How Paris’s Dining, Hotel, and Art Scenes Got Their Groove Back—Just in Time for the Olympics

Host cities of modern-day Olympic Games have gotten into the competitive spirit by trying to stage the most spellbinding, over-the-top opening ceremony on record. Beijing enlisted 2008 drummers. London featured James Bond escorting Queen Elizabeth II. All Rio needed to wow the crowd was Gisele, who turned the stadium into her personal catwalk, strutting the length of the field solo. But only Paris could make the unprecedented gamble that the city itself is spectacular enough to be the star of the show.

If all goes according to plan when the Summer Olympics alight in Paris this July, the opening ceremony will play out like a Hollywood epic: Timed to coincide with the sinking of the sun, an open-air flotilla of boats will ferry the athlete delegations on the Seine, sailing toward the sunset as hundreds of thousands of spectators cheer from either side of the river’s banks and the bridges above, all bathed in the amber afterglow.

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It will mark the first time the ceremony will be held outside a stadium, let alone on a waterway. So, too, many of the events themselves, instead of being mounted in mostly generic stadiums on the outskirts of the city, will take place in the heart of Paris, reframing the French capital in a way that locals and visitors alike have never experienced—and that’s sure to dial up the promise of pageantry and emotion.

Café life in Saint-Germain-des-Prés; the Right Bank’s Golden Triangle has seen a recent revival.
Café life in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

The Eiffel Tower’s latticed silhouette will serve as the backdrop for beach volleyball at Champs-de-Mars. Place de la Concorde, where more than a thousand people (including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette) had their heads lopped off during the French Revolution, will be the site of newly admitted Olympic sports such as skateboarding and breaking, a.k.a. breakdancing. And though Olympic swimmers have raced in pools since 1908, this year’s athletes are slated to compete in the river itself. (Competitions will also take place in cities across France, from Lyon to Marseille, and Tahiti in French Polynesia will host the surfing event.)

The specs are ambitious and inventive and in some ways could restore the city’s reputation for audacity. Because while the City of Light may be known as the cradle of fashion, culture, and gastronomy, not too long ago it was also regularly accused of slipping into a lazy, even smug, complacency—stuck in its ways, resting on the laurels of its storied past.

In the food world, those doldrums translated into controversial snubs from the influential World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, known for flushing out avant-garde chefs. The French Michelin guide, once considered the ultimate arbiter of fine dining, suddenly seemed staid and irrelevant. London and Berlin took Europe’s center stage in art and design. Even President Emmanuel Macron described his fellow countrymen as resistant to change, much of the ire of those fellow countrymen—and countrywomen.

There’s a social and cultural diversity here, and for me this is really important. If Paris was
just the 6th arrondissement, it would be boring.

But influential creatives and Parisians say that in the years leading up to the Games, and particularly since the pandemic, something has shifted. “I really think that during the last 10 years, Paris opened itself to more new things, for different trends,” says Hélène Darroze, the acclaimed chef whose six restaurants include Michelin two-star Marsan in Paris and her three-star namesake at the Connaught in London. “Paris is happier than before, more joyful than before.”

There’s a giddy sense of anticipation, says the illustrator Marin Montagut, who has collaborated with Le Bon Marché and the Ritz Paris and owns an eponymous boutique in Saint-Germain-des-Prés where he sells hand-painted glassware and porcelain decor. “It feels like Paris is trying to look very, very pretty for a very important evening. She’s been getting some plastic surgery and is trying to get ready in time,” he says with a chuckle. “There’s just a lot of effervescence in the city.”

The Right Bank’s Golden Triangle has seen a recent revival.
The Right Bank’s Golden Triangle has seen a recent revival.

For better or for worse, some of the credit for that renewed vitality belongs to the light-as-soufflé Netflix series Emily in Paris, which quickly became the collective escapist fantasy for viewers around the world who were grounded by the Covid-19 virus. Another part of that newfound energy, though, can be traced to the frenzied building of luxury hotels, restaurants, galleries, museums, and boutiques over the past few years, including Montagut’s own Paris-themed shop, which he opened in 2020.

In the past three years alone, 25 new five-star hotels debuted across the city, bringing the total to 101. Noteworthy newcomers include Madame Rêve, Kimpton St. Honoré Paris, Château des Fleurs, Maison Proust, LVMH’s Cheval Blanc Paris, and Chopard’s first boutique hotel here, 1 Place Vendôme. The dual fall 2023 openings of Le Grand Mazarin and La Fantaisie hotels marked the Paris debut of Swedish designer Martin Brudnizki, whose playfully modern, maximalist, and flamboyant aesthetic injected color and character into Paris’s elite hotel scene.

In parallel with the growth of traditional hotels, new players in the luxury rental market are emerging, joining the likes of Le Collectionist and Belles Demeures. Founded in 2020, Highstay rents out luxury serviced apartments equipped with kitchens and living spaces. The firm’s current portfolio includes 36 apartments in areas such as the Champs-Elysées and Saint-Honoré, and another 48 are under construction—all of which it owns. There is no check-in (guests are sent digital access codes), and all concierge requests, including housekeeping and travel reservations, are made via live chat on a dedicated guest portal.

“The goal is that guests get the real Parisian experience and feel like an insider, like a city dweller,” says general director Maxime Lallement.

The idea of making Paris as welcoming as a second home is also what drives the luxury real-estate market for foreign buyers, particularly Americans, says Alexander Kraft, CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty France-Monaco. He sees 2024 as a “transition year” and says that the local market is moving at two different speeds: While demand for properties between roughly $1 million and $5.5 million has cooled, high-end properties between about $11 million and $55 million continue to sell fast among buyers from the Middle East. Kraft predicts the market will pick up in 2025 following the U.S. presidential election.

“Paris is one of those real-estate markets that is eternally popular,” he says. “Contrary to other international cities, it really has broad appeal.”

The living room of a Highstay apartment in Le Marais
The living room of a Highstay apartment in Le Marais.

Montreal-born, New York–based interior designer Garrow Kedigian is one of those frequent visitors who decided to take the leap and buy his own pied-à-terre in Paris a few years ago, after a lifetime of traveling back and forth for both work and pleasure.

As a part-time resident, Kedigian says he, too, has noticed a palpable shift in the city’s vibe, which he attributes to a renewed appreciation for tourists following their absence during the pandemic, as well as an “international flair” that has given the city a fresh spark.

“There’s a lot more cultural diversity than there was before,” he says. “In that respect it’s a bit like New York. And I think that now the interface between Paris’s unique flavor and the international populace is a little bit smoother.”

For Montagut, one of the best examples of this synergy can be found in Belleville, in the city’s east end, where independent artists, musicians, and other urban creatives rub shoulders in Chinese, African, and Arab restaurants and businesses.

“There’s a social and cultural diversity here, and for me this is really important,” Montagut says. “If Paris was just the 6th arrondissement, it would be boring.”

The eastern edge of Paris is also one of the preferred neighborhoods of Michael Schwartz, the marketing and communications manager for Europe at French jewelry house Boucheron. A recent New York City transplant, he is drawn to the burgeoning number of gastronomic gems far from the madding tourist crowds.

A view over the rooftops to the Eiffel Tower.
A view over the rooftops to the Eiffel Tower.

He points to sister restaurants Caché and Amagat (the names mean “hidden” in French and Catalan, respectively), discreetly located at the end of a cobblestoned cul-de-sac, as favorites. With backgrounds in fashion and advertising, the Italian duo who run them have attracted equally fashionable locals to this hitherto quiet part of town. Caché serves up fresh Mediterranean seafood dishes, while next door, Amagat specializes in Catalan tapas.

Then there’s Soces, a corner seafood bistro on rue de la Villette, where you might find Jean-Benoît Dunckel, who cowrote the score to Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides when he was part of the electronic-music duo Air (Dunckel’s recording studio is in the area), or the French designers behind the Coperni fashion line, Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant.

“This is a really special restaurant,” says Schwartz. “It’s frequented by really cool creatives, designers, and musicians, and it’s kind of a destination restaurant for most people because it’s not central.”

What makes Paris’s dining scene so exciting now, according to Stéphane Bréhier, editor in chief of French restaurant guide Gault & Millau, is a sense of fearlessness among younger chefs who reject the traditional trajectory that begins with a lowly stage in a Michelin-star kitchen. What’s more, visitors are likewise foregoing Michelin establishments in favor of newer, more experimental dining spots.

“Over the last few years, there’s been a pro-fusion of young chefs who don’t want to work for other people and are daring to set up their own shop,” Bréhier says. “The gastronomic scene is booming in Paris.”

At work in La Tour d’Argent’s kitchen
At work in La Tour d’Argent’s kitchen

These bold, emerging chefs feel less bound not only to their elders but also to French cuisine itself. “It has changed a lot,” says Darroze, who opened Marsan, her first Parisian restaurant, 25 years ago. “The new generation traveled a lot—in South America, for example, in Asia—before opening a restaurant or being a head chef somewhere. They opened themselves to other cultures. This is why the culinary scene at the moment is very interesting in Paris: Because it’s a mix of very famous chefs with Michelin stars but also young chefs who don’t care about Michelin stars—they just want to explore so many fields.

The ever-growing importance of social media and its insatiable hunger for envy-inducing images is driving another major trend in the dining scene: rooftop spots, including Mun and Girafe in the Golden Triangle, the area bordered by avenues Montaigne and George V and the Champs-Elysées. “A lot of rooftops have opened in Paris, where before they were pretty much nonexistent apart from the Eiffel Tower and the Montparnasse Tower,” says Dimitri Ruiz, head concierge at Hotel Barrière Fouquet’s Paris on the Champs-Elysées.

Five-star Right Bank hotels SO/ and Cheval Blanc Paris have watering holes that offer sweeping vistas of the Seine. But perhaps the most coveted perch during the opening ceremony will be the Champagne bar at La Tour d’Argent restaurant, which boasts unobstructed views of the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Seine. (And yes, someone already had the idea to book it for a private event.) Famous for its signature pressed duck as well as for hosting monarchs and heads of state, the historic restaurant recently underwent a major renovation that included the addition of the aerie, which opened late last summer. “It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that Paris has been developing rooftops, and it’s really taking off like wildfire,” says third-generation owner André Terrail.

Paris’s venerated fashion industry has also found ways to innovate, with fresh faces keeping their fellow couturiers on their toes and the shopping options enticing. In 2022, for example, Simon Porte Jacquemus opened his first boutique in the city on avenue Montaigne—home to Gucci, Chanel, and Prada, among other venerable names—and in March, at the age of 34, became France’s youngest fashion designer to be named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his contributions to the field. That kind of success has a ripple effect in the creative community.

“Almost every street has the name of an artist or a politician,” says Charaf Tajer, the Parisian-born creative director behind the London-based Casablanca clothing brand. “So the city reminds me always that the people who came before me, who walked those streets, created the future in a way. As much as [Paris] seems stuck in time visually, you can also feel the energy of people creating the present.”

Interior designer David Jimenez, whose 2022 book Parisian by Design compiles his Francophile projects, moved to the city in 2015 and spent his first few years living near the Champs-Elysées, which he says has undergone a noticeable revival. Along with Jacquemus’s arrival, new luxury openings or expansions—including Burberry, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, and Panerai—and city-led greening efforts are bringing Parisians back to the 8th arrondissement, long dismissed as an overcrowded tourist trap where fast-food and fast-fashion chains had colonized the once glamorously luxe avenue. Now, Dior’s captivating Peter Marino–designed museum draws legions of fans, while the city has been busy planting more trees, renovating gardens, and repairing damaged sidewalks as part of a long-term embellishment plan. And on the first Sunday of every month, the entire length of the Champs-Elysées becomes a pedestrian-only promenade.

“It’s an exciting evolution in a part of the city that seemed sleepy and perhaps lost its way a little bit,” Jimenez says. “Now there’s a thrust forward.”

Jardins du Luxembourg is a perennially popular Left Bank locale for sitting or strolling.
Jardins du Luxembourg is a perennially popular Left Bank locale for sitting or strolling.

The thriving fashion houses are responsible for more than maintaining the city’s unparalleled reputation for chic. To a large degree, they have also helped revive its status as an art capital. The billions generated by LVMH (parent of Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Berluti, among others) and Kering (Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, et al.) funded the extraordinary contemporary art collections amassed by their founders, Bernard Arnault and François Pinault, respectively. The rivals rewarded their hometown with two museums, Fondation Louis Vuitton and Bourse de Commerce, that have helped make it a leader in contemporary art.

As much as [Paris] seems stuck in time visually, you can also feel the energy of people creating the present.

Also lending a hand: Brexit, which persuaded many international galleries to brush up on their French. One of the most talked-about recent additions is the powerhouse Hauser & Wirth, which opened in a 19th-century hôtel particulier near the Champs-Elysées last year. David Zwirner arrived in 2019, Mariane Ibrahim in 2021, and Peter Kilchmann the following year, all joining long-established Parisian galleries including Perrotin and Thaddaeus Ropac. The City of Light even snagged its own coveted annual installment of Art Basel: Paris+, which now runs every October in the Grand Palais.

“Quite frankly, Paris has been putting up some of the most incredible exhibitions in institutions in Europe,” says Serena Cattaneo Adorno, senior director at Gagosian. “And a lot of private collectors have also decided to open spaces in the city, creating a great dynamic between public and private galleries.”

The always-savvy Gagosian, on rue Ponthieu, has hit upon an authentic tie-in with the Games: a summer exhibition featuring Olympic posters created over the years by celebrated artists from Picasso on up to Warhol, Hockney, and Tracey Emin. “Once you start digging, you find that a lot of artists have reflected on sports and the engagement of the body,” Cattaneo Adorno says. “It’s just a really pure and beautiful message about how art and sports have dialogues that can be somewhat surprising.”

A few months out from the festivities on the Seine, interior decorator Jimenez sums up the mood of many locals, saying (only half-jokingly), “I think for most Parisians, there’s a sense of curiosity, optimism, excitement—and an exit plan, in that order.”

While polling shows that nearly half of Parisians intend to vacate the city during the games, Jimenez notes that he will be watching the opening ceremony with friends who live in an apartment overlooking the Seine.

“I want to be part of the excitement. I want to see as much as I can and be energized by this very special and unique moment,” he says. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am deeply grateful to be able to experience it first-hand as an American living in Paris.”

Additional reporting by Lucy Alexander and Justin Fenner.

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