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Paris City Trip

The Seine waterfront and Eiffel Tower in Paris
The Seine waterfront and Eiffel Tower

72 Hours in Paris

by Danielle Colletti


The capital of France is busy putting on a fresh face, as evidenced by the shrewdly remodeled galleries at the Orsay museum, the current renovation of the Picasso museum whose exhibit area will triple in 2014, and the recent arrival of luxe hotel chains such as the Shangri-La and the Mandarin Oriental. By changing slowly but surely, Paris has declared itself a resolutely modern and forward-thinking city, continuing to dominate the nation's government and politics, business and industry, media and communications, and artistic and intellectual life, without compromising its most coveted commodity — romance. There's no need to go searching for it. Irresistibly stylish, cosmopolitan and vibrant, Paris itself is the attraction, and it should be savored slowly and sensuously, as even the ordinary features of daily life are alluring: strolling through a park, shopping for bread and relaxing in a café while people watching.

Install yourself at one of the city's regally beautiful, top-of-the-line hotels such as the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Le Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris or Le Meurice. More affordable extravagance can be found at the stylish Hotel Victoires Opera. For personalized service in a posh guesthouse setting, choose Hotel Sezz in the pristine 16th arrondissement. Cozy-chic style in a hidden haven not far from the Arc de Triomphe, the hotel Pershing Hall is a good choice for understated luxury. Another great option is the design-conscious Murano Resort.

More reasonably priced lodgings can be found at the Art Deco-styled Hotel Lenox or the sweetly small Hotel Saint Thomas d'Aquin, both in the fashionable, literary neighborhood of Saint-Germain des Près. Lastly, just steps from the glorious Luxembourg Gardens, the blissfully quiet Hotel Les Jardins du Luxembourg offers budget-conscious comfort.

PARIS DAY 1: Notre Dame de Paris, Latin Quarter, the Right Bank, the Pantheon, Avenue Montaigne

Notre Dame viewed from the Seine
Notre Dame viewed from the Seine

Parisians aren't big on breakfast. Step up to any zinc-topped bar in the city and grab a quick café crème and a croissant. A more opulent option is the high-end continental breakfast served at any one of the stately Ladurée bakeries/restaurants in the city.

Less onerous is Paul, the wildly successful chain whose generous continental breakfasts are surprisingly inexpensive. Or treat yourself to the hot chocolate at the famed Café de Flore, situated on the Left Bank in Saint-Germain, where artists, writers and political figures have convened since 1887.

Then enjoy a short walk to the medieval Ile de la Cité, where you can admire the restored stone façade of Notre Dame de Paris. Climb the tower before the crowds set in and witness the city awakening under the blushing golden sky of a Parisian morning.

A great way to get to know Paris is via a one-hour river cruise on the Seine. Instead of the omnipresent Bateaux Mouches, opt for a less imposing vessel at the Vedettes du Pont Neuf, located off the Square du Vert Galant. If you have some time before your ship sets sail, stroll to the tip of the island to relax under the weeping willows that sweep the surface of the Seine. Your cruise will glide leisurely around the Ile de la Cité and the idyllic Ile Saint Louis before it makes its way past the Eiffel Tower.

Place de la Bastille
Place de la Bastille

Make time for a visit to the Ile Saint Louis, preferably early, before the masses invade the islet's narrow thoroughfare in search of the inimitable ice cream parlor Berthillon. You may want to have lunch on the terrace of Brasserie de l'Ile Saint Louis at 55, quai de Bourbon.

For an aerial view of Notre Dame, reserve at one of Paris' temples of haute cuisine, La Tour d'Argent. Dating back five centuries, this legendary restaurant upholds a lengthy heritage of masterfully prepared French cuisine. And while chef Stéphane Haissant keeps the menu fresh, he preserves famous signature specialties like pike dumplings and the mythic pressed duck.

After a visit to the "islands," you may decide to cross the Pont de l'Archevêché just behind Notre Dame and wander into the meandering alleyways of the Latin Quarter — so named because the area's official language until 1793 was Latin. Here, in the twelfth century, the first University of Paris was founded, followed by the Sorbonne in 1253. The strong university tradition of the neighborhood has withstood centuries, although today the Latin Quarter is best known for its maze of tightly packed bars and crowded restaurants promising cheap but tasty Greek food. Cheese-lovers might enjoy a fun fondue in one of the kitschy, chalet-style restaurants. Further away from the mayhem on rue Frédéric Sauton you'll find Al Dar for dependably good Lebanese cuisine. For hearty Burgundian fare in a vintage 1950s style bistro setting, reserve at the ever-popular Chez René on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.

The Panthéon
The Panthéon

Delve deeper into the 5th arrondissement and ascend Mont Sainte Geneviève, on top of which sits the domed Panthéon. Built between 1758 and 1789 as a Greco-Roman church, the Panthéon was quickly transformed into a vast mausoleum in which important figures, or "Grands Hommes," like Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola and Marie and Pierre Curie, are enshrined. Directly behind the Panthéon is the pedestrian rue Mouffetard, where during the day an old-world atmosphere reigns among the appetizing food shops and picturesque outdoor market. Place de la Contrescarpe, with its engaging cafés, is the perfect starting point for a nocturnal jaunt among the street's many intimate, inexpensive ethnic and fondue restaurants.

If you choose to explore the Right Bank after lunch today, simply retrace your steps to the front of Notre Dame, find rue d'Arcole and cross the Pont d'Arcole. Rising before you will be the Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall of Paris, with a graceful, Renaissance-influenced beauty that belies the gruesome history of public executions on the hall's sprawling square. Here you can also view excellent and free art exhibitions. Continue on across the shopper-saturated rue de Rivoli and follow the rue du Renard. The Centre Pompidou with its huge, exposed pipes and ducts will appear on your left. If the lines are too long, simply return in the evening since the museum is open until 9 p.m. every day except Tuesday. In addition to the collection of artwork from 1905 to the present, the center houses a vast public library and an upscale, trendy rooftop restaurant, Georges. Simpler refreshments can be had at Café Beaubourg, the first of the Costes brothers' fashionable restaurants, which include Café Marly, Brasserie Thoumieux, Restaurant Costes and L'Esplanade, an attractive lounge and restaurant in front of the formidable Hotel des Invalides.

Typical sight: a book dealer
Typical sight: book dealer

Smaller museums abound in the nearby Marais, a loveable neighborhood best known as a chic, artsy haven for gay Parisians and foreigners. Just turn right on rue des Francs Bourgeois after the Centre Pompidou off rue du Renard in order to reach it. The Marais is representative of the atmosphere that once typified old Paris with its fading, turn-of-the-century boulangeries and crooked, beam-exposed dwellings that date from the Dark Ages. It is also Paris' famous and historic Jewish quarter. The Marais still preserves its rich Judaic tradition despite the infiltration of high-end boutiques and trendy bars and eateries; consequently, it's one of the rare neighborhoods open for business on Sunday. Regardless of time of day, you're sure to see scores of pedestrians eating falafel sandwiches from Chez Marianne off the rue des Rosiers. A great option for vegetarians, the restaurant offers delicious Mediterranean food at equally alluring prices.

Also off the rue des Francs Bourgeois is the beloved Musée Picasso (currently closed for renovations until the end of 2013), located in a stone, wood and marble former private villa built in the seventeenth-century. Take the street east until you reach the symmetrical Place des Vosges with its lovingly manicured tilleuls, or linden trees. Dating back to the beginning of the seventeenth century, it's the oldest square in Paris and home to the Musée Carnavalet and the Victor Hugo residence. In addition, tucked under the vaulted arches, L'Ambroisie is a richly decorated restaurant serving exceptional, classic French cooking. Across the square is another starry establishment, the Pavillon de la Reine, a luxury hotel which was once the residency of Anne d'Autriche, mother of Louis XIV, and which, along with the rest of the Place des Vosges, was commissioned by Henri IV. If you don't reserve at L'Ambroisie, dinner alternatives in the Marais include the Belle Epoque brasserie Bofinger for seafood specialties or Chez Janou for inexpensive Provençal fare served in a jovial, old-fashioned bistro.

Opera of Paris
Opera of Paris

For a lively night on the town, head east from the Marais to the Bastille. Chez Paul, on the corner of bar-infested rue de Lappe and rue de Charonne, offers French favorites such as herring with warm potato salad, Châteaubriand with béarnaise sauce and the restaurant's signature sautéed potatoes. This ultra-popular venue lures with a timeless, upbeat atmosphere. Continue the good vibes at one of the zone's numerous clubs, lounges and bars, such as the SANZ by bizz'art on rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. For drinking and dancing, walk past the striking Opéra de la Bastille towards the Seine and seek out the unassuming rue Biscornet, where l'OPA, with its attractive bi-level loft space, welcomes a diverse clientèle. Another nearby alternative, situated behind the Opéra de la Bastille, is the exotic, vermilion Le China. This cavernous restaurant also features an intimate jazz bar with a long roster of tempting cocktails. Continue partying even further east along the bohemian, off-the-beaten-path Canal Saint Martin, where Hotel du Nord packs in a hip crowd of fashionable yet funky patrons in search of a coffee, a cocktail or a full-course meal in a smart Art-Deco space.

La Place des Vosges
La Place des Vosges

For a more serene soirée, head due west along the illuminated banks of the Seine to the place de l'Alma, where Chez Francis affords a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower. Likewise, the iron monument can be seen through the bay windows of Antoine, a posh seafood restaurant at 10, avenue de New York. After an aperitif on the terrace, walk along the elegant, haute couture Avenue Montaigne or the more residential rue Jean Goujon until you reach rue Bayard. Here you'll find Chez Savy, a petit bistro in business since 1923. Enjoy its grand ambience and don't pass up the outstanding cuts of flavorful Aubrac beef served with a mountain of crisp "straw potatoes."

For a glamorous and romantic dinner, choose between Lasserre, with its painted ceiling that opens up to the sky, and the celebrated Pierre Gagnaire, or the splendid Laurent, frequented by a high-profile clientele for its fine service, food and peaceful terrace. Also in this restaurant-rich zone, the luxurious Taillevent is hidden on a calm street away from the bustle of the nearby Champs Elysées. Ledoyen, tucked in a pavilion built during the nineteenth century, caters to refined foodies in the Elysées gardens.

If an after-dinner drink is in order, try the hip Le Baron lounge on the avenue Marceau. Admirable alternatives include some of the neighborhood's sophisticated hotel bars, from the hot, futuristic Bar du Plaza to the classy Bar du George V. Other popular venues to check out are the landmark Buddha Bar and Miss Ko on the avenue George V, where the offbeat design of Philippe Starck adds to a hip atmosphere.

Continue to Day 2

The Markets of Paris
The Markets of Paris

Parisians of all walks of life love to shop and browse among the open-air stalls as merchants cheerfully trumpet — often with humor — the quality of their goods. Here are some of the best outdoor markets Paris has to offer!


The Arc de Triomphe

Paris Hotels
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