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View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe - © iStockphoto

City Guide: Paris

July 11, 2015 | By Andrew Harper Staff

city guide main The ninth in our new City Guide series, this travel guide to Paris features the most pertinent information about the area. Use the menu below to jump among sections for suggestions on where to stay, insider tips, restaurant recommendations and more.

OVERVIEW & MAP TRAVEL TIPS HOTELS RESTAURANTS THINGS TO DO EXPERIENCES TRIP IDEAS


 Paris City Overview & Map

The north side of Paris (or Right Bank, when facing downstream on the Seine) has a justified reputation for magnificence and Old World sophistication. Thanks to efforts by the city government, its grandest street, the Champs-Elysées, has been recovering some of its lost luster, as major international luxury houses return, notably the new flagship store of Louis Vuitton. The nearby Avenue Montaigne is the epicenter of the French fashion industry, while the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is home to auction houses and to upscale art galleries.

South of the Seine, the Rive Gauche traditionally figured as the bohemian and intellectual counterpart to the Rive Droite. Sartre and de Beauvoir once conversed in the cafés of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, but today, the global brands have largely replaced the galleries and bookstores.

The Latin Quarter is still the locus of Parisian university life — the Sorbonne is here — and its narrow streets are crammed with cinemas and cheap Mediterranean food. (Haute cuisine is close at hand, too, as at star chef Joël Robuchon's Atelier, which offers contemporary small plates at a counter-service venue).


 Paris Travel Tips

Gardens of Louvre museum in spring © iStock

When to visit, tastemaker tips and what to do in Paris.

When to Visit Paris

A city of distinct charm, there is no best time to visit Paris – and no true off-season. Many say that June through August is the ideal period in which to visit the City of Light: however, though long, sunny days with average highs in the mid 70s are typical, this is also the unfortunate height of the ever-expanding tourist season with its tumultuous crowds and heightened prices. A trip to Paris in the fall and early winter may hold afternoon showers, but Paris remains remarkably idyllic in these bleak conditions. Springtime in Paris with its gardens in bloom and bustling annual attractions, like the French Open and Art Paris Art Fair, is also an invigorating time to visit. It should be noted that the city can suffer from unexpected temperature spikes in both the summer with highs in the 90s and the winter with lows below freezing.

Tastemaker Tips

Want to experience Paris like an insider? Follow these tips from notable individuals in the travel, design, food, fashion and hospitality industries.

Andrew Harper, Editor-in-Chief of The Hideaway Report, Andrew Harper Travel

Andrew HarperAn intriguing literary haunt since 1801, Galignani is one of the oldest independent bookshops in the world. Browsing among the hardwood shelves, you sense the ghosts of a more cultivated age. Afterward, I usually stop in next door at Angelina tearoom for its thick hot chocolate and Mont Blanc pastries.

I also love the glove shop Causse. Until recently, it supplied a number of French fashion houses, including Hermès, but since being bought by Chanel in 2012, it now sells under its own name. The quality of the leather and workmanship is superb.

Audrey Blot, Sales Coordinator, Hotel d'Aubusson

What is one of my favorite streets in Paris? The Court of Commerce-Saint-André, a public passageway in the Monnaie area of the 6th district, opened in 1776. Remains of Philippe Auguste’s surrounding wall are still visible, and the court houses the oldest café in Paris, Procope, established in 1686.


  Hotels: Where to Stay in Paris

Bedroom at the Le Meurice

Grand Luxury Hotels

When the Hôtel Ritz opened in 1898, travelers were astonished by its opulence, and the myth of the Parisian luxury hotel was born. Today, however, the grandes dames face some stiff 21st-century competition from a new Mandarin Oriental on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, plus the new Shangri-La on the Avenue d'Iéna and a Peninsula on the Avenue Kléber. Needless to say, the old guard isn’t standing still. The Bristol has been extensively remodeled and a new wing is complete, as well as an expanded spa. The Ritz has reopened after a four-year $450 million renovation, while the Hôtel de Crillon is closed as it undergoes comprehensive modernization.

We recommend 10 more properties in Paris located on the Left Bank and Right Bank respectively.


  Restaurants: Where to Eat in Paris

Pineapple coal monochrome from Akrame © Stéphanie Biteau

Despite the exorbitant expense of opening and running a good restaurant in the French capital, Paris keeps its culinary laurels because of the arrival of a new generation of talented young chefs.

Modern Bistros

Akrame

In a storefront bistro with a modern décor on a quiet street near the Arc de Triomphe, young chef Akrame Benallal is winning an ever-larger reputation for his inventive contemporary French cooking. This isn’t a place to come for a good boeuf bourguignon, but rather for an interesting and delicious experience of unexpected dishes such as oeuf mimosa, or riced egg yolk and egg white with fresh mayonnaise and black-bread croutons, a delicious riff on oeufs mayonnaise, one of the great French bistro classics.

Goust

Occupying a stylish Napoleon III townhouse in the heart of Paris, this is the sophisticated new restaurant by Italian-born sommelier Enrico Bernardo. This place provides a great night out for wine-lovers who are game for a fascinatingly different kind of meal. Bernardo pours a different wine with every course served by talented young Spanish chef José Manuel Miguel, who previously worked with star chef Martín Berasategui in the Spanish Basque Country. Bernardo’s brilliant pours and impeccable service make for a very memorable meal.

Le Chalet des Iles

Located on an island in the Bois de Boulogne, the vast park on the western edge of Paris, this romantic good-weather-only pavilion is surrounded by flowering gardens and towering pines. A stylish crowd of Parisians enjoys an open-air terrace that is set with well-spaced tables and is candlelit at night. The menu can include main courses such as curried shrimp with rice pilaf, the house specialty, or maybe the sea bass with black rice and Parmesan. Topped with fresh raspberries, the airy mille-feuille is an ideal warm-weather dessert.

Les Tablettes Jean-Louis Nomicos

After cooking at Lasserre for several years, talented chef Jean-Louis Nomicos opened this strikingly modern restaurant in the 16th arrondissement and immediately began attracting a well-heeled neighborhood crowd who appreciate his inventive contemporary cooking. Nomicos is from Marseille, and many of the dishes he serves have a touch of the south in them. His veal sweetbreads with “lemon caviar” (grains of fresh lemon), and veal chop with sage and Parmesan are delicious, and desserts are excellent, too — try the velouté of apples with Tahitian vanilla and yogurt sorbet. Attentive service and a dressy but relaxed atmosphere.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Located just off the stylish Rue du Bac on the Left Bank, chef Joël Robuchon’s fashionable small-plate restaurant is ideal for a light but memorable meal. Reservations are only available from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 to 3 p.m. for lunch, and at 6:30 p.m. for dinner. Otherwise, it can be difficult to secure a seat, but is worth it to taste delicious dishes such as foie gras-stuffed ravioli in chicken bouillon or sea bass cooked with baby artichokes and girolle mushrooms. Counter service only. A second branch of this restaurant has opened on the Champs-Elysées.

Minipalais

Chef Eric Frechon of three-star Epicure runs this restaurant, and he’s created a stylish, cosmopolitan menu that changes with the seasons and is ideal for casual dining. Start with an artisanal charcuterie board, or smoked salmon with tzatziki, then try the pan-roasted John Dory served on a carpaccio of tomatoes and garnished with lardo di Colonnata. The “giant” baba au rhum with vanilla-scented whipped cream for dessert is worth throwing calorie-counting to the winds, and service is prompt and charming.

Restaurant Jean-François Piège

Chef Jean-François Piège is a rising talent of the new generation of French chefs. After cooking at Les Ambassadeurs at the Hôtel de Crillon, he opened this intimate, supper club-like space that reminds me of a Miami cocktail lounge in the ’50s. Piège is trying to revise the traditional experience of dining out in Paris by introducing a short menu that allows you to choose one, two or three courses, depending on how hungry you are. Piège has a lot of gastronomic wit as well — a highlight of my last meal here included a delicious deconstructed paella.

Ze Kitchen Galerie

If all you want to eat when you come to Paris is foie gras and boeuf bourguignon, this stylish restaurant with a loft-like décor isn’t right for you. If, on the other hand, you want to sample some excellent and inventive contemporary French cooking, you might enjoy chef William Ledeuil’s very popular restaurant in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Ledeuil is fascinated by Asian ingredients and recipes, and he creates unusual but unfailingly delicious hybrid dishes such as saffron-seasoned potato cream with mussels and ginger aioli.



  Things to Do: Sightseeing in Paris

View of Paris from the banks of the Seine © iStock/Ivan Bastien

Mr. Harper's 7 Favorite Paris Experiences

1. Midnight Feast at Chez Denise – La Tour de Montlhéry

Entering Chez Denise – La Tour de Montlhéry is like walking into the classic black-and-white films of Jean Renoir. This place has Parisian atmosphere to spare, with big barrels of Beaujolais inside the front door, wisecracking waiters dashing through the dining room, heaping servings of old-fashioned French food (cassoulet, steak frites) and a great crowd. Give in to your jet lag for a middle-of-the-night feast here; it serves until 5 a.m.

2. Private Boat Trip on the Seine

The history of Paris has unfolded along the banks of the Seine for centuries, which is why the city’s coat of arms features waves and a boat. Many of the most famous monuments are best viewed from the river, and there is no better way to admire the 37 bridges that cross it than on a boat trip. I suggest that you hop on a private motorboat (perhaps a beautifully restored Riva) with a friendly bilingual guide, and set off on a leisurely cruise at dusk with a bottle of Champagne. I’ve worked with Paris Luxury Boat several times, and it’s a first-rate outfit.

3. Stroll Through the Islands

A trip to the islands has been one of my favorite Parisian strolls for many years. The Ile de la Cité, where Notre-Dame and the magnificent Sainte-Chapelle are located, and the elegant and slightly mysterious Ile Saint-Louis, one of the most exclusive residential areas in Paris, are oases in the midst of the busy city. No matter how many times I go for a walk here, I always notice something new.

4. Afternoon in the Jardin du Luxembourg

You could read dozens of books about French history without garnering the same understanding acquired from spending a Sunday afternoon happily exploring the world’s most civilized urban park, the Jardin du Luxembourg. Quiet or lively, private or social, idle or engaged, this park offers something for everyone, along with a wonderful display of the relentlessly good manners of the French in public settings, as well as their remarkable sense of style.

5. Breakfast at Café de Flore

There is no better perch from which to observe Parisians at leisure than a sidewalk table at the most storied café on the Left Bank. Yes, it’s very expensive, but the coffee, scrambled eggs and bread are excellent. I stock up on newspapers from the kiosk across the street and try to arrive by 8:30 a.m. to get a good table. Then I settle in and watch the world go by. I have spent many happy hours on this terrace, and have found myself in the company of everyone from fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld to actress Catherine Deneuve.

6. Early Morning at the Jardin du Palais Royal

On many a warm summer morning, I’ll be waiting at 7:30 a.m. for the groundskeeper to open the heavy wrought-iron gates of the gardens of the Palais Royal. After strolling the arcade, I settle down with a paper to enjoy the stately calm of the stone palace that was Cardinal Richelieu’s home until his death in 1642. Listening to birdsong and the fountain splashing amid the flowerbeds, it is a pleasure to contemplate the palace and the fascinating history of France.

7. Sunrise at Sacré-Coeur

An excellent way to enjoy this enchanting and very distinctive part of Paris is to be sitting on the steps of the church of Sacré-Coeur when the sun rises. Enjoy the sweeping views over Paris below, and then go for a wander along the quiet cobbled lanes of Montmartre, especially the Rue des Abbesses and the Rue Lepic, before the crowds arrive.


  Top Experiences in Paris

Ornamental, sculptured gardens in Musee Carnavalet, Le Marais © iStock

Want to learn more about travel to Paris? Read our in-depth articles from The Harper Way, The Hideaway Report and Traveler Magazine on topics such as shopping, food, wine, art, culture and more.


  Trip Ideas: Destinations to Visit From Paris

Grapes and medieval tower in vineyard, Medoc, Bordeaux, France © Thinkstock

Discover the best destinations around Paris with recommendations for where to stay and dine, and what to see, from our team of well-traveled editors.

Also, find itineraries for overnight excursions to Beaune, Honfleur, the Champagne country, Lille and more.

>>Read about restaurant finds just outside of Paris.

Stay tuned for more from our City Guide series, detailing what to do, eat and see, and where to stay, in Andrew Harper's favorite cities around the world.

Want our full travel guide to France and Monaco? Purchase a copy in the Harper shop.

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