I’ve wanted to write a Paris travel guide for ages and I’ve recently been going to the City of Light so much lately that a few friends and colleagues have been asking me for advice and recommendations and it has reminded to get my tips all compiled.
So here it is, our Paris weekender mini-guide.
Before you book
If you’re planning to fly to Paris then it’s well worth considering instead flying to London and taking the Eurostar to Paris as you can reach France’s capital from the heart of London in about 2 hours from as little as £29 if you book in advance.
If you’re going to take the Eurostar then think about treating yourself to an extra special experience and staying at the St Pancras Renaissance hotel the night before your departure.
Originally opened in 1873 and beautifully restored in 2011, this red brick Gothic Renaissance structure now houses a luxury hotel and spa with direct access to the platform areas of the station where you’ll find Searcy’s champagne bar which, at 98 metres long, is the longest champagne bar in Europe.
Don’t miss a photo-opportunity on the grand staircase in the hotel where the Spice Girls filmed the iconic dance scene in the Wannabe video! (See my easter egg inclusion of the location in my 30th birthday celebration music video).
Top tip – book a suite and you’ll have access to the Club Chambers, a private lounge stocked with alcoholic and soft drinks plus breakfast, lunch, tea and pre-dinner snacks all day long. A suite will also give you access to the exclusive Renaissance spa!
Travelling by Eurostar
If you can, book a seat in one of the Standard Premier carriages aborad the Eurostar. If you book wisely, these seats aren’t much more expensive than seats in Standard and you’ll be served a light meal with wine and have more space for the journey.
When you arrive in Paris
The Gare du Nord in Paris can be baffling for first-time visitors so if you need a taxi to take you to your hotel be sure you head to the taxi rank which just is outside the station; as you leave the platform take the exit on the right-hand side of the station. Join the queue and you’ll be assigned a taxi. Don’t take a taxi from anyone approaching you as you walk through the station.
Alternatively, book an Uber and head directly out the front of the station. There’s a McDonald’s opposite which is a good place to meet your Uber driver.
Where to stay
If ‘budget’ is a dirty word in your language and you want to live your Marie Antoinette fantasy while you’re in Paris then there’s really only one place to stay – the legendary Plaza Athénée in the heart of the Haute Couture district on avenue Montaigne. 5 star opulent Louis XVI suites and several bars and restaurants set with stunning views of the Eiffel Tower make the Hotel Plaza Athénée something truly special. I've been lucky enough to host an event here for my day job and it's truly magnificent.
Of course this all comes at a price and unless it’s a very special occasion or you’re lucky enough to have your employer covering the cost then you might prefer to stay somewhere a touch less extravagant.
Just around the corner from the cool Opéra quartier of Paris where the Grand Boulevards attract Paris pleasure-seekers looking for bars, theatre, restaurants and shopping, is the excellent Lyric Hotel. Really well-located as a base for your Paris adventure, the Lyric hotel has simple but bright and colourful rooms and benefits from, what is a rare luxury in Paris, a basement swimming pool plus sauna and steam rooms (just make sure to call reception 30 minutes before heading down to the steam/sauna and they’ll make sure it’s nicely warmed up for you).
Our wildcard choice is the trendy Hotel 123 Sébastopol. With a reception desk that looks and feels like an old fashioned cinema ticket hall and rooms themed by renowned French film directors, the hotel is full of character yet is also bright, modern and well equipped. Slightly further away from the centre but still in walking distance of hip Montorgueil, this hotel is a great choice if you want something a little out of the ordinary.
Where to eat
Both Lyric Hotel and 124 Sébastopol are walking distance of one of my favourite streets in Paris; Rue Montorgueil. By night this trendy avenue buzzes with people sitting outside the restaurants, bars and brasseries serving various cuisine from traditional French to Asian and sushi. We recommend either Café Montorgueil or Le Compas D’Or. (Try the truffle sauce if you have a steak!).
Sex and the City fans might remember one of the Paris episodes where Carrie met Alexander Petrovsky’s ex-wife for lunch at a very cool-looking, glass-ceilinged restaurant. This is KONG, the the bar-cum-restaurant-cum-nightclub which maintains a reputation for excellent food, creative cocktails and cool (if a little gauche) style. Book in advance and dress up for an evening to see and be seen. Dine just before sunset and you’ll get a great view down across the river towards Notre Dame.
Pizzeria Popolare might not sound like a go-to Parisian dining experience but the queue around the block of young bright things-in-the-know suggests otherwise. This cozy late-night venue is renowned for cocktails and has live music on occasion. Arrive early or be prepared to stand in line to get in!
What to do
Being that this is a weekender mini-guide rather than a full travel guide, I’ll keep this to my absolute essentials. The Louvre. You can’t visit Paris without marvelling at iconic works of art you’ll no doubt have grown up seeing in books, on tv and in film. Brace yourself for the mob of tourists clamouring for a view of the surprisingly diminutive Mona Lisa and pay a visit to my favourite sculpture in the whole world, Cupid and Psyche. Book tickets in advance or arrive early to avoid too long a queue for this ever-popular palace and art gallery.
If you’re visiting in spring or summer and the weather is clement, take a for-hire city-cycle from the Eiffel Tower along the south bank of the river to Pont de la Concorde. You're likely to find some interesting pop-ups for nibbles and a drink along the way.