Paris was once just a village that settled on the "Ile de la Cité" at the junction of the Seine's two branches, Paris has vastly expanded over the centuries, taking the surrounding villages under its wing and making them its own. Nowadays the City of Light - a name Paris earned during the age of the Enlightenment - is made up of several arrondissments or districts, numbered from 1 to 20 and logically ordered with the 1st in the centre and the others following on in a clockwise spiral. The differences are vast and varied between the districts, both in terms of populations and attractions, which together make up the multifaceted city we know and love.
1st: The Louvre with its impressive collection of paintings and sculptures attracts visitors from the world over, who often combine it with a stroll in the adjoining Tuileries gardens. Designers of haute couture, including Yves St-Laurent and Dior, have set up shop in Rue St-Honoré, just a short walk from the majestic Place Vendome, home to some of the finest jewellers in Paris. If luxury seems to be the prevailing feature in the 1st district, it has also accepted the Forum des Halles, the city's largest shopping centre.
2nd: With its little back streets harbouring galleries, cafes and boutiques, this district sets a typically Parisian scene. West of Rue Richelieu stands the theatre district where a dozen or so playhouses throng. The Bourse de Paris (Stock Exchange) draws its clientele from the surrounding business community, while in the Sentier district which is the home to internet companies and clothing manufacturers.
3rd: The Marais district prides itself on being one of the oldest and best preserved in Paris. In keeping with this yearning for yesteryear, the Musée Carnavalet charts the history of the capital. Scattered with trendy bars, cafés and stylish boutiques, the Marais has also become the Mecca of gay nightlife in Paris.
4th: Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque districts. Wander across the bridge opposite the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and you will drift onto the capital's two islands - Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint-Louis where a visit to the stunning Notre-Dame Cathedral is an absolute must. Back on the right bank, Place des Vosges, a beautiful old square lined with ancient buildings, is a wonderful witness to times gone by, while the Centre Pompidou of contemporary art confirms its resolutely futuristic outlook.
5th: This and the adjoining 6th district comprise the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter), bastion of student life and higher education in Paris. Within a 100m radius around the Panthéon you'll find some of the most prestigious schools and universities in all of France. The Jardin des Plantes, Paris' botanical gardens, is at once a calm and exotic place, and the Arènes de Lutèce (remains of a Roman amphitheatre) reminds us just how rich the history of Paris really is. You'll find the Museum of the Middle Ages in Cluny Square. As picturesque as you could possibly imagine, the quaysides double as an enthralling treasure trove of second-hand bookstalls. Come nightfall, the young crowds flock to Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue Mouffetard.
6th: Rue de Seine, de Buci, Mazarine and Dauphine, along with the whole area between Boulevard St-Germain and the River Seine itself, are wholeheartedly characteristic of the allure of Paris. Discover the little cafés and boutiques of the chic-intellectual district of St-Germain-des-Prés, and the bars and nightspots when the sun goes down. If on the other hand you want to escape, take some peaceful time out in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
7th: More commonly known as the "Quartier des ministres" (ministers' quarter), the 7th district also boasts some of Paris' most beautiful monuments - the Invalides burial site for Napoleon Bonaparte, the Eiffel Tower and the Champ de Mars - literally meaning "Field of Mars", this was originally a parade ground for cadets in the Ecole Militaire (Military Academy). Between Quai Voltaire and Rue de l'Université, dozens upon dozens of antique dealers entice you into their shops on the Carré Rive Gauche, and if you are in an artistic frame of mind, the spectacular Musée d'Orsay is well worth a browse.
8th: Naturally, any visit to has to start on the most beautiful avenue in the world - the fabulous Champs-Elysées - which extends from Place de l ‘Etoile down to the finishing post on Place de la Concorde. Also worth seeing is La Madeleine - a neoclassical church - and jogger's paradise, the Parc Monceau. Music lovers will find heaven in a shopping trip along Rue de Rome. Other places of interest include the Grand Palais and the Palais de la Découverte (Palace of Discovery), which makes the fascinating world of science accessible to all.
9th: Its impressive elegance makes the Opéra undeniably one of Paris' most exquisite monuments. You can take in the waxworks at Musée Grévin, and stroll through Nouvelles Athenes near the St-Georges metro, but this area is also characterized by large department stores, including Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.
10th: Running the entire length of the Canal St-Martin, the Quais de Valmy and de Jemappes extend either side of the water to provide one of the most delightful walks in Paris; from Rue du Temple to Place de Stalingrad you will pass many a lock and maybe the odd barge or two.
11th: Formerly the haunt of furniture craftsmen, the Bastille district now plays host to an entirely different scene: that of Paris' young and trendy in-crowd. Rue du Faubourg-St-Antoine has seen many a restaurant and nightspot spring up and flourish. Neighbouring Rue de Lappe is probably the place to be seen on an evening, while others prefer the buzz of Rue Oberkampf a little further north.
12th: Not to be missed is the promenade “plantée” also known as the Coulée Verte a 4.5km long elevated park, constructed on an abandoned 19th century railway viaduct. Place de la Bastille, where the imposing Opera Bastille stands. The Palais Omnisport de Paris-Bercy serves as the venue for a variety of sporting and musical events, which often sell out very quickly, so be warned! And the Bercy Village. Located to the far west of the city, but still within its limits, the Bois de Vincennes is a wonderful place to wander, especially around the lake.
13th: The easterly part of this district is known as "Chinatown", inhabited by numerous Chinese and Asian restaurants, shops and supermarkets. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library) has also taken up residence in this area, overlooking the Quai de la Gare on the Seine. To the west of the district, meander through the small village of La Butte-aux-Cailles - an extraordinary find in the capital city. By way of contrast, but all within the same district, Place d'Italie boasts one of the biggest cinema screens in all of Europe.
14th: Rue Alésia stands out for its array of clothing shops, while Parc Montsouris is arguably one of the most charming green spots in the city. The international city university stands just opposite and is well worth a visit as it features architectural styles from all over the world. Finally, you can take a look at the Bronze Lion of Belfort in Place Denfert-Rochereau.
15th: Set along the banks of the Seine, the delightful André Citroën Park in this district was, of course, named in honour of the famous car manufacturer, while a little further north, overlooking the river, you'll find Paris' skyline of skyscrapers peering down at a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the Ile des Cygnes.
16th: There's no denying that this is the most fashionable district of Paris. The Trocadéro offers a remarkable view of the city, as well as the Musée national de la Marine (naval museum) and the Musée de l'Homme (ethnology) in the southern wing, the Cité de l ‘Architecture et du Patrimoine, including the Musée national des Monuments Français (French monuments), in the eastern wing. Avenue Foch is destined to impress, as is the Parc des Princes. West of the ring road, roams the Bois de Boulogne a real delight during the day.
18th: The Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (the Basilica of the Sacred Heart) is another must-see monument in the City of Light. Looking up at the basilica from the market below is sure to take your breath away. A short walk from the Sacré-Coeur takes you to Place du Tertre, drenched in the atmosphere of "old Paris" which cannot fail to captivate, even if it is teeming with tourists. Rue des Abbesses, with its trendy boutiques and bars, draws a hipper kind of crowd alongside the famous Pigalle area - Paris' red light district, and home to a famous nightlife of cabarets and bars.
19th: The Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (City of Science and Industry) was designed as Paris' window into the world of science. Not to forget the Cité de la Musique that harbours a collection of musical instruments, works oart and scale models covering four centuries of the history of Western music and presenting an overview of the main musical cultures throughout the world. The Buttes Chaumont - an area of natural parkland - is the ideal place for a relaxing walk.
20th: The most well-known cemetery in Paris, the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is the final resting place of many famous artists, and is one of the most visited sites in the city. Memories of Jim Morrison are obviously still very much alive as his tomb is permanently carpeted with flowers. While the young artsy crowds of the city tend to hang out further and further to the east of the city - mainly in the Bastille district which is rapidly surrendering to consumerism - this area has managed to hold on to its working-class origins, hence its charm.