Every couple will make a trip to the City of Love at some point. And yet, Paris is so jam-packed full of ‘special’ things to do with your loved one, that it can actually be pretty tricky deciding what to do on this romantic rite of passage.
So if you’re keen to avoid the clichéd tourist traps, we’ve hand-picked a range of less obvious, more under-the-radar date-y things to do across the city below. From a gentle stroll through the Parc des Buttes Chaumont or along the Promenade Plantée to channelling your inner Romantic at the Musée de la Vie Romantique, or simply cocktails à deux at cosy bar Les Etages, there’s something which will impress on any date, however long you’ve been together.
Think we’ve missed anything particularly romantic? Let us know in the comments box below.
Ten perfect Paris date ideas
Place des Vosges is pure eye-candy – a 17th-century peach stone beauty that was built for Henri IV, with shop-filled arcades and a stately park that lets you lounge on the grass – a rarity in Paris. It’s the ideal spot for a picnic on a warm summer evening, and there’s plenty more to get up to afterwards in the vicinity, including the Maison de Victor Hugo and countless charming cafés, restaurants and bars.
Hidden away down a cobbled street round the back of the Sacré Cœur, this museum is part and parcel of the charming architecture of houses perched at the heights of the Butte de Montmartre. Formerly a home and meeting place for artists, the ambiance of number 12 Rue Cortot is echoed in the works of residents that hang on the walls: Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon and her artist-son Maurice Utrillo.
On this spot there used to be a trainline between Bastille and Vincennes. While the Bastille station was eventually replaced by today’s Opera house, the viaduct was converted into glass-fronted workshops and boutiques for local artisans and the old lines became La Coulée Verte – a 5km long trail (also known as the Promenade Plantée), made up of elevated gardens, the Jardin de Reuilly and tree lined cycling paths.
It goes without saying that the picturesque gardens at Versailles are a more-than-decent place to take a date. But if you want to do something that’ll really blow them away, then why not rent a rowing boat on the Grand Canal? Be sure to explore the rest of the garden as well – terraces, parterres, lush groves and a spectacular series of fountains mean a date at Versailles will definitely be one to remember.
Devout King Louis IX (St Louis, 1226-70) had a hobby of accumulating holy relics. In the 1240s, he bought what was advertised as the Crown of Thorns, and ordered Pierre de Montreuil to design a shrine. The result was Sainte-Chapelle. With 15m (49ft) windows, the upper level appears to consist almost entirely of stained glass. The windows depict hundreds of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, culminating with the Apocalypse in the rose window.
A foot-tapping frenzy echoes in this medieval dungeon, complete with instruments of torture, a guillotine and underground passages. Mondays are Pop Rock Jam nights with the JB Manis Trio, Tuesdays are Jazz Jam Boogaloo nights with Jeff Hoffman, and there are various other jam sessions during the rest of the week.
When Dutch artist Ary Scheffer built this small villa in 1830, the area teemed with composers, writers and artists. Novelist George Sand was a guest at Scheffer’s soirées, along with great names such as Chopin and Liszt. The museum is devoted to Sand, plus Scheffer’s paintings and other mementoes of the Romantic era. Newly renovated in 2013, the museum’s tree-lined courtyard café and greenhouse are the perfect summer secret garden.
Let’s be honest, taking a date to the movies is a pretty safe option. But in Paris, even this can come across a whole load more romantic. We say try the Grand Action Cinema, in the historic area around the Sorbonne on the Left Bank. One of our favourite independent cinemas in Paris, it’s renowned for screening new prints of old movies. Heaven for anyone who’s nostalgic for Tinseltown classics and quality US independents.
If you’re looking for something a little less formal than the Tuileries, 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 boasting meandering paths, waterfalls, temples and vertical cliffs.
While a massage isn’t the most innovative of romantic ideas, we think Yuzuka in the 7th arrondissement is pretty special. The décor of the Japanese salon is calmly minimalist, with soothing neutral tones bathing the walls. If you’re after a massage à deux, Yuzuka is a great way to let off steam together.
Cosy bars and restaurants for couples
To get to Mooshiner, you first have to make your way through the restaurant Pizza Da Vito, then push your way through the metal door of the walk-in fridge. Once inside, the temperature drops ten degrees, so you start drinking pretty quickly. It’s all cocktails and whiskies, at a large range of prices – from €6 for the delicious seasonal punch to €14 for a more complex cocktail like the Smokey Island.
American team Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian started out in Paris running a well-regarded supper club, before opening Verjus located in a discreet corner in an achingly sophisticated neighbourhood – where Verjus is both charmingly at ease and elegantly. There’s one eight-course tasting menu, updated monthly. At €60 a head without the extras, save it for a special occasion, but it will certainly be special.
For a night at the top, the bar of Montmartre’s Terrass hotel is exceptional even by Paris’s standards. Yes, it’s had a swanky, contemporary new makeover, mixes expensive cocktails, and serves an above-average menu to its extremely well-heeled clientele in an atmosphere of velvet-lined chic. That’s all very nice, but can be found in endless permutations across the city. But nowhere else has this view.
This heart-warming bistro gets it right almost down to the last crumb. A starter salad of ris de veau illustrates the point, with lightly browned veal sweetbreads perched on a bed of green beans and baby carrots with a sauce of sherry vinegar and deglazed cooking juices. A roast shoulder of suckling pig and a thick steak with a raft of golden, thick-cut frites look inviting indeed. Desserts are superb too, including what may well be the best île flottante in Paris.
A stone’s throw from Bertrand Auboyneau’s triptych of glamorous venues, Le Chardenoux is in very good company. Behind the unremarkable frontage with its red canvas awning is a small L-shaped dining room – all dark wooden fittings, frosted glass, cream plaster mouldings, aged mirrors and a ceiling painted with a blue sky strewn with fluffy white clouds.
The third of chef Bruno Doucet’s régalades occupies the ground floor level of the swish boutique Hôtel de Nell. It really doesn’t feel like a hotel restaurant though. Designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte has kitted out the L-shaped space in bold black-and-white floor tiles and contemporary wooden fittings that glow and sparkle against the sombre walls, the whole managing to feel both classically French and individually modern.
A superb selection of wines, delectable smoked meats on toast, and a cosy environment to enjoy it all in. Sounds a bit like heaven, or maybe just the annex of Septime, Bertrand Grébaut’s buzzing Michelin-starred restaurant, which has become particularly popular since Beyoncé’s much publicised visit in 2013. A rotating selection of five whites and five reds are sold by the glass (between €4.50 and €8), including an exquisitely fruity Fleur Sauvage Jouret.
This unassuming bar in the heart of the Marais wins over romantics every time. Designed over several floors of a town house, you push through the front door into a small reception room with a bar decorated with candles and coloured lanterns, surrounded by comfortable armchairs. There are two further floors, each an intimate small room full of armchairs set in cosy corners, with the electro-pop soundtrack kept at a discreet volume.
This place is so popular for weekend brunch that you need to reserve a week ahead. So is the little canteen worth the hype? We think so. We like the grandmother’s sitting room décor, with old-school porcelain and flowered wallpaper and big armchairs. For €19, the brunch brings you a selection of crusty breads, fresh fruit juice and a hot drink, plus tabbouleh, turkey and cucumber salad, boiled eggs and a sweet, creamy tiramisu with red berries.
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; try the speciality 'African', a velvety potion so thick that you need a spoon to consume it. Epicurean delights include the Mont Blanc dessert, a ball of meringue covered in whipped cream and sweet chestnut.
Even shopping can be romantic in Paris
This historical market was originally an orphanage, which closed before revolution. The imposing wooden edifice remained, and was reopened as a deluxe food market in 2000 after extensive campaigning from locals. Now something of a touristic hotspot, the market is equipped to fill the emptiest of stomachs (while emptying the fullest of wallets) with its impressive range of Italian, Lebanese, African, Japanese and other stalls.
Lavinia stocks a broad selection of French alongside many non-French wines; its glassed-in cave has everything from a 1945 Mouton-Rothschild at €22,000 to trendy and 'fragile' wines for under €10. Have fun tasting wine with the dégustation machines on the ground floor, which allow customers to taste a sip of up to ten different wines each week for €10.
A gracious gem dating back to 1873, the Galerie Vivienne is in perfect condition, all polished wood, glass and wrought iron, its mosaic-inlaid corridors lined with plants. Even during busy times it has an air of quiet elegance, making it a pure pleasure to browse the chic boutiques – look out for Jean-Paul Gaulthier, Nathalie Garçon, bijou toystore Si Tu Veux and venerable wine cellar and deli Legrand Filles et Fils.
This tiny cheesemonger by the Canal St-Martin is brimming with dairy delights. Selling a wide range of cheeses, wines and cured meats to take home, La Vache des Vignes also serves its produce on the spot for just a few extra euros. With seating for just fourteen people, the owners have created a warm atmosphere with bottles of wine stacked to the ceiling on wooden shelves, and a glass shop front looking out onto the canal.
A tranquil boozy and literary escape from the frenetically trendy streets of the Marais, La Belle Hortense with its pretty blue frontage is all about settling down with a good book and a nice wine. Hosting readings and literary events, the walls are lined with bottles and books, including new releases, rare volumes, independent poetry and classic collections. The wine list is enormous – quite pricy by the glass but much better value by the bottle or carafe.