Paris - Districts and Suburbs
Paris - Cafe Montorgueil © KovalenkovPetr / Bigstock.comOf course, everyone is familiar with Paris’s historic heritage, among the most famous in the world, its major tourist attractions and the harmony of its Hausmannian architecture that gives the city a picture postcard appearance; but less familiar are the many ‘villages’ that make up the city’s 20 arrondissements, which are little more than administrative areas.
These village-like districts each have a specific atmosphere, their own identity forged by local communities, history, the customs of local residents, or new development projects. Coexisting within the same arrondissement are crowded spots, residential areas, trendy districts and very ‘popular’ places, famous parks and secret green spaces, internationally renowned museums and unusual places to visit. Paris is indeed a city with a historic centre and major attractions, but above all, it is an ensemble of districts all with exciting things to discover and outskirts that are undergoing major development. Here is a snapshot of the spirit and diversity that each arrondissement conveys, and especially of each of the separate parts of which they are made up.
The 1st arrondissement of Paris is a perfect introduction to the subject. Packed with history it is a lively district with magnificent monuments appreciated by architecture enthusiasts and other curious passers-by. Alongside the Seine is the Louvre Museum and its surprising glass pyramid, the splendid Tuileries Gardens, the Conciergerie, Sainte Chapelle, and other more unusual places like the photogenic Palais-Royal metro entrance and Buren Columns in the Palais Royal gardens. There are also landmark sites here including the Place Vendôme and Place Dauphine, the Pont Neuf, the Square du Vert-Galant jutting out onto the Seine and Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois church.
The arrondissement is also home to many cultural sites; in addition to the classic and historic Comédie Française and Louvre Museum, more specialist museums show great exhibitions, like the Forum des Images, a centre for cinema and audiovisual arts, the Musées des Arts Décoratifs or the Musée en herbe – a museum specially adapted for children.
The arrondissement is packed with splendid historic hotels like the Meurice, the Ritz, the Burgundy and the Westin, where even if you are not staying there, you can always go and admire the buildings or stop by for a drink!
Tourists and fashionistas love the designer boutiques and luxury jewellers along Rue Saint-Honoré and around Place Vendôme. The Palais-Royal gardens are lined with the Montpensier and de Valois galleries, which house numerous renowned crafts people and designers. More affordable, the Rue de Rivoli and the Forum des Halles are also popular with shoppers looking for international fashion stores.
Several major projects have or are going to transform this historic district. After 5 years of renovation work, the Forum des Halles district inaugurated its new look in 2016. A glass and steel 14-metre-high structure, titled the ‘Canopée’, covers a central patio and houses 127 shops and restaurants, cultural facilities and a community centre. The new Forum and the Canopée open westwards on to the Nelson-Mandela garden, comprising several play areas for children. This has been a big makeover for the historic ‘Belly of Paris’; Les Halles was once a huge market that provided the capital and the region with fresh produce. Today, some historic addresses recall its past, such as the brasserie Le Pied de Cochon, where you can enjoy a bowl of onion soup at any time of day or night, or Chez La Vieille, where in the past workers from Les Halles would come to eat.
Similarly, the historic La Samaritaine department store is being completely transformed by Japanese architects Sejima and Nishizawo. In 2020, it will house a luxury hotel, the ‘Cheval Blanc’, with72 bedrooms and suites with a view of the Seine, a cultural space, a restaurant with a landscaped terrace and shops.
Also in the midst of transformation, the Bourse de Commerce will have the vocation of presenting a programme of themed exhibitions of works from the Collection Pinault, monographs dedicated to major artists, specific commissions, carte blanche and in situ projects.
Finally, in spring 2020, the 18th-century building of the former main Post Office in Rue Louvre will become a luxury hotel with 82 bedrooms and two restaurants including one on the terrace, and shops.
At the heart of the city’s smallest and richly diverse arrondissement, the bustling Montorgueil shopping district borders the 1st arrondissement, in the Les Halles area. In the eponymous pedestrianized street as well as in Rue Montmartre and small perpendicular streets (d’Argout, Mandar, Léopold Bellan, Greneta, Saint-Sauveur, etc.), trendy boutiques rub shoulders with grocery shops, tailors, wine merchants, trendy bars and good places to eat.
Even Rue Saint-Denis, known especially as being a prime spot for prostitution, is being transformed and becoming gentrified, as can be seen by the number of fashion shops that have recently opened. This arrondissement also boasts the largest number of period covered arcades (11, including Galerie Vivienne, Passage du Grand-Cerf, Galerie Colbert, Passage Choiseul, Passage des Panoramas, etc.), with sublime architecture and original shops. New conceptual gourmet addresses in keeping with the times are constantly opening in the Passage des Panoramas where they blend in well between shops of the period, craft shops and shops for collectors of old postcards, coins, autographs and stamps.
Nearby, the area around the Bourse has its share of good and attractive traditional brasseries and is popular with foodies.
The main Japanese district straddling the 1st and 2nd arrondissements, along Rue Sainte-Anne, between the metro stations Opéra, Palais Royal and Bourse, is a major draw for fans and the simply curious from all over Paris. With its typical Japanese food canteens, single-dish addresses (gyozas, ramen, tempura, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, udon, sushi, as well as bookshops, craft shops and grocery stores, it is delightful and exotic.
As for the trendy Sentier district, it is gradually abandoning its past as a historical textile stronghold and seeing its factories, workshops and wholesale clothing stores replaced by fashionable hotels, designer bars, start-ups, co-working spaces and contemporary restaurants. The narrow streets that link the Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle in the north to the Rue Saint-Denis in the east, the Rue Réaumur to the south and the Rue Montmartre to the west now form a four-sided shape that has earned the district the nickname of ‘ Silicon Sentier’.
Finally, two mythical concert halls host performances in wonderful period decor: the Théâtre de L'Opéra-Comique, adorned with gilt, devoted to operettas, and the Rex, whose art deco auditorium is a listed historical monument, and which shows films or shows in a unique setting.
Also called the Haut-Marais, the 3rd arrondissement is a trendy enclave of arty galleries, health-food canteens and trendy boutiques. Art lovers hang out in modern galleries and at the Musée Picasso, which exhibits many works in a splendid 17th century mansion. There are also several other major but less well known museums here, such as the Musée des Arts et Métiers, a must-see for lovers of scientific history, the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, the Musée Carnavalet (temporarily closed) dedicated to the history of Paris and the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme. The Gaîté-Lyrique cultural centre offers an insight into the digital arts and contemporary music. After 7 years of renovation work, the great hall of the Carreau du Temple reopened to the public in 2014. This former market hall dating from 1863 houses companies related to the world of fashion, food and contemporary art which means there is a wide range of events throughout the year such as fashion shows, shows, concerts and free activities.
The Rue de Bretagne and Rue Charlot leading to the lovely Square du Temple public garden are some of the most bobo streets in Paris. And the Rue de Bretagne, with its old market, town hall, gastronomic shops of all kinds, cultural sites and cafes, is Parisian picture postcard perfect. Two great places to soak up the ambiance of this micro district are The Café Charlot for an expresso on the terrace, and the lively, partially covered, Enfants Rouges market for Sunday brunch at one of the caterers’ stalls. This food market, the oldest in the capital, is the place where locals come to buy fresh produce, and where people come to from all over Paris to eat at the delicious cosmopolitan food corners and have a drink.
In contrast to all this trendiness, the Rue au Maire and its surroundings, often nicknamed the ‘Chinese Path’ or ‘Little Whenzou’, is a small piece of China parachuted into the middle of the Marais. Less well known than its counterparts in the 13th and Belleville, it is nevertheless the oldest Chinatown in Paris and a great place to experience exotic specialities in a very authentic atmosphere.
Although this arrondissement has no parks, it is full of secret little spots, hidden away and full of charm, like the rose garden in Square Saint-Gilles du Grand Veneur, behind buildings, or the Anne Frank garden, within the
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme. Another gem of a place is the Passage de l’Ancre, a charming paved passage with coloured facades.