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Jan062018

The Paris Dream Trip (Part 3): Where to Stay

(This article is part 3 of 8 in The Paris Dream Trip)

Where to Stay

OK, OK, so you’ve decided on a trip to Paris, and you’ve figured out what time of year you want to go. (Wait! Did you skip that step? Go back and check out the When to Travel article!) But where on earth are you going to stay? What part of town? And what kind of digs?

It's complicated. Let's talk about it.
In this article, “where” means two things: 1) literally where—that is, the location in the city; and 2) the kind of place (hotel, Airbnb, highway underpass, etc.) where you’d like to shack up for a few nights.

Let’s start with the easy one.

Location.

Everyone knows that Paris is split into 20 arrondissements. (You didn’t know that? Let us fix that: Paris is split into 20 arrondissements. There, now you know.) They spiral out from the center like the shell of a snail:


The 20 arrondissements aren’t really that big. You could literally walk from the northernmost point of the 18th to the southern tip of the 13th in a few hours. How, you might wonder, could this be the entirety of the City of Light, a metropolis of 10 million people? The answer is that it’s not: the Paris urban region extends way, way beyond the 20 arrondissements. Those are the suburbs—places like Boulogne-Billancourt, Montrouge, Romainville, Aulnay-sous-bois, and more. There are sometimes reasons to go out to the suburbs, but there are also reasons not to venture into some of them (especially at night). Let’s just say that 999 times out of 1000, a tourist coming for a week in Paris will really want to stay in Paris, and not in a neighboring suburb.

How do you know when you’ve gone too far? The 20 arrondissements are all within a ring road (multilane highway) known as the périphérique (which the cool folks call the périf): you can check a hotel’s location on Google maps to make sure it’s inside that loop. You can also just look at the address of your lodging, where the zip code tells you a lot. All the Paris codes start with 750… If the code is 75001, you’re in the first arrondissement; if it’s 75002, you’re in the second. And so forth.

Now, you might have noticed the big blue gash running through the map of the arrondissements. That’s the river, the Seine. If you’re north of the Seine, you’re on the Right Bank (rive droite); south is the Left Bank (rive gauche).

Now we have our bearings: 20 arrondissements, all inside the périf, located either on the Left or Right Bank. Of course, that still leaves about 45 square miles of real estate to choose from.

Safety, Convenience, Price

The starting point is this: Paris is generally a very safe city. Sure, there are pickpockets at some of the Métro stations, and you might encounter sometime trying out the ring scam on you, but your chances of encountering something violent are far smaller than in most large US cities. (That said, I knew someone who was mugged at gunpoint in Paris—an almost unheard-of situation—so you do want to exercise normal caution.)

The maps below, from www.lebonbon.fr, show some statistical representations of violent crimes and vehicle thefts in the arrondissements, with rates per 1000 residents:


Don’t let the dark colors scare you: the numbers are pretty darned low. (The high incidence in arrondissements 1 and 8 are largely because they are heavily visited.)

Also, these maps lump together all the statistics for a given arrondissement, and in every arrondissement the neighborhoods vary widely. 

So let’s hazard a few general recommendations:

  1. Basically, arrondissements 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 constitute the tourist center of Paris. Most of the main museums and tourist sites are there. That means that it’s not a bad idea to stay somewhere close to those arrondissements.
  2. However, the innermost portions of those arrondissements may be so touristy that a) it’s unpleasant to stay there, b) there are few hotels in the area, and/or c) it’s crazy expensive.
  3. This means that you should strongly consider lodging located on the outskirts of that central core—which can easily include the 8th to the 11th, and even the first half of the outer ring arrondissements (12-20).
  4. When checking addresses, make sure you’re close to a Métro station—and ideally one of the big hubs, such as Montparnasse, Place d’Italie, Nation, République, Opéra.
  5. If you’re planning to do some shopping and cooking (for instance, if you’re renting an apartment), avoid anything that is too central: you’ll have a harder time finding markets.
  6. But don’t take anything too close to the old train stations (Gare Saint-Lazare, Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Gare d’Austerlitz, or Gare de Lyon). Some neighborhoods on the back side of the train stations get a bit seedy.
  7. Finally, keep an eye out for things that might be important to you. Want access to green space? Look for lodgings within walking distance of the parks—Luxembourg Gardens, the Buttes-Chaumont, the Parc Montsouris, or the Parc Monceau. Really interested in military history? Maybe stay close to Les Invalides. You get the picture.

As usual, you get what you pay for. If you’re desperate for a view of the river, you can get it—though you’ll pay through the nose. Staying just outside of the tourist hub is often quieter, more pleasant, and cheaper—and it will give you a better sense of what true Parisian living is like.

(Wait! You followed these recommendations, and you still had a major safety problem? Check our resources for Health and Safety in Paris—including police stations and police reports.)

Accommodations

What to choose? Hotels, Airbnb, couch-surfing, or what? And how do you tell the good from the bad, and the bad from the ugly? 

Well, first let’s weigh the options:

Advantages of a hotel:

  • May be cheaper for very short stays (no minimum number of nights, etc.).
  • A great deal of choice in location; somewhat reliable gamble for what you’re getting for your money.
  • Easier to get help with problems, or “how-to” guidance at the front desk.
  • Easy upon arrival (no need to wait in the street for a rental agent to show up, etc.).
  • May have additional services (breakfast room, laundry, etc.)
  • May have air conditioning (rather rare in mid-level hotels, but non-existent in apartments)
  • Typically has an elevator (often not true in apartment buildings).
  • Generally no really bad surprises (which occasionally befalls people with unscrupulous apartment rentals). (See how to avoid apartment rental scams)

Advantages of a rental:

  • A more “personal” connection to Paris—usually in a residential neighborhood.
  • Usually cheaper (especially for stays of a week or more).
  • Opportunity to cook your own meals (cheaper—and it gets you into open-air markets and supermarkets).
  • More comfortable “lounging” (no housekeeping trying to barge in)

No matter what you choose, do your homework! Keep in mind that Paris accommodations are typically much more compact than their US counterparts. If you’re tall or large, or if you just like a bit of space, be sure to get particulars on the size of the place. (In France people give measurements in square meters rather than square feet, but it’s about 10 square feet to a meter. If a studio apartment is smaller than 20 meters, it will be quite compact. An one-bedroom apartment of 35 square meters gives you enough room to swing a small cat (if you have one that needs swinging). A hotel room may be as small as 10 square meters.

Scrutinize the hotel or rental websites. If pictures aren’t available, ask for them. If reviews are available, read them. (However, read reviews with caution — see our article about What You Don’t Know about TripAdvisor.) Make your reservations by credit card, using a secure site. (For apartment rentals, make sure it’s an established agency—or that funds are escrowed by a site like Airbnb. Also, make sure you have verifiable contact information for the renter!) 

For the nitty gritty, jump to some of our other helpful articles:

Keep in mind that you’ll probably not be spending oodles of time inside, so you don’t need a palace. However, that romantic week in Paris can quickly lose its luster if the plumbing stinks or you’re sharing the kitchen with roaches. All in all, it’s not a bad idea to spend a tiny bit extra to make sure things are up to snuff. 

The good news is that you are now settled, and ready to move on to the next topic: How to Get About in Paris once you arrive!

Remember, this is Part Three of an eight-part article that includes:

  1. Introduction
  2. When to Travel What are the best times of year to travel to Paris? What days should you avoid? What holidays get in the way?
  3. Where to Stay What are the best/safest/most interesting neighborhoods? How can you identify a good hotel? What are the apartment rental options?
  4. How to Get About Just a quick primer on the public transportation (buses, métro, RER light rail, trams, Vélib bicycles, etc.)—how to use it and how to avoid problems.
  5. What to Do This is a big one! How do you handle the “must-sees” while also personalizing your experience? The task seems Herculean, but don’t worry; we have the secret key to happiness.
  6. Where to Eat  Everyone knows how to look up ratings on Trip Advisor, but be honest: would you really trust your brother-in-law’s recommendation for where to eat? We thought not. So why blindly follow the tips of the corn-fed public? We guide you from restaurant selections to specialty diets (gluten-free, vegetarian, and more!)
  7. How to Handle Daily Needs There are all those pesky realities: getting hold of cash, finding a doctor, reporting a crime, getting a haircut, recycling your wine bottle… This is the bin o’ answers.
  8.  How to Shop The capital is a shopping Mecca—even for those not wanting to drop a year’s salary on a pair of LV socks. Get hints on deals, sales, and more.

Secrets of Paris has hundreds of articles in its archive, and as we walk you through these main topics, be ready to hop on a link to one of our specialty articles.

Next item coming up: How to Get About!

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