When they choose the right neighbourhood, expat families looking for the authentic Parisian experience are rarely disappointed. With a little research, it is hard to go wrong. But just to make things even easier for you, we have talked to scores of relocating families about their choices, and have distilled pretty much all of their feedback below.
Most of Paris is terribly cosmopolitan, although like any large city, at times it can feel a bit “tribal”. What brings people together to create that feel? It is very rarely a nationality thing: you may find, here and there, high concentrations of Brits, Americans etc, but you will find no “expat bubbles” in Paris. So, just look for the usual things: good parks, transport, local amenities and international schools, and, as if by magic, you will have found an instant community of internationally-minded people from all cultures -- French included.
One piece of advice that is repeated time and again by Parisians, is to be ready to compromise on living space in order to be situated as close as possible to green spaces “where you can actually walk on the grass” (primly cordoned-off lawns don’t count)… and naturally, apart from considering your commute to work, check out exactly how you will be getting your little darlings off to school each day: actually rehearse the school run at peak times on a school day if you can.
Arriving in August?
Nothing is as it seems, and hopefully you will have had the chance to check your chosen neighbourhood out before everyone left for the beach. Without this you can’t possibly hope to have a true picture of your new surroundings: everything will change come the first of September, and you really won’t recognise the place.
The city, as you may well already know, is divided into twenty different arrondissements which spiral out numerically from the centre, in the manner of a snail’s shell. You will quickly get used to the shorthand: the 16th = 16e (or 16ème) in French. Postal codes for Paris are composed of an initial 75 (which denotes Paris) followed usually by a zero, plus two further digits indicating the arrondissement: 75005 is the fifth, and 75017 the seventeenth.
Below we give a brief, possibly-slightly-biased, sometimes colourful description of each arrondissement -- this is how anglophone parents actually living there are describing their neighbourhoods. GSGI reviewed school and those in the pipeline for a review are listed next to the appropriate arrondissement.
Wide-eyed tourists heading for the prime sights flock to Paris’s bull’s-eye, while cars, motorbikes and buses hurtle madly down the main arteries and careen around the free-for-all roundabouts. Hair-raising experiences to be had for the average pedestrian, probably explaining some of those dazed looks. Jardins des Tuileries offers limited entertainment options for the children. Most parts are deserted at night. It is expensive and those fortunate enough to live there only do so from Monday to Friday.
Lots of offices here, plus the Paris Stock Exchange and the National Library. Handy, central, some key cultural destinations but less of an identity as a place to live... empty streets at night, little community feeling.
One of the oldest Paris neighbourhoods, part of the Marais. Still very much the heart of the city, but quieter, though bustling, and a proper neighbourhood feel, if a little edgy. Gorgeous old mansions converted into flats, trendy shops and bars frequented by a lively eclectic bunch at night. Pedestrians have the upper hand on many streets, especially in the warmer months once the café scene starts picking up. Lack of green spaces might spoil it for young children.
Still in the Marais, but more highly regarded: an old and quaint neighbourhood where the feel is distinctly young, liberal, trendy. Gay actually, not to put too fine a point on it, although everyone will feel comfortable touring the restaurants and shops in this refreshingly laid-back part of town. Ancient treasures such as the rue des Rosiers (distinctly Jewish), the Ile St Louis and the Ile de la Cite. Again, scant choice of green spaces.
Known as the Latin quarter (the Sorbonne students spoke Latin amongst themselves in medieval times). Narrow winding streets and the predominance of students give this place the feel of a small old university town. St Michel is probably just a bit too “studenty” to feel right for a family, but down by the Jardin des Plantes is just fine. In fact, the Museum of Natural History is on the site of the Jardin des Plantes, so makes for a great “double-whammy” outing for children.
Rive Gauche (left bank), all time favourite of romantic Paris lovers. Bohemians and intellectuals have been squeezed out by the big money in this uber-smart neighbourhood. Posh boutiques, art galleries and expensive restaurants abound. Dare we call it a teensy bit self-conscious? Plenty of tourists and a little clichéd. That said, the Jardins du Luxembourg might just seal the deal for some families: it’s perfect for kids, though some of the brilliant facilities are pay-to-enter, and the whole place is just teeming at weekends.
We’ve swung full circle now and are back across the river from the 1st here, still feeling very central, what with the Eiffel tower, museums galore, Unesco headquarters, National Assembly, Ecole Militaire and whatnot. Who lives here? Some say it has an “old Catholic/American” flavour, others label it dismissively as “bourgeois”. It could be they’re jealous -- at any rate this area is favoured by the wealthy for its accessibility (metro, RER), and for its spacious, smart accommodation. Popular with expats, and close to a fair crop of international schools. However, your best green space is the Champ de Mars, which most mums agree is quite useless for kids.
So much more than the touristy headache that is the Champs Elysés… head east towards the Place de la Madeleine and you will find quiet leafy avenues with stylish flats and discreet offices behind 19th century façades of stately stone. Very well bred: here you get the Elysée Palace, haute couture boutiques on rue St Honoré, landmark hotels such as George V, Plaza Athénée and the legendary Crillon… residents say it’s a less “uppity” version of the 16th, but that might just be inverted snobbery. Rents are sky high as you might expect. Shares Parc Monceau with the 17th.
Here, large banks keep company with insurers, law offices and department stores, all benefiting from the wow factor of the Opéra Garnier. This is not a very residential district though, apart from a small section by St Georges and rue des Martyrs: here it is very pretty and the scene for eating out is very on-trend. Further north, the Pigalle spills into the 18th, which remains racy though not quite as hardcore as “back in the day”. You will also be pressed to find a patch of grass larger than your living room. All in all, perhaps not an obvious choice with young children?
Very multi-cultural, but considered just a little too “bustly” for families. A lot of traffic “passing through” with the Gare de l’Est and the Gare du Nord. Saving grace is the edgy Canal St Martin loved for its eclectic restaurants and cafés. This up and coming area has gained in popularity with a young crowd, but a 200 year old canal doesn't replace where children can let loose.
An interesting residential district, lively urban but noisy due to the Oberkampf’s famous night clubs, though unfortunately not best placed for international schools. Place de la Bastille and the New Opera are found here. A party destination and certainly not best placed for international schools.
A mostly pleasant residential neighbourhood, which has also retained many classic Parisian characteristics… although the huge Bercy stadium dominates its surroundings somewhat. Very handy for the Bois de Vincennes and its zoo, to the east, but again, not very well placed for international schools.
Paris's Chinatown, a destination for anyone starved of authentic oriental cooking (including Vietnamese) -- you won’t get the “real thing” anywhere else. Other than Chinatown, a load of high rise buildings; an eclectic mix but not particularly attractive.
A fat wedge of an arrondissement bordering on the stylish 6th and stretching out as far as the périphérique. Stick to the borders with the Latin Quarter at Montparnasse -- it has fewer modern buildings and a livelier community feel: shops, small businesses, cafés and restaurants. In general the parts to the south are less appealing, except for around the Montsouris park which is large and very pleasant for kids. The streets bordering the park are lovely for families. Good access to Orly airport.
Back to civilisation, especially the parts bordering on the 7th and the river (again, you probably don’t want to be in the outer reaches by the périphérique). This is where many families are happily ensconced. Feels like a cluster of mini neighbourhoods where people greet shopkeepers by name and vice versa: you’ll soon feel you belong here. Only blight, at first sight, is an apparent lack of large green spaces… but look closely: many small parks are tucked away behind apartment buildings. Also, there is George Brassens park on the southern limits and Parc André Citroën further to the west.
The Bois de Boulogne might be famed for its seedy night scene, but is perfect for children during the day. Trocadero is the business address in Paris. The 16th offers all this, plus some very exclusive living… towards the north (Henri Martin), mostly fur coats, facelifts and lapdogs with Dior collars: quite “bling”, if we’re honest. Towards the south (Auteuil), more family-oriented, still bourgeois but in a more understated Catholic way. “Huge swathes” are purely residential, complain some people, leaving little room for neighbourhood shops or restaurants. On the other hand, everyone agrees the 16th is great for accessibility to all points, and has a very good crop of international schools.
Lucky you, if you can get to live to the south & west, near the Arc de Triomphe and the exquisitely romantic Parc Monceau. Also in the 17th, the mini-neighbourhood of Batignolles (around a lovely leafy square) is extremely pretty and highly sought-after. The whole arrondissement is well situated for some of the famous bilingual schools, and prized for accessibility to parks, shopping and central Paris. Better family infrastructure than the 8th just to the south, whilst very nearly as smart, and with great public transport. If there’s one criticism, it’s that some areas are very quiet in the evenings -- which may work for you. Whatever your personal preferences though, you will probably want to avoid the area around Clichy.
Close by: Marymount (Neuilly)
Montmartre, Sacré Coeur and plenty of tourists: loved for its bohemian artsy vibe, beautiful views over Paris and its small village feel. Around the Barbès station, it becomes very working-class, largely populated by North African immigrants; a colourful melting pot but not really a top destination for open spaces and international schools though, unless you find somewhere to the west bordering with the 17th.
A bit of a trek from everywhere, and although traditionally working-class, it is rapidly becoming cosmopolitan. Increasingly popular with families, with plenty to entertain from the Cité des Sciences to the Parc de la Villette and the lovely Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Living School gets good testimonials from parents but only goes up to 9 yrs.
An interesting up-and-coming, trendy zone, affordable and lively although currently undergoing gentrification. Home to the world-famous Père-Lachaise cemetery and wonderful views over Paris but generally considered too outlying for expat families with young children.
So, to summarise, as an expat family with young children your most obvious choices in Paris are the 6th, 7th, 8th, 15th, 16th and 17th. None of our intra-muros expat friends living here regret their choice for a minute. They positively revel in the many riches that the city has to offer.
And a where to live outside Paris
Hauts-de-Seine: The Inner Suburbs (Petite Couronne)
Even the comparatively well-off in Paris are being nudged progressively outwards by soaring prices and/or changes in their circumstances and aspirations. Still, they need not move far in order to continue living in style, and in the process they are pushing up prices and generally « raising the tone » in the already very chic inner suburbs.
The following towns have very good metro, bus and RER links to the centre of Paris.
The area experienced a semblance of gentrification a few years ago with beautifully redeveloped parts, however, over development is threatening to strip away its charm.
This was traditionally a workers’ district at the end of the metro line. Just 25 minutes from Place de la Concorde, it has a nice town square and some fairly good local shopping (including Auchan) plus a large mall-style “centre commercial” in nearby Vélizy.
This is a fairly young community with lots of children, very close to the centre of Paris yet it offers a calming place for those left feeling over-stimulated by the bright lights. Handy for Orly Airport.
Nearest expat school is the Sections Internationales de Sèvres, but other communes are better placed for this school.
Slightly further out, Meudon has traditionally been a very green upper-class refuge from the city, sadly this seems to be changing in parts. Trains in to Montparnasse, or fifteen minutes to St Michel by RER. Overlooked on one side by a Benedictine Abbey and orphanage, and on the other by the Observatory. Few other old buildings remain, except the church and the medieval residence of Moliere’s wife.
Families come from far and wide to exercise and socialise at the Standard Athletic Club, on the edge of the forest. Especially popular with anglophones, it offers sports from home (eg cricket) and a organises fun events such as Guy Fawkes night.
Stick to the much prettier upper reaches, where the main street runs from the market to the forest. The lower end is a bit of a concrete jungle crossed by major roads. Lack of local shops and restaurants.
Although Meudon offers good French daycare and early years schooling (public maternelle and primaire), it is not particularly handy for any of the international schools to the west (although the respected Sections Internationales de Sevres is do-able from here).
Very pleasant, very upmarket, and very expensive. The perfect compromise between Paris intra-muros and the suburbs, especially when it comes to proximity to good schools.
Wide leafy avenues are lined with stunning 19th Century apartment buildings and dotted with charming parks and private or shared gardens. Commuting into Paris (ten minutes on the metro) or la Défense (another ten minutes’ hop across the river) is a cinch.
Two great parks make Neuilly a popular choice for young families: the Jardin d’Acclimatation is a children's wonderland with farm animals, monkey house, bumper cars, miniature train, pony rides and merry-go-rounds, plus a great fenced-off play area with plenty of apparatus. The Jardin de Bagatelle, a 15- minute walk from Pont de Neuilly metro station, is famous for its world-class roses. In spring, there are carpets of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, and in the summer, roses… plus live classical music.
The much-loved American Marymount School (note junior and middle school only) is here. Reasonable access to great schools in Paris 16th.
Shopping is either at the terribly stylish Neuilly Market or extremely expensive delis, La Défense Auchan or the Leclerc Hypermarket in Levallois-Perret. Two international hospitals are also to be found in Neuilly, the American Hospital and the British Hertford Hospital.
Metro Boulogne/Pont de St Cloud. The town is perched on a hillside and has lovely views over Paris, the Bois de Boulogne and the Parc de St Cloud. Halfway up the hill is the town centre, a compact network of narrow streets winding around the Romanesque church. Here, the usual characteristic patisseries and cafés can be found. Some streets have been pedestrianised, and there is plenty of parking space for what little traffic passes through the centre.
This is a place for young parents, school children and the elderly, many of whom seem to retain their distinctive Parisian “attitude”.
The main residential centre is not the prettiest, with rows of very modern apartment blocks, interspersed with older, red-brick private houses. The general feel is of a quiet dormitory town, well-served by roads, buses and rail.
Main pluses are the architectural marvel that is the Parc de St Cloud, dotted with charming places to eat (including the private Racing Club de France), and the American School of Paris (down the D907 on the border of St Cloud and Garches). Heading out of Paris, 15 minutes down the motorway is La- Celle-Saint-Cloud and the newish (2017) EIB de la Jonchere Primary.
Also Section Internationale Corneille in La Celle St Cloud.
For your big weekly shop, Suresnes, La Défense, Garches ,Vaucresson and Le Chesnay are close by.
Snuggling between St Cloud and Meudon. Sèvres is extremely popular with Brits, and it’s not because of the famous national museum of ceramics. No, the widely respected Sections Internationales de Sèvres is a very strong draw and thus this suburb, pleasant enough without being spectacular, is worth a very close look.
There’s a mix of architecture here, though none of it off-putting, great sporting and leisure facilities and, ceramics museums apart, quite a thriving cultural scene. The usual claims to impressionist-history fame, though the really big names such as Renoir seem to have given Sèvres a miss.
Well served by suburban train, metro, bus and tramway, links into Paris are made very easy from a variety of stations (Sèvres -- Rive Gauche into Montparnasse and Sèvres -- Ville d-Avray into St Lazare).
Well served by Paris metro. Line 10: Boulogne - Jean Jaurès or Boulogne - Pont de St Cloud.
Also line 9: Marcel Sembat, Billancourt or Pont de Sèvres.
Encircled by the Seine, this was once an important site for the automobile and aircraft industries. It is now densely populated and houses the head offices of major multi-nationals and smaller businesses from the service sector… and their families. Quite built-up in parts, with some striking green spaces and outdoor leisure centres: you do feel very much part of Paris here. More residential on the northern edges, around the town’s historical heart and bordering on the Bois de Boulogne.
Aesthetically speaking, Boulogne-Billancourt does suffer from a lack of architectural cohesion. Moving through the different quarters, you can find 19th and 20th century buildings vying with large and not very attractive apartment blocks, small brick houses being jostled by a number of “statement” homes of dubious 1930s design.
Still, nobody can take away its major pluses: great transport links, the Bois de Boulogne, and reasonable access to the choicest schools in Paris 16th. Open Sky International School is here, and just across the river is the Sections Internationales de Sèvres.
Outer Suburbs (Grande Couronne)
The Seine snakes it way further westwards through Yvelines, whose many “communes” (towns, villages, housing developments) have become home to literally thousands of expatriates. The main attraction is the choice of international schools, plus of course an increasingly favourable living-space-to-money ratio, and relative peace and quiet.
Versailles is the departmental town for the Yvelines, and makes for a lovely historical day out, but for schools (except for the Section Anglophone de Buc, which is in easy reach) pleasant surroundings and transport links, English-speaking families tend to cluster in the following towns:
A bustling, stylish town only 15 minutes on the RER from central Paris. Avenue Foch, passing in front of the quintessential town hall, is a reminder of the proximity of the capital.
In the quieter roads behind the station, life takes on a provincial rhythm. Young professionals cycle with studied insouciance past modern apartment buildings, stately villas and walled gardens.
Chatou caters well for its 30,000 inhabitants -- its libraries, sporting and cultural facilities and events render it totally self-sufficient for leisure, not to mention its restaurants and cafés.
Known as the “ville des impressionnistes”: across the flowery bridge is the restaurant where Renoir painted the Déjeuner des Canotiers, and the house where Alphonse Fournaise entertained Maupassant, Zola and Monet.
There is an excellent shopping area around the busy market square. Alternatively there is Carrefour at Montesson, 10 to 15 minutes away by car.
Handy access to various bilingual or international schools such as the Lycée International de Saint Germain-en-Laye American and British Sections, The British School of Paris or École Internationale Malherbe and École Perceval.
Just a 15-minute ride on the RER from Etoile, but you may also have to hop on a bus between your house and the station.
With a population of only 10,000, Croissy has the feel of a wealthy provincial town with huge green spaces. Historic Croissy is closer to the river at Grande Rue. The old Château is now a library and its garden has become a public park. Just opposite, art exhibitions are held at the 12th-century Chapelle St Leonard.
Grande Rue runs parallel to the river. For river walks, a small lane is dotted with information panels reminding you of the area’s Impressionist history. But the views have changed from Renoir’s day: goods barges have replaced the fuzzy bathers and the water looks somehow less sun-spangled.
The British School of Paris is a strong magnet, not just for the English, but for anglophones and anglophiles alike. Some people say this town has become a bit of an “expat bubble”, but those who live here are unapologetic about the size of the English-speaking community, say they feel perfectly integrated and point to a respectable number of French buddies to prove it.
Easy drive into Paris and good access to motorways heading north.
Local shopping gravitates around the Bld Fernand Hostachy, where you can buy your everyday essentials alongside luxury goods. You’ll find some very good hairdressers and beauty salons here too.
A good supermarket (Champion) and large hypermarkets and more serious shops at Montesson (Carrefour, Picard), Le Chesnay (Parly II), Plaisir (Auchan & Ikea) and Carrefour (Chambourcy).
After Croissy on the RER leaving Paris, but still just 17 minutes from Etoile. If you are looking for beautiful houses and attractive gardens along with good facilities for residents, this may well be the place for you. 19th-century mansions and manors, riverside paths and gardens, artsy and cultural events galore.
The church is at the heart of the town, surrounded by a cluster of pretty shops -- mostly chocolates and designer clothes. Le Vésinet is unapologetically rarefied and figures very high on the list of most expensive towns in France.
Expatriates flock here for the cachet and for the very good international schools in Vesinet (École Internationale Malherbe) and around (eg the British School in Croissy, Lycée International Saint-Germain-en-Laye). An active association is dedicated to welcoming expatriates and introducing them to the French language, the people and to Vesinet’s delightful surroundings. This place has been compared to the best of English stockbroker belt living, but really, one imagines the locals might find that a bit insulting.
The station for Le Pecq is “Le Vésinet-Le Pecq” on the RER line A, 25 minutes from central Paris. You may need bus, car or bike to get between your house and the station.
Much of the centre was left in ruins after World War II, but the old town survived and, despite development, Le Pecq has not lost its charm. The whole town stretches along both banks of the Seine, and consequently feels a bit split in two. The St Germain side, especially to the west, is more developed, but from the Georges Pompidou bridge, the view east is green and the areas surrounding the lake and the park behind are predominantly residential.
The bridge and its adjoining road network can become very congested, especially in the rush hours. There are Lycée International (British Section) partner schools for the primary and middle school years; otherwise your daily commute to school is likely to be by car.
Sports facilities are exceptional, particularly for water sports, with a yachting and rowing club and a municipal Olympic pool.
20 minutes from Etoile on the RER, and loved by anglophones for its extremely pleasant surroundings (residential park and woodlands) and the vibrant social scene to be had at its tennis and golf clubs.
Maisons-Laffitte is a major horse-racing centre, so the population consists of two distinct elements: the trainers/jockeys/lads, and everyone else. Alongside the hundreds of lean and flighty thoroughbreds, leisure horses are everywhere, as are riding schools and livery stables. But in case you were planning on keeping a horse here, know that none of the stables here offer any turnout, and only a few have manèges. Mostly people just tack up and ride out in the forest. For fields and better facilities, you will have to board your horse at least half an hour’s drive away.
If you’d love to live in the park but don’t think you can afford it, check out the prices towards the northern end, close to the racing stables, jockeys’ hang-outs and the Achères water purification plant.
Should the latter not be your choice, be prepared for lengthy commutes to the other GSGI schools in the area: the Lycée International in St Germain en Laye, The British School in Croissy and Forest International School in Mareil-Marly. None of these commutes is easy but most children seem to cope: a private bus goes to the British School, public bus to the Lycée International, and for Forest you will need a car and lots of petrol -- but again, some parents do it.
For younger children there is a playgroup at the Anglican church, All Saints.
You will need a car for the 20 minute drive to the Carrefour supermarket in Montesson. The best fresh produce is to be had in neighbouring Mesnil (les Jardins du Mesnil plus butcher plus fishmonger), or every Wednesday and Saturday at the Maisons-Laffitte market.
Mesnil le Roi
You will probably use the RER station in Maisons-Laffitte, getting there by bus or car, or, if you can manage the hill, by bike.
This is a mixture of very old and new developments situated on the side of a valley running between Le Pecq and Maisons-Laffitte. The nicest properties are on the higher ground and back onto the huge St Germain forest. From here, there are views across the Seine towards the skyscrapers of La Défense.
Housing in Maisons Laffitte and Mesnil le Roi merges together at the boundaries making Mesnil feel more like a suburb of its larger neighbour.
Swathes of land on the river bank are turned over to market gardens, supplying local markets and stores such as the excellent Jardins du Mesnil.
The village has three maternelle schools and two primaire schools. For international schools you’re talking either St Germain or Maisons Laffitte.
Your nearest hypermarket is the Carrefour in Montesson.
St Germain en Laye
The last stop on the RER A, and one of the principal towns of the Yvelines, St Germain has a bustling centre with a regular market. Life is extremely cosmopolitan here thanks to the families drawn by the Lycée International with its many different international sections.
An alternative to the Lycée International is the well regarded Institut Notre Dame (Catholic).
There are many stylish stores and boutiques, and the bars and restaurants offer a huge choice of cuisines -- there is even a British pub and an Irish bar close to the centre.
The housing options are very good and varied, with pleasant apartments or houses available in the centre as well as on the outskirts.
The beautiful and historically highly significant chateau housed a succession of monarchs stretching back to the 14th century. Now a museum, its interior and grounds are open to the public. Sunday walkers enjoy stunning views over the river (and to Paris beyond) from the two-kilometer-long elevated terrace.
Food shopping can be done in town, or at Carrefour in Montesson or Chambourcy.
Other than the RER (25 minutes into Paris) buses run to the outlying areas. You can also get into St Lazare using the suburban rail line.
If you don’t get to live here, don’t worry -- as an Yvelines resident, you will probably need to visit the Sous-Préfecture to sort out vehicle registrations and attend to any number of other administrative matters.
Stuck to St Germain-en-Laye and with easy access to the Lycée international, this village of 4,000 attracts many expats. The old streets centre around the 13th Century church and a modernized market square with a number of amenities such as a great restaurant, bakery and mini-supermarket. Easy access to nearby Chambourcy for a full shopping experience, much resembling an American strip-mall.
For public transport you will rely purely on buses running to St Germain-en-Laye, so a car is a must. For the Lycée International, every one walks or cycles.
Good sports facilities and plenty of leisure activities make this village a serious contender… besides its residents’ wonderful participation in Halloween. It is one of the destinations for serious trick-or-treating!
Beautiful, quaint and tiny (population of less than 4,000), Mareil-Marly borders on St Germain and the Forest of Marly. Many families live here -- French, Dutch and British/American. With Paris visible from many parts of the village, the forest and countless fruit orchards give it a full-on countryside feel.
There is a train station with access to St Lazare in Paris and a future tramway linking St Cyr and St Germain-en-Laye due to be opened in 2021. A number of buses run to St Germain or nearby Fourqueux for the Lycée International but, you will use your car... a lot.
The quite unique and much-loved Forest International School is up the top of the hill on the edge of the forest -- a lovely drive up a very narrow country lane.
Beyond basic amenities (bakery and supermarket Auchan), your shopping destination would be St Germain-en-Laye (above).