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Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

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San Francisco...
posts: 102
Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

I have read many posts on this forum and spoken to a friend from Paris who recommended that we should rent an apt. in the Marais for our first visit to Paris. We are in our 50s and interested in both contemporary and historic art, as well as historic architecture. I saw a video online of the 4th Arr. and the the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, and it looks too crowded for our taste. So, I have several questions:

1) Is the Haut Marais (specifically near the Rue du Temple and Rue Pastourelle) a safe and central area with nice bistros, interesting historic architecture, etc, but less busy and crowded than the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois area?

2) I'm confused if there is a big difference between the left vs right bank. I assume it's not as different as Manhattan vs Brooklyn and not as far from each other? Is there a significant difference in the "flavor" of the left and right bank? We are also considering the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area or the Latin Quarter, so would appreciate feedback about those neighborhoods (how crowded, safe, central, historic architecture, bistros, etc.).

3) We are also considering staying in the Ile Saint-Louis, which looks very charming, but would like to know if it is too isolated and if it is an easy walk to restaurants, bistros, etc?

Thanks in advance!

Paris, France
posts: 23,187
reviews: 33
1. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

There is no real difference between the right and left bank. The right bank covers two thirds of Paris and the left bank is the last third. 80 years ago, the left bank was considered to be countercultural and funky (even though the terms did not exist yet), simply because the Sorbonne was there.

You can find super expensive areas on both banks, and cheap areas on both banks. There is nowhere Inside the Paris city limits that can be considered "unsafe". Naturally, one should never leave their street smarts at home.

Paris, France
posts: 23,187
reviews: 33
2. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

Oh, regarding Ile Saint Louis, I consider it to be a totally overpriced tourist ghetto, but lots of tourists love love love it... and I like the tourist ghetto in certain other cities, so I will not cast a stone.

New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Key West
posts: 26,971
reviews: 42
3. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

For visitors to Paris it's not so much which bank but the proximity to the river near the Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame. This puts you within easy walking distance of the Louvre and d'Orsay, the Luxembourg and Tuelleries Gardens, St Chappel, the Ile St Louis and the Marais. And you always have the bonus of being able to stroll along the river in the morning and especially at night when everything is lit up. The Vedetted du Pont Neuf, a Seine river cruise, leaves from the Ile de la Cite.

We stay on the Left bank in the 6th and there are enough cafes and restaurants in the area that we could have dinner around there every night if we liked. And we always spend one or two days exploring the marais, just the areas you mention, even having dinner there if we want.

And staying on the Ile St Louis would just as convenient as on either bank near the river.

hth

Pjk

Paris, France
posts: 4,704
reviews: 111
4. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

What kerouac said, with these additions:

1) Yes

2) Yes

3) Yes

However, much depends on the location of the hotel or apartment, as one end of the street may be teeming with bars, and the other end quiet. Rue des Francs-Bourgeois is a zoo, basically an outdoor suburban shopping mall. A lot of the Marais has gone this way, too - seems this is what people want. In addition, as in several other parts of Paris, a lot of this area is "pedestrian-ized" on the weekends. To top it off, the old Jewish quarter is open on Sundays, so there are a lot of people window-shopping. Rue du Temple is busy on weekends, rue Pastourelle is not so lively. The Marais is not for everyone, and apartments are usually cheaper, but not always the best choice.

You will find "historic architecture" right up against modern monstrosities as well as re-constructions from the 1860's through the 1930's, pretty much anywhere in Paris. Parts of the Quartier Latin, the Marais and the two Islands feature lots of Medieval architecture, but the trade-off is the high rate of tourist crowds and associated businesses. The Islands have become similar to the Marais, in terms of weekend activity.

If you would feel more comfortable among people of a similar background to your own - as do many first-time visitors - you would do best to concentrate your search in the usual tourist areas, and just deal with the crowds. Many first-time visitors are also more comfortable staying in hotels, rather than hunting and gathering their own food and supplies - so proximity to markets, etc. might not be a big concern. The usual tourist areas are 1,2,3,4,6,7,8 - again, much depends on the actual Street View. Hope this helps.

Los Angeles
Destination Expert
for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
posts: 10,260
reviews: 87
5. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

If you found the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois to be too crowded, then I'm afraid much of Latin Quarter will feel even more crowded. Paris is a compact city with millions of people living in it, so all the major streets would about as crowded as Francs-Bourgeois (which is not a huge boulevard). Side streets just off Francs-Bourgeois might be more to your liking (and there are lots of apartments in that area). The closer to the river, though, the more crowded it is, so being in upper Marais might be more appealing to you (or lower 5th or eastern 5 or lower 6th).

The 16th is much less crowded. It is upscale (we find it entirely too quiet for our taste) but has lots of wonderful architecture, but not as old as in LeMarais, where you will find places like this:

…wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Hotel-…

whose details, up close, are wonderful. Or places like this:

…wordpress.com/2012/07/archives-rue-des-arch…

or

…staticflickr.com/5227/5602840121_7bebec910d…

(We're staying on that last street...just one month to go!)

Latin Quarter has *amazing* architecture, but it is very bustling and crowded and its architecture attracts thousands of tourists. You will rarely see gothic details up close as you can on Église Saint-Séverin:

www.emporis.com/images/show/571080-Large.jpg

(That picture barely does it justice - there are so many smaller details around the base of the Church, it's just amazing). But right in the middle of Tourist Central.

All places you are considering have so many wonderful restaurants you won't get around to them all (I keep a database, mostly of suggestions here, but from food blogs too, and I have 300 restaurants mostly in the 4, 5, 6th arrondissements; we've gotten around to about 30 of them over several trips). I keep adding more every week, really. You will be spoiled for choice in any of the areas you're considering.

So it isn't really the number of the arrondissement, but the actual neighborhood and street you'd be on. Bastille area (12th and nearby 11th) is also wonderful - although lots of broader avenues which have traffic, if that's what you mean by busy.

I'm just not sure what you might mean by crowded, if Francs-Bourgeois appears that way to you (more open space? fewer people?) Not sure how to advise you to achieve that. You could hardly find a more beautiful area than Francs-Bourgeois, here is a picture:

http://medieval.mrugala.net/Architecture/France,_Paris/Paris,%20Rue%20des%20Francs-Bourgeois,%20Maison%20medievale%20(3).jpg

Yes, there are lots of people walking out and about. We stayed on Rue Pecquay, nearby Francs-Bourgeois, and there was virtually no one on the street (but a crowded street, Rambuteau, nearby) and a great number of parties on the weekends (despite the few people on the street, the apartments were inexpensive and occupied by happy young people - probably the noisiest stay we had in Paris).

Some people on these forums have found lovely apartments set back from the street (facing courtyards) in Bastille.

But if you really want a staid environment (we had a hard time finding an open restaurant on a Sunday - but of course there were some), try the 16th. I'm sure others will have other ideas but you will need neighborhood (not arrondissement) suggestions, as every arrondissement in Paris is packed with housing and people.

Edited: 2:12 pm, November 15, 2013
Los Angeles
Destination Expert
for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
posts: 10,260
reviews: 87
6. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

P.S. About Ile Saint-Louis.

Far quieter than many other places - so perhaps what you're looking for. But, then you want to know if it's too isolated. Well, you can't have "quiet" and expect the place to be right in the middle of things. It is a short walk to either bank.

We stayed there last trip (for a week) and we have no plans to revisit Ile Saint-Louis. We like bustle and we like street views with people walking on them. Ile was very quiet. The restaurants on the Ile are more than adequate and it has its boulanger, its fromagerie, etc. There are still plenty of people on its main streets, but on the streets overlooking the Seine, it's very quiet - local residents and a few tourists, and the passing boats. Very few cars. It is not old architecture (well, it is old by California standards, not by Parisians ones). It is an island, so way less traffic than on a longer street. But we did feel isolated and though it was a short walk to LeMarais, it was a further walk to the parts of LeMarais that we really love to walk in and we saw everything there was to see on Ile on our first day...

San Francisco...
posts: 102
7. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

Thanks for all of your input. I live in the city of San Francisco, grew up in the much bigger city of Philadelphia, and have spent lots of time in NY. So, I understand busy cities and I like proximities to galleries, museums, restaurants, markets, etc. What I don't want is wall-to-wall people which is what I saw in the video of Rue des Francs-Bourgeois and what pattyinparis describes as a zoo. I also don't think I want to stay in Ile Saint Louis if it is can be a "totally overpriced tourist ghetto" as kerouac2 describes. So, I don't want to be too far out of the way, but also don't want to be in the midst of an overly touristy area. For example, I would never recommend for anyone who visits San Francisco to stay near Fisherman's Wharf. Still trying to figure out the neighborhood for us that will have the unique feel of Paris without the "zoo-ish" feeling of wall-to-wall tourists; maybe I just need to find a less busy side street in upper Marais, unless someone else has other recommendations.

New Jersey
Destination Expert
for Key West
posts: 26,971
reviews: 42
8. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

It's a shame that you have been mis-lead about the Ile St. Louis.

Pjk

Denver, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Paris, Denver
posts: 4,598
reviews: 17
9. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

I think St. Louis is more of a pleasant quiet "sleeping neigborhood" in the middle of the city, rather than an "overpriced tourist trap"....

Personally, i find it kind of judgemental to pick neigbhorhoods based on who lives/visits there. I would focus on finding the right hotel, that has convinient access to the attractions - trust me, the rest will fall in place.

You are not going to avoid tourists in one of the most visited cities in the world. And, since Paris is a real, living city with lots of history, most neighborhoods will have a "unique feel of Paris"...

Paris, France
Destination Expert
for Paris, Loire Valley
posts: 16,874
reviews: 4
10. Re: Confused where to stay and left vs right bank

If there is a bad place to stay in Paris, I have not yet found it. Each location has its own advantages and drawbacks. I shouldn´t overly analyze a hotel or its location. It´s only one piece of the vacation puzzle. Wherever it is you stay, I am sure you will find it special.