20 great things to do in Paris

The Hotel Pulitzer Paris recommend 20 great things to do in Paris

1. Picnic under the Eiffel Tower

Don’t just buy the keyring, visiting Paris without taking a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower is unthinkable. Built for the 1889 World Fair and centenary of the French Revolution, the 300-metre (985 feet) tower is a radical feat of engineering. At its top, your line of vision may stretch for over 65km (40 miles) on a good day. To elevate your style, visit the Jules Verne restaurant run by Alain Ducasse, whose scallops are legendary. If the weather is warm, take a baguette, pâté and a bottle of red wine to the grassy area beneath the tower for an impromptu picnic. This is best done in the evening, when the tower is illuminated for five minutes every hour by 20,000 light bulbs.

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2. Get lost at the Louvre

You could spend all weekend in Paris and only see the Louvre. With around 35,000 works of art on display, from Greek and Roman antiquities to Egyptian objects and Renaissance paintings, the museum covers a vast spectrum of civilisation. It’s an unmissable attraction, for which it’s worth braving gallery fatigue. After entering through the light-filled atrium of IM Pei’s glass pyramid, you’ll find the art is housed in three wings: Denon, Sully and Richelieu. Must-sees include the Marly horses, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, Rubens’s paintings for the Medici cycle, Vermeer’s Lacemaker and, of course, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – if you can bear the crowds.

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3. Join the craze for concept stores

Paris’s concept stores can help even the most jaded style hunter fall in love with shopping again. Diverse, select and authoritatively fashionable, the seduce in a way that department stores can only dream of. Through clever presentation and seductive editing of consumer goods, they make things sparkle with a hypnotic je ne sais quoi.

The capital’s concept kings have very different personalities. There’s cosmopolitan, metropolitan, glamorous but down-with-the-kids Colette; bobo I-probably-care-more-about-my-home-than-my-wardrobe Merci; sophisticated, avant-garde L’Eclaireur. But what they all have in common is a product range which is entertainingly diverse and seductively scarce.

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4. Slurp an ice-cream at Notre-Dame

Paris’s Gothic masterpiece is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Constructed between 1163 and 1334, but damaged during the French Revolution, the cathedral has been restored to magnificent effect. Its twin towers achieve a perfect balance, the rose window is beautiful and the west façade’s three doorways with rows of saints and sculpted tympanums are inspired. Climb from the north tower to the south to appreciate the masonry, and get a close-up view of the gallery of chimeras, the fantastic birds and beasts gazing over the balustrade. Afterwards, cross the road to Berthillon, where you can sample the most celebrated ice-cream in town. Its reputation has been growing since 1954 thanks to natural ingredients, lashings of cream and a host of delicious flavours.

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5. Lose yourself in the legendary jazz scene

Paris is jazz central, with a rich host of venues at which to see live gigs. Sprinkled across the left bank are traditional clubs like the Caveau de la Huchette – a medieval cellar that has been a mainstay on the jazz scene for 60 years. Across the river, in Les Halles, you’ll find the legendary Au Duc des Lombards. This wood-panelled, yellow-walled club is lined with posters of some of the greats who have played here: Kenny Burrell, Johnny Griffin, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. As well as international stars, it brings in plenty of local talent. For cutting-edge jazz, visit the New Morning, which embraces chanson, blues and world music.

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6. Take an Impressionists masterclass

At the Musée d’Orsay, you can discover the factors that shaped Impressionism: the birth of the railway, the Barbizon school and the glorious open air. Housed in a former train station, designed to coincide with the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the collection is arranged in a chronological order, from 1848 to 1914. On the ground floor, you can see The Artist’s Studio by Courbet and the landscapes of Corot, Daubigny and Millet, forerunners of the Impressionists. Here you’ll find provocative works such as Manet’s Olympia, which shocked the art establishment, but paved the way for the liberal paintings of Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh in the upper galleries. After sampling the works, get some fresh air and a picture of the city by stepping onto the coffered roof.

Musee de l’Orangerie is a Monet showcase, displaying eight, tapestry-sized Nymphéas (water lillies) paintings housed in two plain oval rooms.

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7. Max out the plastic in the Marais

The Marais’s reputation for great shopping is rising thanks to the young designers who have set up their atelier galleries in its golden triangle, delineated by rues Charlot, Poitou and Turenne. Among the best are former Lacoste Creative Director Christophe Lemaire’s self-named boutique, which stocks his own-label high-tech Japanese textiles; the fashion editors’ favourite, Iro, where designers Laurent and Arik Bitton sell what they call their ‘basic deluxe’ range – skinny knits, skinny jeans and the ‘perfecto’ mini leather jacket; and Laeticia Ivanez’s installation space/boutique Les Prairies de Paris, which gives over the whole of the ground floor to art shows, gigs and happenings, while downstairs showcases the disco-glam separates and cute children’s collection.

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8. Dig some bones

‘Stop! This is the empire of death!’ This isn’t the door policy at Paris’s premier heavy metal club, but the inscription above the entrance of Les Catacombes. Its origins lie in the eighteenth-century Parisians’ response to an accommodation crisis in the cemeteries. In the era of Revolutionary terror, they dug deep into miles of unused subterranean passages that had existed since Roman times and transferred the remains of six million people to the catacombs. The bones of Marat and Robespierre and their fellow citizens are all here. Bear in mind that you have to climb down a 20 metre (66 foot) staircase to reach the mass of bones. It’s an extraordinary sight, but can be disturbing, especially it you have AC/DC on your iPod.

Another worthwhile dead end is Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris’s most famous cemetery, which provides a home to illustrious corpses galore, from Molière to Morrison.

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9. Dine on only the finest French cuisine

As you would expect, there is a multitude of ‘French’ restaurants in Paris, but only a handful are truly exceptional: L’Ardoise, one of the city’s finest modern bistros, attracts gourmets eager to sample Pierre Jay’s reliably delicious cooking; Grégory Lemarchand honed his craft with Jamie Oliver in London before opening his loft-style bistro, Frenchie, next to the market street rue Montorgueil; Chef Sylvain Sendra played to a full house every night at his little bistro Le Temps au Temps near the Bastille before moving to the larger space, Itinéraires, near Notre Dame; Jean-Luc André is as inspired a decorator as he is a cook, and the quirky charm of his dining room, Pétrelle, has made it popular with fashion designers and film stars; and last, but, most-definitely not least, where do Michelin inspectors go on their day off? To Spring, where young American chef Daniel Rose has wowed the critics since opening this sleek 16-seat bistro a few years ago.

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10. Remember ‘Life is a cabaret, my friend’

The year the Eiffel Tower raised its final girders (1889), the Moulin Rouge was raising something of its own: skirts. These days, cabaret is an all-evening extravaganza. Male dancers and magicians compliment the foxy foxtrot; the dancing is perfectly synchronised, the costumes beautiful and the whole caboodle perfectly respectable.

Toulouse-Lautrec posters, glittery lampposts and fake trees lend tacky charm to the Moulin Rouge, while 60 Doriss dancers cavort with faultless synchronisation. Costumes are flamboyant and the entr’acte acts funny. On stageat Le Lido, 60 Bluebell Girls and a set of hunky dancers slink around, shaking their bodies with sequinned panache in breathtaking scenes. For a special treat, opt for the brand new ‘behind the scenes’ tour. Paradis Latin is the most authentic of the cabarets, not only because it’s family-run, but also because the clientele is mostly French.

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11. Corner cutting-edge cultural centres

Paris’s brilliant cultural centres will encourage you to look with fresh eyes. The trendsetter is the Centre Pompidou. Designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, its glass envelope with coloured service pipes holds a modern art museum, library, performance space and repertory cinema. More recently, Jean Nouvel has built the Musée du Quai Branly to house a 300,000-strong collection of Arts Premiers from Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas. With adventurous displays, a prime riverside site near the Eiffel Tower, lush gardens and an open-air amphitheatre, it transports you into a series of new worlds. The museums are among the venues that open for free on the pan-European, biannual Night of Museums (www.nuitdesmusees.culture.fr).

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12. Have a hammam at the Paris Mosque

For an authentic hamman experience, visit Hammam de la Grande Mosquée, a beautiful 1920s building, with a stunning green-and-white tiled square minaret inspired by the Alhambra. You can enjoy a steam session at a number of different temperatures in the exquisitely tiled interior of the domed hamman. Bear in mind that swimwear is compulsory, though your fellow Parisiennes may happily lounge around in bikinis. After you have sweated away some of your impurities, get scrubbed up with a gommage (an exfoliation), and then a massage. Afterwards, you can relax at a mosaic table beneath green foliage in the pretty courtyard of the mosque’s café and even smoke sheesha. The hamman has become very popular with the locals, so avoid the weekends because they might be particularly busy.

13. Stroll around St-Sulpice and the Luxembourg

For a slice of civilized Paris, visit the quarter south of St-Germain-des-Prés, between Odéon and Luxembourg. Nestling amid the historic buildings, fashion boutiques, patisseries and antiquarian bookshops is the Eglise St-Sulpice. Construction of the beautiful church began in 1646, but took 120 years and six architects to complete: the Italianate façade was designed by Jean-Baptiste Servandoni, but he died before the second tower could be finished, leaving it five metres shorter than the other. Art buffs should check out the three murals by Delacroix in the first chapel. Close by is the Jardin du Luxembourg, which offers both a stylish place to relax and a playground for the children. They can enjoy the traditional merry-go-round, ride ponies and sail toy boats across the lake.

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14. Visit the literary landmarks of Paris

If you’re a book lover, then you’ll be in heaven. This is the resting place of many literary ghosts, whose great works you’ll find lining the shelves of atmospheric bookshops and cafés. To the south, in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, you can take an atmospheric stroll amid the headstones of famous writers: the philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are buried side by side, and Baudelaire, Beckett and Guy de Maupassant can also be found beneath the trees. Meanwhile, in St-Germain-des-Prés on the Left Bank, there are cafés where you can follow in their footsteps, including Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots and Les Editeurs. The shops La Hune and Galignani offer a wide selection of French literature, and the super cool Librairie 7L proffers a cosmopolitan range of photography titles.

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15. House hunt with Le Corbusier

You can literally tick off some of Corb’s five points of Modern architecture as you walk around this stunning house and garden designed for a Swiss art collector in 1923: the Villa La Roche. Is the house elevated by pilotis? Check. Does it have a free plan that you can easily move around? Check. Are there ocean-liner, horizontal strip windows? Check. Alongside the architecture and built-in furniture, you can also see all the drawings, plans, notes, objects and artworks that he bequeathed to the Fondation Le Corbusier (the Villas La Roche and Jeanneret) on his death in 1965. The collection offers a fascinating insight into the life of this visionary Modern architect.

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16. Get yourself invited to a secret dinner party

A cross between a private dinner party and a restaurant, ‘clandestine restaurants’ are springing up around Paris. There is no more insider lunch address in Paris than Lunch in the Loft (www.lunchintheloft.com, €50 per head): the exact location is revealed only once you sign up for the party for eight at the home of Claude Cabri. An artist who loves to cook, Claude widened her sphere of guests a year ago when she started emailing food bloggers under the mysterious name of ‘Miss Lunch’.

A more professional atmosphere can be found at the Hidden Kitchen (www.hkmenus.com, €80 per head) in the Haussmannian apartment of young American chef Brad Perkins and his partner Laura Adrian. At their dinner parties, 12 guests sit down to a candlelit ten-course meal accompanied by four carefully chosen wines. The quality of the food at the Hidden Kitchen is astounding, and true gastronomes should not miss it, but you’ll probably have more fun chez Claude.

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17. Rummage at the flea markets

Paris flea markets are full of curiosities, from stained glass windows to Philippe Starck pieces and Eames chairs and even three-metre clock faces. Key stops on the market trail are the sprawling Marché aux Puces de Clignancourt, the quiet, tree-lined Marché aux Puces de Vanves and the contemporary design market Les Puces du Design. One of the few remaining flea markets where you can uncover gems at bargain prices on bric-à-brac stalls is the Marché d’Aligre. It’s where all the serious dealers go when on the hunt for original antiquities from across the country. But watch out for overpriced books and kitchenware. At the adjacent Marché Beauvau, you can stock up on fresh fruit and veg, groceries and meats to prepare a rustic French meal.

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18. Catch a film at La Cinémathèque Française

Take a stroll to the leafy fringes of Parc de Bercy, where you’ll discover a Frank Gehry building housing the new Cinémathèque Française. The institute assumes a place at the heart of French film culture: founded in 1936 to conserve films, it was a meeting place for Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) directors of the 1950s and 60s such as François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer. Following its relocation to Bercy, it now boasts four screens, a bookshop, a restaurant, exhibition space and the Musée du Cinéma. In the spirit of its visionary founder, Henry Langlois, the institute hosts major retrospectives, cult movies, classics and experimental cinema, along with Q&A sessions for all budding film directors and aficionados of French cinema.

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19. Worship the Sun King at Versailles

Centuries of makeovers have made Versailles the most sumptuously clad château in the world, so it needs a full day to do it justice. The palace we know today was largely designed under the reign of Louis XIV: the two splendid wings of the Cour des Ministres and the Chapelle Royale so pleased the Sun King that he moved his court to Versailles, then rarely set foot in Paris. In the late eighteenth-century, Louis XV added the sumptuous Opéra Royal, used for concerts by the Centre de Musique Baroque. Summer weekends are the best time to see the garden, when the fountains play to music. Indoors, the highlight is the Hall of Mirrors; composed of 357 of them, it’s literally dazzling.

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20. Visit the new star of the art scene

Described as a ‘space for artistic creation’, CentQuatre 104 occupies a vast 19th-century building on the rue d’Aubervilliers, which used to house Paris’s municipal undertakers. Known as the ‘factory of grief’, its walls bore witness to the final journey of masses of Parisians. Now they conceal the practice of artists who are renewing the creative spirit of Montmartre, which was once a popular haunt of modern artists like Picasso, Ezra Pound and Getrude Stein. The Memory Room shows black and white footage of events there, while the restaurant celebrates the multi-cultural cuisine of the local community and the Atelier le Balto is a green space that will be landscaped by resident gardeners each year. Among the artists working here in 2009 were Tania Bruguera, who involves migrants in her performances, and Anri Sala, who times his films with the weather. The resident artists will change each year and show their finished pieces in four annual festivals.



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