When planning a trip to the French capital or elsewhere in France, figuring out where to stay can be one of the hardest decisions you’ll have to make. Especially if it’s your first time traveling to Paris and you’re unfamiliar with the city, how is it possible to really make the right decision? This guide is designed to help you figure out where to stay in Paris, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
Instead, I walk you through some questions and considerations to make before you book, including budget, interests, mobility and accessibility issues, and more.
Please note that I don’t offer specific advice here on what particular hotels, B&Bs or other accommodations to book; databases like TripAdvisor and guides like Michelin do a much better job than I ever could at guiding you towards the best specific hotels and other places to stay in the city.
Instead, think of this as a primer that’ll help you narrow your choices in terms of accommodation types, areas to consider, how much public transportation you’re willing to use, and other factors. Then, once you do start looking at specific accommodations, you’ll be better informed and more able to make the right decisions for you and your co-travelers.
Start by taking the following steps:
1. Get familiar with Paris’ different neighborhoods and arrondissements.
The first step in any attempt to choose a place to stay is probably obvious: you’ll need to understand the city’s layout and gain a general sense of its main neighborhoods. Paris is an incredibly diverse, rich city with a “spiral” layout that can feel confusing and intimidating for first-time visitors.
To learn how the capital “works” and to get a sense of which neighborhoods are likely to best suit your budget, transportation needs, and interests, spend some time reading our complete guide to the 20 Paris arrondissements (districts). Whether you’re most drawn to the left bank or the right bank of the Seine, the Marais or Saint-Germain, this is an information-packed feature on navigating the city– and the key features/charms/downsides of every district.
Not only does it break down each of the city’s main neighborhoods and tell you what main attractions each holds; it also describes how close or far away they are from the city center, main transport links, how touristy or “local” they are, and relative costs of hotel stays and nearby restaurants. Especially for first-timers trying to figure out where to stay, it offers an excellent overview of each arrondissement and the micro-districts within them.
Note: As I point out in the full piece, almost every arrondissement and neighborhood has its quieter, more locally-oriented areas and ones catering more strongly to tourists. So don’t assume that everywhere in the Latin Quarter or nearby the Champs-Elysées will be noisy, crowded and full of “tourist traps”.
Even in the districts that attract the most touists, a quiet haven with excellent local bakeries and a genuine neighborhood feel might just be blocks away. This is why reading in-depth hotel and B&B reviews is so important (see more on that in point #6 below). They give you a more granular understanding of the “microneighborhood” a given hotel or other accomodations are based in.
2. Take realistic stock of your budget.
The second major step to take before deciding where to stay is to take a systematic, careful account of your budget. Hotel rates and the cost of eating out (and even supermarket baskets!) can vary considerably depending on where you stay in the capital. In my experience, the price of a simple cup of coffee can be up to 25 percent higher in upwardly mobile parts of the city (especially the western arrondissements) and areas with high tourist traffic.
Average meal costs can vary similarly, although you should keep in mind that trendy and in-demand restaurants in traditionally modest neighborhoods often still charge a pretty (Euro) penny.
Meanwhile, you can often significantly reduce the costs of hotels or catered apartment stays (including AirBnB or similar) by staying in areas that are further from the city center, in areas with fewer big-ticket tourist attractions, and in more residential spots (see point #1 on exploring Paris neighborhoods to help narrow your choices).
All of these factors should be taken into account when choosing an area to stay in. Also keep in mind that while self-catered apartments complete with kitchen areas can be more expensive than many hotels, you may save quite a bit of money on eating out by choosing them over traditional hotels. Plus, it can be fun and culturally enriching to shop at French markets and try your hand at cooking at your “home” away from home.
Create Your Travel Budget: I always recommend creating a spreadsheet with different categories (hotels/accommodations, getting around/travel, eating out/groceries, shopping, medications, etc.) and establishing how much you can comfortably afford spend on each category for each day of your visit (travel budget planners like this one are useful).
Once you’ve established how much you can spend per night on accommodations (and have narrowed a few areas in Paris where you’d ideally like to stay, run advanced searches for hotels, B&Bs or apartment rentals, specifying your maximum per-night rates and other essential criteria (family-friendly rooms, accessible facilities, breakfast included, kitchen facilities, etc).
Just one note of caution: as I learned the hard way, going for overly cheap accommodations in the capital can lead to some very unpleasant situations. Read my full guide on how to avoid bad hotels in Paris here.
3. Decide how much you want to eat out.
This point is strongly related to the last one, since many travelers on tight budgets find that renting a self-catered apartment with a kitchen is a clever way to cut way back on the cost of eating out. But even if your budget isn’t especially low, you may prefer to have some home-cooked meals rather than spend three meals a day navigating restaurants.
After all, it can be culturally enriching and stimulating to shop at farmer’s markets, explore oddly thrilling supermarket aisles lined with unfamiliar products, and try out new recipes in your vacation-kitchen. And as you probably know, cooking at “home” some of the time can cut back not only on costs, but also on calories, since restaurants are notorious for adding “secret” butter or oil to even apparently light dishes (Who can blame them, really?)
If the idea of cooking a few meals yourself while on vacation doesn’t make you cringe with fatigue and annoyance, consider staying in a self-catered apartment. I do recommend this option as a way to feel more culturally connected to the city– to experience, it on some level, as locals do. You can search for apartments and self-catered accommodations at TripAdvisor or via sites like AirBnB.
4. Decide how willing you are to use frequent public transportation.
Another factor to strongly consider when choosing an area to stay in (or a hotel) is how willing you are to take public transportation during your trip. For some travelers, staying somewhere central and within walking distance to popular attractions is essential. For others, the prospect of paying far less for accommodations in residential or less touristy areas is well worth the extra rides on the Metro, bus, tramway or RER (commuter-line trains) in Paris. And it can even be part of the whole cosmopolitan experience to learn how to use “le Metro”.
To get a clear sense of how far away your desired area or hotel is from the center or specific attractions in Paris, use the “Where to” widget at the RATP site (the Parisian transport authority).
You can also download public transportation maps, route maps and schedules for specific lines, which will all help you make the right decision around where to stay. Also make sure to read the next point about accessibility issues.
5. Consider mobility and accessibility issues.
Next, it’s crucial to take stock of how mobile you and your co-travelers are, and how accessible the hotel and general area you’ll be staying in are. Are you able to walk long distances, or will you need to rely heavily on Metro, bus, tram and/or taxi rides to get around?
Can you handle lots of stairs? Do you need to be in an area with lots of ramps and accessible streets, or nearby a metro station with elevators and ramps? Would you prefer to stay in an area close to a number of museums and other attractions that offer accessible visits?
Certain areas of Paris reflect more recent urban planning principles of accessibility for all, and thus feature more ramps, wide, accessible sidewalks without barriers, and crosswalks/lights with audio messages. Meanwhile, many areas of Paris feature landscapes that are difficult to navigate for people with limited mobility or those using wheelchairs: cobblestoned streets, narrow sidewalks, long flights of stairs in unexpected places, and inaccessible metro stations.
Also make sure to consider these questions when booking a hotel or other accommodations: does the property have an elevator? Are there other accessible or safety-related features within the hotel premises or in specific rooms (accessible bathrooms/toilets, showers with anti-slip surfaces, etc)?
Remember that many hotels in Paris, including three to five-star properties, lack elevators (or only have very narrow, old-fashioned ones that may not accommodate a wheelchair). Always vet potential accommodations properly before hitting the “book” button.
For a full guide to accessible attractions, transportation options, and free advice in Paris, see this page. You can also download a free guide (in English) to accessible Paris at this page.
6. Consider your tolerance for crowds, noise, and tourists.
Finally, when deciding where to hang your hat at the end of the day, think about how sensitive you are to noise, crowded conditions, and being around lots of other tourists. For some people, being at the “center of the action” is exciting and stimulating, and factors like noisy restaurants out on the sidewalk below your hotel or crowded conditions in nearby streets or metro stations won’t make you cringe. In fact, you’ll find it thrilling to have so many people-watching activities and popular attractions right at your doorstep.
For others, a vacation is meant to be about peace, quiet, and relaxation– at least at the end of a long day of adventuring. For these types, staying in quieter areas is paramount. And for many travelers (especially the more culturally curious among you) staying in areas full of tourist traps is out of the question: you’ll instead want to stay somewhere that offers a taste of local life and cultural exchange.
A tip: First, read through our full neighborhood and arrondissement guides to get a sense of which areas tend to be quieter, which are touristy and crowded, and which are less popular among tourists but transform into rowdy nightlife areas at night.
Then, once you’ve narrowed down some general areas to potentially stay in, I recommend you read in-depth reviews for each of the hotels, B&Bs or apartment rentals that interest you, using sites like TripAdvisor to filter the reviews for keywords such as noise, overcrowded restaurants nearby, or tourist traps.
Get a realistic sense of what the area is actually like through non-biased reviews from real travelers (and remember that hotels’ own websites or marketing materials will often use euphemisms like “colorful and lively” to describe what may be a noisy location).