An artist’s dream, a writer’s muse and a traveller’s aspiration, Paris is always a good idea.
Fall in love with Paris, one step at a time
Paris has captured the hearts of millions for centuries. Marvel at the Arc de Triomphe, pay respects to the Unknown Solider, search out Monet’s Water Lilies at Musée de l’Orangerie and climb the 222 steps of the Sacré-Cœur. Sip on fine French wine at art nouveau cafes with wicker-chair-lined terraces and soak up every drop of ambiance as you people-watch. A stroll along the River Seine – where famous painters such as Sisley, Turner, and Monet found their inspiration, is the epitome of romance.
The Champs-Élysées, arguably one of the world’s most famous streets, stretches two kilometres in length and 70 meters in width. The western end is packed with cinemas, theatres, cafés, and luxury boutiques. Adjacent, the Place de la Concorde and Jardins des Champs-Elysées, as well as the Grand and Petit Palais, to the south the Elysée, which has been the residence of French Presidents since 1873.
The Arc de Triomphe plays a key role in all major national events. Commissioned by Napoleon, the Arc de Triomphe was inaugurated in 1836 by King Louis-Philippe to honour those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The names of all French victories and generals are inscribed on its walls. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, at the base of the arch, is where the flame of remembrance is rekindled each evening. A climb to the top terrace is a highlight.
At the Arc de Triomphe twelve grand avenues intersect, looking like a giant star from above and giving it the moniker – l’Etoile. The magnificent Louvre Museum features the French monarch’s art collection with masterpieces by the greats – Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Rembrandt. Opened at the end of the eighteenth century, the Louvre had previously served as the royal palace, becoming an art museum when Louis XVI moved his residence to Versailles. The enormous collection ranges from Oriental, Egyptian and Greek Antiquities to Roman and Middle Eastern, encompassing works from across the globe.
The glass pyramid, which is the museum’s entrance, was added to the palace’s courtyard in 1989. Of the most impressive paintings on display are ‘The Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci, ‘Liberty Leading the People’ by Eugène Delacroix and ‘The Wedding at Cana’ by Paolo Veronese. Alexandros of Antioch’s ‘Venus de Milo’, an ancient Greek statue, is a gift to the world.
A haven for the connoisseurs of art and culture, in Paris old stands amid new and the contemporary flourishes alongside the classics. Include Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée Marmottan, and the Musée Rodin for equally ethereal paintings and crafts. Many smaller museums bring culture and art together in more intimate and relaxed gallery settings.
If your interest in history leans towards the darker side of things, a visit to the Catacombs and cemeteries of Paris is something you might consider. Steeped in mystery and reading like a crime novel, the city’s glorious – (or gory) past comes to life best when a private guide talks you through the sites. Père Lachaise is a favoured cemetery as it is the final resting place of many international personalities including playwright Oscar Wilde, The Doors frontman Jim Morrison and classical composer Frédéric Chopin.
Remnants of the Belle Époque era can be felt at Moulin Rouge, which has been a point of entertainment for over a century. Another is Folies Bergère, a cabaret hall where Burlesque performances have pandered to the Bohemian lifestyle pursued and depicted in iconic poster art of the time. Here, in the 19th century, the “can-can” was born, and is still enjoyed by patrons every night.
Since the 19th century, Montmartre has served as the hub of Paris’ creative and nightlife communities. At the centre is the magnificent Sacré-Coeur, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, a Roman Catholic church consecrated in 1919. From the top of the Butte Montmarte, enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the capital. Inside, the ceiling is decorated with the largest mosaic in France.
The Iconic Eiffel Tower
The icon of the French capital and indeed France herself – was opened in March, 1889. This tall and elegant wrought-iron lattice tower is named after its architect, the engineer Gustave Eiffel. At the time, it surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held until the Chrysler Building in New York City was completed in 1930. Over 7 million visitors make a pilgrimage to the Tower every year – not only to enjoy the superb vistas from its summit (276 metres above the ground, although the Tower is slightly taller with communications antennae) but to drink fine champagne in the bars and enjoy sumptuous meals in the restaurants – which includes Le Jules Verne which holds a Michelin star.
Constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair – and to mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution – the Eiffel Tower was always set to be dismantled at the end of the expo but was reprieved after the installation of the antenna in 1903. Still the tallest point in Paris, the Tower was fast to become one of the most recognisable structures in the world.
The best views towards it can be enjoyed from the top of Arc de Triomphe, the Montparnasse Tower, or by climbing Tour Saint Jacques. Not to mention from some of the city’s top hotel suites and dining rooms. The approach along the Champ de Mars, the great expanse of manicured parklands that stretches from the École Militaire to the Tower entrance, brings it closer with each step while offering a glimpse into the charming Parisian life. The walk is especially lovely on summer evenings when the Tower’s lights add colour to the Parisian skyline.
Visitors to the Eiffel Tower can enjoy it from three different levels. There are 1665 steps from the esplanade to the second level, from where the spectacular ascent to the top-level viewing deck is taken in glass-walled lifts. Walking the glass floor on the first level gives you goosebumps as you marvel at the tons of iron above and below you. The Macaroon Bar the 2nd floor will appease your sweet tooth , while at the top explore Gustave Eiffel’s office, and use the panoramic maps to orientate yourself and seek out prominent monuments and buildings below.
Eiffel’s lattice-design that makes the Tower so distinct has been celebrated internationally and appears subtly in luxury hotels around the world, including the Hermitage in Monte-Carlo and Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai.
58 Tour Eiffel brasserie on the first level opens onto 360-degree views of the metal structure. Recently revived, the bistro is open all day for casual meals, making way for refined cuisine in a more hushed atmosphere by evening. Under the guidance of Thierry Marx, the well-known gastronomic explorer of Mandarin Oriental Paris fame, the new menu and refreshing ambience has given the restaurant new life.
The Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second floor is unique and daring. At 125 metres above the ground (410 feet) it reveals views towards Musée du Quai Branly, the Trocadéro Gardens and the Champ de Mars. Frédéric Anton, the talented Michelin 3-star chef who has kept his focus in Paris, is at the helm of the jewel of France. Le Jules Verne offers an intimate dining experience in an alcove with limited stylish tables, appropriately paying homage to the chic timelessness of the space.
At the very peak of the Tower – 256 metres – sits the Champagne Bar, where you can enjoy a flute of Demoiselle and a caviar blini – while soaking up the dizzying views.
Champs-Élysées, Rue Saint-Honoré, Avenue Montaigne and Boulevard Haussman are an avid shopper’s paradise. The birthplace of haute couture and at the forefront of global fashion trends, the capital’s luxurious department stores and upscale boutiques line the popular boulevards. Home to some of the world’s top fashion labels including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent and Dior. Alongside them, are emerging designers and uniquely Parisian concept stores.
Family-owned retailer Galeries Lafayette reclaimed an Art Deco landmark building on the Champs-Elysées and transformed it into a concept flagship with the help of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. In a space spanning four floors, the multiple categories and layout creates seamlessly movement from fashion to food to accessories.
Another impressive option is Le Bon Marché which dates to the 1850s. The oldest department store in Paris, the elegant Left Bank institution is as celebrated for its airy layout as for its top selection of the world’s best designers. Indulge at La Grande Épicerie, Le Bon Marché’s fine-foods emporium in an adjoining building.
Independent bookshops have always been standalone attractions in Paris, and 7L Bookstore is one to look out for that allows you to step inside the creative mind of the late bibliophile and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Opened 20 years ago, it follows his interests of design, photography, architecture, and interior design. A true ode to his work and collections.
Saint-Ouen, a commune in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, has become synonymous with its world-renowned flea market, named Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. The largest antiques and second-hand marketplace in the world, the 1700 vendors that traverse an area of about seven hectares – so allow plenty of time to search out those rare treasures.
An Epicurean Wonderland
Paris is renowned for many things, and delicious culinary art and celebrated wine are certainly two of them. The city boasts the second highest number of Michelin-restaurants in the world – after Tokyo. Whether you prefer a modern bistro or a triple-Michelin-starred ode to gastronomy, you will find that every establishment prides itself on serving exquisitely prepared and presented food, invariably with wine.
One of the finest dining establishments in the city is Restaurant Le Meurice, by the highly acclaimed multiple Michelin-star chef Alain Ducasse. Set in a magnificently restored salon and serving authentic French cuisine, it overlooks the Tuileries Garden. Located inside the plush five star La Réserve Hotel, Le Gabriel’s Napoleon III-style interiors are designed by Jacques Garcia. A two-Michelin-starred restaurant where Chef Jérôme Banctel combines inspiration from around the globe while staying true to his Brittany roots, with a smattering of Asian influence.
Le Train Bleu is another of Paris’ most prominent restaurants. An icon of Parisian dining, the opulent restaurant was built in a train station for the World’s Fair in 1889 and features murals depicting the different regions of France, as well as works from more than 40 prominent artists from that time. The staff here are attentive, the food gorgeous with the menu ever evolving.
On the first floor of the Musée Baccarat, the crystal maker’s private museum, is the Baccarat Cristal Room. Popular with fashionable locals wishing to clink crystal Champagne flutes in a sumptuous setting that was formerly the dining room of Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles. Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Guy Martin, the restaurant serves refined seasonal French cuisine, ranging from foie gras and grilled lamb to an array of exquisite desserts. The pavlova is superb.
Arguably one of the finest contemporary culinary spaces in Paris is Septime La Cave, a hip wine bar in Paris’ 11th arrondissement. A small and intimate space lined with bottles of wine for sale, you can pair snacks with your wine choice, or order a plate of their ricotta anchois, a La Cave winner.
Everywhere, find enticing patisseries, bakeries, cheese shops and street markets, perfect for putting together a picnic to take to the city’s beautiful parks and gardens. Join a culinary class at one of the prestigious cookery schools. Indulge in sublime handcrafted chocolates and double-decker macaron from Ladurée Paris Royale, a French luxury bakery and sweets maker created in 1862.
Parisian-style, take brunch on Sundays, with mouth-watering crepes, pastries, croissants and endless espressos. The ultimate hot chocolate can be found at Angelina Café. Famous for making it from melted chocolate bars and serving it thick and hot chocolate in demitasse cups with a tiny dollop of mascarpone and whipped cream. Of course, everything tastes better with French Champagne.
Lavish Accommodation, from Haussmann Palaces to Personal Butlers
Gilded buildings and Haussmann Palaces line the Seine, its elegant bridges making Paris one the most glamorous cities in the world. The French capital is home to nine Palace-grade hotels, along with numerous traditional luxury establishments. They offer Michelin-starred dining, personal butlers, rejuvenating spa treatments and stylised experiences that range from luxury car rides to professional shoppers.
Paris’s first palace hotel, the Meurice, is an iconic institution. With a prime position on Rue de Rivoli just minutes from the Louvre, it remains popular with the international fashion set and celebrities. Cat-loving Dali is known to have stayed here with his ocelots. From the top-floor Belle Étoile Suite, enjoy famed views towards the Tuileries Palace and all of Paris.
Paris’ Mandarin Oriental is a bastion of elegance. With subtle 1930s flourishes and whimsical touches such as over-sized bird cage, dining in the garden and Archie Lewoof the ever-present border terrier. The Royale Mandarin Suite includes two terraces that look out on the Eiffel Tower. Exquisitely styled by Jacques Garcia, this ultra-luxe Parisian hotel is only minutes from the high-end boutiques of Rue Saint-Honoré.
Another that warrants a stay is the 8th floor Penthouse Apartment at the Four Seasons Hotel George V, one of the most renowned and celebrated hotels in the world. Designed by Pierre Yves Rochon, the space is as luxurious as can be imagined, with a large terrace, indoor garden and every convenience considered.
Navigating the City of Light
Taxis, Uber, private transfers, and the impressively efficient public transport system (RATP) make getting around Paris easy. The Paris Metro, one of the symbols of the city with its art nouveau entrances and original station designs, works well. The arrondissements are designed to accommodate pedestrians and cycling is ever more popular for the fun and freedom it brings. Look to the River Limousine for a discreet and private Parisian cruise on the River Seine. The service can be designed to include a tour of the city highlights, a meal or quite simply a romantic and exclusive escape from it all. Private guides are always a good idea.
Paris’ main international hub is Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), one of the busiest and most connected airports in Europe. The city’s second international airport is Orly Airport (ORY).
** This article first appeared on Business Class.
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.