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While Paris was shaken by the events of 2016, it’ll take a lot more to break the spirit and centuries-old charm of a city known for love and romance. Now more than ever is the time to visit – while inhabitants remain wary, the grand maisons still stand proud, the local bistros buzz with characteristic French flair and leafy streets beckon for meandering walks. If you’re in town for a long weekend, this is our guide to the real Paris.
Aim for Montmartre, Saint Germain, the 2nd or 1st arrondissements or near the Canal Saint-Martin. 9Hotel Republique is a good-value option – though the area is a bit like the Leicester Square of Paris it is a good launchpad for almost anywhere in the city, and well-placed for late-night cabs home. If you’re angling for more lavish lodging, Le Meurice, Le Bristol and Hotel Costes are always winners.
Dinner: Head to Hotel Amour and ask to sit outside or in the conservatory, festooned by candles and foliage which create an oasis in a previously “no-go” part of Paris. The cocktails are dangerously fun, the food quintessentially French – think generous portions with a modern kick. It might be somewhat hipster but it retains its French soul, while the Parisian cool cats who flock here make for exceptional people watching. If you can’t get a table, go for La Belle Epoque, another smart-casual gem with fab French cuisine and few tourists.
Drinks: If it’s good weather, Le Perchoir, is a chic but chilled-out rooftop bar. If not, don your glad rags and head for cocktails at KONG with views over the whole of Paris. If you’re keen to go out dancing, be warned that the French clipboard patrol have no mercy on bad footwear and that French women rarely dance. Chez Manet is fun if you’re willing to brave the queue.
Breakfast: Soak up your hangover with with an enormous croissant at Place du Voges, the square where Victor Hugo lived and wrote Les Misérables. It’s well worth walking there as that area of Le Marais is beautiful; once the Jewish Quarter it overflows with elegant French architecture and an abundance of patisseries. Café de la Carette offers some of the best pain au chocolats in the city, and doubles up as a sun trap from which to watch the world go by.
Walk: After breakfast, take some time to simply inhale Paris, weaving through Le Marais and its infinite boutiques, art galleries, cafés and chocolatiers. Turn south and walk west along the river until you reach the Louvre.
Culture: Walk through the Louvre and cross to Rue Saint Honore. This is one of Paris’ smartest shopping districts, where you can enjoy wistfully popping in and out of flashy boutiques. Towards the end of the street is Colette, the shop selling “everything and anything new”. Once you reach the end of Rue Saint Honore, turn south and cross over into the Tuileries gardens, walking up towards the Louvre and stopping for a coffee in the gardens. If you have the time, visit the colossal museum or opt for Napoleon’s apartment, where ornate interiors a offer a snapshot of imperial France.
Cross the bridge and head towards Saint Germain, once the bohemian quarter but now the elegant and expensive epicentre of art galleries, luxury shopping and smart cafés. Avoid the crowds at places like Café De Flore and instead wander the streets – going via 56 Rue Andre for the crêpe of a lifetime – before finishing up at the legendary Deyrolle. This off-the-beaten-track treasure trove of taxidermy has been open since 1831, with two floors housing every exotic animal under the sun. You can buy beautiful mounted butterflies in a framed box and beetle paperweights in their gift shop – beats a souvenir Eiffel Tower keyring any day. Walk to La Palette, a gloriously Parisian café near Saint-Germain-des-Prés where you can sip a glass of rosé in the sun or snuggle under the heaters with a hot chocolate.
Walk: Dress up and head to L’Opera in the 2nd arrondissement, a majestic sight when lit up, steeped in history and Phantom of the Opera tales. At this point you can either give in and order an Uber if you’re in heels, or persevere to see Paris at night, walking past the Moulin Rouge and all the way to Montmartre.
Aperitif: Go up to the top floor of Terrass-Hotel in the old red light district and Paris’s coolest enclave. At its vivacious core, Montmartre is filled with bars and restaurants that stay open till the early hours, while the fringes near Le Sacre Coeur represent a gentrified bohemia, a once-gritty Paris now lined with discreet restaurants and boutiques between breaking up the elegant buildings. Cocktails at Le Terrace are imaginative and incredibly strong – stay steady as you descend to ground level.
Dinner: Just a five-minute walk away is Le Moulin de Galette, an unfussy restaurant with exquisite French food and a well-heeled local crowd. Arrive early for a drink at their bar, placed so that you are overlooking the restaurant.
After hours: Persifleur is an upbeat bar for a digestif where it’s pretty easy to get served as the majority of the clientele are outside chain smoking.
Brunch: Wake up and clear your head with a stroll through Les Enfants Rouges, once a 16th-century orphanage and now a luxury food market within an imposing wooden edifice. Options are endless thanks to a multitude of artisan stalls and a buzzy Sunday vibe. If you prefer to sit down, an endless choice of crepes at Breizh Café will keep you busy, but be sure to book ahead because it’s packed on Sundays.
Culture: Walk off the Nutella, banana and butterscotch pancakes in the Picasso Museum, just around the corner. The 17th-century building, Hôtel Salé, is an exquisite private mansion owned by the city since 1964 and housing one of Paris’ most coveted art collections, as the Spanish artist spent much of his time living and working in Paris. If Picasso wets your art appetite, make the Pompidou your next stop where you can marvel or frown at contemporary creations.
Shop: Come on Eileen is a vintage shop which requires a beady eye and patient companion. Here, you will find the Parisian gems of dreams from Chanel suits to Celine sunglasses, with a kindly owner who is open to bartering if you buy in bulk. Following this, take your shopping skills south of the river to the St Germain and St Michel area, but don’t forget that a lot of French shops close on Sunday, as well as Wednesday afternoons, while most take two hours for lunch everyday.
Visit: Investigating a graveyard on your weekend break may sound strange but Pere Lachaise Cemetery attracts intrigue for a reason. Established in 1803, this was Paris’ first garden and municipal cemetery, now resting place to some of the city’s greats. Be humbled by Proust or Oscar Wilde’s tombs and wonder at ostentatious displays of wealth in this 44-hectare sculpture garden, with an eerie beauty which will stay with you.
Relax: If the weather permits and you have time to spare, Jardin de Luxembourg hosts Paris’ relaxation on a Sunday afternoon, perfect for lying on the grass reading or perching on the edge of a water fountain admiring the elegant Palace du Luxembourg. It’s also far less touristy than Jardin des Tuileries.
Dinner: Instead of a heavy dinner, go for Chez Prune’s meat or cheese boards before your Eurostar. The young, buzzy crowd is the perfect send off while the wine will aid your impending two-hour train nap. Alternatively, if you’re an early bird and wish to situate yourself as close to Gare de Nord as possible, Chez Casimir is one of limited options in the area. The restaurant couldn’t be get more French and is the perfect note to leave Paris on – it doesn’t get more French than duck confit and a bottle of vin rouge.
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