The uniform sandstone of the Haussmann buildings, the abundance of gilded historic monuments, and the glimmering Seine and its elegant bridges have arguably made Paris the most recognisable and romanticised cityscape in the world. But though the city wears its history – of monarchy, revolution, revolt and artistic innovation – with characteristic style, it is also increasingly looking to the future and outwards to the rest of the world.
Those looking to explore the city’s rich heritage can spend long afternoons getting lost in the Louvre or wandering the Musée d’Orsay, or ducking in and out of Paris’s countless historical churches (many of which were reinvented as Republican temples after the Revolution). For more contemporary tastes, there’s plenty of exploring to be done in the less tourist-trodden outer arrondissements – from arts venues on the sloping streets of Belleville to the boutique hotels and reinvented dive bars of Pigalle.
Explore our interactive map below for all the local highlights, and scroll down for our suggested day-by-day summary of the best things to see and do…
Pick up morning croissants at La Grande Epicerie and start the day at the Luxembourg Garden – take in the lines of plane trees and ornate parterres, with the top of the Eiffel Tower visible in the distance. Come out on the north side of the park, being sure to clock the stunning Medici Fountain on your right.
Go next to Rue de Seine, via Place de l’Odéon, stopping to browse in the second-hand bookshops and independent galleries that punctuate this historically bohemian district.
Follow Rue de Seine down to the river, emerging in front of the French Institute building, taking in the view across Pont des Arts to the Louvre across the river. Book ahead to visit Sainte Chapelle, the resplendent 12th-century chapel built by Louis IX (you’ll feel like you’re inside a giant jewellery box).
Afterwards, stop for a coffee in the ornate environs of 1920s café Les Deux Palais. Cross Île de la Cité arriving in front of Notre-Dame; steal a moment of calm in the gardens that run along the right of the church, before crossing on to the Left Bank to visit Shakespeare & Company (37 Rue de la Bûcherie), the notable English-language bookshop frequented by the Beat poets and still a hub for literary types.
Wander up Quai de Montebello, cross back onto the charming Ile Saint-Louis and stop for a proper hot chocolate at Café Saint-Régis.
Head back on to the Left Bank and wander the Jardin des Plantes botanical gardens; if you’re travelling en famille, consider a visit to the zoo (Ménagerie du Jardin des plantes, 57 Rue Cuvier).
Prop yourself up at the bar of L’Avant Comptoir. Ask for wine recommendations and have fun choosing from the menu of French small plates – go for the mackerel with grapefruit and horseradish and the pork trotter terrine. Or, if it’s cocktails you’re after, try Prescription Cocktail Club for an inventive tipple from the much-lauded Experimental Group.
Finish with a classic film in the romantic surrounds of the Filmothèque in the Latin Quarter. If you still want to go on, end the night with live jazz in the atmospheric cellars at Caveau de la Huchette.
Please note that this itinerary works on foot, but the number 63 bus also covers the key sites of the Left Bank and is adapted for people with reduced mobility.
Head to the Marais, starting with the ornate 17th-century square, Place des Vosges. Warm up with a café crème at the elegant Café Hugo (22 Place des Vosges; 00 33 1 42 72 64 04) on the north-east corner, or visit the house of its novelist’s namesake on the south-east corner, Maison de Victor Hugo.
Exit to Rue Saint-Antoine via the south-west edge of the square through the secluded courtyards of 17th-century mansion Hôtel de Sully. Head into the heart of the Marais along Rue Vieille du Temple.
For lunch, try a tasty salad served with brio at Le Pick-Clops or if you’re in a street-food mood, opt for falafel in the historical heart of Paris’s Ashkenazi Jewish community; L’As du Fallafel is the most famous and undeniably delicious, but be prepared for long queues. Walk it off in the Jardin des Rosiers – Joseph-Migneret (Rue des Rosiers), a quiet park hidden (like many good things in Paris) in plain sight.
Head west towards the Centre Pompidou from Rue des Rosiers via Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, a hub for gay bars and businesses. Stop, on the way, for ice cream at award-winning Une Glace à Paris, known for its inventive flavour combinations, such as blackberry and jasmine.
Be sure to book ahead for an exhibition at the Pompidou. Make a pitstop at the top of the remarkable post-modern building for an (admittedly, eye-wateringly expensive) drink at Le Georges restaurant and take in the wraparound views.
Next, head west towards Les Halles. Turn right up Rue Montorgueil and soak in the sights and smells of this traditional market street – be sure to stop by the picture-perfect Anaïs florist (52 Rue Montorgueil) and drool over beautiful pastry at historical Patisserie Stohrer (51 Rue Montorgueil).
For chic shopping, explore nearby Rue Tiquetonne and Rue Bachaumont for vintage finds and local designers. Rest your weary feet with a drink in the Instagram-ready courtyard restaurant at Hoxton Paris.
Start with a cocktail at Harry’s Bar, credited as being the birthplace of the Bloody Mary – served with aplomb by waiters in white coats. Next, head for dinner at La Régalade Conservatoire which serves ‘bistronomie’ par excellence.
Round off your Paris break with a touch of schmaltz (because, pourquoi pas allow yourself a little?) and take a cruise along the Seine in one of the iconic Bateaux Mouches (Port de la Conférence), taking in the floodlit Musée d’Orsay, Louvre and Notre-Dame and the reflected yellow glow on the river. It may feel a little touristy, but gliding along the water on one is never disappointing.
The neighbourhood of Pigalle, home of the Moulin Rouge, has historically been characterised by its bright lights and sex shops (which are still there). But in more recent years the area has also become a burgeoning spot for hipster nightlife with the opening of boutique hotels such as Hôtel Amour, Grand Pigalle and Le Pigalle, and relaxed-cool bars such as Lulu White’s.
There are rarely long queues to climb the stairs to the second level of the Eiffel Tower – and it’s a great way to discover the monument.
Climbing Paris’s monuments is a wonderful way to get a view over the city, but the city’s natural high points can also offer spectacular vistas – from the hill of Montmartre to the slopes of the Buttes Chaumont park in the north of the city.
Head east to the slopes of Belleville. Try the jazz brunch (all-you-can-eat indulgence and live music: a winner) at La Bellevilloise and climb to the top of Parc de Belleville for Eiffel Tower views.
You don’t need to be staying at Paris’s most expensive five-star addresses to get a feel for them: try a drink at Bar Hemingway at The Ritz Paris or a tipple with a view at Le Rooftop at The Peninsula Paris.
Did you know?
You’ll find some water fountains across the city that offer natural Parisian sparkling water. There is one in Parc Montsouris in the 14th arrondissement – make it your mission to track down some more.
Where to stay . . .
Le Royal Monceau Raffles is a contemporary take on the ultra-luxe palace-grade hotel, with Philippe Starck-designed décor and fusion food offerings from Nobu Matsuhisa, as well as rotating art exhibits and a stylish ‘concept store’. The hotel is on Avenue Hoche, one of the roads radiating from the Arc de Triomphe on Place de l’Etoile.
Behind the elegant Parisian façade of Hôtel National Des Arts et Métiers, lies stylish interiors reimagined by Paris-based designer, Raphael Navot. The hotel centres around a former interior courtyard, now transformed into a skylight-covered lightwell, which joins the bar and restaurant. It’s located on the northern edge of the Marais.
The pretty little Hotel Henriette makes a cosy and romantic base for a city break in Paris, with some of the bohemian Left Bank’s most charming attractions a short walk away. It is an Instagrammer’s dream. Designer Vanessa Scoffier has a background in fashion journalism and her good taste and keen eye for detail can be seen throughout the hotel.
What to bring home . . .
Add a touch of Paris décor chic to your homestead with a designer piece from Maison Sarah Lavoine (6 Place des Victoires). Or, choose from one of the tastiest cheese selections in the city at La Fermette (86 Rue Montorgueil) on Rue Montorgueil and vacuum-pack your selection to bring home.
When to go . . .
You can come to Paris any time but the atmosphere is quite different at different times of year. Winter is a time for festivals and feasting on game and oysters. Spring and early summer are the time to make the most of city parks and café terraces, punctuated by the Fête de la Musique on June 21 and the military parade and fireworks of July 14. In August the capital slows down and a beach takes over the quays, some people love it for the feeling of calm, but many restaurants are closed and you may be hard-pushed to find a Parisian around. The autumn rentrée starts with a burst of energy for the new cultural season, big exhibition openings and new restaurant arrivals.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy/Consulate: (00 33 1 44 51 31 00; ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk). For passports and most other visitor services, contact the consulate at 15 rue d’Anjou (same telephone number) rather than the embassy
Office du Tourisme de Paris: (00 33 1 49 52 42 63; parisinfo.com), 25 rue des Pyramides, 75001 Paris
Ambulance (samu): dial 15
Police: dial 17
Fire (pompiers): dial 18
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 33, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number. Most Paris numbers start with 01; mobile phone numbers start with 06; numbers beginning 08 are special-rate numbers, ranging from 0800 freephone to premium-rate calls
Time difference: +1 hour
Travelling times: London to Paris by Eurostar takes 2hr 15min. Flying time is about one hour
Local laws and etiquette
When greeting people, formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
It is considered polite to say ‘bonjour’ when you enter a space such as a restaurant, a shop or even a waiting room, and you should say ‘bonjour’ first when asking for assistance, rather than starting with an ‘excusez-moi’. It’s an essential piece of social punctuation, like saying your pleases and thank yous.
The laws of vouvoiement (which version of “you” to use) take years to master. If in doubt – except when talking to children or animals – always use the formal vous form (second person plural) rather than the more casual tu.
When driving, it’s compulsory to keep fluorescent bibs and a hazard triangle in the car in case of breakdown.
Hannah, originally from London, spent years working out the intricacies of French grammar before moving to Paris, where she works as a journalist specialising in French culture and society. She enjoys cycling Paris’s avenues and boulevards on her trusty bike, eavesdropping in café terrasses and visiting the weekly flea market at her local, Puces de Saint-Ouen.
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