Learning to get your bearings easily in Paris and have a better idea of the layout of the capital
Here are some handy hints to help you find your bearings more easily in Paris and to get to know your way around the capital.
© Sarah Sergent
Paris is divided up into 17 large administrative districts : the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements have been grouped together to form a single Paris Centre arrondissement since 2020. Beginning at the centre of the city, they curl round in a clockwise direction like a snail shell. To find out which “arrondissement” you are in, you will find it on all the street signs.
© Henri Garat
You’ll find plans all over the city, on the main roads, at the entrance and inside metro stations and in bus shelters… There are detailed street maps, plans of the “arrondissement” or maps showing the public transport network. You can obtain free maps from the ticket offices in metro stations, in the department stores and at all the information centres of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau (the latter is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Russian!). You will also find paying maps of Paris in kiosks throughout the city, showing the details of Paris by arrondissement.
© Jacques Lebar
The Parisian road network is composed of major boulevards and avenues, generally wide and straight, and some very long roads, leading from the city centre towards the outlying districts, from which streets often fan out in a star formation. In among these main lines, the layout of the streets is a direct result of the development and transformation of the city throughout its history. The Right Bank (“rive droite”) refers to all the “arrondissements” north of the Seine River, and the Left Bank (“rive gauche”), to those south of the river. The main central thoroughfares can help you to get your bearings. They give you an idea of the main directions and cross the city at right angles, with, in one direction the boulevard de Sébastopol running north to south on the Right bank (north of the river), and extending along the Left bank (south of the river) by the boulevard Saint-Michel; and another running from east to west with the rue de Rivoli, on the Right bank, and the boulevard Saint-Germain, on the Left bank. The names of the streets are indicated on the corner of the buildings at each intersection.
© Coyau via Wikimedia Commons
As a general rule, numbering starts at the end nearest the river, that is, from the centre towards the outer areas, or from the east. Even numbers are found on one side of the street, odd numbers on the other.
© Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Bordered by 9 “arrondissements”, the Seine River flows from east to west and divides northern Paris (Right bank), from southern Paris (Left bank). It runs through the historical heart of Paris, around two islands: Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint-Louis. If you take a path along the banks of the Seine, you will come across most of the key sights in Paris: the Hôtel de Ville, Notre-Dame, Châtelet, Saint-Michel, the Louvre, Concorde, the Champs-Elysées, the Eiffel Tower and many more.
The major breakthroughs carried out by town-planner Haussmann serve to widen your field of vision, with the perspective often culminating in a monument or a square, giving you an indication as to the district you find yourself in. Monuments represent the major landmarks on the Parisian landscape. Specific sites mark the points of the compass: the Sacré Cœur for the north, the Montparnasse tower in the south, the Eiffel Tower for the west and the Bastille column in the east. In the square in front of Notre-Dame, the central point in Paris, a bronze plaque indicates the starting point from which all distances are measured in France.