An expert guide to Paris
With its monument-lined boulevards, iconic museums, lively bistros and boutiques, Paris never disappoints – and post-pandemic, its many attractions are just waiting to be enjoyed.
After a difficult two years in pandemic purdah, France’s great capital reopened for business this spring. And even those famously aloof locals were smiling with genuine warmth as the visitors flooded back to enjoy some of the world’s most iconic sights, including the Eiffel Tower, the glamorous Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the treasure-packed Louvre Museum.
Factor in lamp-lit bridges spanning the Seine, cute Left Bank cafés and tiny jewel-like boutiques where every purchase is gift-wrapped to perfection, and you can see why this dazzling destination is perennially popular with travellers of every nationality.
But Paris is also a world capital that refuses to live in the past, and visitors soon discover stunning contemporary attractions, too – from the eye-popping‘ inside-out’ design of the CentrePompidou to the mur végétal (vertical garden) gracing the Musée du Quai Branly, the glass sails of the Foundation Louis Vuitton contemporary art centre, and the gleaming egg-shaped concert venue La Seine Musicale.
In short, Paris is ridiculously romantic, tirelessly picturesque and always surprising. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or returning à la recherche du temps perdu, a day spent in this great city will always be memorable. Stop at a café for a prix fixe lunch, take a stroll along the Seine, marvel at some of the finest historical sights and museums in the world and enjoy every minute of your time in this magical metropolis.
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Paris has at least 130 museums, many of them world famous, but even if you pick just one, don’t try to see everything in a single day. The city’s greatest draw is theLouvre, home of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, but you may prefer the Musée d’Orsay, where impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Degas and VanGogh are housed in the elegant halls of a former Belle Epoque railway station. en.parisinfo.com
Perched high on Montmartre, this great 19th-century basilica of gleaming white travertine is the city’s most iconic landmark after the Eiffel Tower. Head inside to see the apse, which has one of the world’s largest mosaics in its ceiling, then climb that famous dome for an amazing view of the City of Lights spread out below you.
Deep below those bustling boulevards lies another Paris – a city of the dead. In the tunnels of a disused limestone quarry, some 20 metres underground, the bones of around six million former Parisians are neatly stacked (skulls and femurs a speciality).
Around a mile of tunnels are open to the public but that’s just a fraction of what’s down there. As morbid as it sounds, this is one of the city’s most popular attractions – so don’t worry, you won’t get lost. Probably. catacombes.paris.fr
Palace of Versailles
If time allows, head 12 miles west of the city to the former home of French royalty (there are plenty of buses and guided tours). Here you’ll find a vast and jaw-droppingly magnificent palace, surrounded by incredible gardens that look like a film set.
Created in the 17th century by Louis XIV– known as the Sun King – and still home to his descendants at the time of the French Revolution, it is once seen, never forgotten. Don’t miss the famous Hall of Mirrors and Marie Antionette’ slavishly decorated bedchamber. versailles-palace-tickets.com
GRAB A BITE
La Fontaine de Mars
Everyone loves the city’s old-school bistros and brasseries, where white-aproned waiters dart around with chalkboard menus and your steak-frites or coq au vinis served with a carafe of decent house red, if rarely a smile.
A long-standing favourite, La Fontaine de Mars has tables spilling on to the cobbled pavement just a short stroll from the Eiffel Tower. fontaine-de-mars.com
A more contemporary take onParisian dining, Beefbar opened its doors in 2018 and quickly became a hit with well-heeled and fashion-conscious locals. Its fabulously ornate (and original) Art Nouveau interior contrasts with a very modern menu, artfully divided into ‘leaf, beef and reef’.
Stand-out dishes include black Angus beef crispy rolls with hoisin sauce, and a mini Kobe beef and bacon burger. beefbar.com
Paris isn’t just for carnivores. Blending Asian and Italian culinary influences in a New York loft-style setting, this popular eaterie in the 11th arrondissement has been serving delicious veggie dishes since 2007. soya-cantine-bio.fr
SNAP AND GO
This 325-metre, 10,000-tonne iron icon has graced the city since 1889. Derided and disliked when new, it now symbolises Paris to the world, and you can’t leave without taking its picture. Admire the view from the top, savour lunch at the Jules Verne restaurant on the second floor, or just take the classic snap of Monsieur Eiffel’s masterpiece from the ground – you can’t go wrong. eiffeltickets.com
Arc de Triomphe
Standing majestically at the western end of the Champs-Elysées, this imposing arch honours those who fought and died in the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary wars.
If you climb to the top, it’s a great spot to take city-wide snaps (and to marvel at the locals’ take-no-prisoners driving, as they whizz around below you). paris-arc-de-triomphe.fr
Located on the right bank of the Seine in the 18th arrondissement, this bohemian district is famous for the roll-call of great painters – Picasso, Monet and Dali among them – who once called it home. Even today, its picturesque winding streets will bring out the artist in any photographer. aparisguide.com
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Paris is dotted with markets, from the foodie joys of the tiny Marché des Enfants Rouges – the city’s oldest covered market – to the antiques and bric-a-brac of Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen.
The latter, in the north of the city, claims to be the largest flea market in the world, boasting a warren of stalls and halls. Haggling is practically mandatory here, so follow the locals and bargain hard.
Vintage clothing and jewellery are always worth buying, though we’re not sure you’ll be able to get that antique crystal chandelier back on board ship. parisdigest.com
High end shopping
If you love designer fashion, Paris will be your idea of heaven, with all the shoes, handbags, coats and make-up you can shake a credit card at. If you’re tight on time, take a tip from the locals and head to the stylish 150-year-old La Samaritaine Paris Pont Neuf department store in the first arrondissement.
Now owned by the blue-chip LVMH group and reopened to great acclaim last summer, it offers 600 leading fashion brands, a vast new beauty floor and a chic restaurant by Mauro Colagreco. With an on-site Cheval Blanc hotel, this is fast becoming the place to shop, drink and stay in Paris. dfs.com
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