After a year of podcast episodes and months of research for my new 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:
Now, starting with the worst arrondissement, in 20th place: (and by the way, all sketches below are orginals by @parisianpostcards, and feature in the guide book)…
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.
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 live 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
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.
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.
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 number 20 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.
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.
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 eat, but not to tick your tourist checklist. Top tourist spot: The Canal Saint-Martin, pictured below.
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.
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?
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 uninterrupted views of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero, and then there’s the brilliant Parc Monceau for when you need a breather.
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.
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 de Luxembourg, and picturesque backstreets like the Place de Furstenberg, pictured below.
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 fashionable 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 Saint Louis island, and also home to the longest stretch of the magnificent Philippe Auguste Wall you may have heard about recently….
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.
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 Paris island, find your inner Jason Bourne on the Pont Neuf bridge, and then meander through Palais Royale, pictured below, like Tom Cruise will in the upcoming Mission Impossible.
When you’re done with all that, blow your budget at the Ritz 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 Honore 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.
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…
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!
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.