Paris is crossed by the Seine river at its heart, the backbone of Paris, then divided into the Left and Right Bank (the Left to the south of the river, and the Right to the north) with the Cité island on the river at the very heart of the city.
Paris at night - Wikipedia
Paris has so many places to visit - from Le Marais to Saint Germain des Prés, from Les Champs Elysées to Rue de Rivoli, from Opera Garnier to Opéra Bastille, from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Sacré Coeur - you may feel overwhelmed and totally lost.
This is a short crash course of Paris, to help you get orientated!
Map of Paris [Click to Enlarge]
If you need help planning your trip to Paris, we will be happy to craft your daily Paris itineraries based on what you like, dislike, already know and want to visit. Please email us with your Paris wishlist!
Places to visit on the Left Bank in Paris (Rive Gauche)
The Eiffel Tower
On the Left Bank, the “rive gauche”, proudly stands the emblem of France: the Eiffel Tower. 'The Iron Lady', as she is also known, is right next to the River Seine and you can get a great view of the tower from Trocadéro Square on the opposite side of the river.
Behind this chic industrial monument, the dome of the Invalides rises up. Originally built as a hospital for soldiers and wounded veterans, nowadays it is one of the largest military museums in the world and the eternal resting place of some of the great warriors of France, such as the fierce Napoleon Bonaparte. Next to the Invalides is the world famous Musée d'Orsay and its impressionist painters gallery.
The Sorbonne University
Around the prestigious Paris-Sorbonne University, you will discover the Latin Quarter of Paris, “le quartier latin”. Home to famous schools and universities, the Latin Quarter is known for its cheaper lively bars, bistrots and cafés. The district took its name from the Latin language spoken by students in Paris in the Middle Ages.
The Luxembourg Gardens
The Luxembourg gardens were a favorite of the American writer Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Paris in the 1920s. Parisians flock to this lovely park when the sun comes out. You will enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings, be able to relax in the sun near the fountains. If you go along in the morning, you can watch or even participate in the open-air Tai Chi classes. There are often fiercely competitive tennis games going on on the tennis courts, and as you stroll through the park you'll be able to admire its statues and monuments.
Paris Left Bank Map & Main Landmarks
Numbers on the map refer to 'arrondissements' (Paris's neighborhoods)
Saint Michel boulevard
The Saint Michel boulevard runs from the Seine River to Saint Michel square. It is at the heart of the Latin Quarter and has a bustling student atmosphere.
Saint Germain district
Centered on the Saint Germain des Prés square and its church, the district of Saint Germain is a picturesque and lively part of Paris. You will explore the oldest street in the city, rue du chat qui pêche (the street of the cat who fishes), which is a crowded narrow street of restaurants, cafés and shops. Popular in the past with the painters, philosophers and politicians of Paris, nowadays the Saint Germain district is sophisticated, wealthy and known for its luxury shopping, art, antiques and nightlife.
The catacombs of Paris are former stone quarries created during the building of the capital. It's a whole other world that exists underneath Paris. When Paris was originally built, the stone used in its construction was extracted directly on site. The stone quarries still exist today and form a labyrinth beneath Paris. In the 18th century, these subterranean galleries were used as the catacombs of the capital. For over two centuries, deceased Parisians would be placed in the depths of Paris where they would rest for eternity. More than six million people were placed in the catacombs and then sealed within to avoid the spread of disease. The Paris catacombs have become an increasingly popular tourist attraction, and it's advisable to book tickets some time in advance to guarantee entry during your Paris trip.
Places to visit on the City Island in Paris (Ile de la Cité)
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Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral
On the Seine river, you'll discover the “Ile de la Cité” (City Island), where you'll find the dramatic Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, the muse of many stories and the protector of Esmeralda. There are several cathedrals all over France called 'Notre Dame Cathedral', which is why we add in the 'Notre Dame de Paris'. Its construction started in 1163 and took two centuries to complete. Ever since, the Notre Dame cathedral has witnessed the transformation of Paris.
Over time, robberies, accidents and demolition were recurrent. However, many unique events took place in this cathedral, including the coronation of Napoleon, and Joan of Arc's mother's supplications for her daughter’s return to reason. The Notre Dame de Paris cathedral offers an unobstructed view of the capital from the top of the towers, but the queue is extremely long. In our tours, we recommend a magnificent, alternative view of Paris with less waiting time and a great view over the Cathedral itself.
In April 2019, Notre Dame de Paris cathedral suffered extensive damage following a terrible fire. It will therefore be closed to the public for a number of years while reconstruction and restoration takes place. Here is our reaction to the Notre Dame fire, where we write about our optimism for Notre Dame's future.
Along with the Notre Dame cathedral, Sainte Chapelle church is a jewel of gothic architecture, with magnificent stained glass windows. Also built on the “Ile de la cité”, Sainte Chapelle was used as the place of worship for the royal family and the protector of precious relics. Referred to as the finest royal chapel of France, Sainte Chapelle was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. For those traveling to the Loire Valley on one of our tours, we will be happy to recommend totally off-the-beaten-track chapels which were modeled on Sainte Chapelle (only five of them remain in total).
Other places of interest on the Ile de la Cité
The charming Ile de la cité has much more to offer. The Conciergerie prison of the splendid former royal palace still exists. Nowadays the Ile de la cite is an important administrative and political center. The Palais de Justice (court of justice) and Hotel Dieu hospital were established on this natural island. You can also admire the Memorial des Martyrs de la Déportation which commemorates the victims of the deportation from Vichy to the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War.
Places to visit on the Right Bank in Paris (Rive Droite)
The Trocadéro, Champs Elysées and Arc de Triomphe
On the Right Bank (the “rive droite”) of the Seine river, go up to the Trocadero to discover the most amazing view of the Eiffel Tower. Follow the most famous luxury avenues to place de l'Etoile (star square) to be amazed by the Arc de Triomphe. Built by Napoleon in 1806, the Arc de Triomphe is a tribute to the French army. Under its arch, The Unknown Soldier killed during the Great War will rest for eternity. To have a stunning view of the Champs Elysées and part of Paris, you may like to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Walk down the Champs Elysees (Elysian Fields) and discover the haute couture of French fashion as well as famous jewelry brands, car brands, international clothing brands and food chains. Don’t expect to find any typical French styles there – this is more of a huge international avenue.
Place de la Concorde
At the very end of the Champs Elysées stands the Place de la Concorde. An Egyptian obelisk from the Temple of Ramses at Luxor rises at the center of the roundabout, commemorating the past glory of the French invasions. The Place de la Concorde was also the scene of bloody events especially during the days of the guillotine, where many died, including King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Robespierre and Danton.
Paris Right Bank Map & Main Landmarks
Numbers on the map are arrondissements
The Louvre and Tuileries Gardens
Walking through the pleasant Parc des Tuileries, you will arrive in the renowned Louvre museum and its three glass pyramids. Home of the mysterious Mona Lisa (la Joconde) by Leonardo Da Vinci, many other treasures are kept in this vast and magnificent monument. We will make it easier for you and provide a 1.5 hour overview of the Louvre for you, so you don't get lost among the 460,000 works of art!
Le Marais district
Along from the Louvre, walk under the arches of the Rivoli Street. Walking back along the Seine River, you will find the Hotel de Ville de Paris (Paris city hall). The Hotel de Ville of Paris is the gateway to the Le Marais district (the Marshes). This former aristocratic part of Paris is a lovely district to wander in, discovering the extravagant mansions, art galleries, Place des Vosges, the typical cafés, the designer clothes shops, the Jewish and gay communities etc. Named the “Old Paris”, Le Marais is a seductive district of Paris blending the charm of ancient times with the liveliness of today’s modern communities.
Les Grands Boulevards
The Grands Boulevards stretch from the east all the way to the Place de la Bastille in the west of Paris, and are built on the old walls of the capital. The surrounding streets encompass the commercial and financial district of Paris. Wander from the splendid department store Galeries Lafayette to the Opera Garnier, walk pass the Banque de France and stock exchange (Bourse) before exploring the luxury shops of Place Vendôme.
Canal Saint Martin
Built in 1825, the Canal Saint Martin was designed to create a shortcut to avoid the part of the Seine River around Paris. The Canal Saint Martin is a popular boating routes, as it's interesting to navigate along the various locks and bridges. Cruises on the Canal Saint Martin are also available to the public.
Follow in the steps of Amelie from the famous French movie, and climb the Montmartre hill to arrive at the footsteps of the white basilica, the Sacré Coeur. Sit and enjoy the breathtaking view over the whole city of Paris. Wander the narrow streets, discover the small restaurants and cartoonists on the streets. We will recommend a walking tour in Montmartre in the footsteps of a famous French painter, to avoid some of the tourist crowds.
Which places are on your Paris bucket list? Let us know and we will include these in your Paris itinerary!
Remember: the Seine river runs from East to West; so the Left Bank is South of the river and the Right Bank is North.
If you wish to get away from the bustling capital for a few days or go on a day trip from Paris, you can discover the equally beautiful other parts of France or simply the surroundings areas of the capital. We can add a stay in Paris to any of our itineraries.