Paris evokes images of l'amour, romantic dinners, strolls along the Seine, fine wines... and far too much to see and do. To make the most of a short city break, follow the tips of one who is smitten
There is so much to see and do in this vast and wonderful city, you will not fit all of it into your very first trip – especially on a short break. Paris must be sampled, tried again, until you fall in love with it. Mesmerised by this fascinating place, I have felt compelled to return year after year – and I am only too happy to impart my knowledge to an appreciative audience. What you do largely depends on how long you stay. Here is my advice on how to plan your trip.
For first-timers on a two-day short break, the following are not to be missed:
The Louvre Museum (Place du Carrousel; +33 1 40 20 53 17; www.louvre.fr) With much more to it than just the Mona Lisa, this is truly one of the most amazing museums in the world. It is simply huge; don’t try to see it all in one day. It's free on the first Sunday of each month, but entrance is otherwise about €9.
The Eiffel Tower (5 avenue Anatole France, Champs de Mars; +33 1 4411 2323; www.tour-eiffel.fr). The most famous landmark of the Parisien skyline is well worth seeing. Try to avoid the queues by arriving early. You can go to the top for €13. Dinner at the Jules Vernes restaurant, managed by Alain Ducasse, is a treat best reserved for a special occasion. It costs about €200 per person.
A cruise along the Seine Many companies offer boat trips. The Bateaux-Mouches (www.bateaux-mouches.fr) does one-hour cruises from about €6.
The Champs-Elysées Stroll the length of it, starting at the Tuileries gardens.
Sacre Coeur Watch the sun go down over the city from this basilica in Montmartre, with its high vantage point.
For a slightly longer stay, add the following to the itinerary above:
A day trip to Versailles (www.versailles.fr) The Royal Château de Versailles, one of the most impressive achievements of 18th-century France, is located just outside Paris. You will need to allow plenty of time here to get the most out of your trip. The palace and surrounding gardens are vast; if you plan to take in the Trianons, you will certainly need a full day.
Versailles is reached by RER in about 30 minutes, followed by a short walk. Again, you need to get there early to avoid the queues and book one of the many tours. Admission to the palace costs €13.50 – you are free to explore the many wings and rooms at your leisure. Don’t miss the Hall of Mirrors, a walk through the gardens to the Petit Trianon. You can take a pit stop at one of the cafés in the garden. In summer, you can also hire paddle boats and bicycles – very enjoyable.
A leisurely lunch in the Place de Vosges.
FOUR DAYS PLUS
You lucky things! Again, add the following to the itinerary above:
Orangerie Museum (Jardin desTuileries; +33 1 4477 8007; www.musee-orangerie.fr) Located in the Tuileries Gardens, this lesser-known but impressive museum has some fine pieces of art from the Impressionist era, including Monet’s Water Lilies.
Musée d’Orsay (1, rue de la Légion d'Honneur; +33 1 4049 4814; www.musee-orsay.fr)
This is home to many examples of early Impressionist art, including Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l'herbe – said to have been the inspiration for the Impressionist Movement.
WHERE TO STAY
Here is my choice of the best mid-range hotels:
Opéra Cadet Hotel
Situated in the lively Opéra district, this three-star hotel is surrounded by cafés and restaurants. It is also near the Opéra, and the Opéra Madeleine. Stay here for the best buffet breakfast in Paris. Rooms are medium-sized but adequate, with all facilities. Doubles start at about €200.
Hotel du Bois
This charming three-star boutique hotel is near the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées. It has recently undergone a renovation, and rooms are now chic and contemporary. With current special offers, you can get up to 20 per cent off the published prices. Doubles start at €160; superior rooms at about €180.
Hotel de Suede
This is a good mid-range three-star hotel on the left bank, near Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter. Located in a quiet street, it is within five minutes' walk of cafés, restaurants and the livelier Odéon. It is also within walking distance of Les Invalides and the Musée d’Orsay. Doubles start at €110; deluxe rooms at €140.
Just 10 minutes from the Champs-Elysées and five minutes from Opéra and the department stores, this fabulous four-star luxury hotel has a great location, but in a quiet street. There are many bars and good restaurants nearby. Rooms are of a good standard, beautifully decorated in a chic, classical style in soft muted colours – making this a relaxing, calming space to return to after a busy day. Doubles from €255 per night
Again in a great location, this luxury four-star hotel is just off rue Rivoli, and across from the Tuileries Gardens. Concorde and Opéra are also within a five-minute walk. Rooms are spacious, with great attention to detail and a good selection of amenities. Its marble bathrooms are larger than average for Paris. Rooms start at about €190.
WHERE TO EAT
Chartier (7 rue du Faubourg Montmatre; +33 47 70 86 29; www.restaurant-chartier.com) This converted station house, now a Paris institution, has to be experienced at least once on any trip to Paris. On a budget? No problem. A meal will set you back about €20 for two courses, including wine – as long as you don’t mind sharing your table.
Bistrot Vivienne (4 rue des Petits Champs; +33 1 49 27 00 50) Cosy and noisy, this restaurant is popular with locals near the Palais Royal. The poussin (young chicken) is the signature dish, which should be sampled at least once. Duck, lamb and fish dishes are regularly on themenu. Mains €17-€19.
Chez Flottes (2 rue Cambon; +33 1 4260 8089; www.flottes.fr) This place does good lunches, and an evening menu of traditional French cuisine and excellent seafood.
For a typical French brasserie experience try Au Pied de Cochon (6 rue Coquillière; +33 1 4236 0284), Le Vaudiville (29 rue Vivienne; +33 1 4020 0462) or Brasserie Balzar (49 rue des Ecoles; +33 1 4320 1420). For the best hot chocolate in Paris, try the infamous Les Deux Magots (6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés; +33 1 4548 5525; www.lesdeuxmagots.com) for a truly indulgent experience.
Best café? A little-known café exists on the very top floor of the Musée d’Orsay. Opulent, decadent and chic, it offers a typical French experience at a reasonable price.