The city is divided into twenty arrondissements, whose spiral arrangement provides a fairly accurate guide to its historical growth. Centred on the Louvre, they wind outwards in a clockwise direction. The inner hub of the city comprises arrondissements 1er to 6e, and it's here that most of the major sights and museums are to be found. The royal palace and museum of the Louvre lies on the north or Right Bank (rive droite) of the Seine, which is the more bustling and urban of the city's two sides. To the west of the Louvre runs the longest and grandest vista of the city La Voie Triomphale comprising the Tuileries gardens, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Grande Arche de la Défense, each an expression of royal or state power across the centuries. North of the Louvre is the commercial and financial quarter, where you can shop in the department stores on the broad Grands Boulevards, in the little boutiques of the glazed-over passages, or in the giant, underground mall of Les Halles. To the east of the Louvre, the Marais was the prestige address in the seventeenth century; along with the Bastille next door, it's now one of the most exciting areas of the city, alive with trendy shops, cafés and nightlife.
The south bank of the river or Left Bank, has a quite different feel, quieter and more village-like. The Quartier Latin is the traditional domain of the intelligentsia of academics, writers, artists and the liberal professions along with St-Germain, which becomes progressively snootier as you travel west towards the haughty Septième, home of ministries, embassies, museums and the Eiffel Tower. Once you move beyond glitzy Montparnasse, the southern swathe of the Left Bank alternates high-rise flats with charming bourgeois neighbourhoods, with two relatively new commercial developments lining the riverbanks at the limits of the city.
Back on the Right Bank, many of the outer or higher-number arrondissements were once outlying villages, and were gradually absorbed by the expanding city in the nineteenth century some, such as Montmartre, Belleville and Passy, have succeeded in retaining something of their separate village identity. The areas to the east were traditionally poor and working-class, while those to the west held the aristocracy and the newly rich divisions which to some extent hold true today. One thing Paris is not particularly well endowed with is parks. The best are on the fringes of the city, notably the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne, at the eastern and western edges respectively.
The region surrounding the capital, the Île-de-France, is dotted with cathedrals and châteaux such as the Gothic cathedral at St-Denis and the royal palace at Versailles. Day-trip destinations include the cathedral town of Chartres and Monet's garden at Giverny. An equally accessible outing from the capital is that most un-French of attractions, Disneyland Paris.
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