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Living in ParisWhen 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.

Which Arrondissement?

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. Schools catering to expats are listed next to their arrondissement (with GSGI schools in bold).

1st

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 littlies. Most parts are deserted at night.

2nd

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.

3rd

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.

4th

More Marais, more of the above: 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.

Ecole Masillon

5th

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 Jardin des Plantes is on the site of the Museum of Natural History, so makes for a great “double-whammy” outing for the kids.

6th

Johnny Depp/Vanessa Paradis, need we say more? 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? 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.

7th

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.

EABJM Suffren

Lennen Bilingual School

8th

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.

British Montessori School of Paris,

EAB Etoile,

EAB Monceau, Eurécole collège,

Petit Cours du Rocher

9th

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”. All in all, perhaps not an obvious choice with young children?

Wikids (Wi School)

10th

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.

11th

An interesting residential district, low-profile except for Oberkampf’s famous night clubs, though unfortunately not best placed for international schools. Place de la Bastille and the New Opera are found here. Very authentic Parisian living.

12th

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 to the east, but again, not very well placed for international schools.

Cours Molière

13th

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, not particularly attractive.

14th

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.

15th

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.

Bilingual International School of Paris,

EAB Victor Hugo, EABJM Dupleix, EABJM main campus, Little English Montessori School, Paris Ideal School

16th

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.

EAB Lamartine, Eurécole maternelle, Institut de la Tour,

Int’l School of Paris,

Jardins d’Enfants Montessori d’Auteuil, UN Nursery School

17th

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.

EAB Monceau collège, Petite Ecole Bilingue (Stewart Int’l School), Lycée Int’l Honoré de Balzac

Close by: Marymount (Neuilly)

18th

Montmartre, Sacré Coeur: loved for its bohemian artsy vibe, beautiful views over Paris and its small village feel. Not really a top destination for open spaces and international schools though, unless you find somewhere to the west bordering with the 17th.

19th

A bit of a trek from everywhere, but possibly worth it for its ethnic restaurants, the Cité des Sciences, Parc de la Villette and the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Living School gets good testimonials from parents but only goes up to 9 yrs.

Living School

20th

An interesting zone, affordable though currently undergoing gentrification, nonetheless 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. However, if you are hankering after more space, a detached house with garden for example, there’s no getting around it: you’re talking the suburbs. Article dedicated to the suburbs forthcoming.

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