Europe: France - Paris | Intimate Cafes, Chic Shops & Eye-Candy Art

by Lori Seto

The "City of Light" is a sensory bombshell: world-renowned boutiques, cozy street-side cafes, aromatic bistros, grand avenues, jazz clubs, galleries, and museums collectively cast a spell in this city in northern France. Enchanting and expensive, Paris feels simultaneously intimate and expansive. The city is divided into 20 districts, called arrondissements, and physically divided by the Seine River. The south part is called the Left Bank; the north part is called the Right Bank.

In a Word: Nightlife

No matter your mood, Paris delivers. Cafe hop in the St-Germain district, gaze at the moonlit Seine, catch a few jazz sets, a play, or a cabaret. Addresses in the Menilmontant, Parmentier, and Bastille districts are hot.

Why We'd Go: Eight Features You'll Never Forget

  • Photo ops: Take pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower (come back at night when crowds thin out to see the city in all its glittering glory), the stately Arc de Triomphe (erected by Napoleon to celebrate his military prowess), the tourist-laden Champs-Elysees (prettiest at night), and the majestic Sacre-Coeur. Hop on one of the Bateaux Mouches, motorboats that tour Paris via the Seine, to overview city vistas.
  • Shopping: Top designer shops dot avenue Montaigne, rue du Faubourg-St-Honore, and Place des Victoires. Head towards Place Vendome for jewelry, the area around St-Germain-des-Pres for specialty boutiques, and Les Halles for trendy threads. Grands magasins (department stores) near the opera house include Galerie Lafayette and Au Printemps. Memorize these words: soldes ("sale" -- January and August are the best months), tout doit disparaitre ("everything must go"), and coin des affaires ("bargain area").
  • Works of art: Must-see museums include the Louvre (once a fortress, now a museum powerhouse), the Orsay Museum (which includes an excellent Impressionist collection, Art Nouveau furniture, and a Belle Epoque restaurant), the whimsical Pompidou Center (home to the Modern Art Museum), the Picasso Museum, and the Rodin Museum. Gain entree to 70 museums and sites -- and go to the front of the line! -- with a Carte Musees et Monument (museum pass) available at museums, the tourist office, and major Metro stations.
  • Jim Morrison: Wander among the imposing tombs and cobblestone avenues of Pere Lachaise Cemetery to find the graves of Chopin, Proust, Delacroix, Rossini, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, and yes, Jim himself.
  • Happenin' 'hoods: Marais and St-Germain are unspoiled Paris -- for now. The Latin Quarter, like Greenwich Village in New York City, has lost its unique edge but is worth a quick visit to see the Sorbonne, one of Europe's oldest universities, and the Pantheon, where the remains of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Zola reside. Montmartre is the original Bohemian hangout and includes Paris' red light district. Here you'll find Moulin Rouge with its legendary can-can shows and the sex shops of boulevard de Clichy at Place Blanche.
  • Island life: Visit the island of Ile de la Cite in the Seine to see Notre-Dame (go first thing in the morning to avoid crowds, and climb the tower steps to gawk at gargoyles and Paris vistas), the richly lit Holy Chapel with its walls of 13th-century stained glass, and Conciergerie, the city's former prison.
  • Gardens: On the Left Bank, picnic on Nutella crepes at the beautiful Luxembourg Garden or Botanical Gardens. Built in the 17th century, these gardens encompass a zoo, aquarium, maze, alpine garden, hothouses, and several natural history museums.
  • Day trips: Hop a train to visit the opulent 17th-century Chateau de Versailles; the Palace at Fontainebleau and its famed forest; or the Chartres Cathedral, designed by Rodin and flooded with color from 3,000 square yards of 12th- and 13th-century stained glass.

Pucker Up: Best Place to Smooch

Whether you're picnicking with a bottle of Bordeaux, a hunk of hot baguette, and creamy Brie, or you're curled up in the burgundy-velvet booths of a romantic restuarant on the Left Bank, French food will lead to locked lips in this city of sensory delights.

When to Go: Paris at its Best

  • Best weather: May, June, September, October
  • Best prices: November to February
  • Festival highlights: Browse antique dealers' prize pieces along the Left Bank perimeter known as the Carre Rive Gauche during the last weekend in May; attend the international La Villette Jazz Festival in early summer; celebrate Bastille Day in grand millennium style on July 14; stroll neighborhood festivals from July 15 to August 15; revel in Paris' autumn festival
  • French holidays: Jan. 1, Easter, May 1, May 8, June 1, June 12, July 14, Aug. 15, Nov. 1, Nov. 11 Dec. 25

Before You Go: Need-to-Know Info

  • Entry requirements: Passport
  • Language: French
  • Currency: Euro
  • Flight time: 7 hrs from NYC, 13 hrs from LA, 12 hrs from Dallas
  • Hotel tax and service charge: 20.6% (tax), service charge varies (both are usually included in rates)
  • Tipping: Included in restaurant bills (but leave a little extra), 10% to taxi drivers, 10 francs per day for maids
  • Getting around: Metro (subway), bus, taxi, taxi-bike (rickshaws)
  • Inspiration: Read A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
  • More info: France On-Call


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