Friday, November 8, 2013

Travel to Paris, France

Paris is unique in that it is a major global city -- home to more than 10 million people in the greater region -- yet it manages to synthesize the rhythms of village life with those of a cosmopolitan world capital. Although the city is a center of European commerce, many shops are closed on Sundays, leaving time for lazy brunches or shopping excursions at a local market. Paris is the capital of fashion, art, and people-watching; a city where Chanel-clad ladies walk poodles along grand boulevards; a place where the waiters might be rude but the food is délicieux. Paris is all of that and more. Your love affair begins once you look beyond the Eiffel Tower, explore the backstreets, and make Paris your own.

Things to Do
Comfy shoes are essential for this city of a thousand walks, landscaped gardens, and cavernous galleries. Reserve your ticket for speedy access to the Louvre, which sidles up to the sculpture-dotted Jardin des Tuileries. Across the Seine on the Left Bank, take your pick from Impressionist hangout Musée d'Orsay, Notre-Dame's Gothic grandeur and Musée Rodin's Kiss sculpture. Okay, you really can't leave without seeing Paris light up from the Eiffel Tower, open till midnight.

Restaurants and Dining
Good food is a birthright and its appreciation a rite of passage in Paris, where a meal -- sometimes even coffee -- can last hours. For a memorable splurge, book one of the city's opulent three-star palace restaurants, like Le Plaza Athenée or L'Astrance, or book ahead for a table at one of the trendy bistronomiques that combine gastronomy with bistro pricing -- Frenchie, Le Chateaubriand, Rino, and Spring are all hot right now.

Parisians luxuriate in shopping -- bidding shopkeepers bonjour and pausing to lèche-vitrines ("lick the windows," or window shop). Saunter the boutiquey Marais for home-grown fashion, or voguish rue Saint-Honoré, home to concept store Colette, for more high-end labels. Where else can you find such palatial department stores as chic Bon Marché, Art Nouveau Printemps, or monumental Galeries Lafayette? Antiques, bric-a-brac, vintage Chanel -- it's all at the charming Porte de Vanves weekend flea market; arrive early for bargains and stay for brunch.

Nightlife and Entertainment
Ballet and opera at the glittering Opéra Garnier, Molière classics at the Comédie Française, and cancan at the (in)famous Moulin Rouge -- Paris nightlife reaches from sublime to borderline sleazy. A young, trendy crowd parties around the Bastille, gay Marais, and the effortlessly hip bars in Oberkampf, where DJs play at industrial-chic Nouveau Casino. Dress to the nines to slip past picky doormen in clubs around Champs-Élysées like celebrity-magnet Le Baron, and rock the Seine dancing to techno on moored party boat Batofar.

Best Authentic Experiences in Paris, France

The Best Authentic Experiences

  • Picnicking on the Canal St-Martin: On a nice day, pack a picnic lunch and head to the banks of the charming Canal St-Martin, where you'll find bohemian Parisians relaxing under the shady plane trees and dining with friends.
  • Feasting on Oysters and Chablis: During oyster season (Sept-Apr), take the time for a briney lunch of fines de claire oysters washed down with a glass -- or two -- of Chablis, a white wine from Burgundy. Many bistros and brasseries serve oysters during this period -- you'll know by the heaping mounds of oysters set up on tables in front of these establishments.
  • Eating Asian in Chinatown: While most visitors don't associate Paris with Asian food, the city has an important Asian community originating primarily from China, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. There are three different Chinatowns in the city; the two most important Chinatowns are located at Metro Belleville and in the 13th arrondissement near Metro Porte d'Ivry. Here you can eat well (and cheaply) while seeing a different side of the city.
  • Riding a Bike: The city's small size and predominantly flat terrain make it ideal for cycling. The city government actively encourages bike riding: you'll see bike paths around the city, and there's even an efficient municipal bike rental system, the Vélib ( It's an invigorating way to see the city.
  • Bathing in a Hammam: Bathhouses are common in Paris; this custom was imported by Paris's important communities from Maghreb, where hammams are prevalent. The best known and perhaps most beautiful hammam is the one inside the La Grande Mosquée de Paris. Strip down (it's women or men only) and relax in the succession of increasingly hot steam rooms, before plunging into a cold pool. Finish off the experience with a cleansing mint tea.
  • Perusing the Local Food Markets: Possibly everything there is to say about the charm of the city's local food markets has already been said -- it's a delight for all the senses. Get inspired by the variety of fresh French produce, from its cheeses to charcuteries to fruits, vegetables, seafood, meats, and world-class bread.
  • Hitting the Sales: Twice a year Paris shops sacrifice their current collections, with up to 75% reductions, to make way for new stock. Summer sales start in the last week of June, and winter sales start in early January. Parisians stock up on everything from clothes to home goods to electronics at these city-wide sales.
  • Taking an Aperitif: The apéro (predinner drink) is a common ritual in Paris, where Parisian meet in their favorite local bars and bistros for a chat and a drink, usually around 7pm. The aperitif is meant to open the appetite, and classic examples include white wine, champagne, pastis, or vermouth.

Best Hotel Bets in Paris, France

Best Hotel Bets

  • Best for a Romantic Getaway: Who doesn't take a deep sigh then murmur yes when he first pushes open this hotel's heavy wooden gate and lays his eyes on the Pavillon de la Reine, an enchanting ivy-covered mansion opposite the Marais' Place des Vosges?
  • Best for Families: You'll find all the comfort of home at the stylish Hotel Arvor St Georges. Three suites include an extra single bed, and rooms can also take an extra cot. Kids will also appreciate the homemade cake in the relaxed downstairs lobby.
  • Best Splurge: This new Philippe Starck-designed gem has the whole city talking. The Royal Monceau offers absolute luxury for contemporary jet-setters, including a Clarins spa, an indoor pool, a state-of-the-art cinema, edgy fashion, and a mobile sound studio that can be set up in any of the soundproofed rooms.
  • Best Value: The Mama Shelter might be off the beaten track, but this new Starck-designed hotel nonetheless attracts the in-crowd with its buzzing downstairs restaurant/bar space, high-tech setup, and low-cost rates.
  • Best-Kept Secret: The Villa Mazarin provides elegant and spacious rooms in the thick of the lovely lower Marais, just minutes from the Pompidou Centre, the river, and Notre-Dame.
  • Best Service: Of all the palace hotels in Paris, the Hotel Meurice has perhaps the most warmth and contemporary style. The service here is welcoming and humorous, and not at all stuffy.
  • Most Rejuvenating: The chic Gabriel Paris Marais is the city's first "detox" hotel, and is devoted to the well-being of its guests. After getting a good night's sleep with their revolutionary NightCove system, wake up to an organic breakfast.
  • Most Trendy: The one-of-a-kind Hotel Amour is run by a couple of the city's nightlife barons. Each of the 24 rooms boasts a unique, edgy, contemporary design, and you'll run into many of the city's trendsetters at the raucous downstairs bar and restaurant.
  • Best Views: Of the 33 rooms at the Hotel du Quai Voltaire, 28 open onto views of the Seine. This 17th-century abbey was transformed into a hotel in 1856 and has been welcoming guests -- including Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, and Wilhelm Richard Wagner -- ever since.
  • Most Charming: In the heart of the Latin Quarter, and set within a luxuriant and peaceful little garden, the delightful Hotel des Grands Ecoles is a budget option boasting a unique, provincial charm.

Most Unforgettable Food and Drink Experiences in Paris, France

The Most Unforgettable Food and Drink Experiences
  • Eating illicit cheese: Many varieties of French fromage (cheese) are actually illegal in the United States because they're made with raw, unpasteurized milk -- this adds depth of flavor to the cheese. While in France, sample the oozy Brie de Meaux (or Brie de Melun, if it's available), the pungent washed rind cheese Epoisses, or a very young and tangy snow-white chèvre. Our favorite cheese shop is Androuet (37 rue de Verneuil; tel. 01-42-61-97-55; in the 7th arrondissement, though there are other locations around the city.
  • Pairing that cheese with a warm baguette: Just across the street from the Androuet cheese shop in the 7e is the Eric Kayser bakery. Run by an acclaimed Alsatian who has patented several bread-making techniques, this bakery sells at least four different types of baguette, all chewy and delicious.
  • Filling a box of chocolates: It's impossible to walk into a chocolatarie and not be tempted to take home a box. Choose the size of the box, and then begin the fun task of pointing out whatever pralinés and ganaches you'd like to try. Our favorite chocolatiers are Jacques Genin (133 rue du Turenne, 3e; tel. 01-45-77-29-01) and Patrick Roger (108 boulevard Saint-Germain, 6e; tel. 01-43-29-38-42;
  • Going au naturel: Natural wines, which are made from organic grapes and use few preservatives or stabilizing agents, are all the rage in Paris right now. The best place to learn about these (by drinking, of course) is Vivant, a restaurant in the 10th arrondissement that's run by a leader in the vins naturels movement named Pierre Jancou.
  • Surrendering control: Tasting menus that offer no choices are becoming increasingly popular in Paris's restaurants. If you're ready to put yourself in the hands of a talented chef, try Le ChateaubriandLa Bigarrade, or Spring.
  • Having a picnic: When the weather is nice, the banks of the Seine River and the Canal St-Martin and the city's many parks become lined with Parisians enjoying a picnic in the open air. Bring a baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine, and join the locals for some of the cheapest fun to be had in Paris.

Best Restaurant Bets in Paris, France

Best Restaurant Bets
  • Best for Romance: Lasserre, with its over-the-top opulence and retractable ceiling, is an obvious setting for romance. A more affordable romantic option is La Crèmerie, an old milk shop-turned-wine bar on the left bank, with beautiful tiles and an intimate atmosphere.
  • Best for Families: For kids who are tired of tasting new things, Breakfast in America is a haven of recognizable favorites like hamburgers, milkshakes, and all-day breakfast. Set inside the city's biggest park, Rosa Bonheur allows parents to sample various tapas on a large, outdoor terrace while their kids play in the park.
  • Best Splurge: Passage 53, inside the city's oldest covered passageway, is bursting with postcard charm -- it also has delicious, yet modern, cuisine, and it just received its second Michelin star. Among the three-star Michelin splurges, we're most taken with L'Arpège.
  • Best Value: Located just a few blocks from each other in the Marais, the Breizh Café and the Café des Musees, are the places to go when you want to fill up on authentic French comfort food for under 20€ a head.
  • Best Service: Of all the lavish three-star restaurants in Paris, Guy Savoy is widely thought to have the most warm and gracious service. On the other side of town, and the other end of the gastronomic spectrum, the restaurant Fish is always a warm and friendly place to go, and the largely expatriate waitstaff are a great help for those who don't speak French.
  • Best Classic Bistro: In a city with so many excellent bistros, it's difficult to choose a favorite, but we'll narrow it down to Le RegaladeLe Bistrot Paul Bert, and Chez L'Ami Jean. Book in advance for any of these three.
  • Best for Sunday Dinner: Many restaurants in Paris are closed on Sundays, but L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is open every day of the year, and Goumard, also open on Sundays, is a fun place to indulge in some fresh oysters.
  • Best Steak Frites: Run by a former butcher, Le Severo serves some of the city's best steak frites, along with côtes de boeuf, and other massive cuts of beef. Le Relais de L'Entrecôte is a fun dining option that serves multiple refills of steak and fries.
  • Best for Young, Inventive Chefs: The top restaurants for innovative and modern French cuisine are Le ChateaubriandFrenchie, and Saturne. Book a few weeks in advance if you want a taste of what's new in Paris.
  • Best for Wine Enthusiasts: If what's in your glass is just as important as what's on the plate, we recommend a visit to Le Verre VoléLes PapillesVivantLe Chapeau Melon, or Le Baratin -- all of these places take wine seriously.

Favorite Experiences in Paris, France

Favorite Experiences

  • Whiling Away an Afternoon in a Parisian Cafe: The cafes are where passionate meetings of writers, artists, philosophers, thinkers, and revolutionaries once took place -- and perhaps still do. Parisians stop by their favorite cafes to meet lovers and friends, to make new ones, or to sit in solitude with a newspaper or book.
  • Taking Afternoon Tea à la Française: Drinking tea in London has its charm, but the Parisian salon de thé is unique. Skip the cucumber-and-watercress sandwiches and delve into a luscious dessert such as the Mont Blanc, a creamy purée of sweetened chestnuts and meringue. The grandest Parisian tea salon is Angélina, 226 rue de Rivoli, 1er (tel. 01-42-60-82-00).
  • Strolling Along the Seine: Such painters as Sisley, Turner, and Monet have fallen under the Seine's spell. On its banks, lovers still walk hand in hand, anglers cast their lines, and bouquinistes (secondhand-book dealers) peddle their mix of postcards, 100-year-old pornography, and tattered histories of Indochina.
  • Spending a Day at the Races: Paris boasts eight tracks for horse racing. The most famous and the classiest is Hippodrome de Longchamp, in the Bois de Boulogne, the site of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Grand Prix. These and other top races are major social events, so you'll have to dress up.
  • Calling on the Dead: You don't have to be a ghoul to be thrilled by a visit to Europe's most famous cemetery, Père-Lachaise. You can pay your respects to the resting places of Oscar Wilde; Yves Montand and Simone Signoret; Edith Piaf; Isadora Duncan; Frédéric Chopin; Marcel Proust; Jim Morrison; and others. Laid out in 1803 on a hill in Ménilmontant, the cemetery offers surprises with its bizarre monuments, unexpected views, and ornate sculpture.
  • Window-Shopping in the Faubourg St-Honoré: In the 1700s, the wealthiest Parisians resided in the Faubourg St-Honoré; today, the quarter is home to stores catering to the rich, particularly on rue du Faubourg St-Honoré and avenue Montaigne. Even if you don't buy anything, it's great to window-shop big names such as Hermès, Dior, Chanel, Gaultier, Vuitton, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. If you want to browse in the stores, be sure to dress the part.
  • Exploring Ile de la Cité's Flower Market: A fine finish to any day (Mon-Sat) spent meandering along the Seine is a stroll through the Marché aux Fleurs, place Louis-Lépine. You can buy rare flowers, the gems of the French Riviera -- bouquets that have inspired artists throughout the centuries. On Sundays, the area is transformed into the Marché aux Oiseaux, where you can admire rare birds from around the world.
  • Going Gourmet at Fauchon: An exotic world of food, Fauchon offers more than 20,000 products from around the globe. Everything you never knew you were missing is in aisle after aisle of coffees, spices, pastries, fruits, vegetables, and much more. Take your pick: Scottish smoked salmon, preserved cocks' combs, Romanian rose-petal jelly, blue-red Indian pomegranates, golden Tunisian dates, dark morels from France's rich soil, century-old eggs from China, and a creole punch from Martinique, reputed to be the best anywhere.
  • Attending a Ballet or an Opera: Take your pick between the rococo splendor of the majestic Opéra Garnier or the more modern Opéra Bastille, France's largest opera house. Established in 1989, the Opéra Bastille presents opera and symphony performances in its four concert halls (its main hall seats 2,700). The Opéra Garnier is the home of the Paris Opera Ballet, one of the best companies in the world, and it hosts opera, classical concerts, and ballet performances inside its stunning gold and red velvet auditorium. Dress for the occasion, with pomp and circumstance.
  • Sipping Wine at Willi's: Back in the early 1970s, the first-timer to Paris might have arrived with a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and, taking the author's endorsement to heart, headed for Harry's Bar at "Sank roo doe Noo." Harry's is still around but now draws an older, more conservative clientele. Today's chic younger expats head for Willi's Wine Bar, 13 rue des Petits-Champs, 1er (tel. 01-42-61-05-09). Here, the waitresses and long-haired young bartenders are mostly English. The place is like an informal club for Brits, Australians, and Yanks, especially in the afternoon. Some 300 wines await your selection.
  • Checking Out the Marchés: A daily Parisian ritual is ambling through one of the open-air markets to buy fresh food -- perhaps a properly creamy Camembert or a ripe plum -- to be eaten before sundown. Our favorite market is the Marché d'Aligre. During mornings at this grubby little cluster of food stalls, we've spotted some of France's finest chefs stocking up for the day.

Best for Kids in Paris, France

The Best for Kids

  • Best for Keeping the Kids Quiet: Les Catacombes, a creepy underground ossuary, will have the kids transfixed. Wander through almost 2km (1 1/3 miles) of labyrinthine corridors lined with six million bones, transferred here from Parisian cemeteries over 200 years ago. In the past, it served as a quarry, where stone was extracted for building, and during World War II, the French Resistance used the tunnel system to outsmart the German soldiers.
  • Best for History: Originally a royal garden dedicated to medicinal plants, the Jardin des Plantes, set within a park that includes the Natural History Museum, offers a mesmerizing overview of the history of both sea and land creatures and gives an insight into the impact of man on nature by spotlighting different extinct and endangered animals. There's also the recently reopened greenhouses, which present different natural and plant environments, from tropical rainforests to deserts; there's a space dedicated to geology and mineralogy; a Gallery of Paleontology which presents a fascinating collection of fossils and specimens, including dinosaurs, mammoths, and even the skeleton of Louis XV's pet rhinoceros! Plus there's a charming zoo, featuring over 900 animals, everything from wallabies to pink flamingos to orangutans.
  • Best for Wearing the Kids Out: Europe's most visited theme park, Disneyland Paris, offers total sensory overload for the whole family in its five lands: Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Discoveryland. Fairy tales come alive in Sleeping Beauty's Castle, and adventurers will love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril.
  • Best for a Picnic: Parc des Buttes Chaumont, a large 19th-century park built by Napoleon III, is full of exciting features that the kids will love, like cliffs, a suspension bridge leading to a romantic stone belvedere, a lake with ducks and swans, and a massive grotto with a thundering waterfall. There are pony rides, a merry-go-round, an adventure playground, and a puppet theater too.
  • Best Gross Out: Rémy the rat from the animated 2007 film Ratatouille made his way up from the Paris sewers to take the reins of the restaurant made famous by his gastronomic hero, Auguste Gusteau. Take the kids on this smelly tour through Les Egouts, the city's sewers, and give them a new perspective on the city and its history.
  • Best Climb: Basilique du Sacré Coeur, an impressive neo-Byzantine basilica, crowns the Montmartre hill, the highest point in the city. Give your calf muscles a workout getting to the top: Take the Metro to Anvers and walk up the hill to the gardens surrounding the church; from there, the funicular can take you up to the church, where around 500 steps await to take you to the very top of the edifice, and its panoramic views of the city below.
  • Best Place to Run and Play: Parc de la Villette, Paris's largest park, includes 10 astounding gardens that guarantee the whole family a memorable day. Here you'll find the Garden of Childhood Fears, with its mysterious musical forest; the Garden of Acrobatics, with games involving balance and movement; the Dragon Garden; the Garden of Mirrors; and more. The park includes vast open spaces ideal for picnics and games.
  • Best Photo Moment: At the Musée Grevin, kids can pose for a snapshot with their favorite French hero, such as basketball star Tony Parker and singer Celine Dion. Take a tour of the history of France via 300 wax personalities, from Joan of Arc to King Louis XIV. There's also a discovery tour that takes you behind the scenes to learn how the wax dummies are made; here children can touch all the materials used, including the wax, glass eyes, and (real) hair!
  • Best for Thrill-Seekers: For the summer months of July and August, the Jardin des Tuileries hosts a funfair (, a special amusement park that boasts all the classic amusements such as a shooting gallery, trampolines, and a century-old wooden carousel. The enormous Ferris wheel provides superb views over Paris.
  • Best for a Hike: La Promenade Plantée, a former railway line abandoned since 1969, has been transformed into a 4.5km (2.8-mile) pedestrian walkway that runs through the 12th arrondissement. It begins near Bastille at the Avenue Dausmenil and ends at the Bois de Vincennes. Have fun cutting through the city on this elevated green path, planted with all sorts of plants and trees.