The Eiffel Tower. The Louvre. The Champs-Élysées. Notre-Dame. Versailles. The sights of Paris are already imprinted in our collective consciousness, making Paris one of the most iconic cities in the world. Paris is much more than a list of monuments though – it is strolls along the Seine and getting lost in winding streets, taking a taxi down grand boulevards and spending hours with a café in a café, on a square where great works of art, literature and revolution were born. From the heights of Montmartre or the tip of the Eiffel Tower, a pew beneath a soaring church ceiling or a bench in the Tuileries Garden, Paris is everything you’ve imagined it to be, and more.
Call it the City of Light or the City of Love, Paris is in a class of its own. Originally named the City of Light as the first to introduce street lighting, it can also refer to Paris’s key role in the Enlightenment, but in any case, the moniker now rings true in the 20,000 bulbs that light up the Eiffel Tower, dinners by candlelight in a side-street bistrot and the sun streaming through the glass pyramid at the Louvre. Discover Paris. Again and again.
Shall we begin with the Louvre? Enter the Renaissance palace via I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid – the two structures enhance each other’s beauty. Must-sees include the Mona Lisa, masterpieces by Michelangelo and Rembrandt, and the now-armless Venus de Milo, but there are more than 10,000 works here. Stroll along the Seine and across the Pont Neuf to the island home of Notre Dame. Closed to visitors following the devastating fire of April 2019, its Gothic towers and flying buttresses stand strong. Choose the other direction along the Seine from the Louvre and walk through the Jardin de Tuileries, gardens by the same designer as Versailles. Here you’ll find the Musée de l’Orangerie, housing Monet’s Water Lilies paintings, or continue to the Place de la Concorde, the city’s largest square, where Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793. From here, the world’s original grand boulevard, the Champs-Élysées, invites you to walk its length all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.
In the Musee d’Orsay, a former train station provides a spectacular setting for works by Manet, Monet, Cézanne and Renoir. Explore the St Germain and St Michel neighbourhoods, where silver-topped tables and wicker chairs populate every corner, students spill out of universities, and church spires rise in squares large and small. Stop by the Jardin du Luxembourg, 23 hectares of gardens laid out in the 17th century. Consider visiting the Musée Rodin, in a palace that was the sculptor’s studio and showroom, with The Thinker in the garden. The Tour Eiffel rises to the west at the end of its own grand green boulevard. Ascend to the top and learn all about this turn-of-the-century engineering feat on the way.
You can’t go wrong in Paris, synonymous with haute cuisine. Michelin-starred Septime makes magic with just three ingredients per dish. Mokonuts mixes Middle Eastern and Japanese flavours. Dersou pairs innovative dishes with crazy cocktails in an Instagrammable interior. Waly-Fay serves the best West African food around. The simply named Cuisine merges French bistro with Japanese izakaya, and wines to match. Eels offers an open kitchen and fresh herby, citrusy flavours, while Clover Grill serves up smoky and meaty. Au Nouveau Nez is a quaint bistro with a tiny menu that’s worth it. Looking for something bigger? La Felicità has five kitchens and three bars, seating 1,000 in the world’s largest startup campus, Station F.
Start your fashion tour de force with the haute couture and designer shops of the Champs-Elysees, and move on to the rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, home to exclusive designer shops, jewellers, antique sellers as well as the Palais de l’Élysée, the official residence of the French president. Paris invented the department store, so you could spend a day or more in the Galeries Lafayette, whose magnificent stained-glass dome is over a century old. The food hall of the other department store, Le Bon Marché, offers no fewer than 30,000 products. Another way to find all your shopping experiences in one, head to Les Halles (but don’t pronounce the ‘h’ or the ‘s’). Once Paris’s food market (for 800 years!), it’s now a four-storey underground shopping centre with 131 shops, topped with a translucent canopy. If perfume gives you some joie de vivre, visit Fragonard's Perfume Museum for a guided tour through the art of perfume making.
Come evening, you can change up your café for an apéritif such as kir, white wine mixed with crème de cassis berry liqueur, or the aniseed pastis in summer. Don’t miss Bar Hemingway if you’re among the writer’s many admirers, Le Perchoir, a rooftop bar perfect for sunset, or Au Sauvignon for a tour of French wines. Have cocktails in the library of the mansion-turned-hotel at St James Paris, or choose Le Bar des Prés for Parisian chic. Gravity Bar’s interior appears to defy gravity indeed, or perhaps it’s the cocktails that make it seem that way. Lulu White offers live jazz in a speakeasy-style bar, or listen to eclectic mixes at Bar des Ferrailleurs, a dive bar popular with students. Head to Chez Bouboule to play petanque-like boule indoors while you sip craft beer, wine or cider. Prescription and Experimental are two of Paris’s most popular retro-chic bar-clubs.
Don’t miss Montmartre, a hilly haven for artists within the city, topped by the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur. The nearby métro station Abbesses is itself a must-see with its wrought iron, glass-covered Art Nouveau entrance. Another way to get to the top of the city is to visit Montparnasse, a rather unsightly skyscraper that’s worth it for the view. Or descend into the depths of Paris in the Catacombes, underground tunnels lined with skulls and bones. For something contemporary, pop into the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s new glass-panelled art centre. Nearby you’ll find the Stade Roland Garros and a tennis museum as well.
Beyond Paris, there’s always Versailles, the quintessential French château built by the Sun King, Louis XIV, with its over-the-top Hall of Mirrors and extravagantly cultivated gardens. For more châteaux, take a day trip to the Loire Valley to see Chambord, the largest of them all, or Chenonceau, perhaps the prettiest. Visit Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny, complete with the water lily pond, Japanese bridge and the palette of colours that inspired his most famous works. Another option is the 12th-century cathedral at Chartres, whose 176 medieval stained-glass windows feature a blue that has never been replicated. For fun with or without kids, Disneyland Paris or Parc Astérix are each about an hour from Paris.
Aéroport Paris-Beauvais runs its own shuttles, coordinated with arrival times, that take you to Porte Maillot metro station, at the edge of Paris, in 1 hour 15 minutes. This is the most economical option (especially if you book online). Regional buses, trains, taxis and rental cars are also available. The airport has duty-free shops and newspaper kiosks, cafés, a sports bar and a brasserie, plus takeaway options.
It’s never a bad time to visit Paris, which offers plenty of indoor and outdoor sights, but mid-May to mid-September is your best chance for warm and dry weather. Temperatures range between 11°C and 15°C in spring and 15°C and 25°C in summer, though it can get hot and humid in July and August. Light rain and cool evenings are always a possibility, so pack a jacket and umbrella.
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