An Insider’s Guide to the Most Iconic Spots in Paris
As much as we love finding the hippest and most under-the-radar spots in a city, sometimes, it’s equally appealing playing tourist. The feeling of wonder you get the first time you visit a destination is incomparable, and we could argue that no city in the world elicits that level of excitement more than Paris. The City of Light has enchanted travelers for centuries thanks to its wealth of iconic sites—places that, unfortunately, you usually have to share with countless other travelers vying to see the same thing. With that in mind, here’s how to conquer everything on your list—the Jetsetter way.
Shayla Martin is a freelance lifestyle and travel writer based in Washington, D.C. She has written for a number of publications including New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Wall Street Journal, CNN Travel, Architectural Digest, Wine Enthusiast, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. See her latest at ShaylaMartin.com and follow her on Instagram @Shayla.Martin
Visiting the most popular museum in the world requires equal parts patience and savviness. One of the best ways to prepare: pay the two additional euros for advance tickets with a specific entry time. Step two: forgo the glass pyramid entrance (and its long lines of non-ticket holders) for the Ports de Lions or Carrousel du Louvre entrances, where security lines are practically non-existent. If you’re content with seeing only a portion of the museum (trust us—you couldn’t see it all in one day if you tried), go on a Wednesday or Friday after 6 p.m. when the museum is open until 9:45 at night. The crowds will be significantly lighter in the evenings, and if you’re under the age of 26, you can enter the Louvre for free on Fridays after 6. Of course, if you’d rather go the Beyoncé and Jay Z route and have the place all to yourself, spring for a totally private, 90-minute tour from Paris-based travel company Family Twist. It’ll only set you back about $34,000.
Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe
Ah, the world’s most beautiful avenue. The tree-lined Avenue des Champs-Élysées (Parisians know it as “les Champs”) is a famous gathering place for national celebrations and holiday festivities as well as the home of iconic French fashion brands like Longchamp and the Louis Vuitton flagship. Les Champs is most known for shopping, especially to tourists, but there’s so much more to do here. In fact, the stretch between the Rond-Point and the Place de la Concorde has no shops at all—just leafy gardens, chestnut trees, and a few pavilions. Film buffs should check out the avenue’s cinema halls, a few of which date back to the 1930s (UGC Normandie, UGC George V, and Gaumont Champs-Élysées are just three). Michelin-starred restaurants are aplenty, too, including Ledoyen, Le Laurent, and legendary brasserie Fouquet’s. If you can’t make it to Moulin Rouge, Lido produces a glamorous cabaret show. For a unique souvenir, visit the Marché aux Timbres, a vintage stamps and postcard market that takes place outside the Théâtre de Marigny every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Of course, no visit to les Champs is complete without a stop at the famous Arc de Triomphe—and yes, it’s worth it to visit the rooftop platform (entry is 13 euros; free for under 18s if they’re accompanied by family). The landmark is taller than most of the surrounding buildings but still much shorter than the Eiffel Tower, making it the perfect vantage point for shots of Paris from above.
The most popular tourist attraction in Paris is as famous for its epic entry lines as it is for its stunning views. First-timers shouldn’t miss the chance to snap a photo from the top of the monument, so make sure to book tickets from the official Eiffel Tower website up to two months in advance for a specific time to access the summit. (Psst—the summit of the tower is the only place where you can take a peek into Gustave Eiffel’s secret apartment.) Tickets sell out quickly, but if you check dates regularly, you might be able to catch a slot that opens at the last minute. You can also skip the line if you book a lunch or dinner reservation at one of the two restaurants within the tower (though you can’t access the summit from the restaurants). 58 Tour Eiffel , on the first level, is a casual brasserie serving chic, picnic-style lunches and a more formal dinner service while Le Jules Verne, on the second level, is the fancier option with a dress code to match.
The list of dignitaries and celebrities who visited and even lived at this historic property (which originally debuted in 1898) over the years is jaw-dropping—we’re talking Coco Chanel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlie Chaplin, and the Prince of Wales, to name just a few. So it came as no surprise that when the Ritz Paris hotel reopened after a nearly four-year renovation, it managed to live up to impossibly high expectations. The hotel bar was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes (he’s rumored to have liberated the bar from German occupation during World War II), and is named after him in its new iteration. Pro tip: If you head to Bar Hemingway before 9 p.m., you’ll find yourself among fellow tourists Instagramming their drinks before heading out for the night. Instead, join the stylish Parisian regulars who pop in during later hours to chat with longtime head barman Colin Field.
French cabaret? Yes, please. The famed Moulin Rouge offers two show seatings (9 p.m. and 11 p.m.) with the option to have dinner beforehand at 7 p.m., which often requires tickets in advance. However, some note that the meal can leave much to be desired. Instead, we recommend skipping having dinner on the premises and instead making an early reservation at Le Potager du Père Thierry, a hole-in-the-wall gem just a 10-minute walk from the theater. Small it may be, but the food is fantastic; standouts include the foie gras with egg cocotte and duck breast with raspberry sauce. Just be sure to head back to the theater at least half an hour before showtime to get a good seat (it’s first come, first served), and if you remember one thing only, make it this: do not risk taking a photo or video during the show. Not only will staff escort you out, they’ll delete your photos, too. For a truly spectacular experience, consider timing your visit with the Moulin Rouge birthday celebration held every October.
Nearly everyone who plans to visit Sacré-Cœur envisions themselves at an afternoon picnic on the lush green (and often overcrowded) lawns leading to the Montmartre hilltop, but if you’re willing to be flexible and get up early, there’s a better way to enjoy it. The Basilica opens every day at 6 a.m.—the perfect time, depending on the time of the year, to catch epic photos of the sun rising over Paris. Just make sure (and yes, this needs to be said) to go inside the church. Photography is forbidden, but you don’t want to miss the chance to sit inside the sacred space. Guests can visit the dome for a small fee (access is outside the Basilica) where you can get more photo ops in. If you must visit in the afternoon, avoid the crowds by approaching the Basilica through the winding streets of Montmartre rather than the main steps. From the Lamark-Caulaincourt metro station, cross Rue Caulaincourt, take Rue Saint Vincent along the Montmartre vineyard, then climb the grandiose stairs of Rue du Mont Cenis, which leads to the back of the Basilica.
Le Marais, located in the 4th arrondissement, is the former Jewish quarter of Paris and one of the oldest parts of the city. French nobility built their homes here during the 16th century, many of which are still standing. Today, Le Marais is synonymous with LGBTQ culture, art galleries, trendy restaurants, kosher bakeries, and boutiques—the sort of neighborhood that’s ideal for a long, aimless stroll and serious people-watching. For those who aren’t worn out from museums yet, the Picasso Museum is a must-see. You can also check the program schedule at Le Carreau du Temple, a former 19th-century covered market that now hosts exhibits, art programs, and food and flower stalls. Crêpes are worth the wait at the original location of Breizh Café, or you could opt for fresh lobster at Les Pinces served with a side of crispy pomme frites. Relax with a café au lait at Le Used Book Café, where 10,000 books surround the dining tables and diners are encouraged to grab one and dig in for the afternoon. For fashion hunters, Kilo Shop is the place to score vintage finds from all decades; instead of paying per piece, shoppers weigh their items and pay per kilogram.
A day spent at department store powerhouse Galeries Lafayette (GL) will require even the most skilled shopper to keep their head in the game. Thankfully, there are tons of tips and tricks to keep your sanity, score some fantastic purchases, and even save a few dollars along the way. The first thing to keep in mind: bring your passport. GL is one of the only places that offers a “Client International” card, which knocks 10% off select items when you show yours at the information desk. From there, the best photos of the ornate glass dome are found on the ground floor of the beauty section—try a photo near the Chanel booth for an over-the-top French moment. Have you always wanted to attend a catwalk in Paris? Here’s your chance. For just under 14 euros, GL hosts weekly in-store fashion shows in the Opéra Salon on the fourth floor, and you’ll get a mini swag bag with beauty product samples to take home. (It’s a popular event, so check the website to register in advance.) Traveling with someone who can’t stand shopping? You can also head to the GL for macaron baking classes, French wine tastings, rooftop yoga during warmer months, or to simply enjoy the sunset from the rooftop terrace.
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