Planning on popping over to Paris for Bastille Day? Kaye Holland has the inside story on France’s high energy capital
Why go Some destinations are like a loaf of bread: they go stale over time or as tourists traffic picks up. Paris however is like one of its famous fine wines: the longer it’s around, the better it gets. Whether you go for clubbing or culture, Paris doesn’t have to do much to lure visitors - well who wouldn’t fall head over heels for its considerable charms? This is a metropolis of mayhem and magic: pack your passport and get going
Must see and do Make no mistake: wherever you go, you will see something iconic from the mighty Arc de Triomphe (a magnificent monument to Napoleon's 1805 victory at Austerlitz) which towers over Paris’ most glamorous avenue, the Champs Elysees, to the Eiffel Tower with its signature spire. It’s not just the guidebook brigade who come to tick the Eiffel Tower off their list: its charm attracts everyone from explorers to Chinese tour groups and party going backpackers. Our advice? Head to the tower at dusk and toast the million dollar views over a glass of fizz at the fabulous champagne bar.
If you’re into churches, wander to Notre Dame - the city’s most visited sight - for an interior so sumptuous it could convert you to Catholicism. Climb the cathedral’s 442 steps for a mesmerizing rooftop views of the French capital. Meanwhile in Montmartre, aka the fabled artists neighbourhood, seek out Sacre Coeur - Paris’ landmark basilica.
Paris also has many museums and art galleries to explore including the labyrinth like Louvre (the world’s largest museum that’s home to the legendary Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo) and lovely Musee Rodin - arguably the most romantic of Paris’ museums. Admire The Kiss - a marble monument to love and other Rodin masterpieces but don’t miss the museum’s rambling sculpture filled garden.
Top shops Paris is synonymous with style - there’s no such thing as underdressing here - and as such the streets are chock full of fashion houses. The Champs Elysees - aka the soundtrack of expensive Paris - is lined with luxury haute couture shops sure to give your credit card a work out. But you’ll also find plenty of cool, independent boutiques and vintage shops in areas like Village St Paul.
Elsewhere the elegant Galeries Lafayette - a glorious grand department store topped by a stunning stained glass dome is worth a look as are the street markets. Foodies will want to make for Marche d’Aligre to stock up on all their favourite French wares while Rue Mouffetard is full of charming stalls selling everything from fashion and accessories to antiques, sweets and scented candles. If you’re not a fan of retail therapy - maybe you’re from Mars or something - the markets are worth visiting for the atmosphere alone.
Best bites Food part of Paris’ short break pleasures. From pistachio macaroons to duck confit, crepes, cheese and charcuterie platters, eating out is Paris’ raison d’être. Just About Travel can vouch for Brasserie Victor Hugo: not far from the Eiffel Towel it’s the kind of restaurant we always dreamt we’d come across in Paris. The menu is traditional French while the interior is bright and modern. What’s more, the restaurant boasts an attractive terrace where you can decamp during summer months.
In Paris St Germain, you’ll find Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots from where post war Left Bank intellectuals like Simone de Beauvoir and Paul Sartre used to spill out onto the streets. Prices for a flaky croissant and accompanying cafe au lait at both of these famous early 20th century literary hangouts can be as high as the Eiffel Tower, but it’s worth it for a lively scene straight out of society pages of a magazine.
However you don’t have to spend beaucoup to eat well. Paris is packed with affordable cafes, restaurants, wine bars and bistros and half the fun is taking a chance on one that you like the look of. Whatever and wherever you eat, wash your meals down with wine - which more often than not will set you back less than a bottle of water.
After dark Entertainment options abound – it’s simply a matter of choosing your pleasure among the slew of cabarets (Moulin Rouge is a must for first timers)r live music venues and trendy bars. A lively night is always guaranteed in both The Latin Quarter and on Rue de Lappe (Eastern Paris), packed as they are with rowdy pubs and clubs that rage on until dawn.
However if you’re visiting during July, August or September, make a beeline for the banks of the River Seine. The great European river has got its groove back following a pedestrianised makeover: the mopeds and taxis have been banished and replaced with pop up beaches and buzzy bars. Two of the best are Wanderlust (which boasts the biggest open air terrace in the city) and Moon Roof. But be warned: the bars don’t get busy before 1am.
Excursions If you choose just one excursion, venture to Versailles. The UNESCO World Heritage listed wonder is within easy day tripping distance of central Paris and rewards a visit: the colossal 700 room palace and vast grounds containing fountained gardens, ponds and canals will cause your jaw to drop. The baroque chateau was the seat of the royal court from 1682-1789 - when revolutionaries massacred the Versailles’ guard and dragged King Louis XV1 and his queen, Marie Antoinette, back to Paris. Queues to enter Versailles are notoriously long so - if you’re not particularly patient - arrive early and avoid Tuesdays and Sundays (the busiest days).
Getting around Paris is well served by the Metro & RER which, unlike the London Underground, is efficient and inexpensive making navigating the city a doddle. That said, walking is a veritable pleasure. Everywhere has something of interest so wander around and feel Paris’s pulse.
Getting there Paris has two international airports: Charles de Gaulle and OrlyAirport. Most major international airlines fly to the former which is located 28 km northeast of central Paris while the budget airlines (easy Jet et al) fly to the latter (19km south of central Paris).Letting the train take the strain? Eurostar departs from St Pancras International and pulls in Gare du Nord Train Station in central Paris approximately 2 1/4 hours later.
Words and pictures: Kaye Holland