I know – a bit of a cliche, yes. But Paris is so easy to get to these days there’s no excuse not to visit and see what the old enemy’s capital city has to offer. The answer, as people have been discovering for centuries, is rather a lot.
I’ve been going for years, and under numerous different circumstances. I went on a school trip, with friends as a teenager, as a journalist covering the first Eurostar trip, and of course for holidays over the last decade.
Like London it’s dirty, rushed, and crowded. Like London it’s full of history, architecture, culture and grandeur. But where it differs is its sense of style and cultural daring: while London dithers for years about what statue to put on the prestigious landmarks., Paris cheerfully throws up three glass pyramids in the heart of one if its most
- Eating out
- You can eat well just about anywhere, and you can eat excellently in many places with very little research required. And the height of civility: you can linger over restaurant meals into the night without the bill appearing at your elbow.
- The architecture
- Baron Haussmann may have been thinking in terms of preventing revolutions when he gave the city its sweeping boulevards, but he also laid the ground plan for a city of quite stunning architectural variety that specialises in contrasts – the Pei pyramid at the Louvre, the Buren pillars at the Palais Royal, the Grande Arche at La Defense on the same vista as the Arc de Triomphe.
- The quantity of museums and galleries
- You could do nothing but visit these for an entire holiday and still have several left over unsampled when you came to leave. Our favourites are the Beauborg (Pompidou Centre) and the Musee d’Orsay – in both cases the building is as much of an attraction as the contents.
- Gardens and cemeteries
- Another feature that Paris has in abundance. The cemeteries in particular are a surprisingly fascinating visit – genuine cities of the dead with street after street of mausolea.
- The traffic
- French drivers are psychotic. There’s no other explaination. You take your life in your hands crossing the smallest side road.
- Dirt and grime
- Paris may be grand and inspiring and all that, but when it’s sordid it’s very very sordid. Plenty of dog shit too – although in fairness a man does come and hose it away every so often.
- The police
- There’s a lot of them around, and walking past them is like walking past a house with a savage dog – you know logically you’re in no danger but it doesn’t stop you cringing and waiting for the baton to fall.
Where to eat
- Well, almost anywhere. You know what we mean.
Where to stay
- Hotel des Capucines, Rue Aristide Bruant, Montmartre
- We stayed here years ago, and then it was exactly what Parisian budget accommodation was supposed to be about – triangular rooms, vivid flowery wallpaper, guests having sex through the wall. They might have renovated it by now, but if you’re lucky they haven’t. You don’t need air conditioning – you just think you do.
- Timhotel Montmartre and Hotel Terrass, Montmartre
- We’ll admit to never having stayed in either of these hotels – but they’re right at the top of the list for when we go back. Great location, good facilities, rooftop views – looks good on paper, right?
Where to visit
- The Catacombs
- This walk through the tunnels where the city’s cemetaries were emptied is a unique experience. Tunnels lined with bones, piles of skulls, stone plaques recording endless long-forgotten graveyards, and the occasional drip of icy water from the ceiling disappearing down the back of your neck. Brilliant!
- Carrousel de Louvre
- Yes, it’s a shopping centre. Yes if you’re there you’re not, by definition, soaking up culture next door in the Louvre itself. But so what? The inverted glass pyramid is spectacular (and sod Dan Brown), the shops are civilised, and you can always go look at art later, can’t you?
- Sure, it can get swamped by the tourist industry and its drains have a habit of making their presence known in high summer, but this unique quarter of Paris – part arty, part sordid – retains its charm throughout.
- Musee D’Orsay
- A converted railway terminus, this museum redefined the art of the public building and of the grand space. And that’s without even looking at the exhibits.
Where to avoid
- The Eiffel Tower
- It’s overrated and it’s surrounded by touts trying to flog you bits of luminous string for a small fortune. Go to Blackpool instead.