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Overview: Paris, France
Hotels in Paris

Bienvenue à Paris! Or, welcome to Paris! Although it may seem as if time stands still in this city—with its romantic, old buildings, and elegant 19th-century parks and squares—there's an undercurrent of small but significant changes happening here that might not be immediately obvious.

Today's Paris...

… is cleaner. Parisians breathe a little easier today as the city moves toward a more eco-friendly lifestyle. And while the image of intellectual sitting in a café, cigarette in hand, may have been as much a part of the French identity as wine and cheese, that all changed in 2008, when the French government enacted a nationwide smoking ban inside all public buildings, including hotels, restaurants, and bars. Surprisingly, smokers seem to be following along with the new rules, opting to puff away on the café sidewalk terraces where it's still allowed. The city is also cutting down on smog pollution with its popular Vélib municipal bikes; additional pedestrian, bus, and cycling lanes; and the extension of the metro and tram network. Paris even looks cleaner, thanks to a city-wide policy of scrubbing clean building and landmark facades, and the gradual replacement of paved streets with more scenic cobblestones.

… is friendlier. One area where fraternité has evolved is with French service: although North Americans, raised on the principle that the customer is always right, may find servers and store clerks a bit curt (and not always so efficient), Paris has become friendlier than it once was. This can be chalked up to necessity, as the service industry scrambled to compete for tourism dollars after the post-9/11 slump in business, and many of Paris's waiters have discovered that happy American tourists tip better than unhappy ones—even when the 15% service fee is already included in the bill. That's not to say that service is delivered with a smile everywhere; it never hurts to learn a few French phrases, which will almost always reward you with warmer welcomes.

… is open in August and on Sundays. As recently as five years ago, Paris was still largely deserted in August when the locals fled to the countryside and beaches, leaving a wake of closed shops and restaurants. Today the city is very much alive throughout the summer, with outdoor music festivals, the beach along the Seine that is Paris Plage, and perhaps even budget constraints keeping more Parisians in town. While the August exodus was never official policy, the "closed on Sunday" was part of French law until 2009, when the government decided that allowing shops to stay open daily would boost the economy and employment. The Marais is still probably the liveliest place to go on Sunday, but other neighborhoods aren't the ghost towns they once were.

… is becoming more globalized. It's what the French call mondialisation, en français, and it's happening in Paris, as international chains and country-specific favorites are slowly seeping into Parisian culture. There are now more than 34 Starbucks in the city, including the location under the Pyramide in the Louvre—where you can also find one of Paris's many McDonald's outposts. You can also find some of the more familiar American brands in Paris supermarkets, like Skippy's peanut butter and Oreo cookies, if you're jonesing for a familiar taste. And as if there isn't enough challenge to the traditional café, the Italian-owned gelato chain Amorino has opened several more shops in Paris after the runaway success of their Ile St-Louis gelateria—just a few feet from the famous French Berthillon ice-cream shop. Of course, we suggest trying both: compare and contrast!

What's Hot in Paris NOW

The latest trend you probably haven't heard of is supposed to be a secret, but news about the latest speakeasy-style bars and restaurants —with anonymous entrances, private-club-like atmosphere, and hidden fumoirs for smokers—is hard to keep down. If you want to get in on the action, try asking the locals when you're out for drink at the Experimental Cocktail Club or elsewhere.

Paris has embraced the modern burlesque scene with regular shows at Le Bellevilloise and Casino de Paris, featuring local and international stars like Dita von Teese. There are also several professionals offering classes to teach the right moves, and boutiques specializing in sultry and saucy striptease wardrobes.

Green continues to gain currency in Paris, which is now home to a dozen organic fast-food chains and juice bars, several eco-label certified hotels, and the widespread availability of ethical, fair-trade, and organic products at every supermarket chain and open-air market.

Street art continues to to shake free of its illicit reputation, with shows in Paris galleries, the Palais de Tokyo, and a "live" event by the French graffiti artists Monsieur André at the Grand Palais, as well as the 2009 legalization of "Chez Robert, Electron Libre," the famous art squat on the Rue de Rivoli.

Where to stay

Our Suggestions
• Eiffel Seine Hôtel
• Four Seasons Hôtel George V Paris
• Hôtel Odéon Saint-Germain
• Les Degrés de Notre-Dame
Where to eat

Our Suggestions
• La Table Lauriston
• Mon Vieil Ami
• Le Cinq
• Le Baratin
What to see

Our Suggestions
• Notre-Dame
• Palais-Royal
• Opéra Garnier
• Canal St-Martin
Paris Top Attractions »
Eiffel Tower
Originally built as a temporary exhibition for the 1889 World's Fair, today there's no other monument that symbolizes Paris better than Gustave Eiffel's world-famous Iron Lady. It's breathtaking, whether you see it sparkling from your hotel window after dark or join the millions of annual visitors to brave the glass elevator trip to the top.

It took almost 200 years to finish this 12th-century Gothic masterpiece immortalized by Victor Hugo and his fictional hunchback. Climb the spiral staircase of the bell towers for a close-up gander at the gargoyles, or have a peek at relics such as the Crown of Thorns in the cathedral treasury.

Jardin du Luxembourg
This is one of the prime leisure spots on the Left Bank for urban-weary Parisians. Relax in a reclining park chair with a picnic lunch or a book, watch a game of boules while the kids enjoy a marionette show, or visit an exhibition at the Musée Luxembourg in a wing of the 17th century Palais de Luxembourg, which is now home to the Paris Senate.

Jardin des Tuileries
The 17th-century formal French landscape of these gardens behind the Louvre is punctuated by contemporary sculptures, a café, and two noteworthy museums: the Musée du Jeu de Paume and the Musée de l'Orangerie. In summer there's a small amusement park and Ferris wheel.

Arc de Triomphe
The 164-foot-tall Arc de Triomphe has served as the backdrop to official military parades since its completion in 1836. Use the underground passageway to reach the monument, where you can visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the arch or climb the stairs for amazing panoramic views of the city.

Musée d'Orsay
After a stunted lifespan as a train station constructed for the 1900 World's Fair, this beautiful Belle Époque building is filled with Art Nouveau objects, Impressionist paintings, vintage photography, and realist sculptures. Don't miss the scale model of the Opéra Garnier or the views of the Seine from the grand ballroom now housing the museum's restaurant.

Opéra Garnier
Opulent, stunning, and magnificently over-the-top, Charles Garnier's opera house is one of the outstanding jewels of the Second Empire. Its illustrious marble staircase and ruby-red box seats have been featured in films from Dangerous Liaisons to Marie-Antoinette, and its backstage corridors are famously haunted by the Phantom of the Opera.

Centre Pompidou
The Pompidou Centre's groundbreaking "inside-out" design is still visually shocking (it opened in 1977) this is also the top destination for modern-art lovers in Paris.

This wedding-cake white basilica dominates Montmartre's hilltop. Most visitors are content with the views overlooking the city from the basilica stairs, but ambitious sight seekers can climb to the bell tower for an even higher vantage point.

Musée du Louvre
The grandest museum in the world was just a humble fortress in the 12th century, but grew in size and prestige as a sumptuous royal palace until the French Revolution gave it a new lease on life as home to the Republic's art collection. Don't miss the big three—Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo.
Romantic Paris »
It isn't hard to stumble across a romantic moment in Paris. Couples kiss on park benches, dine by candlelight in cozy neighborhood bistros, and walk arm-in-arm in the rain.

At the top of our list for romantic moments is a trip to the top of the quintessential Paris monument, the Eiffel Tower. You get extra points for making a reservation at the elegant (and pricey) Jules Verne restaurant, which lets you bypass the crowds for a VIP elevator ride. And if your sweetheart isn't with you in Paris, you can send a soulful missive from the Tower's exclusive mailbox; it'll arrive with the Eiffel Tower postmark.

If seeing the Eiffel Tower in the skyline is part of your romantic vision, there are choice spots throughout Paris from which to gaze upon it. Montmartre's Sacré-Coeur, the second-highest point in the city (after the Tower itself), has breathtaking vistas, as well as a lovely green space to throw down a blanket and snuggle. Or head to the top of Center Georges Pompidou for a glass of champagne at the restaurant while gazing out at the Tower and the silvery Parisian rooftops. Although somewhat more prosaic, don't rule out Au Printemps's top-floor terrace for views: the café atop the department store has stunning 360-degree panoramas.

Speaking of shopping, some of the world's best lingerie can be found in Paris; wear it for romance, but enjoy shopping for it, too. Department stores have entire floors dedicated to underthings, and there are fabulous boutiques throughout the city where you can find styles and materials to suit every personality and budget.

Romance in Paris? Well, there's always something sexy about a hotel room, but why does it seem that Paris hotels have a little something extra? It might be the gorgeous old buildings and the unique, often family-owned, accommodations. Or maybe it's the history—the ghost of Oscar Wilde or Henry Miller wandering through what used to be a pavillon d'amour? At any rate, it seems to us that if you're going to splurge on luxury accommodations, Paris is the place to do it.

Big spending, of course, isn't always necessary, no matter what you're up to. An expensive meal is one thing, but snacking at a corner crêperie can be just as romantic as a sit-down dinner. Indeed, a picnic by the Seine, or at one of the marvelous jardins (gardens) is one of the ultimate romantic, and generally inexpensive, Parisian experiences (unless you buy a EUR 2,000 bottle of Château Lafite to wash it down). Feed your love with bites of chocolate and cheese in the manicured Jardin du Luxembourg or at the intimate Place des Vosges.

If art fuels your passions, Paris is home to romantic museums aplenty—for starters, visit the Musée Rodin and its elegant gardens, and make sure to see the sculpture of The Kiss.

If you just love to stroll, hand in hand, Paris is your place. Any of the windy streets will do, but a walk along the Seine is assured to create romantic memories—especially if you pick a bridge for a sunset kiss. For a straight-from-the-movies moment, pretend you're Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in Charade and take a nighttime boat tour, making sure to time it so that you see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at the top of the hour.
Paris Restaurant Reviews »
A new wave of culinary confidence is running through one of the world's great food cities and spilling over both banks of the Seine. Whether cooking up grand-mère's roast chicken and riz au lait or placing a whimsical hat of cotton candy atop wild-strawberry-and-rose ice cream, Paris chefs are breaking free from the tyranny of tradition and following their passions.

Emblematic of this movement is the proliferation of haute cuisine—trained bistro chefs who have opened their own restaurants. Among the newcomers to the bistronomique scene are David Rathgeber, who has left Benoît to take over the chic Montparnasse bistro L'Assiette; Mickaël Gaignon, a veteran of Pierre Gagnaire and Le Pré Catelan who now runs the Marais bistro Le Gaigne; and Stéphane Marcouzzi, who was maître d'hôtel at Guy Savoy's Le Cap Vernet before opening L'Epigramme in St-Germain with chef Aymeric Kräml.

But self-expression is not the only driving force behind the current changes. A traditional high-end restaurant can be prohibitively expensive to operate. As a result, more casual bistros and cafés, which often have lower operational costs and higher profit margins, have become attractive businesses for even top chefs.

For tourists, this development can only be good news, since it makes the cooking of geniuses such as Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Alain Senderens, and Pierre Gagnaire more accessible (even if these star chefs rarely cook in their lower-priced restaurants).

Like the chefs themselves, Paris diners are breaking away—albeit cautiously—from tradition. New restaurants and rapidly multiplying sandwich bars recognize that not everyone wants a three-course blowout every time they dine out. And because Parisians are more widely traveled than in the past, many ethnic restaurants—notably the best North African, Vietnamese/Laotian, Chinese, Spanish, and Japanese spots—are making fewer concessions to French tastes, resulting in far better food.
Paris Nightlife »
You haven't seen Paris until you've seen the city at night. Throngs fill popular streets and the air fills with the melody of French conversation and the clinking of glasses. This is when Parisians let down their hair and reveal their true bonhomie, laughing and dancing, flirting and talking. Parisians love to savor life together: they dine out, drink endless espressos, offer innumerable toasts, and are often so reluctant to separate that they party all night.

Parisians go out weekends and weeknights, late and early. And they tend to frequent the same places once they've found spots they like: it could be a wine bar, corner café, or hip music club, and you can often find a welcoming "the-gang's-all-here" atmosphere. A wise way to spend an evening is to pick an area in a neighborhood that interests you, then give yourself time to browse. Parisians love to bar hop and the energy shifts throughout the evening, so be prepared to follow the crowds all night.

Nightlife hot spots are scattered throughout the city, with each neighborhood offering a unique vibe. If you prefer clinking drinks with models and celebrities, check out the Champs-Élysées area, but be prepared to shell out beaucoup bucks and stare down surly bouncers. Easygoing, bohemian-chic revelers can be found in the northeastern districts like Canal St-Martin and Belleville, while students tend to pour into the Bastille, St-Germain-des-Prés, and the Quartier Latin. Gays and party-hearty types can nail a wild time nearly every night in Le Marais. Grands Boulevards and Rue Montorgueil, just north of Les Halles, is party central for young professionals and the fashion crowd, and the Pigalle/Montmartre area is always hopping with plenty of theaters, cabarets, bars, and concert venues. Warmer months draw the adventurous to floating clubs and bars, moored along the Seine from Bercy to the Eiffel Tower.