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Paradise Expert City Guide to Paris

With the Summer Olympics fast approaching, Paris is preparing for an influx of international visitors who, in between supporting their countries and watching their favorite sports, will be keen to explore France’s capital. Ahead, our expert travel guide to Paris—full of tips on where to stay and shop, and what to eat, drink, see, and do in the City of Light—balances better-known destinations with a little more off-the-beaten-track options for those who want to escape the crowds.

Let’s start with some geography: Paris is bounded by a large ring road called the Boulevard Périphérique. Within this ring, Paris is divided into 20 numbered neighborhoods known as arrondissements. The lower numbers tend to be in the center of the city, the higher toward the outskirts. 

Eiffel Tower. Photo by Juan Ordonez.

The city is divided by the river Seine and the two sections are known as the Right Bank—where you will find famous landmarks like the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe—and the Left Bank, home to the Eiffel Tower and the Musee d’Orsay. In the middle of the Seine are three islands: Île de la Cité, dominated by Notre Dame cathedral, which is still under renovation after a devastating fire in 2019; a second natural island, Île Saint-Louis; and finally, a man-made island called Île aux Cygnes, the site of a small-scale Statue of Liberty

And now, on to the good stuff …

Hotel Cheval Blanc

Where to Stay in Paris

The Glamorous One

Housed in the Art Deco masterpiece that is the Samaritaine building, Hotel Cheval Blanc is a relative newcomer to Paris’ luxury hotel scene, having opened in 2020. Facing the Pont Neuf and overlooking the Seine, the central location of this hotel makes it a perfect base to explore the classic sights of Paris. And if you get the urge for retail therapy, browse the selection of luxury stores right on your doorstep. The building’s interior is exquisite, and if you want to splash out, consider booking the Quintessence suite: an opulent 7,000-square-foot space, complete with its own swimming pool.

Hotel de Crillon

The Majestic One

Centrally located in Place de la Concorde, Hôtel de Crillon is a truly majestic luxury hotel. Each guest, regardless of room category, receives personal butler service, ensuring they feel truly at home during their stay. Guests will definitely not go hungry here, with Michelin-starred restaurant L’Écrin and the tempting Butterfly Patisserie. If pampering appeals, book a treatment at Sense, the marvelous spa.

The Boutique One

The stunning Hotel Eldorado is a tiny oasis in the residential 17th arrondissement, famed for its quiet streets and elegant independent stores. This boutique hotel has just 26 rooms, each with a unique design theme, making the whole property feel more like a very stylish family home than a hotel. A courtyard filled with exotic palm trees, fragrant hydrangeas, and roses makes this a beautiful reprieve from the city—the perfect escape for guests who like to relax in green surroundings.

Maison Mere. Photos by Lucie Brémeault.

The Quirky One

Maison Mère, in the lively 9th arrondissement, is quirky, artistic, and fun. Rooms are detailed and individual in design, some with charming vintage touches. The eclectic aesthetic has proven so popular with guests that there’s now a pop-up store in the hotel for visitors keen to recreate Maison Mère’s interior design at home. With rooms varying in size from a solo cocoon to a roomy suite that sleeps six, this fun hotel has something for every traveler looking for a well-priced option, not too far from the action.

The Arty One

Over on the other side of the Seine, deep in the embrace of Montparnasse, is The Drawing House, a larger-scale hotel with 143 bedrooms and art at its very core. Living up to its name, this hotel is committed to art, and the interiors reflect this. Talented artists have taken over spaces on every floor and reinvented them with their work, which gives the property an eclectic, daring feel, and there’s a dedicated exhibition area that will interest artistic guests. Bonus: The hotel puts a strong emphasis on sustainability. 

Aerial view of Paris. Photo by Alesia Kazantceva.

Where to Eat in Paris

Best Traditional & Affordable

Did you know there are a series of incredibly well-priced, traditional restaurants scattered across Paris, some with the most stunning interior design? Known as bouillons, these pocket-friendly dining rooms are the invention of Parisian expert butcher Pierre-Louis Duval, who, in 1855, opened a clean, low-priced, pleasant restaurant in the center of the city. He focused on using cheaper cuts of meat to make stews with a hearty bouillon, or broth. The name stuck and is now used to describe these wholesome, economical eateries.

Other restaurateurs followed Duval’s lead and today, these historic bouillons offer affordably priced, classic cooking. There are a couple new additions to the scene; highly recommended is Bouillon Pigalle, which opened in 2017 and is centrally located, spacious, and outfitted with clean, modern design.

The must-visit is Bouillon Julien: an Art Deco jewel with glass ceilings, ornate plasterwork, and detailed murals. This striking restaurant serves classic French dishes like snails and tête de veau along with some delicious vegetarian options.

Le Bon Georges. Photos courtesy of Le Bon Georges.

Best Bistros

Like picking a favorite child, choosing the best bistro in Paris is close to impossible. Is it Bistro Paul Bert with its unsurpassed steak frites, or Le Bon Georges for its great wines and steak tartare? Try both. Then check out these truly excellent spots, both close to Gare du Nord, convenient for people arriving in Paris by Eurostar. 

Chez Casimir, tucked down a quiet side street near the Church of St Vincent-de-Paul, has well-priced lunch menus and serves traditional dishes. They make a beautiful ParisBrest, a delicious confection of choux pastry and not-too-sweet praline cream, topped with toasted nuts. The hidden gem here is the wine list. The staff will take you into a designated wine room, where you pick the bottle of your choice from a selection of classics. A little further away is Les Arlots, serving classics that reflect the seasons and offering a superb cheese board and some great natural wines.

Best Fine Dining

Diners are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to glamorous fine dining in Paris, with big names like Alain DucasseHélène Darroze, and Yannick Alleno all dazzling visitors with their spectacular menus. There are three more top-tier restaurants that truly capture the spirit of modern Paris. Table by Chef Bruno Verjus, located in the 12th arrondissement and awarded two Michelin stars, is famous for its lobster tempered in clarified butter. 

One of the hottest tables at the moment, helmed by champion of sustainability Manon Fleury, is one-Michelin-starred Datil. It’s situated in the heart of the Marais and serves a plant-forward menu, And over on the Left Bank, helmed by Japanese chef Atsushi Tanaka, an elegant, sparsely furnished dining room is home to restaurant AT, where the finest local ingredients are transformed into an amazing and beautifully presented tasting menu with an emphasis on seafood.

Best Sustainable

Le passage à niveau, located in a former railway building, is a beautiful restaurant and bar. Abutting the track of La Petite Ceinture, the disused railway line that encircles Paris, the restaurant’s position catches the evening sun, making its outdoor tables perfect for early evening apero (pre-dinner drinks). Also open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers a vegetarian-friendly, well-priced menu. Sustainability is the watchword at this urban farm and restaurant; while growing organic vegetables and herbs that are used on-site, the farm also helps marginalized members of society gain new skills and better prospects.

Photo by Jacques Dillies.

Best Bakeries

Paris has a wealth of superb boulangeries (specializing in bread) and pâtisseries (specializing in pastry). Pro tip: Baguettes and croissants are always available and are good budget options. But if you want to splurge, then try the following: an escargot, a coiled pastry studded with raisins at Du Pain et Des Idées; an éclair from Boulangerie Utopie; or a danish made at Tapisserie.

Where to Drink in Paris

Best Speakeasy

Hidden behind a refrigerator door in Prost—an Alsace restaurant with a steampunk-themed interior—is a staircase leading to a secret bar. This is 404 Not Found, a beautiful speakeasy  that offers those who stumble upon it the opportunity to enjoy gorgeous drinks amid opulent decor. Fuel up with a plate of spaetzle or sauerkraut in the restaurant before enjoying a magical series of rooms with views over the Bastille monument.

Best Craft Beer

On the Left Bank in Port Royal district, l’Academie de la Bière has been serving neighbors and students a tremendous range of craft beers since the 1960s. It has a certain ramshackle charm and offers around 12 beers on tap and another 150 in bottles, as well as a broad selection of cider and wine. There is plenty of choice for something to pair with their famed moules-frites.

Prescription Cocktail Club

Best Cocktails

Also on the Left Bank, the dreamy Prescription Cocktail Club makes a dramatic backdrop for a classy drink. It’s set over two floors in Saint Germain and includes an on-site fortune teller. Be sure to dress up, as this place is built for glamour.

Photo by Davey Gravy

Best Traditional Parisian

Dating back to the 17th century, a guingette was an open-air drinking establishment found in the suburbs of Paris. They were created as a way to avoid the city tax imposed on alcohol and serve drinks cheaply. As to be expected, they earned a reputation for merriment and rowdiness.

Today, there’s a new type of guingette in the city, just as riotous and jolly as its predecessors. Inside Buttes Chaumont park in the 19th arrondissement, Rosa Bonheur takes inspiration from the Camargue, a coastal region in the South of France. Enjoy drinks, tapas, and live entertainment in this beautiful park setting.

Best Natural Wine 

Folderol has two specialties: natural wine and gelato. They may sound like unusual gastronomic companions, but the number of people flocking to the place says otherwise. It’s a bit kooky and fun, and a great spot to check out when exploring the fun and buzzy 11th arrondissement.

Where to Shop in Paris

Best Vintage

Paris is home to the largest flea market in the world: the Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen. It’s the best place in the city to snap up an absolute bargain. Open Saturday, Sunday, and with limited stalls on Monday, this market isn’t strictly within the Périphérique (the road that surrounds Paris and forms a de facto border) but it’s close. Pro tip: Block out your weekend and bring an empty suitcase.

Galerie Vivienne. Photo by Fred Nassar.

Best Traditional Parisian

Enjoy some stunning architecture while you shop in the city’s covered passages, which can be found across the city. Explore Galerie Vivienne, one of the most famous passages, which was built in 1823 in a neoclassical style; it offers 56 shops and a gorgeous mosaic floor. Passage Brady, dating from 1828, is less showy in design, but is home to some stunning Indian and Pakistani clothing shops and a range of South Asian restaurants. Passage Verdeau, in the Grands Boulevards district, is a super spot for antique lovers and collectors, with stores selling vintage books, postcards, and cameras. 

Galeries Lafayette. Photo by Svetlana Gumerova.

Best All-Rounders

Fact: Paris really knows how to build a department store. It has some of the most beautiful examples in the world, each designed with convenience in mind for shoppers. 

Le Printemps, in the heart of Paris, is quite literally a one-stop-shop. It covers a huge area with plenty of choice for shoppers. Galeries Lafayette offers some unique features; the wellness gallery is a specialist area dedicated to sport, fitness, and well-being. Finding yourself on the Left Bank? Then pop to Le Bon Marche, an early 19th-century building and one of the first modern department stores in the city. 

Best Shopping Neighborhood

The Marais is a fantastic place to wander, both for highly organized shoppers and more spontaneous impulse buyers. Retail temptations in this delightful part of Paris are many. Among the independent cafes, bakeries, and quirky museums in this neighborhood, Le Marais offers vintage shoppers and luxury brand fans—there’s Lagerfeld, Gucci, and Galliano in the neighborhood—a wealth of options.

Best Quirky & Arty Destination

A former railway viaduct has a new purpose: It houses Viaduc des Arts, a community of craftspeople selling fashion, decor, cultural objects, jewelry, and crafts. Just around the corner from the Bastille monument and not too far from the Seine, this artists’ collective is well worth a browse. 

If you need a breath of fresh air after all that shopping, then pop upstairs to Paris’ version of the High Line, La Coulée Vertewhich is a stretch of railway line that has been transformed into beautiful gardens.

What to Do in Paris

Best Views

It’s a rite of passage to climb the Eiffel Tower, the extraordinary wrought-iron monument that was designed for the 1889 Paris Exhibition. It’s also worth climbing the Arc de Triomphe to enjoy its panoramic views from the epicenter of Paris. But if you head over the river, there’s another fabulous place to get another perspective of the city—the tallest building in Paris, the Tour Montparnasse.

Louvre. Photo by Bharat Patil.

Best Museums

Paris has so many fabulous museums and galleries, and the LouvreOrangerie, and Centre Pompidou are three to prioritize on a visit to the city. But to avoid huge crowds and long lines, why not try some of the city’s lesser-known venues? Musée Carnavalet in the Marais explores the history of Paris through the ages; better still, its permanent collections are free to visit. Another museum with free entry is Musée de la Vie Romantique, a small and delightful spot. It has a shaded garden with a tea room, which makes a perfect retreat on summer days.

Best Boat Trips

When you’ve tried Bateaux Mouches, why not take a trip down the hipster Canal Saint-Martin? Enjoy the scenery of this pretty district before disappearing into a tunnel, but fear not: After a few moments, the boat emerges into daylight on the river Seine and takes a course to the Eiffel Tower. This superb trip offers amazing photo opportunities. 

Tuileries. Photo by Kris Atomic.

Best Outdoor Spots

The Jardin des Tuileries has been immortalized in artworks and is a must-see on any Paris itinerary. Across the water are two other magnificent parks, which make for great destinations on a sunny day. Over on the Left Bank, Paris’ Botanic Garden, Le Jardin des Plantes, has galleries, gardens, and a zoo to explore. Close by is the stunning Jardin de Luxembourg, with its formal planted gardens, fruit trees, water features, and a small-scale Statue of Liberty.

Best Quirky

Go underground and explore the catacombs of Paris: a labyrinth of underground tunnels in the 14th arrondissement filled with the skulls and bones of millions of Parisians. Alternatively, come face to face with your heroes at Paris’ Musée Grévin, where 200 celebrities, including politicians, film stars, and chefs, are recreated in wax.

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