Lauded for its dizzying array of monuments, museums, sweeping boulevards, and alluring cafés, the world’s most romantic city still has a few surprises up its perfumed sleeve
It’s a long way from the plains of Africa, but Paris has its own “Big Five”, and everyone who visits the City of Lights morphs into a modern-day big-game hunter, intent on bagging a glimpse.
No trip to the French capital is complete without a safari around the mother of all museums, the Louvre, a gallop down the aisles of the gloriously Gothic Notre-Dame and a pause on the terrace of the sculptured cloud that is Sacré-Cœur. Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece of 19th-century engineering, the Eiffel Tower, with its extraordinary views across the city – and down into its magnificent belly – still provokes gasps of disbelief. And the exultant Arc de Triomphe, a monument to military might, is famed for its commanding view of the elm-lined Champs-Elysées and the other avenues that radiate from its base.
All this, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.
The city is made up of 20 arrondissements (districts), and many of these are captivating sights in their own right. The Marais, to the east of the center, is as bewitching as the Mona Lisa. Unique boutiques, slick art galleries, gay bars, and Jewish falafel shops line the streets, while regal mansions- turned-museums recall the ancient aristocracy’s penchant for this once-swampy piece of Paris.
A stroll through Belleville, one of the city’s most multicultural and working-class quarters, provides an antidote (if you need it) to seriously stylish Paris, and its eccentric Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a remarkable reinvention of an old gypsum pit. The neighboring 10th arrondissement also harbors reminders of industrial Paris, with the imposing railway stations of Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord, and the meandering Canal St-Martin, the banks of which are now home to cool cafés and quirky shops.
As the birthplace of couture, Paris knows a thing or two about shops – the department store was, after all, a French invention. But before these grand retail dames came the dainty passages couverts – glass-covered, iron-columned shopping arcades that still dazzle with their old-world atmosphere and eclectic, occasionally designer, tenants. Just as diverse are the city’s many markets, each of which has a distinct personality and flavor, from vast flea markets brimming with glossy antiques and funky bric-a-brac to open-air food markets groaning with seasonal goodies.
Roam the city’s serpentine backstreets, bustling bridges, quais, and handsome boulevards and you’ll chance upon the haunts of artists, writers, poets and photographers, dusty bookstores, gossipy bars and cafés, hidden squares and pretty gardens – the lesser-known side of this legendary metropolis.
Getting There and Around
Paris is served by two airports: Charles de Gaulle (CDG), 19 miles (30 km) northeast of the city, and Orly, 11 miles (18 km) south of the city. Trains and shuttle buses run from both into the city center.
Where to Eat
The city’s restaurants are reason enough to visit. Au Bon Accueil dishes up tasty bistro fare and Eiffel Tower views, while Chez Michel champions hearty food from the north. The classy Table de Joël Robuchon serves modern French food with flair.
Where to Stay
The hip Hôtel Arvor Saint Georges is within strolling distance of Sacré- Cœur and Opéra. The chic Hôtel Verneuil is located near to galleries, cafés, and shops, while Le Meurice, a plush hotel overlooking the Jardin des Tuileries, has a Michelin-starred restaurant and the most romantic of all rooms – the Marco Polo.
When to Go
For lovely weather and shorter lines, visit in spring or fall.
Budget per Day for Two
Paris can be very expensive, but if you stay in a mid-range hotel, eat out once a day and take the Métro, expect to spend US$250–350.