Top Insider Tips for Paris Travel

Louis Vuitton
The Fondation Louis Vuitton contemporary art museum, designed by Frank Gehry, is itself a work of art. // Photo by Fondation Louis Vuitton Photo provided by Todd Eberle

Whether it’s a first-time experience or a repeat trip, Paris has a magnetic pull on visitors. This cosmopolitan world capital boasts both well-known historic landmarks and technological innovation, so there’s always something new to discover in the City of Light. Visitors also relish revisiting old haunts — a neighborhood café, a fashionable boutique tucked behind a centuries-old church, a street market fragrant with flowers, fromage and rotisserie chicken. For clients headed across the pond, here are some insider tips for getting the most out of a Parisian jaunt.

Why not admire the Paris sites from the back seat of a vintage convertible car? The legendary Citroën 2CV — or “deux chevaux” — is so universally adored, that when the car is sighted in the street, it’s greeted with spontaneous smiles and waves. The company 4 roues sous 1 parapluie has a fleet of cars for urban tours and jaunts outside Paris — including the trail of the Impressionist painters in Auvers-sur-Oise (where Van Gogh produced some of his best works).

Guided walking tours are also a fabulous way for visitors to get insights from locals about Parisian life, neighborhoods, history, fashion, cuisine — virtually any topic of interest. Context Travel,  which has a global network of expert guides who offer in-depth “walking seminars,” covers themes as diverse as Gothic architecture, “Bordeaux to Burgundy: Wines of France,” and “Conceiving Couture: Fashion History in Paris.” Groups are limited to six people, and Context also offers customized private tours. Paris by Mouth also gets rave reviews for their specialized culinary tours which feature generous tastings. Also recommended: Localers features an exciting range of unique tours — from museum explorations to skip-the-line access to the Paris Catacombs — all led by passionate locals.


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Museum Mania

When in Paris, the Louvre is always a good idea — though the frequent crowds and colossal size can be intimidating. Indeed, the Louvre is the most visited museum in the world, so consider going on Wednesday or Friday afternoon when the Louvre is open until 9:45 p.m. If you leave for dinner, you can always return to the museum as your ticket (price: 15 euros) is valid all day, and gives you access to the express lane. We highly recommend ordering tickets online for Paris museums, or stopping by the tourism office at the Hotel de Ville, where there’s a lovely boutique, free guidebooks and friendly staff to help with your ticket purchases. For something a little different, consider signing up for a treasure hunt with THATLou — a fun, adrenaline-pumping way to explore hidden corners of the museum.

Culture buffs will want to take advantage of the city’s rich offerings. After all, there are over 170 museums in the City of Light, and the lesser-known gems offer a pleasant respite from the crowds. Consider the Musée Jacquemart-André, the Musée Marmottan Monet, the Carnavalet, the Musée de la Vie Romantique, or the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, where you can watch a silent movie accompanied by live piano music in a building designed by starchitect Renzo Piano.

Many of these venues have terrific restaurants. The Fondation Louis Vuitton, the contemporary art museum and architectural masterpiece designed by Frank Gehry, has a superb eatery called “Le Frank” — helmed by Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Louis Nomicos. Housed in a 19th-century aristocrat’s mansion, the Musée Jacquemart-André boasts a lovely café where you can lunch under painted ceiling frescoes or enjoy delicious hot chocolate in the afternoon. The Orsay museum’s Café Campana — whimsically designed by the famous Brazilian duo, the Campana brothers — is located on the same floor as the popular Impressionist gallery.

View of Paris from Montparnasse Tower I // Photo provided by Groupe Montparnasse 56

Family Fun

Paris is paradise for children, too, with entertaining activities the whole family will enjoy. In the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement, there’s a charming little zoo called the Menagerie. First opened in 1794, populated with exotic animals from Marie Antoinette’s zoo in Versailles, this historic haven today harbors 200 different species, many of which are threatened or endangered. Across town near the Bois des Vincennes, the Parc Zoologique de Paris reopened in 2014 after six years of renovations. It’s touted as a “new species of zoo” — without cages and with a focus on conservation. Children will also love trying out the trampolines in the Jardin des Tuileries (for a small fee), or sailing a little toy boat on the pond in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Boat cruises on the Seine are always a big hit, as is the Eiffel Tower. Tip: Try walking up the Eiffel Tower, as the lines are shorter, the tickets are cheaper, and it’s fun for children to appreciate the height during the climb. If you’d rather take the elevator, make sure you buy tickets online in advance, as the Dame de Fer is one of the most visited tourist attractions in France.

The best panoramas of the Paris cityscape — including the Eiffel Tower — can be appreciated from the top of the Montparnasse Tower. There’s a viewing platform on the 56th floor, where large glass windows frame the views and there are a number of visual aids to help you identify the monuments. There’s a champagne bar on the outside terrace, and jazz concerts are staged in the summer.

Eat and Drink

The talk of the town in Paris this autumn is the opening of Le Grand Restaurant by starred Chef Jean-François Piège, who is a judge on “Top Chef France” and one of the finest talents in France today. Located in the Golden Triangle, this gastronomic restaurant only has 25 covers. Jean-François Piège also owns a restaurant in St. Germain called Clover; the food is fabulous but the space is quite small.

Another hot restaurant opening is La Bourse et La Vie, the new neighborhood bistro from American Chef Daniel Rose of Spring restaurant fame. Here you can tuck into traditional French classics like roast chicken and steak-frites.

As a world culinary capital, Paris is a wonderful place to fete a special occasion. For an over-the-top meal, why not splurge on Chef Yannick Alléno’s Michelin three-starred cuisine at Pavillon Ledoyen? Le Gabriel, the restaurant at the new La Reserve hotel, is exquisite, as is Le Cinq at the Four Seasons George V. The latter also boasts one of the largest wine cellars in the city, and it’s possible to arrange a tour or wine tastings with the sommelier.

For literary buffs, Shakespeare & Co — the venerable bookstore on the banks of the Seine that was an old haunt of expat American writers — is opening a café adjacent to the shop (37 rue de la Bûcherie) this fall. It will be run by Marc Grossman, the founder of Bob’s Bake Shop. The café plans to serves bagel sandwiches, organic juices and coffee from local roasters Cafe Lomi. There also will be Afternoon Tea.

Dining Tip: Lunchtime is the best value; some of the finest restaurants offer special lunch menus, where you can linger for hours in true French fashion. Le 114 Faubourg, the Michelin-starred brasserie at Le Bristol, is highly recommended. More affordable favorites include Table, Heimat, Juveniles, Terroir Parisien, Les Papilles, Semilla and Les Climats — a Michelin-starred gem in St Germain that even has an outdoor terrace in summer months.

Shopping Mecca

Fashionistas will find their bliss in the St. Germain and Marais neighborhoods, packed with beautiful boutiques. Buzzworthy: Fashion icon Inès de la Fressange — formerly Chanel’s muse — has opened her very own shop on rue de Grenelle in the 7th arrondissement. A number of concept shops in the trendy upper Marais and Canal St. Martin district are also drawing the “in crowd”.

The trio of historic grands magasins (department stores) — Le Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps — continue to reign supreme as one-stop shopping destinations. Galeries Lafayette unveiled a new image and marketing campaign this fall, promoting the Haussmann store as the place for “le nouveau chic.”

Gourmet gifts are always appreciated by friends back home, and the place to go is La Grande Epicerie, the food emporium at Le Bon Marché, or the newly revamped Galeries Lafayette Gourmet, brimming with tasty treats. 

Paris Hotel Update

La Reserve
La Réserve attracts a fashionable crowd

La Réserve Paris quickly secured status as a top insider’s address for international jetsetters and chic Parisians when it opened earlier this year. The new hotel complements the collection’s ultra-luxury private apartments, tucked away off the Trocadéro in the 16th arrondissement. While the apartments cater to a high-end clientele seeking complete privacy, the hotel — which has only 26 suites and 14 other rooms — attracts a fashionable crowd that still enjoys rubbing shoulders with the world’s beau monde. Inspired by the style of the Belle Époque, each room is decorated with antiques and artwork. A large bar has a Nespresso machine, fresh juices and snacks (all included in the room rate), further creating the feel of a private Parisian apartment. Bordeaux wines from Reybier’s Château Cos d’Estournel estate are also available. For the best views, choose a fifth (top) floor room with a balcony. From here, you can gaze out over the Parisian rooftops to the Grand Palais, the Eiffel Tower and the gold dome of Invalides.

The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Paris has launched its new “Zen & the City” wellness program in collaboration with American wellness consultant and journalist Rebecca Leffler, who is now the hotel’s first wellness concierge. Priced at 150 euros (about $170), it includes a 30-minute private yoga class, followed by a 30-minute body or face massage. Treatments and classes will include scents by Aromatherapy Associates. Guests will also enjoy a light, healthy snack prepared by Executive Chef Thierry Marx, and a “green and glam smoothie” with superfoods and seasonal produce created by Leffler.

It looks as if Fauchon — the famous food emporium located on the Place de la Madeleine in Paris — will be getting into the luxury hotel business. Fauchon is celebrated globally for the fine quality of its products — from foie gras and caviar to the luxury eclairs that launched a trend around the world. Now Fauchon reportedly is planning to develop a luxury hotel on a prime piece of Parisian real estate neighboring the gourmet store: the former Baccarat shop on Place de la Madeleine at the corner of Boulevard Malesherbes. Slated to open in 2017, the luxury hotel will have about 50 guest rooms. In other news, Fauchon is also working on opening a new café on Place de la Madeleine.

Vacation club Exclusive Resorts has announced that it will open 15 new villas across Europe’s most popular vacation spots — including Paris and St. Tropez — by next year. The villas sleep from two to seven guests. Exclusive Resorts’ newest Paris property is just three blocks from the iconic Eiffel Tower.