I love Paris. Hands down, it’s my favourite city. Every visit, my first look at the Eiffel Tower makes me weak in the knees. With its glorious architecture bathed in a photo-ready soft box light, Paris is shamelessly pretty. Its streets are endlessly walkable revealing jaw-dropping statues and flower-bedecked balconies around every corner. Toss in the bustling sidewalk bistros and the chic fashion boutiques and you’ve got an incomparable city with charm to burn.
But Paris isn’t all sunshine and light. You won’t be able to complain much about customer service because you’ll be hard-pressed to find any. Surliness is second nature and many Parisians couldn’t give a toss about your needs – they’re much more wrapped up in their own. On a hot summer day, the city streets smell and you’ll need a stomach of steel to get on the Metro. I’m still horrified by memories of being groped in the subway on a sticky hot fall night.
But I’m still one of the city’s biggest fans. Volumes have been written about the City of Light so here are a few of my most special places. You won’t find the Louvre or Laduree (world renowned for their pastel macarons) in my post – check them out regardless – but a few places that I go back to over and over.
Hotel de L’Abbaye – a charming boutique hotel not far from the Sorbonne where I stayed when I first came to Paris for Fashion Week
Radisson Dokhan Hotel – a tiny elevator crafted from an old Louis Vuitton trunk transports you to lavish rooms, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower
Westin Vendome – a huge hotel in a convenient location across from the Tuileries Gardens. Ask for a room with a view of the Eiffel Tower – it will make up for the teeny room with a huge price tag.
Hotel Therese – a tiny boutique hotel that’s nothing special but it’s inexpensive and home to countless magazine teams (such as Flare) during Fashion Week
Tip: Take advantage of a room rate with breakfast. Everything is so expensive here, including breakfast, so fill up before you head out for the day.
All of the world’s top fashion houses have boutiques (including some with ateliers) on the Avenue Montaigne. While the nosebleed prices will give you brain freeze, go in and look at the collections up close. You’ll find houses from Dior to Elie Saab in the area. Stop for lunch at L’Avenue where the fashion crowd collects after major runway events at the nearby Grand Palais.
A few independent boutiques that are well curated with a mix of designer fashion, accessories and gifts include Colette, L’Eclaireur, Merci, and The Montaigne Market. I also like the awesome stained glass dome in the Galleries Lafayette and the space at Le Bon Marche.
My favourite designer boutique is Dries van Noten women’s store on the Left Bank. And you’ll find rows of shoe stores, including a Christian Louboutin boutique (you may have to line up) on the rue Grenelle. And you can’t say you’ve been to Paris without a visit to Chanel on rue Cambon. The boutique downstairs is always packed. I’ll bet that the tourists don’t know that Karl Lagerfeld’s studio is upstairs and the salon is bustling with supermodels and VIPs on the nights before each major show.
Tip: Take the time to get the VAT refund filled out at each store. Taxes are high here and if you spend enough, it’s worth the hassle to get the refund. Ask the store for their limit which is usually 150 Euro.
Every time I visit Paris, there’s a new hot restaurant to check out. Google and explore. This past October, I had a brilliant steak tartare with crisp frites at Grand Coeur before heading over to Stella McCartney’s showroom. Definitely make reservations before you leave home or you’ll never get into any of the hotspots. A few old favorites include the Cafe Marly, Hotel Costes, L’Avenue and the Eiffel Tower. Don’t miss the Hotel Costes during Fashion Week – the people watching is second to none. Last season I saw overstuffed society gals in full-on Chanel Salzburg collection plumes and then a table of Valentino lovers (including the designers and Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka) grabbing post-show lunch.
The Musee de la Mode in the Louvre houses spectacular fashion exhibits. Fingers crossed that one will be scheduled during your visit. I’ve enjoyed the Musee Rodin and the Musee d’Orsay but the best exhibits are on the sidewalk during the four Fashion Weeks. You’ll see outrageous fashion on the most extravagant fashionistas from around the globe during Couture (mid-January and July) and Ready-to-Wear (March and October).
Paris is widespread and divided into arrondissements (neighbourhoods). The best way to get around quickly, efficiently and cheaply is by the Metro subway system. It’s almost always crowded and relatively safe if you keep your wits about you. Taxis are difficult to hail and very expensive. UBER is a Godsend. Clean upscale cars arrive quickly and you’ll generally find yourself with a chatty driver. It’s not cheap – fares always seem to be in “surge” mode – but it’s an excellent reliable way to get around quickly.
If you want anything resembling customer service, always small and say hello, or better yet Bonjour. If you launch into an English conversation without any polite attempt, you’ll get disdain back in spades. You don’t have to speak French but always be polite.