Pieces of Paris
Who wouldn’t love a Parisian pied-à-terre? Ulrike Lemmin-woolfrey takes a look at the different districts and who they would suit
What is the vibe in each arrondissement and how far will your money go?
Paris. There are few cities in the world that conjure such romance. Few of us have walked along the boulevards not looking up at the butter-hued Haussmann buildings imagining ourselves living in a high-ceilinged, wooden-floored flat with a wrought-iron balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower, an inviting boulangerie on the corner, and a flower shop on the other. Or is your dream that of a higgledy-piggledy, crooked little place under the roof of a medieval house in the Latin Quarter with exposed beams, sloping floors and a skylight from where, if you stand on a stool, you can overlook the chimneyed rooftops of Paris?
We all have those dreams, but as with all dreams, unfortunately, there is a reality. And in Paris, it can be harsh when it comes to prices. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work and find a place that is perfect for you in the City of Light.
Neighbourhood watch First, a bit of background. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, starting around the Louvre with the 1st, the 2nd just to the north of it, then spiralling clockwise like a snail, with the first tight circle comprising the first eight arrondissements making up the true city centre. Then another half-loop consists of the 9th to the 11th on the north-side, or Rive Droit of the Seine, before the arrondissements increase dramatically in size and the 12th to the 20th form the outer ring.
Paris postcodes start with 75, so if you see an apartment advertised in an area starting with, say the postcode 94, this is not Paris proper, but a suburb outside the périphérique ring road. In Paris, the 75 is usually followed by a ‘0’ and then the number of the arrondissement, so the 17th, where I live, is 75017. The exception is the 16th, which is split into 75016 and 75116, just to confuse things.
Once you have a basic understanding of where each arrondissement is situated, you can start looking at the pros and cons of each area when it comes to realising your Parisian dream.
The large Haussmann apartments are mostly found in the centre and, very generally speaking, toward the west of the city, whereas medieval charm is more commonly found in the eastern inner loop.
If you aren’t used to apartment living, it can be hard to adjust. Noise comes in from the outside, but it also reaches from above; wooden floors are charming, but not very good at absorbing noise. Also, most apartments have rear windows onto a courtyard. These courtyards are like amplifiers, and not only will you hear people throwing things into the bins, but talking, shouting, making love, listening to music, practising their instruments and tending to crying babies. In short, you participate fully in Parisian life, and cannot get away from it.
Plus, not all Parisian buildings have lifts, so people will trample up the stairs. Living under the roof may be quieter, but if you go out a lot or have a pram to contend with, this might not suit you. Choose wisely.
So, which area is perfect for you? Factors to consider include work, schools, outdoor areas, and access to public transport, and budget. Trying to describe the advantages and disadvantages of each arrondissement would fill a book, so here is a shorter version of the areas, and what they promise.
Rue du Commerce in the 8th makes for great shopping The Marais is bustling with shops and bars