Make the most of classical Paris while dodging the crowds and veering off track to see the fresh and funky side of the City of Lights. Abigail King rounds up advice on the ground to help you navigate one of the most captivating cities in the world in only 24 hours. Allons-y!
Paris is not the city that never sleeps. It’s the city that enjoys sleep, as much as it enjoys food, fashion, culture, and indeed life. So if you’re up before everyone else, enjoy a peaceful stroll along the Seine and then drop down to the 6th arrondissement of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Come 7.30am, step into Saint-Sulpice (2 rue Palatine, 01 4234 5960) to see the mythical rose line from The Da Vinci Code plus the altar that overlooked the Marquis de Sade’s christening and the wedding of novelist Victor Hugo. Soak up a different literary vibe over coffee at Les Deux Magots (6 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 01 4548 5525). With high ceilings, fresh lilies and bow-tied waiters, this café was once the stomping ground of French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Tourists swarm in later on but for breakfast you can expect a certain amount of philosophical peace and quiet.
The next tip to beat the crowds is to hotfoot it to the lesser-known entrance of The Louvre (Passage Richelieu off Rue de Rivoli, 01 4020 5317) before everyone else (having booked a ticket in advance). Home to one of the greatest art collections in the world, its spectacular inverted glass pyramids set in the grounds of a 16th-century royal palace dazzle every time. If you’ve already winked and thrown a smile to the Mona Lisa and sidled up to the Venus de Milo, explore the archives or check out one of the ever-changing temporary exhibitions.
Walk through the Jardin des Tuileries to Place de la Concorde, home to the striking Luxor Obelisk (actually from an ancient temple in Luxor, Egypt) and an unpleasant taste of history – Marie Antoinette and hundreds more were executed on this spot when it went by the name Place de la Revolution. As befits a location that featured in The Devil Wears Prada, standing here gives you a sight line along the fashion-filled Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe in one direction, and the Eiffel Tower in the other. For a sumptuous lunch, follow the road parallel to the Champs Élysées to Hotel Le Bristol Paris (112 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 01 5343 4300). Food here has a Michelin-starred leadership at both Epicure and 114 Faubourg, two restaurants with some of the most prestigious addresses in Paris.
After lunch, catch up with global designer collections along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, or head to Rue des Francs-Bourgeois for a more kitsch designer style. If shopping leaves you cold, try stone instead through the serene sculptures that include The Thinker set in the manicured gardens of the Rodin Museum (79 rue de Varenne, 01 4418 6110). Alternatively, for provocative modern art head to the Centre Pompidou (Place Georges-Pompidou, 01 4478 1233), where the visual extravaganza begins outside with a deconstructed museum building.
Thus filled with classical art and culture, embrace modern France with a visit to the Institut du Monde Arabe (1 rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 01 4051 3838). Its intriguingly beautiful exterior houses exhibitions, a literary café and a panoramic restaurant that serves fresh mint tea on a terrace overlooking Notre Dame. Either sit here and rest, or head to the enclosed hammam at the Paris Mosque (39 rue Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, 01 4331 3820) for an in-depth steam and vigorous black volcanic scrub. Once scrubbed down, return to the outside world with some honey-soaked baklava and Arabic coffee in the Moorish-inspired café outside.
Head by metro to the Tour Montparnasse (33 avenue du Maine, 01 4538 5256), a rather ugly, uninspiring building that would attract little attention were it not for the view on the 56th floor. While definitely not a haunt for the locals, it’s hard to beat the setting for a cocktail as the sun goes down and amber, peach, canary yellow and lilac blaze across the Paris skyline with the Eiffel Tower in pride of place. Dinner here, at the 56th-floor Ciel de Paris (01 4064 7764), while excellent, comes with a price tag more befitting its location and viewpoint rather than its culinary flair. Expect seasonal favourites like duck and scallops in the ‘highest restaurant in Europe’. Booking well in advance is recommended.
For a complete contrast, get back down to earth in the narrow cobbled streets of Montmartre. Often the preserve of portrait artists and their prey by day, by night more of the romance returns and you can find the space to breathe. The snowy-white Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (35 rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre, 01 5341 8900) looks ever more magnificent illuminated in the darkness, while its resplendent staircase provides a viewing platform to refresh even the most travel-weary. If you skipped the Ciel de Paris restaurant, try ducking into one of the many bistros with net curtains drawn halfway down, traditional zinc-topped bars and red-chequered tablecloths that line the roads around Montmartre. Alternatively, for a dose of Moulin Rouge décor inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec, try the onion soup and peppered beef at the aptly named Bistro de Montmartre (7 avenue Rachel, 01 4293 9004).
Spend the last few hours of your day in Paris sipping red wine and discussing philosophy in chocolate-box-pretty Montmartre, or change track entirely and experiment with the varied Parisian nightlife scene. For live jazz, head to the Caveau de la Huchette (5 rue de la Huchette, 01 4326 6505), or take a lucky dip at La Cigale (120 boulevard Rochechouart, 01 4925 8999), where you can find cabaret, flamenco or touring indie bands depending on the night. Then again, you could always chase away that Parisian romance with a heady mix of techno and dance at the Rex Club (5 boulevard Poissonnière, 01 4236 1096), or, depending upon the weather and your companion, you could finish the day as you started it, with a stroll along the Seine.
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