Paris: where to stay
Beautifully kept squares, leafy parks with hidden fountains, traditional bistros and boutique shops - if you’re looking for this kind of Parisian romance, The Marais is for you. This area of the city has a colourful history that resonates today with a strong LGBT community and a diverse mix of independent art galleries and specialist stores nestled between aristocratic mansions. Sure, the more affordable, more spacious east of Paris might be where most new bars and clubs are opening, but The Marais will always be one of the best places to stay in Paris. It’s fabulously grand hôtels particuliers (town houses) and old fashioned boulangeries are the very embodiment of Paris. Location wise, it’s ideally situated. Made up of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, The Marais sits on the right bank of the Seine across from Notre Dame. To your left, you’ll find The Louvre, the Tuileries and Hôtel de Ville; to the right are the hip bars of Bastille. And not far away there’s the Pompidou Centre, the magnificent Place des Vosges and the recently opened Musée Picasso. When you’re hungry, make for Breizh Café for heavenly crêpes and galettes, or the wonderfully eccentric Derrière for a modern twist on French cuisine served in a lavish boutique flat.
Known locally as ‘So-Pi’, South Pigalle is what Dalston or Peckham are to London: très, très trendy. Located around Saint-Georges, beneath the Moulin Rouge and sex shops of Pigalle, this is the place to come for the latest trends and fads. Whether that’s fusion bistros (Buvette), concept hotels (Le Pigalle) or clandestine cocktail bars (Lulu White’s). Rue des Martyrs is foodie heaven with dozens of boulangeries, chocolateries and chic cafés perfect for brunch and people watching on a weekend morning. Follow that with a stroll round the gorgeous gardens of the Musée de la Vie Romantique, one of the few free to enter museums in Paris and then stop by some of the area’s world-renowned boutiques like the eponymous Pigalle streetwear store. So-Pi is famed for its nightlife, though, with all sorts of options for letting loose after dark. Dirty Dick is the place for rum in a tiki-themed setting, Le Glass brings dingy dive bar vibes while the upmarket Le Carmen serves cocktails in an opulent, distinctly Parisien setting. Attractions here are hip rather than historic - if basketball’s your thing, stop by Pigalle Duperré – a neon-coloured court sandwiched between two towering apartment blocks.
Streets lined with retro cafés, ivy-clad grand apartment buildings and the dazzling white domes of the Sacré-Cœur: Montmarte is most people’s idea of what Paris is. There’s an enchanting village feel here thanks to the steep hills, charming multi-coloured houses and tiny old fashioned shops. Plus, there's more than enough sightseeing to keep you busy for weeks rather than weekends. Wander round spotting locations from ‘Amelié’, visit the final resting places of Parisian cultural icons such as Degas and Zola in the Montmarte Cemetery, and take in the dreamy rose gardens of the seventeenth-century Musée de Montmartre. There are plenty of places to eat vying for your Euros, but skip the tourist traps and check out Il Brigante, Soul Kitchen and Coq Rico. For drinks, head up to the rooftop bar of the Terras Hotel and the intimate Bar à Bulles on top of the Moulin Rouge, or go seriously chic at Bar le Très Particulier.
For the five-star Parisian experience, it has to be Saint-Germain-des-Prés. From existentialism to jazz - this is where the cultural movements that made Paris famous thrived, where Godard and Giacometti shared cafes and bookshops with Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. That golden age lives on in the many independent stores, boutiques and coffee shops (Café de Flore is a fashionista favourite) and for authentic French cafe culture, Saint-Germaine takes some beating. By day, chill out around the lakes and palm trees of The Jardin du Luxembourg and when night falls, The Quartier Latin around the Sorbonne is where you’ll find buzzing, student-packed pubs, bars and clubs. Shopping is high end, with designers from Cartier to Sonia Rykiel locating their stores in Saint-Germain. Restaurants can be hit and miss, so go with famous institutions such as Paris’s oldest restaurant Le Procope, or Fish La Boissonnerie for exquisite sea food.
This quaint, cobbled-streeted corner of town winding from République up to Stalingrad has transformed from under-the-radar spot to must-visit destination over recent years. Boasting a notably slower pace of life than elsewhere in Paris, the bicycle friendly Canal Saint-Martin has become a foodie hit thanks to its numerous cute organic wine and cheese stores, craft coffeeshops and canal side restaurants serving world cuisine. If you like to eat, this is the place for you. But it’s not all just food food food - Buttes-Chamont park with its waterfalls, grottos and Italian style temple is a great place to take a stroll and burn off some of those just added calories. If you’re feeling particularly active, you can rent a Vélib bike and cycle all the way up to La Villette and beyond. Citizen Hotel, Hotel du Nord, Ten Belles coffee shops, Bob’s Bake Shop, Chez Prune, Centre Commercial and Holybely are just some of unique places to stop by in Canal Saint-Martin.
Best known for the Grand Palais, Arc de Triomphe and Paris’s most famous shopping street, the Champs-Elysées isn’t somewhere most people would think to stay. However, this iconic area is a brilliant base from which to explore the city on foot or by bike. There’s loads for art fans to see; Musée Galleria, Palais de Tokyo and Petit Palais are all located around here. The Marché Président Wilson is a must-visit market that’s packed with stunning fresh flowers and delicious organic produce, while those with a sweeter toth can find late-opening branches of Pierre Hermé and Ladurée. North of the 8th arrondissement is Parc Monceau, one of Paris’s smaller but prettiest parks thats filled with statues and classical columns. Stroll along the banks of the Seine and stop by some of the many pop-up bars and games spaces, or take a ride in the Bateaux-Mouches to see Paris from the water. Swerve the many tourist traps on the Champs itself (with the exceptions of Le Drugstore and Restaurant Copenhague) and dive down the side streets for a taste of the realer Paris.
If you’re looking for some of Paris’s best nightlife in one place, head to the area above Bastille and below République, where dozens of bars line the Rue Oberkampf. From fancy cocktail joints to basement dives and sleek wine bars, this is Paris’s most vibrant nightlife destination where you’re sure to find a drinking den to suit you. The area’s also great for a stroll whatever time of day, but it’s after dark when Oberkampf lights up, with bars like the brilliantly kitsch Ave Maria and beautifully restored Cafe Charbon well worth stopping by before heading to acclaimed music venue Le Bataclan for top drawer international and local live music acts. If all that drinking makes you hungry, try the modern French tapas in the very retro Aux Deux Amis, inexpensive but authentic Italian at Ober Mamma or insider favourite Clown Bar.
Close to The Marais, but much cheaper to stay, Bastille is well worth considering when looking for a base in Paris. The area has some great and eating and drinking destinations and neat shopping. For fine dining that won’t break the bank, try to reserve a spot at Septime. Be warned: bookings only open every three month and go very fast. Paris’s cat cafe is the place to go for a coffee and cat-hug, while Muscovado’s charming brunch spot offers comfort with a wow factor. Rue de Charonne is home to some fantastic boutiques for those looking for some French chic, while Opera Bastille has a strong line-up of events every season, so make sure you check what’s on in advance. In late afternoon, wander up to the converted train tracks of Coulée Verte for a breath of fresh air.
After the elegance of Paris’s other areas, the hustle and bustle of Chinatown with its graffiti-covered streets and tiny canteens can be a bit of a shock to the system. But this area has it going on. Take a walk through the independent food shops and bars and soak up the village-y charm before spoiling yourself with incredible Chinese food all along Rue de Belleville. Le Grand Bain does fantastic large sharing plates that are perfect for groups while the grilled dumplings at Ravioli Chinois Nord Est (a two-minute walk from the busy Belleville Metro crossroads) are the best you’ll find in Paris. To the south, near Ménilmontant, there’s all-day playground La Bellevilloise and wine and small plates bar Le Lapin Blanc. Buttes-Chaumontand and the banks of Canal Saint-Martin aren’t far away, and famed celeb graveyard Père-Lachaise is just to the south.