Does Paris have a center? The answer is not really! What’s known as ”Paris intra-muros” – everything within the main péripherique, which is most of arrondissements 1-20 – is considered central by most Parisians.
However, if you’re new to the French capital, and keen to discover the city’s most historic neighbourhoods, then yes, perhaps there is a center to Paris. Unfortunately, this ”center” is so replete with historical sites, monuments and cultural addresses that we’ve had to split this article in two. Read on to find out about the best things to see and do in arrondissements 1-3:
The 1st arrondissement
The Louvre Museum entrance
Bordering the River Seine’s Right Bank is the 1st arrondissement, the oldest part of Paris that dates back to the Roman Empire. Despite being famously touristy and less residential, there’s a reason why people visit this district more than any other.
Its historic landmarks include the likes of the Louvre (the world’s largest museum and home of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa), the Tuileries gardens and the magnificent Palais Royal (the residence of Louis XIV before Versailles). The Sainte Chapelle church, with its beautiful stained glass windows and rich mosaics, is a unique showpiece of ”Rayonnant’ Gothic architecture.
But remember not to spend all your time as a tourist in the 1st arrondissement. Why not explore the Les Halles neighbourhood, which includes the Rue Montorgueil – a charming old cobbled street where shops, bars and restaurants run a seemingly non-stop operation. So here are our top picks for discovering the 1st in all its splendour:
The Louvre Museum (closed on Tuesdays, free on the first Sunday of each month)
The Orangerie Museum
Contains a collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintaings, including Monet’s stunning Water Lily murals
Enjoy a walk and picnic in the beautiful.
A former royal palace and prison where Marie Antoinette was incarcerated during the French Revolution
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The 2nd arrondissement
The Passage des Panoramas
Directly behind the 1st lies the 2nd arrondissement, a small commercial district that’s known for its mysterious covered passages: a series of 19th-Century shopping arcades, each with its own distinct character. The Passage des Panoramas – famously described in Émile Zola’s Nana – is the oldest of these magical passages. If you’re keen to stay somewhere a little less touristy that’s still within easy reach of the 1st arrondissement, then the 2nd is an ideal place to rent an apartment. Here’s our list of the top things to see and do:
1.) Discover the Passages Couverts (Passages des Panoramas, Galerie Vivienne, Passage Brady, and many more!)
2.) Visit the glorious Place des Victoires with its impressive statue in honour of Louis XIV
3.) Enjoy a drink at the neatly hidden Experimental Cocktail Club (Rue Saint-Sauveur)
4.) See a film at the Grand Rex – an historic club and movie theater on the Grands Boulevards
5.) Enjoy a taste of Japan at one of the exotic restaurants on the famous Rue Sainte-Anne
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The 3rd arrondissement
The Picasso Museum
Even smaller than its neighbour, the 2nd, the 3rd arrondissement covers the quieter part of the medieval Marais. It’s a more peaceful side to what is one of Paris’ most popular neighbourhoods, but still home to a number of important cultural addresses (and a collection of trendy concept stores, for the edgier among you!)
If you’re keen to stay in the Marais, but want to stay off the main tourist trail, the 3rd could be the place for you. Here’s our short list of recommendations for discovering the area:
The Picasso Museum (based in a recently restored hôtel particulier, the museum is dedicated to the life and works of the Spanish artist)
The Musée Carnavalet
Go on a journey through Paris’ tumultuous history via paintings, furniture and eccentric nicknacks
Check out the concept stores (shops that follow a specific theme) along the Rue de Turenne
If puppets and dolls float your boat, you can see over 400 of the things at the famous Musée de la Poupée!
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