas have been known to harbour gang activity or to be the site of hate crimes. But again, use your common sense and you should be fine.

Paris has been in the press in recent years from some pretty terrible terror attacks. The sad fact is that terror attacks can happen anywhere at any time, and Paris is a target. Police and other government agencies have been beefing up their anti-terrorism activities, trying to increase safety.

We should never let fear stop us from enjoying what life has to offer, just be vigilant when need be. Enjoy Paris!


Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, featured