If you are a first time or even a second or third time visitor, it is pretty easy not to understand the arrondissment concept. Paris, divided by the River Seine into the Right Bank and the Left Bank, is a city of about two million people living in 20 arrondissments, or districts, each with its own unique character. The 20 arrondissments are often referred to as snail shell, starting, with the 1st arrondissment, which is basically the geographic center of Paris. The remaining 19 arrondissments work in a clockwise spiral crossing the river twice. At each major intersection, there is a plaque on a building that indicates the arrondissment you are in. Paris zip codes also key you to the arrondissments. The last two digits indicate the arrondissment.
The Left Bank, with six of the 20 arrondissments, is a completely different beast from the Right Bank. On the Left Bank, strung along the River Seine you will find the 5th, 6th, and 7th (exclusive) arrondissments. Contiguous to these three are the 13th, 14th, and 15th.
On the Right Bank, there are 14 arrondissments. The 1st (least populated/Louvre), 2nd (primarily business), 3rd (historic Marais/Carnavalet Museum), and 4th (medieval Marais) are grouped clockwise tightly near the river. The 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th are above them in a semi circle. Finally above or north of this cluster, spread over a large clockwise semi-circle, are arrondissments 16th (richest), 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th. Take a look at the 751 “No-Go” zones in Paris here.
If you are committed to exploring the best Paris has to offer in terms of Palace hotels and high-end couture shopping, you will take up residence in the pricy 8th. In your early visits to Paris, consider confining yourself to districts one through eight. After many years and over a dozen trips, Debbie and I spend most of our time in the 6th and 7th arrondissments on the Left Bank, with the exception of our twice a year visit to our favorite hotel in the world Le Hotel Bristol in the 8th or the Shangri La in the 16th. Don’t forget, the 16th is next to the 8th.
There are no Palace hotels on the Left Bank. Le Hotel Lutetia, now closed for a complete overhaul, may carry a Palace designation when it reopens, perhaps next year. We have loved staying at the historic Lutetia and look forward to its reopening.
We also enjoy the laid back charm of the 6th and 7th arrondissments, where there are literally dozens of candidate hotels from which to select. Order a copy of The Little Black Book of Paris and turn to the chapter headed St. Germain/Rue du Bac. Make some initial selections and then do your homework on the Internet. Take your time and you will be in solid shape. None of the 751 “No-Go” zones in France is on the Left Bank, popular with American tourists fascinated by the “Lost Generation” of Hemingway, Picassso, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach.
Paris hotels are rated from one to five stars, as well as the select group of less than a dozen Right Bank Palace hotels, each more spectacular than the next. By way of comparison, our favorite American city, Boston, offers nothing remotely resembling a Parisian Palace hotel.
Perhaps there are nice selections in one and two star hotels, but I know you can uncover some great choices at three stars. A couple of helpful books I would advise ordering well before your trip are Parisian Chic City Guide and Bright Lights Paris. Do not miss either.
You may wish to hire a Paris expert guide to show you around Paris. We have used a number, especially for the Versailles, the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and walking tours of the Marais and Montmartre, for example. A David Lebovitz gastronomy tour of Paris and Lausanne was a highlight. On our most recent trip we worked with Jodie Hutchins on a tour through the Marais, but she will customize her tours to fit your needs. Enjoy your visit to the “The City of Light.”