Like all great cities, you can spend months in Paris and barely scratch the surface of the city's cultural treasures. It has museums galore, stellar shopping and busy cafés perfect for people-watching. Here are our suggestions for the perfect weekend in the City of Lights.
Where to Stay
Synonymous with style, elegance and the ultimate in Parisian luxury, the Ritz boasts one of the city's most fashionable addresses on the Place Vendôme square. Couture icon Coco Chanel loved the Ritz so much that she made it her home in 1934 while writers Marcel Proust, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented the hotel and its bar. The price tag is hefty, but no luxury is spared with the staff's doting service and well-appointed rooms with fine brocades, glittery chandeliers and heaps of classic French charm.
Hotel Plaza Athenee
The Hotel Plaza Athenee redefines swanky on the Right Bank with timeless Parisian glamour. There are 191 stately guest rooms offering views of Rue Montaigne or the Eiffel Tower. Don't dismiss the rooms with a courtyard view: The charming enclosed courtyard is a center of hotel activity, with café tables and flowers during warmer months and an ice-skating rink in the winter. First-rate amenities at the hotel include the Alain Ducasse restaurants and the spa at the Dior Institut, which holds some of the secrets to that youthful French glow.
Just one look at the hotel facade covered with a trompe l'oeil painting of shadowy trees creeping up the side and you know this spot is special. Inside, the Apostrophe Hotel celebrates its funky Left Bank location with an homage to literature and the world of writing. Each of the 16 rooms tells a story with artwork, including customized lace curtains, celebrating a specific theme such as the alphabet, calligraphy, travel diaries and even graffiti. All rooms have free Wi-Fi, a queen-size bed and a flat-screen TV -- and for a bit more money you can score a room with a Jacuzzi tub.
Located in the artsy 5th Arrondisement, Five Hotel caters to each of the 5 senses with a circus of light, color and hip décor. Modern rooms showcase the handiwork of artist Isabel Emmerique who uses Chinese lacquer to create masterpieces of shiny and saturated color. The beds seem to float in midair in some space-age suites, while other rooms are aglow with miniature twinkling fiber-optic lights. Suites utilize every bit of space with a sitting area, larger bathroom with tub and a private outdoor patio with a hot tub, lounge chairs and a kitschy patch of artificial grass.
Where to Eat
Alain Ducasse is a French culinary legend with restaurants around the world and the highest Michelin honors. His Parisian bistro Aux Lyonnais is a nod to the traditional bouchons found in Lyon, both in décor and food. The yellow walls, tiled floors and zinc-and-tin-covered counter make for a cozy atmosphere. The servers fill wine glasses and deliver plates of homey French cooking like frog legs, escargots in garlic sauce, delicate salads and hearty vegetable casseroles and farm-raised chicken.
Hemingway liked this spot so much that he mentioned it in "The Sun Also Rises," and diners still flock to this atmospheric Art Deco café on the boulevard de Montparnasse. Come for a late-night feast of comfort food with onion soup and steak tartare with steak frites -- a nice cut of beef with a heaping pile of salty fries. Seafood lovers can go for a pot of mussels, sole menuniere or, when in season, a plate of briny raw oysters.
There are plenty of food carts around Paris selling sweet and savory crepes for snacking on the go, but when you're ready for to get inside and get off your feet, indulge your sweet tooth at Angelina on Rue du Rivoli. This refined salon de thé is noted for its romantic Belle Epoque décor and decadent hot chocolate called l'Africain. This rich and heavenly concoction is pure chocolate bliss served in a dainty pitcher alongside a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. Round out the meal with a plate of French confections like sweet madeleine cookies, macaroons or the Mont Blanc gateau, a fluffy meringue topped with chestnut puree and some more whipped cream.
What to See & Do
Divided into 20 Arrondissements, the city is also split by the Seine River, creating 2 unique halves, each with its own vibe and culture. The Left Bank, or the Rive Gauche, is the city's artistic center with quirky neighborhoods like the Latin Quarter and Montparnasse where students and intellectuals still gather in cafés for philosophical debate and banter. The Right Bank is known for the glitzy stretch of road at the Champs-Elysees which leads to the Arc de Triomphe as well as the charming hilltop neighborhood of Montmarte where Sacre Coeur looks out over the city. It's easy to take the metro around town to visit all of the spots on both the Right and Left banks.
Brave the masses, and wait your turn to see the Louvre's most talked-about lady, the stunning Mona Lisa. Once you've witnessed that mysterious smile for yourself, explore more of the museum's legendary works including the smooth Greek sculpture of the Venus de Milo and the sprawling painting of the Wedding Feast at Cana. The museum's website suggests a self-guided tour of the museum's 10 great masterpieces if you only have a few hours to spend in the Louvre's hallowed halls.
Housed in an old train station overlooking the Seine, the Musee D'Orsay is known for its impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that date from 1848 through 1914. You can gaze on 86 dreamy paintings by Monet, 34 by Manet and often-reproduced masterpieces by Gauguin, Renoir and Degas. Pick up the audio-guide headset for more in-depth background of some of these familiar paintings. If you're in town for a long weekend, be warned that the museum is closed on Mondays but stays open late on Thursday nights until 9:45.
Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris
France's most famous cathedral must be explored both inside and out to fully appreciate the Gothic architecture, flying buttresses and detailed stained-glass windows. Ascend the steps to the top of the bell towers where the fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame called home, and snap some photos of the comical and grotesque gargoyles that jut out from the building.
Boat Ride on the Seine
Take in the City of Lights after nightfall with a romantic cruise along the Seine. Low-lying, open boats pass underneath the city's most impressive bridges at the Pont Royal, built with money from Louis XIV, and the Pont Neuf, the city's oldest bridge. On the Right and Left Banks above, the buildings are aglow with lights from the likes of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Vedettes du Pont-Neuf and Bateaux Parisiens are 2 of the organizations that host nightly evening cruises.
The Opera Garnier
You can't help but think of the tortured and lovelorn Phantom of the Opera while sitting under the 6-ton crystal chandelier at this Paris opera house: It served as the inspiration for the novel and musical about the opera house's haunt. Not limited to just opera, today the architecturally stunning hall plays host to the ballet, chamber music concerts and other performances. If you enjoy your evening show, you might head back during the day for a guided tour of the impressive building.
The Café Scene
Paris nightlife picks up late in the evening. You might find yourself returning to the same café where you ate lunch to find a completely different scene as you close in on midnight. Friends gather at neighborhood cafés and trendy wine bars around the city for a glass of wine and conversation. For some music with your wine, Le Caveau de la Huchette is a Latin Quarter favorite with jazz, big band and swing music playing every night to a packed crowd. La Belle Hortense is a combo bookstore/wine bar where you can attend a reading, peruse the shelves, belly up to the cool zinc bar for a glass or wine and maybe even pick up a like-minded bibliophile all in a good night out.
Travel Channel Insider's Tip
Get your bearings and take a free guided tour of the city with a local on a stroll with Paris Discover Walks.