One of the World’s most global cities, Paris carries huge influence in many aspects like the arts, culture and fashion. It is also one of the greenest cities and the most visited city in the world with 42 million visitors, helped by its thousands of historical sites and iconic symbols like the Eiffel Tower and l’Arc de Triomphe. The Paris urban and commutable region is second only to London in terms of population (12million) and is the sixth largest economy in the world.
The name Paris comes from the Celtic Parisii who lived here before the Romans arrived in 52BC and called it Lutecia. The city was then passed from German Franks to the Merovingian dynasty to the empire of Charlemagne before it finally ended up in the hands of the Capetien Kings who used the Loire Valley as a power base. The city survived periods of Black Death, the Hundred Years war and the wars of religion through the middle ages but it was the French Revolution in 1789 which defined modern Paris and France with the storming of the Bastille, the rejection of the monarchy and the eventual killing of Louis XIV and his wife Marie Antoinette.
Napoleon had a brief period as Emperor, but after the restoration of the monarchy and their second rejection came Napoleon III who razed large parts of Paris to develop many of the boulevards and avenues that we all know and love today. At around the same time Paris benefitted from the huge development of the railways which brought its first influx of tourists. In 1889 the centrepiece of the Exposition Universelle was a steel-framed “temporary” structure designed to display the advance of French architecture designed by Gustave Eiffel.
In the early 1990’s the recession had brought Paris tourism to its knees, but the opening of the high speed Eurostar line suddenly changed its fortunes making access to and from London achievable in just three hours. Eurostar is now the most popular way to arrive in Paris and increasingly a means of reaching the French regions.
Travel to Paris by Eurostar from St. Pancras International in London, Ebbsfleet or Ashford. Travelling to Paris by road takes a lot longer, expect a three hour drive from Calais to Paris. Flying to Paris from London is now becoming less popular, but you can fly direct from the UK regions in less than an hour.
Arriving in Paris
The Eurostar arrives right in to Gare du Nord, which is very central, from where you can simply reach other parts of Paris by Metro or on foot. The queue for the taxi rank outside Gare du Nord can be long, and the traffic to your hotel can be solid, so travel light and take the Metro. If you are transferring through Paris to get to Gare de Lyon or Gare Montparnasse, it’s a very good idea to get Metro tickets with your Eurostar ticket if you can. Otherwise you can buy a Carnet at the Eurostar departures in London. Waiting at the ticket booth in Paris can eat up valuable time if you have an onward train to catch.
From the Paris airports there are regular RER trains taking you right in to central Paris. The journey from Charles de Gaulle takes about 40 minutes or so.
Getting around Paris
Buy a Carnet of tickets before you leave if you can or buy them at Gare de Nord on arrival, it will save you loads of time. The Paris Metro is very easy to use, as is the RER train system. Even better is the Paris Pass which allows you unlimited travel on the Metro plus unlimited access to museums and attractions, plus a bus tour of Paris. Doing this will save you approximately €40 per person.
Where to stay
It’s really confusing for most of us that don’t know Paris that well, to choose an area of the city to stay in. So here’s a list of Arrondissements (districts of Paris), a description of what’s in them, with some recommended hotels.
1st Arrondissement. – Near the Louvre
The 1st Arr. is close to the Louvre, Tuileries, Palais Royale and Rue Rivoli. Hotels tend to be more expensive here, often with small rooms, but very convenient. Try the Citadines Apart’hotel Les Halles or the Grand Hôtel Du Palais Royal (3 star). It’s difficult to get a more central location this, the hotel is in between the Palais Royale and the Louvre itself. Highly rated by guests.
2nd Arr. Louvre – Bourse
Primarily a business district with many corporate offices, the Paris Bourse, and the Bibliothèque Nationale nearby. Still convenient for the Louvre and Notre Dame, as well as the shopping districts to the north. Hôtel Gramont Opera – The Gramont was renovated in 2009, and is very convenient for the Opera Garnier, the Louvre and the shopping at Les Grands Magasins. Hotel Les Théâtres - Located in the Sentier district, the Hotel Best Western Les Théatres was also renovated in 2009. Nearest Metro is Strasbourg St. Denis., the hotel is in between the Palais Royale and the Louvre itself.
3rd. Marais / Temple / Republique
This zone makes up a good part of the Marais area, as well as that of Place de la Republique and Temple. The Marais is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Paris where the large houses of noblemen can still be seen. Hôtel Jacques De Molay – Close to the Place des Vosges, Archives Nationales, the Carnavalet and Picasso museums, and the Pompidou Centre. This former private mansion is named after the great master of the Templar Order and is a jewel of architecture in this ensemble in the very heart of Paris. Hotel Des Chevaliers - Housed in a 17th-century building near Place des Vosges and the historic Marais district, the Hotel Des Chevaliers offers helpful, friendly service and comfortable, affordable accommodation.
4th. Centre Pompidou / Marais
The centre of the Marais district with its trendy bars and restaurants, and bohemian lifestyle. Rue des Rosiers has a strong Jewish heritage. Hotel Caron – Near to the Place Sainte Catherine and the Place des Vosges, the Caron Hotel boasts a central situation in Paris’s renowned and exclusive Marais District. Hotel de la Bretonnerie – The hotel is housed in a former private house dating back to the 17th century. The classic Parisian freestone façade leads to elegant and comfortable living spaces that have retained their period charm and character.
5th. The Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter takes its name from the students at the Sorbonne who used Latin to study in the middle ages. This district has a village atmosphere which many tourists find attractive. Melia Colbert Boutique Hotel – Located in a charming, quiet street facing the Notre Dame Cathedral, this 19th-century property offers well-equipped rooms and is ideally placed for exploring the Latin Quarter and Boulevard Saint Germain. Relais Saint Jacques – In a prestigious location in the heart of the Latin Quarter, on the edge of the Luxembourg Gardens, this 4-star boutique hotel offers a peaceful and stylish atmosphere.
6th. Saint Germain – Luxembourg
A one-time hangout for bohemians and intellectuals, St. Germain has now gone upmarket, with its chic boutiques, restaurants and bars. Résidence & Spa Le Prince Régent – The residence features 15 apartments, from a 4-room duplex to studios, fully furnished and equipped thus providing full autonomy for the duration of the stay. Hôtel D’Aubusson – The Hotel D’Aubusson offers a luxurious and refined interior design with stone slab floors, original beams, antique furniture, a monumental fireplace made of Burgundy stone, and genuine Aubusson tapestries embellishing the reception rooms.
7th. Eiffel Tower / Invalides
The Eiffel Tower / Invalides area is relatively quiet and less intense than over the river and hotels tend to be a little better value too. Hotel Le Walt – A four star Boutique Hotel with its own private terrace, the Le Walt Hotel provides modern facilities in its 25 rooms elegantly appointed with contemporary furniture. Paintings which serve as head boards for the beds, have been painted by local artists. Hotel Montalembert - The superb Haussmannian façade leads to modern and airy spaces blending classic and elegant Parisian architectural features with modern comfort and style.
8th. Champs Champs Elysées
The 8th arrondissement is one of the best districts in Paris for sightseeing opportunities. You’re close to the river, the Eiffel Tower, the Madeleine, the Opera and the Louvre. Chambiges Elysées – This charming 4-star hotel offers spacious and comfortable rooms located only 500 metres from the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and within walking of the Eiffel Tower. Hôtel De Crillon – The Hotel de Crillon is one of the world’s oldest luxury hotels. It is located at the foot of the Champs-Élysées on the north end of Place de la Concorde.
9th. Opera / Pigalle
The Opera and Pigalle district is the most convenient for the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord. If you’re arriving on a late train, getting a hotel in this area is a good bet, as many are within walking distance of the station. Intercontinental Paris Le Grand – Among the most elegant in the Capital, guest accommodation at the Paris Le Grand reflects a rich Empire style in both its décor and furnishings. The rooms and suites range between 45m² and 140m², including the top-class Presidential Suite. Scribe Paris – At Hotel Scribe Paris, the new decor embodies the spirit of Parisian elegance and luxury. The lavish rooms, including 13 sumptuous suites, offer spacious and luxuriously appointed living spaces.
10th. Gare du Nord
Hotels in this area tend to be convenient for late arrivals on the Eurostar, but its also a handy area for Montmartre and to get back on the train to access Disneyland Resort Paris or the Stade de France. Holiday Inn Paris Opera – This Holiday inn is very good for shoppers, being close to both the Opera and the Grands Boulevards. Hotel de l’Ocean – A well run, privately-owned hotel just off the Rue Lafayette, and just 7 minutes walk from Gare du Nord. The rooms are weel maintained, and of a comfortable size.
Things to do in Paris
We recommend you purchase a Museums Pass which enables you to get unlimited entry to permanent exhibitions (note that you may need to pay for special shows at various times of the year), unlimited visits and unlimited validity. Visit the Museums of Paris Website to get full details. Note also that admission is free for all under 18’s, so take ID’s.
You may also need to consider how many museums you can realistically fit in during your stay, sometimes a visit to the Louvre can take up most of a day.
Musée du Louvre. Easy to reach via Metro, the Louvre is in the centre of the city and is open most days of the year between 9 and 6pm. Note that it is closed on Tuesdays! Exhibitions in the Hall Napoléon can remain open until 10pm.
Musée d’Orsay. Open daily except Mondays from 9am to 6pm but opens ’till late on Thursdays, 9:45pm. Normally €8 for adults and €5 for students. Under 18’s free. Special exhibitions tend to be €10 / €7.50. You can get a double ticket to enter the Rodin Museum as well for €12.
l’Arc de Triomphe Museum. Napoleon had this iconic structure built from 1806 to commemorate his many victories and to honour his soldiers. Its worth taking the interactive tour just to get to the terrace on top to see the incredible views. Opens 10am closes 11pm in summer 10:30pm in winter.
Hotel National des Invalides. Referred to as the Musée de l’Armée, Les Invalides is on the South Bank, near Invalides, La Tour Maubourg, Varenne Metro stations. Opens from 10am to 6pm in the summer, to 5pm in the winter, and late on Tuesdays to 9pm.
The Musée National d’Art Moderne. At the Centre de Pompidou, one of the most important art collections in the world. See works from all the innovators of modern art including Picasso, Duchamp, Kandinsky and Matisse. Opens 11am to 9pm, closed on Tuesdays. First Sunday of each month is free.
Panthéon Museum. Dedicated to St Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, and built by Louis XV, the Panthéon can be seen all around Paris. Again the views at the top of the Colonnade are breathtaking, but a long way up by foot. Open 10am to 6:30pm summer, to 6pm in winter.
Rodin Museum. The Rodin museum houses the works and collections of Auguste Rodin. It is situated in an 18th century private mansion, with its surrounding grounds. Close to Varenne Metro station. Opens 10am to 5:45 closed Mondays.
Musee National Picasso. Works by Picasso displayed in a 17th cent. townhouse. The artist’s collection. Not as good as the Barcelona museum, but great anyway. Opens in 2012 after restoration work.
Notre Dame Cathedral. It took 200 years to build this place staring in 1160. Imagine the characters of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame as you climb the 400 steps to the top of the Cathedral. Opens 10:30 to 17:30.
Chateau de Versailles. A must for most visits to Paris, but you need a whole day really. Get there by taking an RER from Gare de Montparnasse. **Try and arrive after lunch as all the tour groups arrive at 9am and the place is overcrowded**.
Château de Vincennes. On a fine day, its very worthwhile making the effort to go East of Paris to this magnificent Chateau and its gardens. Opens 10am to 6pm. Aim for the Château de Vincennes Metro station.
Note the Paris Pass gives you unlimited access to up to 60 Paris attractions, so its worth planning your trip beforehand to get the most out of your visit.
Eiffel Tower. Everyone knows about the Eiffel Tower, but some are not ready for the queues. It’s worth visiting but think twice about going to the top if you want to fit a lot in to your visit to Paris. Visit the link to get the full picture of how to plan your visit.
La Grande Arche de la Défense. Built in 1982 by Francois Mitterand, it was designed to be a modern equivalent to the l’Arc de Triomphe but to celebrate peaceful rather than military causes. Finally inaugurated in 1989. Forms part of the “Axe Historique” of monuments in Paris.
Montparnasse Tower. The highest building in Paris, with as you might imagine the best views. It is 56 floors high, with a lift that takes just 38 seconds, and is open to the public all day. Their website has the best intro you’ve seen today.
Palais Royale. Originally called the Palais Cardinale because it was built for Cardinal Richlieu in the 17th century, but he only lived there for three years until he died, at which point it was re-named by King Louis XIII. Convenient for the Louvre too.
Pantheon. Right in the Latin Quarter, combine it with a visit to the Jardins du Luxembourg. You can climb to the top from wher you can get great views, or just see the great people of France buried here.
Chappelle Expiatoire. A peaceful oasis in a busy city, the Expiatoire was built to remember Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette after they were guillotined. Finished in 1826 under the reign of Charles X.
L’Arc de Triomphe. Visit this iconic monument at the end of Champs Elysees to view the statues, and the view from the top. Take the subway to get to the traffic island, it’s kind of crazy on the road.
Musée des Plans-Reliefs. Located inside the Invalides, visit the unique collection of military models. Explore over two centuries of military history, from 1668 to the last quarter of the 19th century.
Sainte-Chappelle & Notre Dame. A masterpiece of Flamboyant Gothic architecture built by Saint Louis in the heart of the Palais de la Cité on the Ile de la Cité in Paris. Discover its unique stained glass windows rendering the air iridescent with light and colour, symbols of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Combine with a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral.
Cathedrals & Churches
Live out the events in the famous Victor Hugo book by walking to the top of the cathedral. Combine your visit with a walk in St Germain or the nearby Louvre.
Dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus, the basilica is one of Paris’ most popular places for young people to hang out in the summer time. Go up to take in the atmosphere and enjoy the views over Paris.
Another great opportunity get great views over Paris, and back over to the Sacre Coeur to boot. It’s right in the Latin Quarter so you can combine it with a visit to St. Germain des Pres and the Jardins du Luxembourg, especially in the summer.
Église de la Madeleine
Visit this monumental catholic church in the 8th Arrondissement built in the neo-classical style. The Madeleine district is a very up-market shopping area, so a great opportunity to go window shopping or to splash your cash.
One of the most important religious buildings in France, was built in the 6th century. Situated in the Latin quarter, so-named because the University of Paris was formed nearby on the Abbeys lands on the left bank of the Seine where Latin was the only language spoken.
Parks and Gardens of Paris
Jardin du Luxembourg
A firm favourite with many residents of Paris at lunchtime, these gardens are close to the Pantheon, and the Latin Quarter. A haven of tranquility. There’s a chateau in the middle and a bandstand.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
This park is in the 19th Arrondissement near the Parc de la Villette. It has many unique features including a belvedere sitting atop a 30 metre rocky outcrop, a suspension bridge, and a few restaurants. Great place to cool down after a hot summers day. MAP.
Champ de Mars
Champ de Mars is one of the largest green spaces in central Paris. A place to walk after scaling the Eiffel Tower, the Champ de Mars was originally a market Garden for the Grenelle district before the Ecole Militaire was founded at one end. The first Bastille Day celebration was held here.
The Invalides itself is an army museum amongst other things, but the garden in front is worth visiting on its own. Designed for war veterans to stretch their weary legs, it’s a welcome sight for weary sightseers too.
Located in the 8th Arrondissement, the Parc Monceau is not far from the Madeleine. It was built by the Anglophile Duke of Chartres in the style of an English Garden. It was the scene of the first parachute jump in 1797. MAP.
Another garden in the English style, the Montsouris is not far from the Tour Montparnasse, and can be reached from the Cité Universitaire RER Station. Opened by Napoleon to add green space to Paris. MAP.
Bois de Vincennes
Part of the route of the Paris Marathon, Bois de Vincennes is also adjacent to a beautiful Chateau which must be seen. A much more attractive park than the Bois de Boulogne on the other side of the city. MAP.
Jardins des Tuileries
A beautiful gardens adjacent to the Louvre Museum, so a location that’s unlikely to be missed. A place to escape to if the Opera or the Grand Boulevards get too stifled. MAP.
Bois de Boulogne
If you are in the Victor Hugo district and need to stretch your legs there’s plenty of space here. Doesn’t have the greatest reputation but can be very pleasant all the same.
Look around you when in the Sacre Coeur. You will see plenty of green space around you. Its a great place to hang out in the summer evenings to watch the sun going down over Paris.
Paris Shows and Theatres
Probably the most famous cabaret in the world, the Moulin Rouge is also a must see if Paris is a destination you rarely get the opportunity of visiting. The Can-Can has been playing here since 1889 and will be here for some time to come. The hill of Montmartre has retained its village feel, even in such a busy and impersonal city as Paris, so take a look around before or after the show, you’ll never forget it!
Le Lido, Champs Elysees
The second most famous cabaret, and right in the heart of Paris on the Champs Elysees. Le Lido is an exotic burlesque show where many famous names have performed, including Elvis, Edith Piaf, Elton John, and Noel Coward.
This architectural masterpiece a 1600 seat destination for opera and music lovers and set right in the middle of the 2nd District which is easily accessible from anywhere in Paris. Charles Garnier won the right to build the opera from Napoleon III in 1861 as part of his re-building of the city. It is this building that was the inspiration for the “Phontom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux.
Stade de France
Stade de france is obviously a sports venue but concerst are held there regularly, so its worth checking out their website to see what’s on. Try also the Seatwave website to buy tickets online before you go.
Théâtre du Châtelet
One of twins looking at each other across the Seine the Theatre du Chatelet is a theatre and opera house in the 1st Arrondissment which seats 2500 people. Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty days” ran here for a record 64 years until Nazi occupation closed it permanently.
Théâtre du Palais-Royal
Built by Cradinal Richlieu himself in 1631, this theatre only has 750 seats and is where Moliere played. This theatre is close to the Louvre and can be reached via the same Metro Station. Follow the link for full details.
Originally built in the Belle Epoque style for comic operas the Comique was built on the site of the Théâtre de Italien which burned down. Near the Métro: Richelieu-Drouot Metro station.