Arts and Life

A weekend in Paris: travel guide, attractions and things to do

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Why you should visit Paris

Put simply, “because it’s Paris”, the “tirelessly picturesque” City of Love and Lights, said The Times. The French capital is a city where you can “eat like a king” and “marvel at some of the finest historical sights” in the world. 

Paris, which sits on the River Seine, is the second most visited city in Europe. Blending the past and the present, romanticism and revolution, it’s not hard to see why so many people flock to it each year. 

With so much to do, Paris is “on pretty much every traveller’s bucket list”, said Gabrielle on the Worldpackers blog. The diversity of the city means that it can be enjoyed by those who have money but also travellers who are on a budget. 

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A view of Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle from the River Seine

Westend61/Getty Stock Photo

Top attractions: things to see and do

Architecture and ingenuity

Because Paris has been the “beating cultural heart of Europe over much of the last thousand years”, it offers a variety of architecture, said Rough Guide. “From grand monuments to exquisite, secretive little nooks”, there is so much to look at when walking around the streets and boulevards.

For fans of the gothic, there is the famous Notre-Dame de Paris, which will reopen in spring 2024, and equally stunning is the 13th-century Sainte Chapelle. Fast forward 700 years and there’s the Pompidou, which opened in the 1970s and is a “radical inside-out” museum – a must for fans of modern architecture and art.

And, of course, a first trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without climbing the Eiffel Tower, an “excitingly improbable structure” that is a remarkable feat of engineering. 

Museums and art

Paris is home to around 130 museums and art galleries with the Louvre often topping travellers’ lists. Though it is most famous for hosting Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, this “former fortress and royal palace” has much more to offer, said The New York Times. With countless rooms dedicated to paintings of French history and “treasures of the Italian Renaissance”, it would take three days to see everything. 

Beyond the Louvre, “there’s a museum for visual art in all its forms”, said Time Out. Perhaps the most interesting is the Musée d’Orsay, a converted train station which sits on the banks of the river. The museum houses paintings by artists from Van Gough to Monet and includes the latter’s La Gare Saint-Lazare, which is “considered the first Impressionist painting”. 

A boat trip along the river 

Views from above the city are incredible, whether that’s from the Eiffel Tower or the hill of Montmartre, but the best place to see its evolution is the river. The Seine is the lifeline of Paris, playing a defensive role in its history, as well as an economic one.

Most of Paris’ iconic landmarks sit along the river banks and cruising down it the Seine is like travelling through time. From a boat, it’s possible to see buildings and monuments from the middle ages all the way to the 20th century. Because of their historical importance, the banks have been given Unesco world heritage site status.

Shopping 

Paris is often dubbed the fashion capital of the world and is the city where Coco Channel opened her first shop in 1910. Today, 31 Rue Cambon is still a Chanel store, surrounded by other designer outlets from Burberry and Dior.

On the other end of the scale from the high-end designers is the more affordable flea market of Port de Vanves. Come rain or shine, every weekend of the year, the market’s 380 merchants sell wares ranging from 18th-century furniture to photographs and postcards. 

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Wine at Le Baron Rouge

Owen Franken

Restaurants, cafes and wine: where to eat and drink

Food

“Parisian life is quite literally arranged around food”, said The  Telegraph. For the natives, eating is more than a nutritional necessity, “it’s a daily opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of great food”. 

For a taste of the city’s cultural history, visit the Café de la Paix. Built in the 1860s, it’s one of Paris’ most iconic cafes and has played host to the likes of Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway and Serge Lifar – a famed Ukrainian ballet master of the Opera House, which lies opposite. The restaurant offers a wide selection of oysters and the traditional cheese-topped French onion soup is a must-order.

The diversity of the city has opened up its cuisine and it’s possible to sample great foods from around the world. One of the “local institutions on Rue de Bretagne” is Chez Omar, a family-friendly restaurant that serves North African cuisine. 

Wine

It would be an understatement to say the French love their wine. Most restaurants will offer a comprehensive wine list and the city is packed with cosy wine bars to help you get your fill.

Le Baron Rouge, a “laid-back” wine bar near the Place d’Aligre market, is “a throwback to another era, with just a few tables plus giant wine barrels along the walls for filling and refilling your take-home bottles”, said FodorTravel. Come on a Sunday morning (“yes, morning”) when the bar is “packed with locals” who want to “linger over good food and that first petit blanc of the day”.

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Hotels and accommodation: where to stay

Embody the height of French luxury and sleep like a King at Le Grand Contrôle, at the palace of Versailles. Staying here “provides an unrivalled exclusive glimpse” of French royal life, said Conde Nast Traveller. It’s even possible to arrange for “king’s wake up call” which features an orange-scented milk bubble bath and the sounds of classical music. 

The Parisian hotel scene is like “some endlessly absorbent miracle sponge”, added the magazine. It’s therefore no surprise for it to feature a hotel inspired by the roaring Jazz age of the 1920s. Hôtel Rochechouart is located in the Pigalle neighbourhood and is an “art deco relic”. 

In keeping with the art deco theme is Les Piaules. Like most major cities in the world, Paris is home to plenty of hostels perfect for travellers on a budget. Les Piaules was opened by three Parisian travellers and offers great views of the city’s monuments.

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Transport: how to get there

There are many ways to travel to Paris from the UK, including by train, car and plane. 

The most direct route to the city centre is by Eurostar. Departing from London King’s Cross, the two-hour 37-minute  journey through the Channel Tunnel ends at Gare du Nord station, right in the heart of the city. 

Flying from London to Paris is even quicker, with flights taking just under an hour. Charles de Gaulle airport is the second busiest in Europe with around 600 flights arriving daily. Bus B departs from the airport every six minutes and the 30-minute ride will take you right into central Paris.

You can also drive to Paris via Eurotunnel Le Shuttle from Folkestone to Calais, which only takes 35 minutes. The drive from Calais to Paris, via the Eurotunnel terminal, then takes around three hours and 30 minutes. 

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