Travel to Paris, romantic charm and effortless style

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Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination France

Where on Earth do we start? What is there left to say about Paris that has not already been written, sung, painted, photographed or filmed. The City of Lights is the most visited metropolis in the world and has been for some time. It is no different from any other major city in that there is always something new to do, see, experience or taste, but where Paris differs from the rest is its history, beauty and charm. Very few cities are able to conjure up as much emotion in its visitors than gai Paris. It may only be a couple hours away from London, but it it feels a world away with its more delicate architecture, café culture and French elegance.

Many have been accusing of Paris of not being the city it once was but quite frankly rumours of its demise are greatly exaggerated. It may not be a world force when it comes to business and finance and it may not have as many night clubs as other European capitals (is that a bad thing?) but in terms of creativity in the arts, culinary world, fashion etc it is still right up there. Ever-evolving and ever-innovative, and with a change of mayor later this year, Paris' best days are perhaps still ahead.

As for the urban myths, let us put your mind at rest. Yes, of course there are some snooty waiters and rude shop assistants who cannot or will not speak English, but it is far from the epidemic that many beileve to be the case. Just make the effort to step off the beaten track and you will find a whole new world of pleasant, smiling traders as well as highly original restaurants, stores, street art and more in addition to the already world famous monuments - if you travel to Paris you can make it whatever you want it to be.

Whichever season you choose to come and visit (there is no wrong time to come) you cannot be but charmed by this most magical of cities as you walk, cycle or float across it. À Paris, it most certainly is la belle vie!

Paris: what to do?

Paris is a great city for walking. It may be a capital and major European city, but compared to others it is relatively small and very managable by foot. So our most important piece of advice is to walk everywhere. Even if you need to cross the city, you can do it in around an hour and a half, or longer if you stop off on the way. But if you are looking to discover particular areas by foot then our top recommendations are Montmartre, with its hills and steps and cobbled streets, the Marais, with its trendy boutiques, bars and restaurants, the Latin Quarter (St. Michel and St. Germain), the canals in the northeast of Paris, the Butte aux Cailles with its villagey feel and the Charonne area in the 20th arrondissement (not to be confused with the area around the métro station of the same name). Other places which are pleasant to walk around are the two woods at each end of Paris - the Bois de Boulogne to the west and the Bois de Vincennes to the east. You also have the Promenade Plantée which crosses the 12th arrondissement and which was once a railway. It starts behind the Opéra de Bastille and continues to the Bois de Vincennes, the final part along tunnels. Similarly, there is another walk which goes right around the city known as the Petite Ceinture and which was also a railway.

If you prefer not to take the risk of getting lost and wandering around aimlessly, then there are several free guided walking tours of the city, one of which starts at St. Michel. Others also exist where you can specify which area of Paris you would like to discover.

Another, less physical way to get to know the city is by taking a river cruise along the Seine. There are many different companies offering various lengths of tour both during the day and at night, although the original tours are operated by the Bateaux Mouches.

Paris is a haven for market lovers, every little neighbourhood havng its own. Most function at the weekends but some are open everyday while others operate on various weekdays. The oldest one in Paris, a covered market, is the Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais. While it does have several fruit and veg and flower stands, it is mainly a place to have breakfast, lunch or, on Sunday, brunch, with stands selling various cuisines such as Moroccan, Caribbean, Korean, Italian, Lebanese and others. Supposedly, the cheapest market in the city is the Marché d'Aligre close to Bastille which is also a great place to watch the action from one of the local cafés surrounding the market. The biggest flea market is that at Porte de Clignancourt.

Once you have picked up all your goodies from the markets, you can head to one of a number of great picnic spots across the city. In the summer, much of the banks of the Seine are taken up by crowds dining al fresco and the same goes for the canals. If you prefer grass, then there are several great parks to picnic in, including the Champ de Mars (in front of the Eiffel Tower), the Buttes de Chaumont (hugely popular), the Parc de Montsouris, the Jardin de Luxembourg, the Parc Monceau, the Jardin de Reuily and the Park de la Villette (where there is also a free open air cinema during the month of August).

If you prefer to make your own food then why not try a French cooking class. Most are conducted in French but several school do have English-language classes where you can learn to make classic Gallic dishes as well as pastries.

If the weather does not allow for outdoor activities then take advantage and visit one or some of Paris' numerous museums. You all know the big ones such as the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, and the Pompidou Centre, but there many other lesser known museums worth visiting. Our favourites are the Musée Nissim-de-Camodo (French decorative arts), Musée Cernuschi (Asian arts), the Maison Européenne de la Photo, the Jeu de Paume and the Musée de la Vie Romantique. But there are scores of others dedicated to the country's most famous painters (Delacroix, Moreau, Monet) as well as more obscure subjects such as chocolate, eroticism, smoking, wine, magic, advertising, dolls and sport.

Other activities that we would recommend include visiting a squat or artists' residence, listening to some jazz in the St. Germain district, attending a spoken word event and, for lovers, attaching a lock to either the Pont des Arts or Pont de l'Archevêché.

If you want to see Paris from above (which we thoroughly recommend), then there are several options. If you do not mind paying for the views then your choices are to head up to at least the second level of the Eiffel Tower, climb the Arc de Triomphe or go to the top of the Tour Montparnasse. However, there are plenty of other places you could head for a magnificent view of the city without spending one centime. One popular place is on the roof of the famous department store, Printemps, on Boulevard Haussmann. Although the interior is occupied by a café, those who head to the top are not obliged to consume and can go out onto the extensive terrace and walk almost right round for sweeping views of the French capital. You can also get a great vista from the summit of the Pompidou Centre as well as from the Institut de Monde Arabe close to Bastille. Yet another place from which to observe the Parisian rooftops is from in front of the Sacré Coeur Basilica. For a great perspective of the sunset, head to the viewing platform at the very top of the Parc de belleville.

Back on the ground there are several must see architectural highlights. Notre-Dame will probably already be on your list, but you should also take the opportunity while nearby to visit the magnificent Sainte Chapelle, famous for its stained glass windows, and the Palais de Justice. Also not to miss is the Hôtel des Invalides, Ecole Militaire, the Comédie Française, Bourse, the Opéra Garnier, the Hôtel de Ville, Gare de Lyon, the Pantheon, the Académie Française, the Palais de Luxembourg, the Eglise de la Madeleine, the Grand Synagogue of Paris and some of the modren architecture at La Defense, Paris' equivalent of the 'square mile'.

In the area around Grands Boulevards is a network of passages, or arcades, full of second-hand book shops, small clothes stores, restaurants and specialist boutiques. If you are into street art then head to the 13th arrondissement where you will find many art works, some of which take up the entire sides of huge apartment blocks. But you will also see many smaller pieces around Paris, many by the same artists who each have their own style and particular signature mark.

There are several cemeteries that you should not miss in Paris, such as the famous Père Lachaise, where Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Georges Bizet, Frédéric Chopin and many other famous people have been laid to rest. There are also well known personalities buried at the cemeteries of Montmartre and Montparnasse.

If grand squares are your thing, then Paris has several worth seeing. Probably the most famous is Place des Vosges in the Marais district. The city's oldest planned sqaure, it has been home to many famous people in the past, including Victor Hugo, whose former house you can visit. In the mddle of the square is a park which is hugely popular in the summer while around the sides of the arched square are a number of high-end galleries with beautiful artwork and sculptures. Other major squares include Place de la Concorde and Place Vendôme.

For those of you who are not easily scared, one place you should see is The Catacombs, Paris' ossuaries, which are located in what was once mines from which stone was taken to build the city. The remains of around six million people are bured here, twenty metres underground. A hugely popular tourist attraction, make sure you arrive well before opening time to avoid finding yourself at the back of a very long line!

If the weather is particularly bad and you do not feel like being in the open, then one thing Parisians love to do is go to the cinema, especially on a Sunday afternoon. Although there are plenty of modern cinemas showing the latest Hollywood blockbuster, we advise you to go to one of the small, old independent cinemas in the area around Saint Michel. Many of them often show old British and American classics and they are sub-titled not dubbed so you wil be able to follow. A very pleasant way to spend a lazy afternoon.

  • The numerous museums and attractions
  • Thriving cultural scene (art, photography, fashion, design, theatre, film)
  • The whole city is walkable
  • Architecturally beautiful city
  • An international city
  • Good public transport
  • The terrace culture
  • Homelessness and poverty are quite visible
  • The scammers
  • The métro can be dirty/smelly
  • Difficult for vegetarians

Paris: what to visit?


You will probably at some point take the métro. Depending on how often you think you will take it there are different tickets available. If you plan on making just a handful of journeys then the best bet is to buy single tickets (1.90 euros, valid for one journey on métro, bus and/tramway including transfers) for each journey. You can also buy a set of ten single tickets for 13.70 euros. Alternatively you can purchase daily, three-day or five-day tickets which are really for those who plan to take the métro frequently over several zones.

If you plan to visit a number of the city's monuments within two, three of five days then you might want to think about getting a Paris City Passport. Included in the price (71, 103 or 130 euros for adults and 15, 34 or 40 euros for kids) is unlimited travel on the métro, bus, tram and RER train between zones one to three, free access to over 60 museums, a one-hour and ten minute river cruise and, if you buy the three- or five-day card, complimentary use of the Red Bus tours which go by the principal attractions of the city.

Another thing to be aware of is that most museums will be closed for one day a week, usually a Monday or Tuesday. Always check if this is the case for the museum you want to visit before heading off as there is nothing more frustrating than turning up to find the doors shut!

To avoid

Being the most visited city in the world has some drawbacks. One of the worst, from a tourist's point of view, are the scam artists. Persuasive, innovative and cunning, they can fool even the most wary of traveller if you have never come across their particular trick. Always be on the guard against such characters and never hand over any camera equipment, money or other valuables, no matter how trustworthy someone seems. If you need help buying a ticket at the métro station, go straight to a window rather than let someone at the machine assist you as in all probability these people are scammers. When arriving at Gare du Nord be careful not to get in a false taxi even if they're saying they'll do a special price (the price isn't special at all!)

If possible, avoid driving in Paris. The road system can be very complicated if you are not familiar with it, with many one-way streets and roads without markings. The alternatives are numerous with 16 métro lines, a comprehensive bus service (with many night buses), a tramway network and the Vélib bicycle share scheme. Being a relatively small city, much of Paris is walkable too so some good walking shoes are in order.

You might also want to avoid the month of August. As in much of continental Europe, the city pretty much shuts down during this month with many shops, restaurants and other services closed for the entire four weeks. It is also the time when Parisians flee the city for their second homes elsewhere in the country and abroad and so it loses some of its appeal and charm. That said, it is one of the low seasons in terms of hotel rates and the places that do remain open are easier to get into.

Paris: what to eat?

As the city that many consider to be the world's gastronomic capital, you will find all regional and international cuisines in Paris. The Italians and Spanish might have something to say about this and the likes of London, New York and Tokyo may have well-founded claims to the crown, but there is no denying that one of the highlights of a trip to Paris is the food.

A good place to start is the good old local Parisian bistrot, of which there are still a good few whose quality has not been compromised by tourists (in any case, being a major international city, it is almost impossible to find a restaurant where none of the clientele are French). These are the perfect places to try those classic French dishes such as steak tartare, snails, duck confit and the like. If you avoid the obvious tourist traps it is unlikely that you will have a bad meal but bear in mind that some places are known more for their ambiance than for their food.

If your only stop in France is Paris then you should perhaps take the time to sample some of the regional cuisine. One of the most popular is that of the mountainous Savoie area of France where many head in the winter for the ski season. The two typical dishes from this region are raclette (where cheese is heated either in slices or directly on the exposed surface of half a wheel of cheese and then poured onto boiled potatoes accompanied with cold meats, gherkins and pickled onions) and fondue. Relatively inexpensive and thoroughly satisfying, this is a great option if visiting in winter.

For a taste of Brittany, head to a crêperie. Usually washed down with a bowl of cider, it is custom to first have a savoury galette followed by a sweet crêpe. You will find many stands and restaurants selling crêpes particularly in the streets around Montparnasse.

If you have the budget then you should also try and get a reservation at one of the city's top restaurants, many of which are to be found in the finest hotels. Most of the top chefs in the world will have passed through Paris at some point and many chose to stay or at least open up a place here. Some names to look out for include Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon, Paul Bocuse, Guy Savoy, Anthony Bourdain, Daniel Boulud and Alain Passrd, although there are many more who deserve to be mentioned too.

Also important to try if you are in Paris at the weekend, is Sunday brunch. Although American in origin, this mid-morning/afternoon ritual has become very important in the French capital and Parisians are always on the lookout for the best in the city. Typically begun with croissants, pain au chocolat, and tartines (lengths of baguette cut in half served with butter, jams and Nutella) it is then followed by an egg-based dish (benedict, omelette etc) with perhaps bacon or smoked salmon and then a small dessert (fruit salad, chocolate cake etc) and coffee. Another popular Sunday afternoon passtime is going to a seafood restaurant and enjoying oysters and champagne. Make sure you go to one of the big restaurants to be sure of the quality.

No trip to Paris would be complete without trying some of the exquisite pâtisseries that are on offer. The most famous of these is the macaron but there are so many other treats available including small tarts, éclairs, pastries and chocolate. You will not fail to pass by a boulangerie so pop in whenever you feel a little hungry and you will quickly fill yourself up!

Thanks to the country's numerous colonies, you will also find hundreds of African restaurants. Most of these will be Moroccan, where you should try a couscous or a tajine while there are also many Tunisian and Algerian shops selling sweets and pastries. Sub-Saharan Africa is also well represented with quite a number of Senegalese, Ivorian and Cameroonian restaurants in areas where these nationalities tend to live. The French islands are not forgotten either with a number of restaurants serving traditional cuisine from Martinique, Guadeloupe and Réunion. You can find many Indian restaurants too, especially in the north of Paris, however if you are used to eating Indian in the UK you probably would not like the restaurants here which tend to adapt their cooking to the French who cannot really take a lot of spice. If you fancy trying Vietnamese cuisine, then Paris is a good place to do it, with quite a few excellent places serving typical dishes such as bo bun. The Marais is another area you may want to head to as it is here you will find the best falafels in town, concentrated along rue des Rosiers. For Japanese and Korean food, head to rue St. Anne and the roads around where you will find bone fide retsaurants with healthy, affordable cuisine.

Since about 2011, like in London, burgers have become all the rage and there are some excellent burger joints in Paris to rival those anywhere on the planet. The period has also seen the rise of the food truck with tens arounds the capital serving all types of cuisine. Another trend which is also on the up is the speakeasy bar, of which there are around 20 in Paris. Not always easy to get into, these intimate, discreet bars are perfect for a romantic evening of cocktails and dancing.

In terms of drinking, wine is the obvious route to take. It can be daunting experience in Paris, but find a good wine bar, preferably one that serves à la ficelle (where you only pay for what you drink from a newly opened bottle) and the staff will help you find something you like and/or offer you a selection of wines to give you an idea of what is on offer. There are of course also many bars specialising in beers and other, stronger alcohols.

Paris: what to buy?

Much of what you find in Paris you will also be able to find back home in the large cities. If you are into tacky, kitsch souvenirs such as Eiffel Tower key rings, I heart Paris t-shirts and novelty aprons then you will find all you need in the multitude of tourist shops in Montmartre and along the Champs Elysées or rue de Rivoli.

If you are into fashion then you should head to either one of the big department stores such as Printemps, Galeries Lafayette; Le Bon Marché or BHV Marias. For more original clothing, there are several areas with a high concnetration of independent designers and boutiques, for example in the Marais (also the place to go for design, art and photography) or Montmartre.

For foodies the best thing to bring back is cheese or wine as everything else worth eating is quickly perishable. It is impossible not to find a cheese shop in every neighbourhood in Paris and they will be happy to vacuum pack your cheese for you in order that you can take it home. Similarly, there are hundreds of caves or wine merchants, around the city who will help you find a case, or cases, to your taste.

And if you get a sudden attack of homesickness then fear not as Marks and Spencer have recently made a return to the French capital with several stores already open and more to come!

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