Leave the tourist crowds behind and seek out the Paris of the Parisians in the lesser-known corners of this atmospheric city, which still has the capacity to surprise
The City of Love is everybody’s favourite destination. With pretty boulevards, stunning sights, fashion boutiques and of course those lovely brasseries and pâtisseries on every corner, the French capital is a crowd-pleaser. Step away from the main sights and you’ll discover charming arrondissements and welcoming café terraces.
What to do
Start the day with a buttery croissant or tartine from your local café, and then jump on a Vélib (www.velib.paris.fr) and cycle through the city taking in the main attractions, from the Champs Elysées to Notre-Dame via the Eiffel Tower. None of the main sights are more than a 30-minute bike-ride from each other, but to reach hilly Montmartre, you might want to drop the bicycle at one of the renting stations (there’s one about every 300m in the centre) and continue on foot.
Paris boasts hundreds of museums (www.museums-of-paris.com), so you’ll be spoilt for choice. As well as the Louvre (00 33 1 4020 5150; www.louvre.fr), you could visit the Musée Picasso (00 33 1 4271 2521; www.musee-picasso.fr), housed in Picasso’s Marais mansion, or the Musée du Quai Branly (00 33 5661 7000; www.quaibranly.fr), displaying 3,600 artefacts from all four corners of the world in a Jean Nouvel building. Or stay outdoors and relax in the Jardin du Luxembourg, stroll on the pedestrian streets around Les Halles and the Centre Pompidou or visit the romantic Père-Lachaise cemetery, the resting place of many celebrities including Jim Morrison, Maria Callas and Marcel Proust.
Where to stay
Hidden in a quiet passage in the heart of Montmartre, Hotel Particulier Montmartre is a luxury hotel with five plush suites and a private garden. Hotel du Petit Moulin is a Christian Lacroix-designed boutique hotel in a 17th-century building and is a wonderfully eclectic mix of modern and bohemian Paris. Or stay at the 17th century Hotel du Globe in St-Germain-des-Prés; its 14 rooms have exposed stone walls and classic furniture.
Where to eat and drink
Popular with locals and visitors alike, L’Ardoise (00 33 1 4296 2818), Rue du Mont-Thabor, is always packed with chatty diners enjoying Pierre Jay’s bistro menu. Le Loire dans la Théière (00 33 1 4272 9061) in the trendy Marais neighbourhood is a great place for lunch. Sit on a second-hand chair, admire the art-covered wall and tuck into huge meringue lemon tarts or delicious quiches and salads.
Le Comptoir du Commerce (00 33 1 4236 3957; www.comptoirducommerce.com) is a cosy brasserie near Les Halles serving excellent cheese and cold meat planchettes (platters). Other classic bistros where you can sample French brasserie fare include Le Rubis (00 33 1 4261 0334) on Rue du Marché-Saint-Honoré, Le Cochon à L’Oreille (00 33 1 4236 0756) on Rue de Montmartre or Le Petit Fer à Cheval (00 33 1 4272 4747) on Rue Vieille-du-Temple.
For tasty French pancakes, both sweet and savoury, try the tiny La Crêperie des Pêcheurs (00 33 1 4354 0032) on the picturesque Rue Saint-André-des-Arts. At teatime, head to Ladurée (00 33 1 4260 2179; www.laduree.fr) on Rue Royale for colourful macaroons and delicate pâtisseries, or to La Mosquée de Paris (00 33 1 4331 3820; www.la-mosquee.com) for oriental treats and mint tea.
For the full gourmet experience, dress up to the nines and get a table at the illustrious Le Grand Vefour (00 33 1 4296 5627; www.grandvefour.com) near Palais Royal. The food is outstanding, and past diners have included Napoleon, Victor Hugo and Sartre. Or admire the opulent decor at the famous Belle Epoque Le Train Bleu (00 33 1 4343 0906; www.le-train-bleu.com) in the Gare de Lyon.
Time running out?
Climb the steps of the Trocadéro for one last glance at the Eiffel Tower and panoramic views of the Champ de Mars.
Don’t leave without visiting one of the many markets. Stock up on fresh produce at the quaint Rue de Mouffetard street market in the lively 5th arrondissement or wander around the huge Saint-Ouen flea market and bring back antiques and original souvenirs.
Currency is the euro. Paris is one hour ahead of GMT and a one-hour 10-minute flight, or two-hour 15-minute train journey, from London.
Eurostar (0870 518 6186; www.eurostar.com) has regular daily departures to Paris from London St Pancras.
EasyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) have regular flights to Paris.
Paris Tourism: 25 Rue des Pyramides (00 33 8 9268 3000; www.parisinfo.com). Check the website for opening times.
Quiet Corners of Paris: Unexpected Hideaways, Secret Courtyards, Hidden Gardens by Jean-Christophe Napais (Little Bookroom, £10.99). Get under the skin of the French capital with this guide to lesser-known Parisian sights.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.