Learning the Parisian Streets

In 2. Wayfinding, The Art of Travel, Paris by Jaxx1 Comment

My goal for this year in Paris was to see as much of the city as I possibly can. I have a google doc where I organized the arrondissements and am slowly adding everything I want to see under each category, for a day when I’m wandering the 7th or want to take the metro to the 18th. Besides the guidebooks I have been given as presents over the past few years, I am relying on random walks throughout the city to learn about what is unique and what is worth going back to find.

Lynch mentions districts being characterized by common characteristics, and as I research each arrondissement in Paris I can see how each one has its own vibe and unique offerings. The 14th is pretty residential and has a lot of flea markets. Le Marais is located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements and is known for the architecture and prevalence of night clubs. The Latin Quarter in the 5th is characterized by several universities and student-friendly cafes and libraries. I’m becoming familiar with these characteristics as I explore Paris each day.

Lynch’s point about landmarks’ importance in orienting ourselves is something I can identify with as I walk through the winding streets of Paris. I often find myself at an intersection that provides me with three potential paths, all branching out into other paths and streets I could take, and while I think about where I should go and how far it would take me, it’s comforting to look in the distance and see the top of the Eiffel Tower watching over me.

The Eiffel Tower isn’t visible from every part of the city, but when I’m in the 5th arrondissement where NYU Paris is located and I go on one of my walks– feeling like a true flâneuse— I like looking up to orient myself. Immediately, I know where the Seine is, which street I should take to walk home, which direction I can go to get lost further. I try not to look at the map on my phone at moments like these, preferring to take photos with my camera so I am not tempted to look down. I have found here that I don’t want to be rushed, eating my bagel and coffee on the go as I do in New York. I want to wander, looking at the buildings, tripping over the cobblestones, wondering who was here before me.

The more I am around NYU’s location in the 5th arrondissement, the more familiar I am with it. I know where to find the best croissant in Paris (it has a sign) and where Shakespeare and Co. is by the square garden that I pass two minutes before I arrive. The paths that intertwine and wind around each other aren’t as disorienting as when I first walked them, and I can think about what is coming up before I see it. If I come to the Seine from NYU Paris, I’ve passed the boulangerie that offers breakfast for 5 euros. When I come to the Saint Michel fountain, I know exactly what street I need to take to find the RER B home.

It’s been a couple weeks, but I’m familiarizing myself. I hope I can learn the other arrondissements as well as I’m learning the 5th.

(Image: A Student on the Seine; Source: Jaxx Artz)


  1. Hi Jaxx! I know what you mean about wandering around as a means of orienting yourself and finding new areas of the city to come back to later — I make notes in my phone when I see something that looks interesting, even if I never end up going back. It’s interesting that living in a new city has made you more mindful about the small things that would be rushed in New York. When you go back to New York, I would be intrigued to know if you would be able to bring that mindfulness (or desire for mindfulness) into your life there. I feel like any place can be exciting — regardless of how familiar — if we are open minded.

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