Weekend in Paris: For tourists
Read on for our recommended route through the city's most famous landmarks, from Notre-Dame to the Champs-Elysées
First-timers, camera-wielders, monument-lovers – step this way. If what counts for you is ticking off the Parisian equivalent of the game park Big Five, then we’ll help you organise your days (and breaks) in the most foot-friendly way possible.
Day 1: From the heights of the Eiffel Tower to the murky Montmartre demimonde
9AM Start the weekend as you mean to go on: with an early rise and plenty of energy. You'll need both, because your first and most important stop is naturally the Eiffel Tower - a cornerstone of the tourist's itinerary, which becomes progressively less enjoyable as the hordes of snap-happy tour groups arrive throughout the day. The massive iron structure is such a familiar sight that you may be surprised at how alien its intricate iron frame appears from up close.
The surrounding area, including the Champ de Mars and the Palais de Chaillot, offers a view of Parisian city planning at its most grandiose; head east for ten minutes along the riverbank for another glorious vista in the form of Les Invalides and the Grand Palais, which face each other across the Pont Alexandre III bridge.
1PM By now you'll already have picked up on the prototypical Parisian building: the six-storey limestone structure adorned with balconies of various sizes and a sloping grey roof. This model, together with the city's wide, geometric boulevards, was a result Baron Haussmann's sweeping urban redesigns in the mid-19th century. One of the very few areas of Paris that Haussmann left alone was the Marais, whose narrow streets are home to a panoply of aristocratic hôtels particuliers, art galleries, boutiques and swish cafés. If the mood takes you, continue eastward along the left bank of the Seine for around 40 minutes, then walk across Pont Marie and into the neighbourhood. Alternatively, hop on a metro to Hôtel de Ville.
Although it was one of the last parts of Paris to be built up (on reclaimed marshland - hence 'marais'), today the neighbourhood has a charmingly antiquated vibe that lends itself perfectly to an aimless stroll. That said, you may want to orient yourselves around two focal points: the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, crammed with impressive mansions and original boutiques, and the beautiful brick-and-stone Place des Vosges, laid out under Henri IV. As lunchtime draws near, head to any of the delicious falafel shops that line the nearby Rue des Rosiers (the historical home of the city's Jewish population).
5PM From one historical neighbourhood to another: take a metro to Abbesses to begin your late-afternoon exploration of Montmartre. Star of turn-of-the-20th-century art, countless nostalgic Charles Aznavour songs and of course 'Amelie', this unabashedly romantic district is quite literally a high point on any tourist's schedule – it's situated on a towering hill, atop which perches the mock Romano-Byzantine architecture of the Sacré-Coeur church. Though parts (especially around the Sacré-Coeur and Abbesses station) are marred by excessive tourism, it won't be long before you happen upon a steep staircase or narrow alleyway to lead you far from the madding crowd. And although Montmartre's artistic star has faded since the heyday of Picasso and Modigliani, its appetite for after-dark revelry hasn't: the hip bars that decorate the top of the hill gradually turn into raunchier establishments as you head downhill to Pigalle.
9PM For an unashamedly touristic experience, grab dinner and a two-hour show at Au Lapin Agile, one of the few surviving cabarets of the bohemian époque. From here, you can continue the night in the lively bars that line Rue des Abbesses and adjoining Rue Lepic - the ever-popular Le Sancerre is a good starting point.
Restaurants and bars along the way
Day 2: Gothic splendour and cocktail benders in Notre-Dame and the Champs-Elysées
9AM When Victor Hugo wrote 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame' in 1831, the Île de la Cité was still a bustling quarter of narrow medieval streets. Baron Haussmann razed the buildings and expelled their inhabitants to create the spacious parvis that stretches in front of the cathedral today. Grab a seat on the temporary steps that were recently set up here, and take in the sheer intricate splendour of the building's gothic façade, all goblins and glass. To truly appreciate the masonry, climb up the towers.
12PM Hop over to the right bank for a quintessential bistro lunch at the rustic Chez La Vieille (making sure to book ahead), before checking out the monumental royal edifices of The Louvre and Palais-Royal. After the monarchy moved here from the Île de la Cité, it embarked on a frenzied construction programme that resulted in a handful of stunning Renaissance palaces, not to mention the neatly manicured Tuileries Gardens. In stark contrast to Versailles, the Palais-Royal was a place where people of all classes could mingle, and its arcades became a magnet for lovers and streetwalkers (it's here that Napoleon lost his virginity to a prostitute). The Louvre needs no introduction; while a proper visit requires considerable time and energy, the extensive building is an attraction in itself, best admired from in its inner courtyard (where stands IM Pei's iconic glass pyramid).
4PM The French fondness for geometric city plans reaches its apogee in the extraordinary axis that runs from the Arc du Carrousel, across the Tuileries, up the Champs-Elysées and on to La Défense some eight kilometres away. Though the latter stretches of this route are charmless, it's worth heading as far as the Citroën maelstrom that is Etoile roundabout, over which stands the Arc de Triomphe. Start at Place de la Concorde, where the Musée de l'Orangerie (home to an impressive Monet collection) will detain you for a couple of hours.
Concorde, one of those insanely busy Parisian intersections that seem to take the best part of an hour to cross, is notable for having witnessed the guillotining of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Cross it to reach the Champs-Elysées, which starts out flanked by attractive parkland (including the lovely Jardin de la Nouvelle France) before degenerating into fashion boutiques and fast food outlets. Once you reach the Arc de Triomphe, climb to the top for a dramatic perspective on the twelve straight avenues that branch out from underneath it.
9PM Situated just off one of these, Avenue Georges V, is the restaurant La Fermette Marbeuf, a wonderful throwback to belle époque Paris. If a dinner of chicken liver pâté and rhum babas doesn't get you going, the dazzling Art Nouveau décor will. Coming out of the restaurant, you'll find yourself deep in expat pub territory, the best of which is undoubtedly Charlie Birdy. A gigantic cross between a New York loft and a colonial gentleman's club, it boasts a regular programme of jazz, blues and funk, a 50-strong cocktail menu, and has the distinct advantage of staying open until 5am.