Paris city breaks
Paris holidays and city breaks
“Paris”, goes a famous quote, “is always a good idea”. The compact size of the city makes an overnight London to Paris trip a real possibility, but it’s worth staying a while for the full experience. Pack a weekend break in Paris with fresh-from-the-oven croissants, a walk down the banks of the Seine, a museum or two, and candlelit dinners à deux. A longer holiday in Paris is all about taking your time: linger in sun-kissed gardens, get lost in the maze of the Marais, or simply take up residence at your local café to watch the world go by. If it’s not your first Paris city break, then you’ll know you’re in for a treat: the city, despite its classic good looks, never really stops reinventing itself.
Things to do in Paris
There’s never a shortage of things to do in Paris. Proud of its enduring revolutionary spirit, the city is dotted with reminders of its long and storied history: Roman ruins, royal palaces and imposing monuments to France’s illustrious writers and artists. Once you’ve ticked culture off your list of Paris activities, there’s still plenty left to do: hit the shops for vintage and designer goods, eat your way around upscale pâtisseries, or hop on a Vélib’ – the local shared bikes –for a cheap and cheerful tour of the city. Don’t forget the capital’s laid-back nightlife: an evening spent in a cosy wine bar or an underground cocktail den has to rate as one of the top things to do in Paris.
Things to see in Paris
Paris is laid out in 20 arrondissements, each a distinct neighbourhood with its own unique atmosphere and tourist attractions. Home to the delicate portrait of the Mona Lisa, the Louvre museum is a must see in Paris, though it’s just one of many stops on a tour of the most iconic Paris attractions. Paris sightseeing is best done on foot: head across the river to the galleries and cafés of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, or north to the Sacré Cœur and its jaw-dropping views over the city. See if you can spot the towers of Notre Dame, or the broad boulevard of the Champs-Elysées leading to the Arc de Triomphe – if you can tear your eyes away, that is, from a certain iron tower.
The Eiffel Tower
Unpopular when first unveiled in 1889, this feat of steel has stood the test of time: you’d be hard-pressed to find a more recognisable symbol of a city. With crowds naturally keen to reach – by lift or leg power – the dizzying heights of its 300 metres, it’s worth planning ahead to visit the Eiffel Tower. Book online to beat the queues, and make sure to avoid peak times; early mornings or late afternoons will have the best golden light for your snaps. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Café Lignac, just a stone’s throw away: the elegant bistro makes a fitting finale.
Le Moulin Rouge
Topped by the sugarwork dome of the Sacré Cœur, the Montmartre neighbourhood was once famed for its artistic community and bohemian lifestyle. Hip boutiques and restaurants now line its charming cobbled streets, but traces of its glamorous, decadent past still endure. Chief among these is the Moulin Rouge, a luxe cabaret showcasing Cancan dancers whose confident swagger and high kicks have changed little since the days of Toulouse-Lautrec. You’ll easily spot it by the red windmill that gives it its name. For a glimpse of the Belle Epoque glitz inside, make sure to book ahead.
Notre-Dame de Paris
In spite of the fire that devastated it in 2019, Notre-Dame cathedral still stands as a masterpiece of Gothic architecture – and the spiritual heart of the city. It may now be a building site, but it’s still worth circumnavigating its perch on Ile de la Cité, if only for the informative placards giving insight into the herculean restoration underway. If the distant sight of its majestic towers still leaves you pining for holy wonders, head to the glorious Sainte Chapelle nearby, or to Berthillon for a scoop of sorbet – nothing short of miraculously refreshing on a balmy day.
The Louvre museum
Once a medieval fortress, then a Renaissance palace, the Louvre sealed its fate as a cultural treasure (and treasure trove) with the addition of IM Pei’s striking glass pyramids. This sprawling museum is worth more than one return visit, so you can linger over Renaissance masterpieces or ancient Egyptian wonders as the mood takes you. Outside, the Jardin des Tuileries calls for leisurely walks, or pony rides for little ones. Pop in to the Musée de l’Orangerie to gawp at Monet’s vast lily pad paintings, and end your outing at nearby Angelina with a pastry worthy of Marie-Antoinette.
The Paris Catacombs
Channel your inner Goth: for those of a macabre disposition, a visit to the Paris Catacombs makes for a fascinating tour of the city’s underbelly. The labyrinthine ossuary packs in some of the city’s more lurid history, from Merovingian times through to the Revolution, the Résistance and the occasional illegal rave. You’ll find the entrance near the Denfert-Rochereau station in the 14th arrondissement. It’s a bit out of the way of the usual tourist itineraries, but a detour to the nearby Fondation Cartier – a striking glass temple to modern art – certainly makes the trip worthwhile.
Synonymous in the collective imagination with the excesses of life at court, the Palace of Versailles is just as gilded and opulent as its reputation would have you believe. Louis XIV’s residence hosted royal families for just two generations before the revolution struck, but its ostentatious displays of power endure. Highlights include the Hall of Mirrors, a masterful reflection of the Sun King’s monumental ego, and Marie-Antoinette’s pastoral hamlet on the Trianon estate. Make a day trip of it: the sprawling palace gardens and their spectacular fountains are a joy to explore.
Les Grands Magasins
Though some prefer a more intimate shopping experience, Paris’s grand department stores have lost none of their appeal since they opened in the 19th century. Start at La Samaritaine, newly reopened and worth the visit for its restored art nouveau interiors alone. On the Right Bank, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette offer floors of designer goods, luxe fashion and covetable homeware. The former’s known for its beauty hall; the latter for its Insta-worthy stained-glass dome. On the Left Bank, Le Bon Marché has a seriously good food hall and arguably the best escalators in town.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
It’s hard to miss the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s sail-like silhouette in the leafy expanse of the Bois de Boulogne. Designed by Frank Gehry, the deconstructivist building plays host to a permanent art collection, twice yearly big-ticket exhibitions and a live music programme. Look out for the bold, cartoon-like creations by Takashi Murakami, which memorably found their way onto a special Louis Vuitton collection. Multi-media commissions are dotted in and around the galleries: wander through Olafur Eliasson’s Inside the Horizon, an ethereal and kaleidoscopic sonic installation.
Where to stay in Paris
With its broad boulevards, cheap metro system and handy landmarks, Paris is a breeze to navigate on foot. When choosing a good area to stay in Paris, consider location as well as budget. The Marais beckons with its markets, cobbled streets and café terraces. Shopaholics would do well to book near Opera, within easy reach of the department stores and the luxury shops of Faubourg St Honoré. Culture vultures could opt for Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where arthouse cinemas, legendary Jazz venues and the bohemian Shakespeare & Co bookshop are just a short stroll away. Charming boutique hotels have cropped up recently near Gare du Nord – worth considering if you’re deciding where to stay in Paris for a weekend.
Finding a family-friendly stay in Paris can be tricky: the city centre may float your boat, but your little ones will need somewhere to blow off some steam. The quaintly Parisian 19th arrondissement is slightly out of the way, but it’s budget-friendly and has two huge parks with plenty for kids to do. In the 5th arrondissement, pick up street eats on rue Mouffetard, then head to the Jardin des Plantes for a picnic and a stroll around its bijou menagerie. The 12th arrondissement, with its quick train link to Disneyland Paris and the nearby forest of Vincennes, is another good option.
Wondering where to stay in Paris with Eiffel Tower views? Luxe hotels near Trocadéro come with postcard-worthy vistas, but hefty price tags. For a lighter-on-the-wallet option, try the sleepy 15th arrondissement. The 1st arrondissement is arguably the best area for sightseeing in Paris: the Louvre, Pompidou Centre and Notre Dame are just a short stroll away. Don’t miss the Palais Royal, with its elegant arcades and 260 monochrome columns. For a more ostentatious glimpse of Paris, the 8th arrondissement’s broad boulevards, Grand Palais and imposing Arc de Triomphe are hard to beat.
Predictably, the cheapest areas to stay in Paris are furthest from the city centre, but there’s much to enjoy off the beaten path. North of Montmartre, up-and-coming Saint-Ouen is best known for its charming flea market, but hip eateries and boutique hotels are sprouting up there too. Bohemian Belleville is another neighbourhood that's worth a look. Drop in on La Bellevilloise for free jazz gigs or a lively buffet brunch, climb to the top of bucolic Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, or pay your respects to the likes of Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde in the Père Lachaise cemetery.
Best places to eat in Paris
No city break in Paris is complete without sampling some of the stellar food on offer, and there are plenty of places to eat for every budget. Start at your local market if you’re watching your purse: stock up on cheese, rotisserie chicken, fresh fruit and warm-from-the-oven baguettes for a perfect picnic. Bouillons are popular options for a no-frills lunch. Pita bread sandwiches make good portable snacks if you’re eating on the hoof; try Miznon for an elevated take. There are plenty of veggie options these days, particularly in the 9th and 10th arrondissement’s self-dubbed Veggietown. Finding the best restaurants in Paris takes a bit of insider know-how: read on for the best spots in town.
Whether you’re after traditional French food or a romantic restaurant in Paris, it’s worth asking around for tips on where to eat in Paris. There’s always something exciting launching in the capital of gastronomy. New Ménilmontant hotspot Fripon has TV darling Pauline Séné at work in the kitchen: expect delicate small plates and round-the-world flavours. A hop and a skip from Gare du Nord, Les Deux Gares serves dishes as inventive as its tortoiseshell ceiling. If you’re in an old-school mood, La Grande Brasserie near Bastille does starched linen and classic French fare with style.
With some hundred Michelin-starred restaurants to its name, Paris is one of the best cities in the world for a memorable meal. Do plan ahead if you have a particular spot in mind: the most famous restaurants in Paris are often fully booked weeks if not months ahead. Casual-cool Septime still tops the list of the top restaurants in Paris; make time for its seven-course tasting menu, each paired with something exquisite from the wine list. Colourful cooking is the order of the day at MoSuke. Stop by for fusion flavours drawing from Mali, Senegal and Japan.
It’s no surprise Parisians staged a revolution during a bread shortage: the right to carbohydrates is practically a religion. The best bakeries in Paris have a cult following, and most residents, over the years, develop strong opinions on where to get the best croissant in town. Mamiche, Du Pain et des Idées and Sain craft excellent viennoiseries; there’s usually a queue, but it moves swiftly. Minimalist Liberté does a fine line in artisanal bread and enticing pastries. For cakes, Septime’s Tapisserie spinoff is hard to beat – its sweet grass-scented choux is a firm favourite.
Best time to visit Paris
Ella Fitzgerald sang of Paris as a timeless town, where each season is blessed with a particular beauty and atmosphere. What could be a better endorsement of Paris weather? There is no bad time to visit: average temperatures in Paris are often mild, though you’ll need a warm cover-up to enjoy the city’s dazzling Christmas lights. An urban beach takes over the banks of the Seine during the sizzling summers. The city’s less crowded then, but some restaurants and shops shut until September. Autumn’s golden leaves and light are a delight; the Paris Fashion Week makes for top-notch people-watching, too. Spring, perhaps, is when Paris is at loveliest: the city’s in bloom and terrace life can start in earnest again.