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Paris

Paris Vacations

Composer Cole Porter was spot on: whether you're here in the springtime, the autumn, the winter (when it drizzles) or the summer (when it sizzles!), the world's most romanticised city - with its tree-shaded boulevards, lamplit bridges, chic fashions and exquisite cuisine - seduces all year round.

Gaze rapturously at its wide, breezy streets, impressive monuments, great works of art and magic lights. Savour its gourmet selection of cheese, chocolate, wine and seafood. Feel the wind in your face as you cycle through Bastille, or a frisson of fear and pleasure atop the Eiffel Tower.

Region: France

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What To See

Many of Paris' significant sights are strung along its river, and its quartiers each have their own distinct personalities, so you can experience a lot without covering much ground. The museums, monuments and the two islands are a magnet for visitors but it can be just as rewarding to wander.

Les Catacombes
Paris’ most gruesome and macabre sight is its series of underground tunnels lined with skulls and bones exhumed from the city’s overflowing cemeteries. In 1785 it was decided to solve the hygiene and aesthetic problems posed by Paris’ overflowing cemeteries by exhuming the bones and storing them in the tunnels of three disused quarries, and the Catacombes were created in 1810.

The route through the Catacombes begins at a small, dark-green belle époque building in the centre of a grassy area of av Colonel Henri Roi-Tanguy, adjacent to Place Denfert Rochereau. After descending 20m (130 steps) from street level, you follow 2km of subterranean passages where the bones and skulls of millions of Parisians are neatly packed along each and every wall. During WWII these tunnels were used as Resistance headquarters; thrill-seeking cataphiles are often caught (and fined) roaming the tunnels at night.

Renting an audioguide greatly enhances the experience. In the tunnels, the temperature is a cool 14°C – bring a jacket, even in summer. The exit is back up 83 steps on rue Remy Dumoncel (Mouton-Duvernet), 700m southwest of av Colonel Henri Roi-Tanguy.

Eiffel Tower
No one could imagine Paris today without its signature spire. But Gustave Eiffel only constructed this graceful tower – the world’s tallest, at 320m, until it was eclipsed by Manhattan’s Chrysler Building some four decades later – as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World Fair). Luckily, the tower’s popularity assured its survival beyond the fair, and its elegant art nouveau webbed-metal design has become the defining fixture of the city’s skyline.

Lifts/elevators yo-yo up and down the north, west and east pillars to the tower’s three platforms (57m, 115m and 276m); change lifts on the 2nd level for the final ascent to the top, from where views extend up to 60km. (There’s wheelchair access to the 1st and 2nd levels.) If you’re feeling athletic, you can take the south pillar’s 1665 stairs as far as the 2nd level. Prebook tickets online to avoid monumentally long ticket queues.

Refreshment options in the tower include the 1st-level 58 Tour Eiffel, the sublime 2nd-level Le Jules Verne, and, at the top, the new Bar à Champagne.

Arc de Triomphe
If anything rivals the Eiffel Tower as the symbol of Paris, it’s this magnificent 1836 monument to Napoleon’s 1805 victory at Austerlitz, which he commissioned the following year. The intricately sculpted triumphal arch stands sentinel in the centre of the Étoile (‘star’) roundabout. From the viewing platform on top of the arch (50m up via 284 steps and well worth the climb) you can see the dozen avenues. Av de la Grande Armée heads northwest to the skyscraper district of La Défense, where the Grande Arche marks the western end of the Axe Historique.

The most famous of the four high-relief panels at the base is to the right, facing the arch from the av des Champs-Élysées side. It’s entitled Départ des Volontaires de 1792 (Departure of the Volunteers of 1792) and is also known as La Marseillaise (France’s national anthem). Higher up, a frieze running around the whole monument depicts hundreds of figures, each one 2m high.

Beneath the arch at ground level lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Honouring the 1.3 million French soldiers who lost their lives in WWI, the Unknown Soldier was laid to rest in 1921, beneath an eternal flame which is rekindled daily at 6.30pm.

Don’t cross the traffic-choked roundabout above ground if you value your life! Stairs lead from the northern side of the Champs-Élysées beneath the Étoile to pedestrian tunnels (not linked to metro tunnels) that bring you out safely beneath the arch. Tickets to the viewing platform are sold in the tunnel.

Quartier Latin
Known as the Quartier Latin because students and professors communicated in Latin here until the Revolution, the 5e arrondissement has been the centre of Parisian higher education since the Middle Ages. It still has a large population of students and academics, which gives it a lively, sparky vibe.

Musée Édith Piaf
This private museum in Ménilmontant, some 1.5km from the birthplace of the iconic singer Édith Piaf and closer to her final resting place in Cimetière du Père Lachaise, follows the life and career of the ‘urchin sparrow’ through memorabilia, recordings, personal objects, letters and other documentation. Admission by advance reservation; book a week in advance.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées
If the Eiffel Tower is Paris, then the Champs-Élysées is la belle France in all its grandeur and glamour. First laid out in the 17th century, the broad avenue today is where presidents and soldiers strut their stuff on Bastille Day, the Tour de France holds its final sprint and, most importantly, where the country parties when it has a reason to celebrate.

It’s also one of the globe’s most sought-after addresses, which you’ll undoubtedly notice as you stroll down the avenue: many of the world’s biggest brands have opened up showrooms here looking to promote their prestige. Part of the axe historique, the Champs-Élysées links place de la Concorde with the Arc de Triomphe.

Musée National d’Art Moderne
The 4th and 5th floors of Centre Pompidou house the Musée National d’Art Moderne, France’s national collection of art dating from 1905 onwards. About a third of the 50,000-plus works, including the work of the surrealists and cubists, as well as pop art and contemporary works, are on display.

Tours de Notre Dame
The entrance to the Tours de Notre Dame, which can be climbed, is from the North Tower, to the right and around the corner as you walk out of the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris’s main doorway. The 422 spiralling steps bring you to the top of the west facade, where you’ll find yourself face to face with many of the cathedral’s most frightening gargoyles, the 13-tonne bell Emmanuel (all the cathedral’s bells are named) in the South Tower, and an absolutely spectacular view over the city.

Panthéon
The Panthéon is a superb example of 18th-century neoclassicism. The domed landmark was commissioned by Louis XV around 1750 as an abbey, but due to financial and structural problems it wasn’t completed until 1789 – not a good year for church openings in Paris. Two years later the Constituent Assembly turned it into a secular mausoleum.

Louis XV originally dedicated the church to Sainte Geneviève in thanksgiving for his recovery from an illness. It reverted to its religious duties twice more after the Revolution but has played a secular role ever since 1885, and now is the resting place of some of France’s greatest thinkers. Among its 80 or so permanent residents are Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille, Émile Zola and Jean Moulin. The first woman to be interred in the Panthéon was the two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie (1867–1934), reburied here, along with her husband, Pierre, in 1995.

Sorbonne
The crème de la crème of academia flock to this distinguished university, one of the world’s most famous. Founded in 1253 by Robert de Sorbon, confessor to Louis IX, as a college for 16 impoverished theology students, the Sorbonne soon grew into a powerful body with its own government and laws.

Today, ‘La Sorbonne’ embraces most of the 13 autonomous universities – 35,500-odd students in all – created when the University of Paris was reorganised after the student protests of 1968. Until 2015, when an ambitious, 10-year modernisation program costing €45 million reaches completion, parts of the complex will be under renovation.

Place de la Sorbonne links bd St-Michel and the Chapelle de la Sorbonne, the university’s distinctive domed church, built between 1635 and 1642. The remains of Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642) lie in a tomb with an effigy of a cardinal’s hat suspended above.

Shopping

E Dehillerin
Founded in 1820, this extraordinary two-level store – think old-fashioned warehouse rather than shiny chic boutique – carries an incredible selection of professional-quality matériel de cuisine (kitchenware). Poultry scissors, turbot poacher, old-fashioned copper pot or Eiffel Tower–shaped cake tin – it’s all here.

Shakespeare & Company
A kind of spell descends as you enter this enchanting bookshop, where nooks and crannies overflow with new and secondhand English-language books. Fabled for nurturing writers, at night its couches turn into beds where writers stay in exchange for stacking shelves. Readings by emerging to illustrious authors take place at 7pm most Mondays; it also hosts workshops and literary festivals.

The bookshop is the stuff of legends. The original shop (12 rue l’Odéon, 6e; closed by the Nazis in 1941) was run by Sylvia Beach and became the meeting point for Hemingway’s ‘Lost Generation’. American-born George Whitman opened the present incarnation in 1951, attracting a beat-poet clientele, and scores of authors have since passed through its doors. In 2006 Whitman was awarded the Officier des Arts et Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, recognising ‘significant contribution to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance’. Whitman died in 2011, aged 98; he is buried in Division 73 of Cimetière du Père Lachaise. Today his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, maintains Shakespeare & Company’s serendipitous magic.

La Grande Épicerie de Paris
Among other edibles, Le Bon Marché’s magnificent food hall sells vodka-flavoured lollipops with detoxified ants inside and fist-sized Himalayan salt crystals to grate over food. Its fantastical displays of chocolates, pastries, biscuits, cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables and deli goods are a sight to behold.

Chercheminippes
Chercheminippes in St-Germain des Prés is everything you could dream of in the shape of five beautifully presented boutiques on one street selling secondhand pieces by current designers, each specialising in a different genre (haute couture, kids, menswear etc) and perfectly ordered by size and designer. There are changing rooms.

Le Dépôt-Vente de Buci
Fronted by a black wooden façade, this stylish ‘boutique of curiosities’ stocks hand-me-downs mainly from the 1960s on consignment, returning anything that hasn’t sold after three months.

Didier Ludot
In the rag trade since 1975, collector Didier Ludot sells the city’s finest couture creations of yesteryear in his exclusive twinset of boutiques, hosts exhibitions, and has published a book portraying the evolution of the little black dress, brilliantly brought to life in his boutique that sells just that, La Petite Robe Noire.

L’Artisan Parfumeur
This artisan has been making exquisite original scents and candles for decades. Products are expensive but of very high quality and attractively packaged, or try your hand at creating your own scent during a three-hour workshop.

Merci
The landmark Fiat Cinquecento in the courtyard marks the entrance to this unique multistorey concept store whose rallying cry is one-stop shopping. Fashion, accessories, linens, lamps and various other nifty designs for the home (a kitchen brush made from recycled egg shells and coffee grounds anyone?).

And a trio of inspired eating-drinking spaces complete Paris’ hippest shopping experience. All proceeds go to a children’s charity in Madagascar.

Adam Montparnasse
If Paris’ glorious art galleries have awoken your inner artist, pick up paint brushes, charcoals, pastels, sketchpads, watercolours, oils, acrylics, canvases and all manner of art supplies at this historic shop. Picasso, Brancusi and Giacometti were among Édouard Adam’s clients.

Another seminal client was Yves Klein, with whom Adam developed the ultramarine ‘Klein blue’ – the VLB25 ‘Klein Blue’ varnish is sold exclusively here.

JB Guanti
For the ultimate finishing touch, the men’s and women’s gloves at this boutique, which specialises solely in gloves, are the epitome of both style and comfort, whether unlined, silk lined, cashmere lined, lambskin lined or trimmed with rabbit fur.

Buying for someone else? To get their glove size, measure the length in centimetres of their middle finger from the top to where it joins their hand – the number of centimetres equals the size (eg 5cm is a size 5).

Nightlife


Café de la Gare
The 'Station Cafe' in the erstwhile mews of a Marais hotel particulier (private mansion) is one of the best and most innovative cafe-theatres in Paris, with acts ranging from comic theatre and stand-up to reinterpreted classics.

Le Champo
This is one of the most popular of the many Latin Quarter cinemas, featuring classics and retrospectives looking at the films of such actors and directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Jacques Tati, Alain Resnais, Frank Capra, Tim Burton and Woody Allen. One of the two salles (cinemas) has wheelchair access.

A couple of times a month Le Champo screens films all night for night owls, kicking off at midnight.

Moulin Rouge
Immortalised in the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec and later on screen by Baz Luhrmann, the Moulin Rouge twinkles beneath a 1925 replica of its original red windmill. Yes, it’s rife with bus-tour crowds. But from the opening bars of music to the last high kick it’s a whirl of fantastical costumes, sets, choreography and champagne. Booking advised.

Le Vieux Belleville
This old-fashioned bistro and musette at the top of Parc de Belleville is an atmospheric venue for performances of chansons featuring accordions and an organ grinder three times a week. It’s a lively favourite with locals, though, so booking ahead is advised. The ‘Old Belleville’ serves classic bistro food (open for lunch Monday to Friday, dinner Tuesday to Saturday).

L'Élysée-Montmartre
A huge old music hall with a great sound system, L’Élysée-Montmartre is one of the better venues in Paris for one-off hip-hop and indie concerts (ex-Wu Tang Clan, Hush Puppies, Morgan Heritage, Sabotage). It opens for concerts at 6.30pm and hosts club events and big-name DJs at 11.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Palais Garnier
The city’s original opera house is smaller than its Bastille counterpart, but boasts perfect acoustics. Due to its odd shape, however, some seats have limited or no visibility. Ticket prices and conditions (including last-minute discounts) are available at the box office.

Point Éphémère
This arts and music venue by the Canal St-Martin attracts an underground crowd from noon till past midnight, for drinks, meals, concerts, dance nights and even art exhibitions. At the time of writing gourmet-hamburger food truck Le Camion qui Fume was setting up shop here on Sundays.

Events

Most museums and shops are closed on France's jours fériés (public holidays). When a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, expect to see a lot of shuttered storefronts on that Monday or Friday as well. The doors of banks are good places to check for announcements of long holiday weekends.

France's national day, 14 July, commemorates the 1789 storming of the Bastille prison, the event that kicked off the French Revolution. Across the country, the holiday is celebrated with serious abandon, especially in Paris, where the day ends with a massive fireworks display and throngs of people in the streets.

Banlieues Bleues - Mar/Apr
The 'Suburban Blues'  jazz and blues festival is held over five weeks in March and April in the northern suburbs of Paris, including St-Denis, and attracts some big-name talent.

French Open Tennis Tournament - May/Jun
The glitzy Les internationaux de France de Roland-Garros, takes place from late May to mid-June at Stade Roland Garros (metro Porte d'Auteuil) at the southern edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16e.

Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans Pride Parade - late Jun
This colourful Saturday-afternoon parade in very late June through the Marais to Bastille celebrates Gay Pride Day, with various bars and clubs sponsoring floats, and participants in some pretty outrageous costumes.

Fête de la musique - 21 Jun
This national music festival welcomes in summer on Midsummer's Night (21 June) and caters to a great diversity of tastes (including jazz, reggae and classical), featuring staged and impromptu live performances all over the city.

Paris Plages - mid- Jul to mid-Aug
From mid-July to mid-August, the 'Paris Beaches' - at Louvre/Pont de Sully, Port de la Gare and Bassin de la Villette - see Parisians lounge on the banks of the Seine among sun beds, palm trees and trucked-in sand.

Festival d'Automne - Sep-Dec
As the tourist hordes leave and Parisians return from their holidays, the 'Autumn Festival' of arts mounts citywide exhibitions, concerts, dance and theatre productions from mid-September to December.

International Contemporary Art Fair - Oct

Food and Drink

L’AOC
‘Bistrot carnivore’ is the strapline of this ingenious restaurant concocted around France’s most respected culinary products. The concept here is Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), meaning everything has been reared or made according to strict guidelines designed to protect a product unique to a particular village, town or area. The result? Only the best!

Rare is the chance to taste porc noir de Bigorre, a type of black pig bred in the Pyrénées.

Bouillon Racine
Inconspicuously situated in a quiet street, this heritage-listed 1906 art nouveau ‘soup kitchen’, with mirrored walls, floral motifs and ceramic tiling, was built in 1906 to feed market workers. Despite the magnificent interior, the food – inspired by age-old recipes – is by no means an afterthought.

Superbly executed dishes include stuffed, spit-roasted suckling pig, pork shank in Rodenbach red beer, and scallops and shrimps with lobster coulis. Finish off your foray in gastronomic history with an old-fashioned sherbet.

L’Astrance
It’s been over a decade now since Pascal Barbot’s dazzling cuisine at the three-star L’Astrance made its debut, but it has shown no signs of losing its cutting edge. Look beyond the complicated descriptions on the menu – what you should expect are teasers of taste that you never even knew existed, and a presentation that is an art unto itself.

A culinary experience unique to Paris, you’ll need to reserve two months in advance (one month for lunch).

Crêperie Pen-Ty
Hailed as the best crêperie in northern Paris, Pen-Ty is worth the detour – but be sure to book ahead. Need to brush up on Breton Cuisine 101? A galette is a savoury crêpe made from buckwheat flour; a regular crêpe is sweet and made from white flour.

Derrière
Play table ping pong between courses, sit on the side of the bed glass of champers in hand, lounge between book cases, or entertain a dinner party of 12 – such is the nature of this apartment restaurant with courtyard seating in summer. Its vibe might be chilled in a trendy ‘shoes-off’ kind of way, but Derrière (literally, ‘Behind’) is deadly serious in the kitchen.

Classic French bistro dishes and more inventive creations are excellent, as is its Sunday brunch. Advance reservations for dinner essential.

Au Passage
Have faith in talented Australian chef James Henry at this raved-about petit bar de quartier (neighbourhood bar) with vegetable crates piled scruffily in the window and a fridge filling one corner of the old-fashioned dining room.

The lunch menu – a good-value, uncomplicated choice of two starters and two mains – is chalked on the blackboard, while dinner sees waiting staff in jeans twirl in and out of the pocket-sized kitchen with tapas-style starters to share, followed by a feisty shoulder of lamb, side of beef or other meaty cut for the entire table. Advance reservations essential.

Septime
Reading the menu at Septime won’t get you far, as it looks mostly like an obscure shopping list (hanger steak/chicory/roots, chicken’s egg/foie gras/lardo). And that's if you even get a menu – if you order the excellent five-course meal (available for both lunch and dinner), you won't even know what's being served until it arrives.

But rest assured, the alchemists in the kitchen here, run by Bertrand Grébaut, are capable of producing some truly beautiful creations, and the blue-smocked waitstaff go out of their way to ensure that the culinary surprises are all pleasant ones. Reserve in advance.

Le Pantruche
Named after a nearby 19th-century theatre, classy Pantruche has been making waves in the already crowded dining hotspot of South Pigalle. No surprise, then, that it hits all the right notes: seasonal bistro fare, reasonable prices and an intimate setting. The menu runs from classics (steak with béarnaise sauce) to more daring creations (scallops served in a parmesan broth with cauliflower mousseline).

Reserve well in advance.

Vivant
Pierre Jancou, the mind behind natural-wine bars like Racines  and La Crèmerie, has moved on to his latest adventure set in a century-old exotic bird shop, where simple but elegant dishes – creamy burratta, crispy duck leg with mashed potatoes, foie gras and roasted onion, an Italian cheese plate – are created to showcase the carefully sourced ingredients.

The Swiss-born Jancou is a natural-wine activist, so make sure you treat yourself to at least a glass: it's an essential part of the meal here.

Le Rosebud
Like the sleigh of that name in Citizen Kane, Rosebud harkens to the past. In this case it’s to Montparnasse’s early 20th-century heyday (the decor has scarcely changed since Sartre drank here). Enjoy a Champagne cocktail amid the quiet elegance of polished wood and aged leather.

Experimental Cocktail Club
Called ECC by trendies, this fabulous speakeasy with grey façade and old-beamed ceiling is effortlessly hip. Oozing spirit and soul, the cocktail bar – with retro-chic decor by American interior designer Cuoco Black and sister bars in London and New York – is a sophisticated flashback to those années folles (crazy years) of prohibition New York.

Cocktails are individual and fabulous, and DJs set the space partying until dawn at weekends. The same guys are behind the equally hip Ballroom cocktail bar in the cellar of the New Yorker-style Beef Club.

La Fée Verte
You guessed it, the ‘Green Fairy’ specialises in absinthe (served traditionally with spoons and sugar cubes), but this fabulously old-fashioned neighbourhood cafe and bar also serves terrific food, including Green Fairy cheeseburgers.