Culture Trip brings you The Wishlist – a ready collection of travel ideas inspired by what you love. Discover things to do, where to stay, and the best spots to eat and drink.
Conquered by the Romans, site of 16th-century religious conflict and centre of the French Revolution, Paris has a long and eventful history. From the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower, the city’s history is palpable – with Roman, Renaissance, Gothic and Classical architecture standing as proud reminders of major cultural and artistic movements.
To truly make the most out of your trip to Paris, follow this carefully curated list of inspiring things to do, notable places to stay and historic restaurants in the city.
As far as cities go, Paris is old. The city has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years since its ancient Gallic origins, experiencing Roman conquest, Medieval decadence, revolution and war. Learn about the French capital’s long history on this guided tour led by a local expert, who will bring to life the stories of the city’s past. Beginning at the fountain at Place Saint-Michel, touring the Louvre, the Palais de Justice, the Musée d’Orsay, the Latin Quarter and more, this tour takes in monuments and key features of historic Paris.
No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the world-famous Louvre Museum. Instantly recognisable with its towering glass pyramid and Renaissance architecture, it’s said that it would take 100 days or more to see the entirety of the Louvre’s collection. But the biggest queues form around one of its smallest paintings: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. If you don’t have long to walk round the museum, the must-see works include the Venus de Milo, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss and the painting, Liberty Leading the People.
France today can only really be understood through the lens of the French Revolution; the seeds of which were planted in the Palace of Versailles, an hour’s drive from Paris. Begin your tour at the palace entrance, where you’ll learn about the history of the grounds, as well as its most famous occupants: the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France. This tour will take you through the palace and its grounds, including the king’s and queen’s chambers, the dazzling Hall of Mirrors, the private estate of Marie Antoinette and the gardens.
Built between 1764 and 1790 as a church dedicated to the patron saint of Paris, the Panthéon is one of the city’s earliest examples of Neoclassicism. Perched at the top of Montagne Sainte-Geneviève in Paris’s Latin Quarter, the former church’s crypt is now the final resting place of some of the most culturally iconic figures in French history, including Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Marie Curie. What’s more, the view across the city from the Panthéon’s dome is magnificent.
After something a little different? Head underground to explore the darker side of the City of Light in the Paris Catacombs. Due to overflowing graveyards, the catacombs were built in the late 1700s to contain the dead. While resourceful Parisians have found handfuls of secret entrances into the underground passageways, the winding, cavernous tunnel system is an easy place to explore (and get lost). Better to take this tour and let your guide help you uncover the secrets of underground Paris.
La Tour d’Argent is steeped in history | Courtesy of Herminie Philippe / La Tour d’Argent
Located right on the River Seine, La Tour d’Argent is thought to be Paris’s oldest standing restaurant. The downstairs bar is something of a museum of memorabilia documenting the many visits of Western royalty, while the upstairs decor is characteristic of the Renaissance and a good representation of Paris’s history of opulent dining. La Tour d’Argent is a brilliant choice for a traditional meal in the city, as the menu features the finest of French dishes, carefully drizzled with rich sauces and served by well-dressed, highly attentive waiters.
One of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris, Les Deux Magots was once a hub for the city’s intellectual crowd: Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Julia Child and Bertolt Brecht were frequent diners. Choose from an array of French bistro classics (we recommend Le Petit Déjeuner Hemingway), as you soak up Paris’s café culture at one of the outside tables – perfect for people-watching with a cup of the restaurant’s signature chocolat chaud à l’ancienne.
Founded in 1896 and designated a historic landmark in 1989, the Bouillon Chartier’s dining room – with its lavish decor and high ceilings – is one of the most photogenic in Paris. The restaurant started as a workers’ canteen and has maintained its tradition of hearty, no-nonsense food at exceptional prices. Grilled steaks, traditional blood sausages, buttery escargot and creamy chestnut desserts are among the classics on the abundant menu.
Situated in the 2nd arrondissement, Hôtel des Grand Boulevards is ideally located for travellers looking to spend their trip checking out the architecture of Central Paris. Hidden behind a secret garden, off busy Boulevard Poissonnière, the gorgeous 18th-century building houses a stylish lobby and an airy restaurant and lounge serving top-notch food and drink. Just a short walk from landmarks such as the Louvre and Place de la République, there’s no better base from which to explore the city’s cultural highlights.
The Grand Pigalle is located in the bohemian, buzzing area of Pigalle– the home of the Moulin Rouge cabaret. Just down the hill from Montmartre and a quick taxi from Gare du Nord, the hotel lies in the area that is now commonly known as SoPi (or South Pigalle), a name that signifies its shift from a decadent corner of 20th-century Paris to something a little more vibrant and cosmopolitan. The Grand Pigalle also has a charming restaurant and bar serving inventive sharing plates and exceptional cocktails.
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A 10-minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe, The Peninsula Paris is an impressive hotel with the ‘palace’ distinction – a highly prestigious title reserved for only the very best establishments in France. The hotel’s past is particularly rich – constructed on the site of the Palacio Castilla, where Queen Isabella II of Spain lived in exile. During World War I, it was briefly converted into a military hospital before becoming a favourite haunt of creatives during the Roaring ’20s (George Gershwin composed An American in Paris here). If walls could talk, there can’t be many that would beat those of the Peninsula Paris for anecdotes.