Cultural Notes: What Does "Arrondissement" Mean?

Definition and Rules of Usage

Paris' 20 arrondissements can be hard to navigate at first.
••• Paris' 20 arrondissements can be hard to navigate at first. Paris Parfait

For first-time visitors trying to get around Paris and some other cities in France, the word "arrondissement" inscribed on most street signs, preceded by a number (1 through 20) might seem perplexing. You've probably guessed that the term has something to do with city districting. But how to put it to use when finding your way around the French capital?

Basic Definition and Usage

In French, arrondissement refers to a city district as defined by official zoning.

Some major cities in France, including Paris, Lyon and Marseille, are divided into several administrative districts, or arrondissements. Paris has a total of 20 arrondissements, which start at the center of the city and spiral out counterclockwise. The 1st through fourth arrondissements make up the historic center of the city, while the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th arrondissements are found at the western and eastern borders of the city. See this page for a clearer view of how this all works. 

Pronunciation: [arɔ̃dismɑ̃] (ah-rohn-dees-mawn)

Also Known As: (In French): "quartier" (but note: some "quartiers" take up more than one "arrondissement", and vice-versa). Also, the concept of a "quartier" is far more arbitrary, while arrondissements are always clear-cut. 

How can I tell which arrondissement I'm in?

In Paris, the arrondissement is marked in white lettering above the street name (usually placed on a plaque on the building closest to a street corner).

Once you get used to locating these street plaques, you can easily figure out where you are. I highly recommend carrying around a good neighborhood-by-neighborhood map of Paris , or using a smartphone app, to make navigating the city as easy as possible. 

How to Master Paris and Its Neighborhoods? 

Interested in learning more about the city of lights' varied and fascinating neighborhoods?

 Read all about what to see and do in each of Paris' arrondissements here. You might also want to check out our guide to the most un-touristy neighborhoods in Paris: places that the locals want to keep to themselves. 

Also see French Expert Laura K. Lawless' explanation and pronunciation help for "arrondissement" by clicking here.