An insider’s guide to Paris
Whether you want to see the sights, stay off the beaten track, or see Ireland’s game against France in the Rugby World Cup, this is where to go and what to do
Paris: get on the inside track to explore the city
There are several ways to enjoy Paris, but if time is tight you’ll want to tweak your itinerary so as to make the most of precious moments.
Below are two possible approaches, one for those who like to be right in the thick of things, another for those who prefer a more undercover approach to this beguiling capital city. So the first covers the big attractions, the must-dos (both for rugby fans and otherwise), while the second includes new openings, off-radar gems, and so on.
Follow the herd
An obvious choice is the grands magasins, the big department stores on Boulevard Haussmann. Less obvious is the fact that foreign visitors/shoppers can enjoy a 10 per cent discount on almost all merchandise.
In Galeries Lafayette, present your passport at the information desk (point d’accueil) and receive a discount card valid for three months.
Shoppers at Printemps will, however, require a little tourist map (which can likely be picked up at their hotel reception for free) bearing a Printemps branding and a discount-enabling barcode on the inside. This can be presented at any purchase point.
Meanwhile, BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville), on Rue de Rivoli, has undergone an interior facelift, and its stock has been updated too, making it a much more interesting department store. Its basement is a wondrous Ali Baba’s cave of all things DIY and handy, and the terrace of its top-floor self-service restaurant/cafe offers a splendid view of the surrounding area, including Notre Dame and the Seine, for free.
The BHV discount card is obtained at the information desk, in the same way as that of Galeries Lafayette.
A Parisian establishment perennially popular for brunch, lunch or dinner is a belle-époque brasserie called Bofinger. Situated just off Place de la Bastille, it just oozes Paris in its heyday, while somehow managing not to be kitsch.
For a quick bite, check out L’As du Fallafel, on Rue des Rosiers in the lower Marais. Delicious, atmospheric, and alternately so French and so “straight out of Jerusalem”.
Musé e d’Orsay can’t be beaten, to my mind. Less crowded than the Louvre, it’s a beautiful building housing wonderful works of art, and it’s a pleasure just to sit on one of its marble benches looking and marvel.
Dodge the crowds
Check out a cool retail circuit in the hip area known to locals as Paris onzième (the 11th arrondissement, situated to the east of the city, on the right bank). A stroll of just a couple of kilometres will plunge you deep into the heart of authentic Paris.
Boulevard Beaumarchais, a street address of note, lies where the 12th arrondissement huddles up with the third in an area known as the Haut Marais.
Hot on the heels of the establishment of the multilabel concept store/cafe/canteen Merci (popular with fashionistas from far and wide, especially during Paris Fashion Week), other hip French unisex stores, such as APC, Sandro, Ami, and French Trotters have moved in.
For kids as hip as their parents, Boulevard Beaumarchais boasts Bonton, which is, incidentally, owned by the family that founded Merci.
Just a zigzag away on Rue Saintonge, Isabel Marant groupies can get their satisfaction. Across from IM, Eleven Paris is a bijou boutique with a rock’n’roll vibe, popular with aspiring hipsters for its jeans (every pair comes with a plectrum in its fifth pocket!).
Maje, at number 47, mustn’t be missed either for perennially cool stock at more high-street prices.
Trendy mums will love Finger in the Nose, diagonally opposite at 60 Rue Saintonge.
Pointers for a rugby weekend
Royal Cheese, at 26 Rue de Poitou, by the intersection with Rue de Turenne, is a recent addition, with great gear for guys. And if there’s still any budget left, traverse the nearest perpendicular street, Rue de Bretagne, and follow Rue Vielle du Temple right through Le Marais to Rue deRivoli and onwards to the St Paul area (fourth arrondissement). This, too, is a haven for meandering, full of little boutiques, bars and restaurants catering to every taste.
Boulevard Beaumarchais has a bunch of fun places to stop. Merci (mentioned above) has a great street-side cafe for people-watching in clement spring weather, a cosy library for tea and chat on wintry days, and an Avoca-esque canteen for super soup deep within its innards.
On the same street is a fun and stylish pizzeria called Grazie, and a delish burger joint called Taste.
Take a stroll through the elegant gardens of Les Archives Nationales, a sylvan setting in the city, accessible from Rue de la Perle, Rue des Archives or Rue des Francs Bourgeois (fourth arrondissement).
General Paris tips
Most decent places in Paris require a booking for Friday and Saturday nights, so ring around the ones mentioned below and see what is available.
If you fancy a nice nibble while out and about, pop into a Pierre Hermé shop (see shop locations at pierreherme.com) for some macarons. There might be queues, but it’s worth the wait. A new shop recently opened on Rue Saint-Croix de la Bretonnerie, in the Marais.
Rue de Bretagne is a fun spot in the third arrondissement/Marais. Along Rue de Bretagne are lots of nice coffee shops and restaurants, as well as the atmospheric Marché des Enfants Rouge, fab for a quick bite. Chez Omar is great for couscous and North African cuisine, and its steak au poivre is a dish we have come to crave with regularity since its discovery some years back!
Try Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir, which is attached to the famous chef’s hotel, Le Relais. (He’s now considered even hotter stuff, since Masterchef just started here in France, and he’s one of the judges.) Lunch at Le Comptoir does not require a booking (dinner does), so get there early for 12.20pm or for its second sitting at 1.30pm. You’ll see a small queue out on the pavement, but the food is worth waiting for.
For more information, see hotelparis-relais-saint-germain.com.
Don’t forget Le Chateaubriand, on Avenue Parmentier, completely yum and ranked in the top 10 restaurants in the world.
Recently featured in UK Vogue, and French GQ, check out Aux Deux Amis, at 45 Rue Oberkampf, for a great aperitif or gourmet tapas-style dinner (booking is essential for the latter).
It’s kind of grungy, but great, and fantastic for people-watching, with a very bobo crowd.