Ah, Paris. The ‘city of lights’, the ‘city of love’. It’s the quintessential European capital. While the various arrondissements have kept the centuries-old charm, there’s a real buzz and vitality about Paris nowadays.
From cutting-edge design and art in concept street La Jeune Rue to old school glamour when the Ritz Paris reopens at the end of 2015, it’s a top weekend away. Follow the bo-bos (bourgeois-bohemians) to the Right Bank for hip cocktails and quirky dining or stroll the pretty gardens and squares of the Left Bank, spiritual home of France’s thinkers, painters and authors.
What to do
Paris has art, music, culture, shopping and let’s not forget the food. Put time aside to just stroll the streets or watch the chic passers-by from a corner café.
A 2CV tour with Paris Authentic is a fun way to see the big architectural sights without having to battle the crowd, and a street art tour with Underground Paris will show you a different side to Paris’ creative spirit.
Where to stay
On the Champs-Élysées plump for for La Reserve, a quiet but luxurious, townhouse with spa. Melia La Defense, over on the west side, is great for business and has a wonderful terrace overlooking the city. Tiny Le Petit Moulin in Le Marais (a converted boulangerie) was designed by Christian Lacroix and is a riotously patterned bijou stay for fashion lovers.
Pavillon des Lettres in Paris is a stylish little known gem with 26 rooms designed to represent the beauty and poetry of the various authors. Many of the rooms have literary prints or quotes on the furnishings. Far from gimmicky, this is city chic at its best.
Where to eat
Stay off the tourist trail to discover the best meals in Paris. Try casual fine dining at Heimat by Pierre Jancou for modern French, Monsieur Bleu for views of the Eiffel Tower and the Parisian Belle-monde and Frenchie To Go for the best takeout lunch and sandwiches the city has to offer. Top it all off at Dessance, a hip dessert-only restaurant that pairs wine with its sweet creations.
Paris’ Metro is fabulously easy to use and really cheap. Each journey costs under two Euros and both Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports join up to the Metro. Tickets are easy to buy at machines at every station. If it’s a nice day, walk – Paris’ Right Bank is especially compact.
When to go
While there’s no bad time to visit, spring and autumn are the most popular. August is the official holiday season when every Parisian heads out of town.
Three things we like
- Deep underground lie Paris’ catacombs, piled neatly with bones and skulls. It’s a macabre but fascinating experience, perfect for when it’s too hot above ground.
- Grab a warm croissant or two for breakfast and retreat to the nearest pavement café, order café crèmes and watch the world go by.
- You can rent bicycles easily all over Paris. There are 20,000 across the city through the Velib scheme and you can buy a single day or a week long pass.
Something we don’t like
Don’t take it personally when waiters are rude. Stick to practising your best French and don’t assume they speak English – it goes a long way.
The view over Paris from the Parc de Belleville is spectacular. This traditionally multicultural area in the north feels like the real Paris, more so than the tourist-y areas.
Centre George Pompidou is an easy way to spend a morning soaking up the exhibitions, Le Corbusier photo gallery and an excellent bookshop.
Paris has its own Statue of Liberty, a small-scale version of the iconic statue given to America by France. Find it on Ile de France.
High50 insider tips
- If you want to visit the arty enclave of Montmartre, get there early. By late morning it’s heaving with tourists talking selfies and bellowing loudly.
- For stylish shopping, up and coming designers and beautiful handmade jewellery head to the network of streets that make up Le Marais.
- You can walk from Bastille to the Périphérique along La Promenade Plantee, a five-kilometre garden strung along an elevated old railway line. It was the inspiration for New York’s High Line garden.
Travelling with family
Paris, like most European cities, is adept at dealing with family groups. Most modern hotels have interconnecting rooms and kids are welcome in all bistros and cafés. Buy tickets in advance for the big sights to save queuing for hours.
Need to know
- The flight time from London to Paris is around an hour.
- The time difference is UTC/GMT +1 (+2 in summer).
- Paris uses the Euro and no visa is needed for EU visitors.
- Tipping is expected as standard, from ten to 15 per cent in cafés and restaurants.
- Plugs are the standard EU two pin, so bring an adapter.
- The weather is similar to the UK.
- Pack a decent pair of walking shoes.