Over the past two weeks we’ve been exploring different neighborhoods in Paris. It’s easy to read a book or gain insight from someone on which district is the nicest or neatest. Ultimately you have to be there, see it for yourself, and truly engage to see which district is the right one for you. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing. We need to find a longer-term stay, and we’ve had some time to check out the neighborhoods and eliminate the ones we’re not interested in, while getting to know the ones we like a little better.
Here are the neighborhoods we like: The Marais (4th arrondissement), The Latin Quarter and surrounding areas (5th arrondissement), Saint Placide and Saint Germain des Pres (6th arrondissement), Montparnasse (14th arrondissement), and Montmartre (18th arrondissement). The places we would like to live in are the 4th, 5th or 14th. We would consider the 6th if it’s Saint Placide. Although we like the 6th, we like the Latin Quarter end of it better, where the Luxembourg Garden resides. The 18th is unique with its own charm, but it’s a little too far out from everything and we’d like to be more central.
The Marais is one of the oldest neighborhood in Paris, and has amazing architectural details. It is a popular area, especially on Sundays when most places are closed. The neighborhood has a large Jewish community presence, and happens to be the trendiest and gay-friendly areas around the city. Our current apartment is in the 3rd, which is also part of the Marais neighborhood. We like the 4th better because it just happens to be that different with its closer proximity to Hotel de Ville, Picasso Museum, Place des Vosges, many other shops and museums, and its close distance to the Seine. A bonus to us is that the selection of vegan food in the area seems to be vast compared to other districts, and there are many cute boutiques around for shopping. It’s nice to see something different and new other than the same name brands you’re used to in the states. Although I have seen a few known name stores such as American Apparel and UGG, there are more selections of both modern and vintage Parisian shops. In addition to the shopping, there are a wide selection of bars and restaurants on every block. The 4th is lively, but it has its own vibe. It’s busy but not so chaotic; however it tends to get crowded near the bigger shopping strip on rue de Rivoli.
The Latin Quarter was once under the Romans, and it received its name because of the people who once lived and worked there had spoken Latin. Today, the neighborhood is part college town. It is home to College de France and the Sorbonne (also known as the University of Paris). The streets are filled with fashionable college students toting around book bags and lap tops–something really different from the University of Washington. Away from the academic areas, towards Saint Michel and rue de la Hutchette, are many book stores, shops, restaurants, pubs and bars. It’s lively and touristy, and it’s the one place where you’ll have restaurants competing with one another for your business. You can’t walk by any restaurant without being harassed to eat there. The peer-pressure is on, so be ready if you’re in the area near the strip of Morrocan, Mexican, Italian and French restaurants. But aside from these restaurants, there are many cheap eats around and some interesting places to check out. One in particular is the Roman ruins. We have yet to check this out, as we’re waiting for a warmer day. Another cool thing to note is that Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was filmed near the Pantheon and Place de la Contrescarpe. Remember when the main character Gil Pender was magically whisked away in the carriage for the nights of his life, meeting authors he idolized from the past?
We almost got a place next to this site, but it didn’t work out! Maybe it worked out for the best, because we may have found a potential place in the 4th that’s just as nice and quieter. Nevertheless, the 5th is definitely a cool place. We keep finding ourselves back there!
I probably liked the 6th arrondissement more the last time I visited Paris, but now that I’m back and living here, I’ve had more time to explore the area and compare it to others. It’s definitely a great area for shopping and spending time at the cafes. Some great spots are the Luxembourg Garden, which separates the 5th and the 6th apart, and Le Bon Marche. The Bon Marche here is massive and luxurious. It has many big brand name stores inside, complete with restaurants, cafes, and wine bars. The place is elaborate and is worth a visit. Aside from all of this, there isn’t much for us to enjoy, as our food options here are limited, and I now tend to shy away from big name shopping anyway. However, there is one thing we really like about the 6th, and that is the Raspail Market on Sundays. The entire market is organic with plenty of vegan options. It gets really packed and busy, but it’s worth fending the crowd for fresh-squeezed orange juice, grabbing tasty vegan pastries, and checking out the plethora of unique stands selling a selection of herbs, superfoods, and other foods tailoring to both vegans and omnivores.
To our surprise, the 14th is pretty neat in its own way. We like it because of our own biases. This place has an organic bakery that sells the best baguettes in our opinions. On rue de Daguerre, there is an organic wine shop, and our new favorite chocolate shop ChocoLatitudes! Another fascinating site that resides in this district is Les Catacombes. I have been anxiously waiting to visit this infamous underground spot, but can’t decide if I want to venture down during the cold or when it’s hot and humid in the summer. Either way, we will be making a visit soon!
Montmartre is both artsy and quaint. Famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh lived here a long time ago. Both of us being Van Gogh’s admiring fans, we visited his old home and couldn’t believe we were standing in one of his stomping grounds. Walking around some more, we saw the old café he used to hang out at and imagined how things were back then. The neighborhood alone has the coolest looking homes and streets around. I was in awe every time I walked down the cobblestone streets. All on the highest neighborhood in Paris, there is a small vineyard, a cemetery, an artists’ drawing center, and an amazing view of the city. This offbeat district is home to the Moulin Rouge and the Basilique de Sacre Coeur, which are both very opposite extremes of cabaret dancers to the holy Roman Catholic Church. And since being the highest district of the city, the metro station here is also the lowest underground at 117 feet. Coming out of the station, there is a little bit of a stair climb that becomes windy, but you forget about it as you are distracted by the cool, funky wall art.
Each district is so different from one another. To live here you would have to feel each neighborhood out for yourself. It’s better to have first-hand experience so you know which district is best for you and your needs. The best part is that wherever you decide to reside in, it’s easy to hop neighborhoods by foot or metro. Of course the other issue is finding an apartment you like as well, which could be tricky; but if you’re torn between neighborhoods and can’t decide on one, perhaps base it on the apartment or living space you like the most. In the end, that is what we’re doing—we’re finding the best apartment that will work for us in the districts we like. Whichever apartment suits our needs and wins us over, that is the district we will be living in.