Old, new and everything in between
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 exploring 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.
Hot right now . . .
Hannah Meltzer, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things to do and places to eat and stay this season.
Paris’s Museum of Decorative Arts (107 Rue de Rivoli; 00 33 1 44 55 57 50), housed in an annexe of the Louvre palace, has recently reopened its fashion collection after a 2.5-million-euro renovation. Enthusiasts of la mode can peruse pieces from iconic French designers such as Gabrielle Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. At the end of February, the grand museum welcomes a temporary exhibition dedicated to Harper’s Bazaar (28 February-14 July), using the magazine’s iconic covers to explore 150 years of fashion. There is also plenty of décor to discover (from glass to wallpaper) in the wider collection – a real-life inspiration alternative to your Pinterest boards.
The cool credentials of French Theory (18 Rue Cujas; 00 33 1 43 54 58 10), a new opening on the Left Bank, go beyond the purely superficial. Along with sleek design, you’ll find an in-house coffee shop, a ‘concept store’ in the lobby with a thoughtfully curated selection of local books, art and music, as well as a vinyl listening lounge downstairs (next to the in-house recording studio). All rooms feature quality sound systems – and (crucially) the beds are comfortable.
Star chef Cédric Grolet – 34 years-old, head pastry chef at Le Meurice and 1.5 million followers on Instagram – opened his first independent patisserie-boulangerie late in 2019: Cédric Grolet Opera (35 Avenue de l'Opéra; 00 33 1 83 95 21 02). Set in the heart of Paris, by the Palais Garnier opera house and a short walk from the Louvre, the always busy bakery serves tantalisingly souped-up versions of the classics – croissant, pain au chocolat, baguette tradition – as well as a more substantial brunch offering in the upstairs salon. It’s a very busy spot, but for pastry aficionados it will be worth the wait.
48 hours in . . . Paris
Fuel up for a day of exploration with poached eggs and salmon at chic eatery Marcel(15 Rue de Babylone, 75007; 00 33 1 42 22 62 62) and continue the gourmand theme across the road in La Grande Epicerie (38 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 ;00 33 1 44 39 81 00), the food hall of legendary department store, Le Bon Marché, where you can pick up some bits to take home - perhaps some Mariage Frères tea and some marrons glacés.
Then, head east to the Luxembourg Gardens and take in the lines of plane trees and ornate parterres, with the top of the Eiffel Towervisible in the distance. Come out 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. Make a literary pilgrimage to (and coffee stop at) the now-luxurious L'Hôtel (13 Rue des Beaux Arts) formerly L'Hôtel d’Alsace, where a penniless Oscar Wilde was staying when he died.
For lunch, try the gourmet galettes at Breton crepe house Breizh Café (1 Rue de l'Odéon, 75006; 00 33 1 42 49 34 73; ) or Ippudofor some of the best ramen in Paris (14 rue Grégoire de Tours; 00 33 1 42 38 21 99).
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, (8 Boulevard du Palais; 00 33 1 53 40 60 80) 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 (3 Boulevard du Palais; 00 33 1 43 54 20 86). 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 (6 Rue Jean du Bellay; 00 33 1 43 54 59 41).
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 (3 Carrefour de l'Odéon; 00 33 1 44 27 07 50). 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 (23 Rue Mazarine; 00 33 9 50 35 72 87) for an inventive tipple from the much-lauded Experimental Group.
Finish with a classic film in the romantic surrounds of the Filmothèque(9 Rue Champollion; 00 33 1 43 26 70 38) 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(5 Rue de la Huchette; 00 33 1 43 26 65 05).
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 historic Marché des Enfants Rouges in the hip Upper Marais and pick up a pastry or breakfast crêpe at legendary food vendor Chez Alain Miam Miam (Rue des Oiseaux, 75003) – get there at opening (9am) to avoid queues.
Head south along Boulevard Beaumarchais (the 29 bus runs through the Marais, as an alternative to going by foot) stopping at chic concept store Merci (111 Boulevard Beaumarchais; 00 33 1 42 77 00 33) – their homeware section is exceptional – and gourmet deli Maison Plisson (93 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 00 33 1 71 18 19 09). Guarantee yourself a delectable picnic with outstanding charcuterie, cheese and Bourdier butter from the delicatessen.
Make your way down to 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 houseof its novelist's namesake on the south-east corner (Maison de Victor Hugo; 6 Place des Vosges).
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 Vielle du Temple.
For lunch, try a tasty salad served with brio at Le Pick-Clops (16 Rue Vieille du Temple; 00 33 1 40 29 02) 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 (32-34 Rue des Rosiers; 00 33 1 48 87 63 60) 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 (Place Georges-Pompidou; 00 33 1 44 78 12 33) 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 (15 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie; 00 33 1 49 96 98 33), known for its inventive flavour combinations, such as blackberry and jasmine.
Be sure to book ahead for an exhibition at the Pompidou. Make sure that you make a pitstop at the top of the remarkable post-modern building for an (admittedly, eye-wateringly expensive) drink at Le Georges restaurant (00 33 1 44 78 47 99) 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 (30-32 Rue du Sentier; 00 33 1 85 65 75 00).
Start with a cocktail at Harry’s Bar (5 Rue Daunou; 00 33 1 42 61 71 14), 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 (9 Rue du Conservatoire, 00 33 1 44 83 83 60).
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.
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.
Double rooms from €850 (£749); 00 33 1 42 99 88 00
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'slocated on the northern edge of the Marais.
Double rooms from €250 (£221); 00 33 1 80 97 22 80
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.
Double rooms from €89 (£76); 00 33 1 47 07 26 90
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; 00 33 1 40 13 75 75). Or, choose from one of the tastiest cheese selections in the city at La Fermette (86 Rue Montorgueil; 00 33 1 42 36 70 96) 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.
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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