Paris has many charms but being easy to navigate is not one of them. That being said, you will do just fine as long as you always carry a map with you. And there’s no need to be ashamed; even the locals carry them at all times. The secret? Put away that free map from the hotel or the tourist office and invest in a blue book under the title of Paris Pratique or Plan de Paris Par Arrondissement. Available in book shops and news stands, these little books contain a map of every arrondissement, including some of the tiny passages and streets in the nontouristy sections of town that may be missing from the free tourist map. Before you buy, make sure the edition contains a plan of the subway system and bus routes. And if your home is in one of the banlieue (suburban) communities, look for a slightly larger version that includes the communities near you.
Another option is to get a copy of Streetwise Paris, a laminated map available at W.H. Smith or from Amazon. This map is extremely durable, takes up less space in your bag, and it’s easier to use since you don’t have to flip through the pages to find your current location and destination. But it does not include the entire city, cutting off, for example, major parts of the 14th and 15th arrondissements. The risk? You may find yourself off the grid just when you need it most.
Tips for Navigating the Streets of Paris
Notre Dame is ground zero in Paris. The smallest numbers are closest to Seine and then go up. Take, for example, a very long street like the rue de Rivoli. Number 44 (Ben and Jerry’s) will be closer to Notre Dame than Number 226 (Angelina’s).
While streets have even numbers on one side and odd on the other, don’t expect number 30 to be across the street from number 31. If you look closely in the map book, you will see the street numbers listed in a fine red font at each intersection.
All subway stations have a map of the surrounding neighborhood (plan du quartier) posted on the wall in several locations, often on the platform and near any exits. In stations with multiple exits, the exits are numbered and you can consult the map to see where you will emerge at street level if you take exit 1 versus exit 2.
Remember that Paris is divided into 20 arrondissement (districts). Île de la Cité (where you’ll find Notre Dame) is in the 1st. From there the arrondissements are numbered in a spiral that begins just north of Île de la Cité, heads east, crosses the Seine, and then heads west. It’s confusing at first so just focus on finding street addresses. In time, knowing the number of the arrrondissement will help.
Everyone’s heard the terms “Left Bank” and “Right Bank” but what do they mean? Think of it this way. Stand in front of Notre Dame but with your back to the cathedral. Everything across the Seine River on your right hand side is referred to as the “Right Bank,” everything on your left is called the “Left Bank.” Why? Because that’s the direction the Seine flows to the sea.
How to Use a Paris Street Map (About.com)
Google Maps: Find an address anywhere in the world and get walking or driving directions from one location to another. All subway stations appear on the Paris map.
Mappy: An online tool like Google Maps (although for Europe only) with a few more bells and whistles; in French only