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The best things to do outdoors in Paris
Gone are the days when Montmartre was a tranquil village packed with vines and windmills, although two 'moulins' (windmills) and a small patch of vines do still exist. Today, perched high on the 'Butte' (Paris's highest and most northerly hill), the area is tightly packed with houses, spiralling round the mound below the sugary-white dome of the Sacré-Coeur. Despite the thronging tourists (chiefly around Place du Tertre) it remains the most unabashedly romantic part of Paris.
Quasimodo certainly had good taste: the views from Notre-Dame cathedral’s towers are nothing short of stupendous, especially on a cloudy day, when the skies spin a moody hue across the River Seine and on towards the Eiffel Tower. From the top you also get the best view of the cathedral’s famous gargoyles – cheeky little chimeras whose ugly mugs watch over the city below. Unbeknown to most, they’re not originals; architect Viollet-le-Duc added them in the mid 19th-century.
The concept of these mysterious yet glamorous hidden bars – normally accessed through weathered shop fronts, seemingly pedestrian pizzerias or run-down launderettes – has blossomed in Paris. Thanks largely to word of mouth, speakeasies have proven immensely popular with both in-the-know bobos and intrepid visitors craving a decent cocktail away from the tourist trail. Expect glitzy dress codes, virtuosic jazz musicians and dazzling décors. Plus, of course, expertly made concoctions. Santé!
There are plenty of opportunities to indulge in a bit of park life in Paris, from the pathways of the Jardin des Tuileries to the ponds of the Jardin du Luxembourg. But if you're looking for something a little less formal, one patch of greenery definitely worth a stroll is the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Set high up in Belleville and often missed by weekenders keen not to stray too far from the tourist loop, this 19th arrondissement gem is one of the city's most magical spots.
The spectacular, ten-acre jardin alone makes a visit to the Albert Kahn Musée & Jardins in Boulogne-Billancourt worthwhile: each section is modelled on a garden from around the world – rocky Vosgienne forest, Japanese village gardens, contemporary Japanese gardens and English and French gardens – and makes for a wonderful, lazy afternoon away from the hubbub of central Paris. If you get the right day, you can even take part in a Japanese tea ceremony, led by a tea master from Kyoto’s Urasenke school.
American team Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian started out in Paris running a well-regarded supper club, ‘Hidden Kitchen’, so it's little surprise that Verjus – opened in 2012 after rave reviews paved the way for a full-blown restaurant – hasn’t quite lost its word-of-mouth feel. A discreet corner in an achingly sophisticated neighbourhood, Verjus is much frequented by Brits and Americans, and the light, inventive, precise cooking has achieved recognition across Paris.
Paris's botanical garden - containing more than 10,000 species, a tropical greenhouses and rose, winter and Alpine gardens - is an enchanting spot. Begun by Louis XIII's doctor as the royal medicinal garden in 1626, it opened to the public in 1640 and runs between two dead-straight avenues of trees parallel to rue Buffon, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. There's also the Ménagerie (a small zoo) and the terrific Grande Galerie de l'Evolution.
Angelina is home to Paris's most lip-smackingly scrumptious desserts - all served in the faded grandeur of a belle époque salon just steps from the Louvre. The hot chocolate is pure decadence; order the 'African', a velvety potion so thick that you need a spoon to consume it. And since you've lasted through the queue, it would be rude not to sample one of their desserts too: try the Mont Blanc, a ball of meringue covered in whipped cream and sweet chestnut. Pure saccharine heaven.
What the Opéra Bastille lacks in aesthetics, it gains with the quality and variety of its opera and ballet performances. Here you can enjoy cutting-edge renditions of 20th-century works like ‘Lulu’ by Alban Berg, or opt for 19th-century French classics like Charles Gounod’s ‘Faust’ and Jules Massenet’s ‘Manon’. Christmas is always a fine time to go, when Opéra Bastille joins forces with the Palais Garnier to showcase international opera favourites by composers like Verdi.
While Britain was living it up with the Beatles, France was developing its text-led Chanson genre. And in Paris, the launchpad for budding Brassens and Gainsbourgs (both of whom sang here) was Les Trois Baudets. It remains committed to Chanson and is the top place to go to hear France’s new talent. Most concerts start at 8pm and the Trois Baudets Italian bar-restaurant is open from 6.30pm, so you can fill up on antipasti and pasta before the show.