There’s no bad time to go to Paris. Restaurants, bars and galleries thrum with life year-round, crowds spilling out of cafés in summer and packing into cosy bistros in winter. It’s a city best experienced like a local: checking out the latest exhibitions, putting the world to rights over a coffee, strolling through parks or along the river with friends. Above all, Parisians tend to be passionate about life, be it driven by art, food, music, politics, or love.
Ask a Parisian where to go and they won’t give you a neighbourhood but a number. Paris is organised into a system of 20 arrondissements, each of which has a well-defined reputation. Named quartiers span arrondissements or sit within them.
Centred on the manicured Jardin des Tuileries, Place Vendôme, the Louvre and the Palais Royal, the 1st is the Paris of postcards and promenades. It’s where fashion shows are staged, where world-renowned jewellers glitter, and where the most discreet and exclusive spots are hidden in plain sight.
Le Roch Hotel and Spa, Paris, a Member of Design Hotels™, is just one of them. The 37-room hotel feels more like an extravagant home-from-home than a hotel, with its pool, hammam and Codage treatments in the renowned spa. There’s another fabulous and rare-for-Paris pool at the Renaissance Paris Vendome, redesigned by Didier Gomez. Even if you don’t stay here, you have to come for a meal at Balagan, the hotel’s wildly fun smash-hit Israeli restaurant (book at least a month early).
The banks of the Seine aren’t a neighbourhood as such, but you can’t visit Paris without stepping foot on the quais and the islands.
Île de la Cité, where Paris was founded, and adjacent Île Saint-Louis mark the city’s geographical centre and hold the most famous sights. Notre-Dame is undisputedly the city’s icon, but remains under long-term renovation following the devastating fire in 2019. Instead, visit Sainte-Chapelle, where the 1113 mesmerising stained glass windows in the upper chapel are one of the best things to see in Paris. There’s little in the way of traditional sights on Île Saint-Louis, but you should still take time to soak up the atmosphere.
Amble east on the Rive Droite (the north bank, known as the right bank) and you’ll find yourself on a stretch of riverbank protected as the Parc Rives de Seine. Permanently moored bar boats, better known as guinguettes or péniches, are dotted here from the Hôtel de Ville to Quai de la Rapée. Handily, the Courtyard Paris Gare de Lyon is just a short walk back from La Mazette and Barapapa, and on the doorstep of the city’s best food market, the Marché d'Aligre, in the laid-back 12th arrondissement.
Whether it’s your first trip to Paris or your fifth, the Marais should be on your list of places to visit. Nowhere else in the city feels quite so quintessentially Parisian as the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, a tangle of streets winding north from the Seine towards République. Coffee shops, private art galleries, big-name fashion brands and time-warp delis somehow rub along harmoniously, interspersed by must-visit sights including the Musée Picasso and Place des Vosges, the oldest square in the city.
Curiosities like the taxidermy-filled Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and former artists’ squat 59 Rivoli are among the more unique attractions. For laidback meals, great dishes to try include falafel on rue des Rosiers in the historically Jewish quarter and Chez Alain Miam Miam’s galettes.
Make your base a short walk away from the heart of the Marais, where you’ll get more space. At the Renaissance Paris Republique, the draw isn’t just the striking modernist architecture and interiors, a contrast to the perilously tilting ancient buildings nearby, but pancakes for brunch at Martin Restaurant. At Moxy Paris Bastille, there’s even a secret garden.
The 11th arrondissement, in the east of the city, is first and foremost known for its great places to eat. This is the beating, natural wine-fuelled heart of the restaurant scene. There’s an established roll call of unmissable gastronomic experiences: drinking pét nats (lightly sparkling wines) at the Liquiderie; the Michelin-star tasting menu at Septime; beers at micro-brewery Les Cuves de Fauve; the lunchtime formule at Bistrot Paul Bert; brunch at Café Méricourt; and, if you’ve still got room, black sesame eclairs from Boulangerie Utopie.
You can recover from a feast at the Atelier des Lumières, where classic works of art get a new lease of life, set to music and projected onto the walls of an old foundry.
The Grands Boulevards – Madeleine, Capucines, Italiens, Montmartre, Poissonnière, Bonne Nouvelle, St-Denis and St-Martin – sit in the heart of Paris. They take you from the elegant domes of the Palais Garnier, past the Grands Magasins (department stores), through the heart of the tech scene at “Silicon Sentier” all the way to Strasbourg-Saint-Denis, a quartier renowned as much for its bars as much as its authentic Kurdish kebabs.
Perfectly positioned to explore everything Paris has to offer are Le Méridien Etoile, close to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées, and the Renaissance Paris Nobel Tour Eiffel Hotel. The latter is a collection of luxurious, elegantly furnished suites, some with views of the city’s most celebrated icon, the Eiffel Tower.
It would be remiss to talk about this part of Paris, where almost every corner brings a glimpse of another icon, the Sacré-Cœur, without mentioning nearby Montmartre. Whether it’s to explore the basilica, hop between pavement cafés, or just enjoy the views, it’s always worth making a pilgrimage to the top of the Butte.
Synonymous with luxury and the world’s most famous shopping street, the Champs-Élysées needs no introduction. That said, any Parisian will tell you they never shop on this monumental boulevard. Instead, they come to indulge in everything that’s on offer nearby, from spa treatments to blow-out Michelin-star meals. The area bounded by the Champs-Elysées, Avenue Montaigne and Avenue George V, is known as the Golden Triangle.
You’re spoiled for choice with places to stay here. At the Prince de Galles, a Luxury Collection Hotel you’ll find the elegance of the Roaring Twenties, with original Art Deco features and suites fit for the most lavish of soirées. For Champagne, it has to be Le Dokhan’s, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel. There are more than one hundred bottles (and magnums) to choose from in its much-lauded Champagne bar. The Paris Marriott Champs Elysees Hotel is an oasis at the heart of the action, with its seven-storey atrium and terrace restaurant.
The neighbourhoods to the north and south of the Seine have always been, and remain, markedly different. The Left Bank, to the south, moves at a slower pace. The streets are generally wider, the prices higher and the atmosphere in the brasseries and cafés a touch more sedate – particularly in fancy Saint Germain. The only exception is the Latin Quarter, long a centre of the student scene.
If you love art, literature and history, you’ll be in heaven. The most interesting things to do include delving into the mysteries of the middle ages at the Musée de Cluny, getting up close and personal with the Impressionists’ greatest works at the Musée d'Orsay and marvelling at the remains of the Arènes de Lutèce, a Roman amphitheatre still partially standing today.
If you’re in search of alternative things to do in Paris, head east. Once you cross the Canal St Martin, its banks packed with beer-drinking students all summer, the atmosphere changes. The streets get narrower, the murals more colourful and the restaurants more relaxed. The 19th and 20th arrondissements have always been the city’s most rebellious. An anarchist stronghold during the Paris Commune of 1871, this is where the French Communist Party has long been headquartered, and it’s where bars compete to be the loudest and last to close today.
Exploring Belleville means exploring more than just the area around Belleville métro. On your way up the hill, stop for great dim sum or pho (the area is home to one of the city’s largest Chinese and southeast Asian communities), check out the great views from Parc de Belleville, and grab a cocktail (or two) at Margot Lecarpentier’s game-changing bars, Combat and Capitale.
Avant-garde fashion and cinema aside, France remains deeply traditional in many ways. “Bonjour” and “bonne journée" are social necessities, not niceties, required every time you enter and leave a shop or restaurant.
Similarly, it’s best to embrace a Parisian schedule: lunch is from 12.30pm to 2pm, and dinner is rarely served before 8pm.
Once you’ve mastered these cultural codes, the rest is easy. Pick up a rechargeable Navigo Easy pass at any métro station, pack some comfy shoes, and the city is yours to discover.
Published: July 25, 2022
Last Updated: October 31, 2022
Article Tags: Paris , France