Paris is the greatest city in the world for travelling solo. Whether you’re stopping by for a day or two, planning a full week of me time or making the city home for a month, there’s nowhere better to enjoy a break toute seule. Paris is a place best experienced quietly, lazily and alone. Slip into the capital’s quick-quick-slow pace – mastering a morning dash on the Métro and a brief stop for an espresso, then idling your way around a gallery before an evening run along the Seine – and you’ll soon fall for its charms.
Forward planning is not intrinsic to French culture. Aside from reserving a table at the latest must-visit restaurant or booking a timed museum ticket, you don’t need to massively map out your days. Parisians take a more laissez-faire approach to their weekends, and so should you. Sitting down for a quick glass of wine and leaving the bar four hours later having got lost in a book is par for the course, as is accidentally getting waylaid in a boutique for an hour when you were on your way to dinner.
Despite being small, Paris has distinct neighbourhoods. It’s a city best explored on foot. Wandering the streets to get a sense of how the arrondissement jigsaw puzzle fits together is one of the greatest joys to start your solo adventure. A stroll through the Tuileries and an afternoon amid the 11 ème’s ever-cooler bars, coffee shops and restaurants are musts, along with a stop at groundbreaking digital art gallery, the Atelier des Lumières. Immersing yourself in art and culture is the obvious allure of visiting Paris solo, and the Musée d’Orsay is our top pick of the city’s big names to follow.
When you’re ready for a pause, you’ll never be alone in eating and drinking by yourself. Thanks to obscenely tiny Parisian apartments, almost everyone goes out for a drink or a meal by themselves from time to time. No one will bat an eyelid if you take a table for one to order an apéro, sit down to a solo steak-frites or curl up for a few hours in a coffee shop. Bar dining is slowly starting to make inroads at Parisian neo-bistros, too: those in this guide are some of the most exciting to open in the past few years. Not only are you much more likely to bag a seat at busy times eating this way; you won’t end up next to a couple making come-to-bed eyes over a shared soufflé.
On which note, Paris’s rep as romantic is also mostly unwarranted. Sure, plenty of couples pose in berets beneath the Eiffel Tower – but it’s certainly not an authentic Parisian experience. If you want to really get under the city’s skin, book a cookery class, spend the night at the theatre or take a canal cruise rather than floating down the Seine. Similarly, aside from the odd actual belle-époque pleasure house turned boutique hotel, the best places to stay aren’t designed with misty-eyed honeymooners in mind. Our top picks are Le Pigalle, The Hoxton and citizenM, all of which have rooms tailored to solo travellers. The only question is how long you’ll end up staying.
The Atelier des Lumières, the world’s first digital fine-art museum, is an experience so immersive it’s best experienced alone. Inside this one-time iron foundry, art appreciation takes on a whole new meaning. At first you’re enveloped in darkness as you push through the doors; only after a few minutes will you get your bearings in the cavernous, two-level space as the ‘show’ begins. Artists to get the Lumières treatment so far include Klimt and Van Gogh, their masterpieces transformed into 360-degree video, set to music and cast onto the walls and floor by more than 100 projectors. It’s magical, mesmerising and a little bit trippy. Even gallerygoers who come with friends quickly lose them as shadowy figures gingerly settle in cross-legged on the floor or leaning against the walls. Tickets are technically timed one-hour slots (book a week or two ahead), but it’s well worth staying a second hour to repeat the experience from a new angle.
Even if it’s your second or third trip, you can’t come to Paris without glimpsing the city’s most famous views. Start at Place de la Concorde in the late afternoon, from where the formal Jardin des Tuileries stretches out before you towards the Louvre. Its beautiful at any time of year, but particularly in autumn when you can stomp through bronzed fallen leaves, perhaps with a chocolat chaud in hand. It’ll take you 20 minutes or so to wander up to IM Pei’s magnificent pyramid, at its most impressive as the sun sets. Turn to look back to the west and you’ll see the Eiffel Tower sparkle on the hour every hour from dusk until 2am. From here, lose the crowds. It’s just 10 minutes’ walk further to Paris’s rarely celebrated Little Tokyo around rue des Petits Champs and rue Sainte-Anne; Kotteri Ramen Naritake and Hokkaido are among the best spots to slurp a bowl of ramen, an activity best enjoyed without spectators.
Travelling alone gives you the chance to tackle big museums at your own pace – but that doesn’t mean you should get in line for the Louvre. The Musée d’Orsay, dedicated to works from 1848 to 1914, is by far the most interesting of the city’s big hitters. Built as a train station for the Exposition Universelle in 1900, although long since converted into a museum, it’s architecturally striking, its galleries set around a light-filled atrium. The Impressionist works here are the most famous – Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette and Monet’s Coquelicots among them – but don’t miss the museum’s lesser-known treasures, everything from sculptures by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle to Art Nouveau furniture by Hector Guimard.
The only downside of travelling alone is that cooking can be a challenge. Paris still has fantastic daily outdoor markets in every neighbourhood, but unless your French is simply superbe trying to navigate the myriad stalls and leave with dinner ingredients for one is easier said than done. Book a morning shopping trip and cookery class with Le Foodist in the Latin Quarter (€189) to have an expert show you around. The experience starts with a visit to a market, where you’ll learn about picking the best produce, interacting with vendors and seasonal specialities. It’s then back to the kitchen for an interactive, hands-on lesson followed by a group meal (with wine, of course). Recipes are sent following the class so you can recreate the dishes back home.
Sunset cruises along the Seine are best reserved for couples and filling family photo albums. More fun, especially if you’re allergic to snap-happy sightseers, are Canauxrama’s trips down the Canal Saint-Martin (€18). Starting in the expansive Bassin de la Villette, you’ll float past the bars and boutiques that heralded the rejuvenation of Paris’s eastern arrondissements, the footbridges where Amélie skimmed her stones and banks packed with students downing beers and bottles of rosé at the first sign of sunshine. Commentary along the way brings the canal’s 150-year history to life, particularly as you dive underground and into near darkness to pass through the eerie Bastille vault. North–south cruises come to a close in the Bassin de l’Arsenal, a houseboat-lined harbour that could have been transported straight from the south of France.
Fast-track your cultural immersion at ‘How To Become a Parisian in One Hour’
Olivier Giraud’s smash-hit one-man comedy show is a riot. Riffing off every Parisian cliché, it’s a crash course in navigating the city’s quirks and understanding French culture, from how to dress (all in black, obviously, and never without a scarf) to how to navigate dating in the capital (with caution). It’s recommended for over-16s only, which gives you a good sense of the humour. Although the show is in English, the audience is usually a mix of local people and visitors from around the world, and thanks to plenty of audience participation, you’ll quickly be swept up in the atmosphere. Tickets start at €24, but the cheapest sell out quickly. Some 800,000 people have seen the show over its 10-or-so-year run and it’s now a bit of a Parisian institution.
Rue Montorgueil has been a go-to for gluttons ever since it led to Les Halles, a covered market that is now slightly more prosaically part of Châtelet-Les Halles, Europe’s largest underground station. Some of the road’s original boulangeries and patisseries are still in business today, and it remains one of the most quintessentially French areas to sit outside for lunch en terrasse. Some days, it feels like half of the tables facing out onto the street are taken up by diners eating solo. Corner café Le Compas is one of the sleekest restaurants, and the best choice if you’re hankering for classics like escargot, steak tartare and crème brûlée. That said, if you really want to go traditional, nothing beats a croque-madame and a kir. Just limit your lunchtime boozing if you’re planning to hit the nearby cookware shops; E. Dehillerin is where Anthony Bourdain famously bought a duck press on The Layover.
One of a handful of neo-bistros owned by restaurateur Charles Compagnon, Le 52 was one of the first places to kickstart the transformation of rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis and the gentrification of the 10th arrondissement. That’s not to say the area’s diversity has been lost: along the street and adjacent Passage Brady you’ll come across some of the most authentic Syrian, Turkish and Indian cooking in the capital. As for Le 52 itself, the vibe is minimal but not industrial, with tables and banquettes set around a central bar where you’ll find the pick of the solo-dining seats. The menu changes regularly: beautifully plated and skilfully cooked dishes range from pork belly with a buckwheat risotto and onglet with a carrot and ginger purée to lighter options like ceviche, perhaps enlivened with judicious additions of foams and edible flowers.
Sister bar to much fancier (and much more expensive) restaurants Semilla and La Boissonnerie on the same road, Freddy’s is one of the most fun spots to eat in Saint-Germain. It’s worlds away from the quartier’s old-school brasseries and quaint cafés. Sat at one of the skinny bars along the wall, it’s the kind of place you can drop in for a glass and a snack or settle in for the night. You’ll have to check the chalkboard menus for the dishes of the day, which could include veal with salsa verde, miso salmon and octopus tartare as well as more traditional apéro-hour snacks like rillettes and padrón peppers. When it comes to wine, there are lots of options by the glass, ranging from zippy crémants and Provençal rosés to heavier burgundies and red blends from the Languedoc.
If you want to be at the centre of the city’s after-dark action, but don’t like the idea of walking home alone, book a room at Le Pigalle. This affordable design hotel in SoPi (South Pigalle) nails retro cool, its 40 rooms stocked with turntables and unusual art prints. Its 12-square-metre room, Pigalle 12, is designed for one and can be a steal at less than €140 if you book ahead of time (incidentally, it’s also three square metres larger than the smallest legally permissible Parisian apartment). When you’re ready to explore, Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur are just up the hill, while the bars along rue Frochot stay busy well into the early hours. Even the hotel’s ground-floor bar-lounge has DJ sets and food served until 2am.
The Hoxton’s Shoebox rooms (a step down from its cleverly branded Cosy and Roomy categories) are still pretty plush, as you’d expect given the storming success of this fast-expanding mini-chain. The hotel is set around a magnificent indoor-outdoor courtyard lobby, off which you can reach the blue-velvet bar seats of the on-site restaurant, Rivié, as well as the more intimate Jacques’ Bar. In the rooms, the decor draws on the best of the 18th-century building’s history (parquet floors) and adds the most useful modern touches (rainfall showers and blackout curtains). The Hoxton runs a host of regular events, including morning runs and cocktail classes, so there are plenty of opportunities to interact with other guests. The hotel is also as central as they come, just around the corner from Grands Boulevards Métro.
The days of sixth-floor chambre de bonne-style rooms reached via tiny, winding spiral staircases are thankfully coming to a close. Instead, even on a budget you can find a sleek, memorable and modern pied-à-terre. The 338 pod-like rooms at citizenM’s Gare de Lyon monolith are the city’s best if you want to spend less than €100. All are exactly the same with super comfy king-size beds, tablet-controlled lighting and in-room glass-walled bathrooms. Best of all are the hotel’s communal spaces, particularly the enormous lobby, which is a bit like a series of interconnected living rooms, with books, squishy sofas and fast Wi-Fi. There’s also a chilled out order-at-the-bar restaurant and terrace, plus a 16th-floor cocktail bar, cloudM, where you can enjoy a french kiss (calvados, Bénédictine, chartreuse and black walnut bitters) or just a beer from local brewery La Parisienne as you take in the view.