The top Paris arrondissements for tourists (ranked from worst to best)

After two years of podcast episodes and months of research for my Paris guide book (buy it here), I thought I’d rank all 20 Paris arrondissements from worst to best.

The criteria: The more things for a tourist to do, the better. Quite simple, really. And let’s be honest, you can’t ever really go too wrong in Paris. But you can maximise your time.

So let me stress it again: This is a list for tourists. If you’re looking for a place to live, a spot for butterfly collecting, or the top area for train spotting, then you’ve come to the wrong site.

And here’s the arrondissement map for reference:

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Now, starting with the worst arrondissement, in 20th place: (and by the way, all sketches below are originals by @parisianpostcards, and feature in the guide book)…

The top 20, starting with the worst

20. The 16th.

Yawn. Sorry, I fell asleep for a moment thinking about the 16th arrondissement. Sure, if you like seeing posh people with posh dogs at the end of posh leashes, then by all means head to the 16th. But otherwise, leave it as a place to retire if you’re wealthy. Top tourist spot: Rue de Passy for some people watching (see video below).

19. The 15th.

No offence, 15th fans, but this one’s pretty boring too. The top spot to check out is one of the ugliest buildings in Paris – the Montparnasse Tower – and you’ll only be going up there to see everything that’s essentially outside of the 15th. Top tourist spot: Montparnasse Tower.

18. The 17th.

Sure there are some cool spots to eat and drink, and a nice market or two, but if you’re a tourist and you find yourself trapped here, head immediately south to the elegance of the 8th or east for the charms of the 18th. Top tourist spot: The English gardens at Batignolles (where I was filming this morning, see below).

17. The 13th.

The Butte Aux Cailles neighbourhood is very lovely. And the street art is really cool. But if you’re a tourist – especially on your first trip to Paris – you’re going to be disappointed with the rest. Head north for the flaneur’s fifth. Top tourist spot: The Butte Aux Cailles.

16. The 11th.

Full disclaimer: I love the 11th. I lived there for God’s sake. But I wouldn’t take a tourist there, unless they were keen on seeing a quickly developing and interesting part of the city. You won’t find tourists here with their cameras out, nor models posing for their Instagram followers. You will find good food and coffee, but not many traditional tourists. Top tourist spot: Rue Oberkampf

Book cover

More info on The Earful’s guide book here.

The Top 15 arrondissements. Now it gets interesting

15. The 19th.

Yes, the Bassin de la Villette is lovely. And sure, it’s interesting to see how the up-and-coming 19th is changing every day. But don’t go there yet. If you want to see the sights, head closer to the centre of the city. Top tourist site: The Buttes Chaumont park, pictured below.

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14. The 20th

The delights of the 20th are endless, but perhaps not if you’re a tourist on your first visit to Paris. Plus you’re miles away from all the real action. Top tourist spot: The Pere Lachaise cemetery, pictured below, where Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf were laid to rest. For the top graves to find, click here.

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13. The 14th

If it wasn’t for the catacombs, one of the top tourist destinations in the whole world, this arrondissement would have ranked in last place on this list. There’s nothing amazing out there, not compared to the rest of the things on this list. But you’ve gotta see those catacombs, pictured below.

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12. The 12th.

This is an arrondissement that’s wonderful for the locals, but less flashy for the tourists. There’s some good outdoor activities like the elevated walkway or the Bois de Vincennes park, but you didn’t come to Paris for the parks, did you? Top tourist spot: The Train Bleu restaurant in the Gare du Lyon, pictured below.

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11. The 10th.

Call it trendy, call it a hipster haven, call it whatever you want, but don’t expect your tourist bus to go through the middle of it. This is a good place to explore and to dine in, but not to tick your checklist. Top tourist spot: The Canal Saint-Martin, pictured below.

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The top ten – now we’re really talking

10. The 9th.

OK, here we go with the top ten, starting with the ninth. Home to the stunning Palais Garnier if you like awesome architecture and opera (pictured below), home to the huge department stores with jaw-dropping views, and also home to the red-light Pigalle district if you want a little hot sauce with your dinner.

This is the coolest neighbourhood in Paris, at least according to recent Earful guest Caroline de Maigret.

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9. The 2nd

The smallest of all the arrondissements, yet home to so many treasures. You’ve got the Galeries Vivienne (and other covered passages), you’ve got the best street in the city (Rue Montorgueil, pictured below), and you’ve got more restaurants than you could poke a baguette at. How can you go wrong?

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8. The 8th.

Oh, the elegant eighth. You’ve got the Champs-Elysees – the most famous avenue in the whole world, leading up to the ever-impressive Arc de Triomphe, pictured below. There’s the breathtaking Grand and Petit Palais, you can find great views of the Eiffel Tower from along the river banks, and then there’s the brilliant Parc Monceau for when you need a breather.

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7. The 3rd.

The crooked, cobbled, curious streets of the historical third are exactly what many people think of when they dream about Paris. Secrets at every turn, interesting museums seemingly on every corner, and some of the best restaurants in town. There are chic models strutting down terrace-lined streets, antique markets, and top-notch speakeasy bars. There’s also a pretty cool hidden angel on Rue Turbigo, pictured below.

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6. The sixth

The sixth will take your breath away. End of story. And imagine how good the top five must be if this area didn’t even make the cut? The sixth is like the cradle of Paris. There are mind-explodingly beautiful churches, there’s the Jardin du Luxembourg, and picturesque backstreets like the Place de Furstenberg, pictured below.

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The Top Five – Brace yourselves, the rest may prove divisive.

5. The Historical 4th

Sneaking into the top five at fifth place, it’s the historical fourth. Can we just take a minute to appreciate the fourth arrondissement of Paris? It feels like every street of it holds either some kind of ancient secret – or new shop or restaurant or cafe worth popping into. This is the heart of the Marais district, home to the Notre Dame Cathedral, pictured below, part of the Ile de la Cité island, and also home to the longest stretch of the magnificent Philippe Auguste Wall you may have heard about on your favourite Paris podcast…

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4. The Artist’s 18th

It’s the 18th arrondissement, home to the famed Montmartre district where Picasso painted, Dali dallied, and Matisse made masterpieces. There’s also the Sacre-Coeur cathedral, pictured below, and the Moulin Rouge, each juggernauts on the tourist scene. Sure, you might get nearly decapitated by someone’s selfie stick, but it’s often worth it. When you’re done with all the main bits, stroll the cobbled streets of Montmartre and find a cafe terrace to watch the world go by. Yes, it can be touristy, but this is Paris as you’ve probably imagined it.

Bonus: Here’s a video from when it was snowing up there this winter.

Sacre Coeur

3. The Fancy First

The bullseye of Paris. Right in the middle and impossibly small. But with so, so much to do. Start off, obviously, with a trip to the Louvre museum to meet the lovely Mona Lisa. Then explore the Ile de la Cité island, find your inner Jason Bourne on the impressive Pont Neuf bridge, and then meander through Palais Royale, pictured below, like Tom Cruise the latest Mission Impossible movie.

When you’re done with all that, blow your budget at the Ritz Hotel for a night, or at least walk past it on the gobsmackingly elegant Place Vendome. Walk off the hangover the next morning on the nearby Rue Rivoli and Rue Saint Honoré for some of the best shopping in the city. Hint: Don’t do any of these things if you’re on a tight budget. Don’t even go inside the Ritz in case you accidentally buy a cocktail.

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2. The Tourist’s Seventh

Wowee, we’re at number two on the list, and it goes to the seventh. The 7th is heaven for the Paris tourist. You’ve got the most famous tourist attraction in the world, The Eiffel Tower, which is absolutely 100 percent worth climbing to the top. Get up there and take in the view, it really gives you some perspective on the city.

Take a coffee at one of the best brunch spots in the city, Coutume, then head along the banks of the stunning Seine River for the Musee D’Orsay which is as good as any other art museum on the planet. Want more culture? Pop over to the spend an afternoon at the Rodin Museum, then check out Napoleon’s tomb at the Invalides.

But, as great as the seventh is, it’s still not the best arrondissement for a tourist. That is…

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Number one: The Flaneur’s Fifth

Here it is, the fifth arrondissement, and it’s the top arrondissement for tourists – hands down. I call it the flaneur’s fifth, as a flaneur is someone who loves an aimless stroll, and there’s nowhere better to do it than here. This district is ideal for the history lovers among you – you can find the elegant Pantheon, the bustling Latin Quarter, and the impressive Arenes de Lutece (where gladiators fought in the 1st century).

Why not take a little stroll down the best walk in Paris on rue Mouffetard market street (see above) to soak up the Hemingway vibe, then head to the famed Shakespeare and Co bookshop, pictured below, and buy his book A Moveable Feast like everyone else does. It’s right there on the counter. Read it while sitting along the river Seine outside the bookshop or on a bench in the Jardin des Plantes.

This district is also the best to simply get lost in. Ditch the guide book, throw away your compass, and toss your cellphone in the river. Just get walking and discover it for yourself. Enjoy!

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So that’s it. The top 20. Do you agree? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

And let’s be honest, there are loads of things to do in each arrondissement. The Earful Tower’s new guide book ranks the top 150 things to do across all 20 arrondissements, and is jam packed with bar, restaurant, and hidden spot recommendations.

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13 thoughts on “The top Paris arrondissements for tourists (ranked from worst to best)

  1. Not bad, but I think the best is not the 5th for tourists, maybe for young people. I think the 4th is great, but the 1st and 2nd are my favorite for tourists, quite centralized.

  2. I know it’s a crazy difficult list and it’s impossible to please everyone at the same time… but I think it depends on the person… for many (like me) Canal St Denis and Buttes Chaumont are some of the top spots in Paris – way better than Champs Elysee!
    Cheers!

  3. I was a bit surprised by your choice for the 5th as #1. Any restaurant or shop away from the Seine was not tourist friendly. I think they prefer hosting the younger crowed. We headed immediately to the 6th. We toured all the places you mentioned in the Latin Quarter, but only return to Shakespeare & Co and nearby area.

  4. Interesting article as always Oliver 🙂 few errors spotted though : Trocadéro is in the 16th, not the 8th. Notre Dame is on île de la cité in the 1st (not île saint Louis in the 4th). As a Parisian I know you are provocative by ranking the 16th at the last position but I feel it does not deserve it : I would never send a tourist in the 20th or in the 12th where there is almost nothing for them, but I would definitely in the 16th, just for the view of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro or for the Palais de Tokyo, or for the interesting social experience of seing posh people with posh cars and posh dogs 🙂 have a good day!

    1. Hello Armani 🙂 You got me on the Trocadero mistake, which I’ve amended. And while I placed Notre Dame on the wrong island, it’s still in the fourth, not the first. Administratively, Ile de la Cité is both the 1st and the 4th, and if you look up the address on the official Notre Dame site you’ll see it’s in the fourth 🙂 As for the 12th/16th… this list will always prove decisive and I’ll reconsider it all the way through after I’ve spent another year here! Thanks for keeping an eagle eye on me, though!

      1. Oh yes Oliver you are right, Ile de la Cité is both in the 1st and in the 4th and Notre Dame is in the 4th! 🙂

  5. I guess you’re a left-winger for ranking 16th and 17th last haha. 17th is the most charming to me actually. It feels chic yet local unlike 8th and has lots of Haussmann buildings. 16th is posh and clean. 18th should be much lower because of how dirty and seedy it is. Montmartre is quite overrated too. 11th, 12th, 19th and 20th should be much lower.

  6. Also the Arc de Triomphe is shared between 8th, 16th and 17th with 16th having the biggest piece of the Etoile 🙂

  7. With 16th having Trocadero, part of the Arc de Triomphe, the Monet Museum, Palais de Tokyo, and the giant Bois de Boulogne, it definitely ranks above all those in spots #11-19 on your list. I assume when you wrote this, you didn’t know that 16th had any of these attractions (most likely mistaken for 8th) :).

  8. I live in the 20th. The 20th has exactly zip, nada, naught, rien for tourists so don’t even bother to come here.

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