The sea is two and a half hours’ drive from Paris. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find anywhere to lay down a towel. Every summer, the city decks out its lakes and riversides with sand, sunbeds and parasols, as part of its four-week-long, free Paris Plage – AKA Paris Beach – event.
Paris might not have the sea, but it does have the Seine. And the bank between the Pont Neuf and Pont de Sully bridges is the main setting for the city’s annual Paris Plage event. Here, you can pitch up in a deckchair and stick your feet in the sand, with a view of the Eiffel Tower peeking out over the surrounding rooftops. There are sandcastle building contests for little ones, and volleyball matches at the nearby Hôtel de Ville square.
The city’s artificial lake, called Bassin de la Villette, takes part in the Paris Plage summer event, setting up palm trees, sand and deckchairs for the occasion. And, unlike at the Seine, you can get out on the water here, thanks to the row, pedal and electric boats for hire. Kids’ play areas and plenty of bars and restaurants mean it’s easy to make a day of it.
Bargain buys – £
Bargain hunters will be in their element at the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen. A total of 3,000 different vendors take up residence at this permanent flea market, where both indoor and outdoor shopping areas cover a space as big as seven football fields. Dig your way past the tacky souvenirs at the end nearest the Porte de St-Ouen metro to get to the good stuff – everything from fine art to vintage jackets are up for grabs. Don’t miss the Chez Louisette café, famous for its all-year-round Christmas decorations and in-house singer, who belts out Edith Piaf classics.
Mid-range buys – ££
Galeries Lafayette is to Paris what Harrods is to London. Over 100 fashion, home and beauty brands are housed under the huge store’s beautiful, glass-domed roof – including Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein. Take a break at the food court to dine at one of the 25 restaurants, or to pick up some edible souvenirs. And, round off your spree with a drink on the rooftop terrace, where you’ll have unobstructed skyline views.
Designer buys – £££
Paris isn’t dubbed the fashion capital of the world for nothing. Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton were all born and bred here. You’ll find all three, plus a lot more haute couture, on and around the capital’s famous avenue, the Champs Élysées – where you can shop ‘til you drop in sight of the iconic Arc de Triomphe. British fave, Marks & Spencer, makes an appearance here, too, along with a Disney store and a fancy macaron shop called Ladurée.
Being the cultural hub that it is, Paris offers plenty in the way of concerts, cabarets and shows to get your teeth into after dark. You can catch a ballet performance at the grand Palais Garnier venue, or tune in to a classical music recital at the Opéra Bastille. The Palais des Sports is a good bet for big-name singers and theatre shows, with past listings including Norah Jones, The Bodyguard and Saturday Night Fever. Then there’s the windmill-fronted Moulin Rouge, where you can head for a dose of sequins, feathers and can-can dancing.
If you’re up for starting early, ‘after work’ is the term Parisians use to describe happy hour. So anywhere you see this, you’re guaranteed to be able to pick up some purse-friendly cocktails. At the other end of the scale, Café Marly – next to the Louvre Museum – is a pricey yet super-sophisticated spot for a tipple. For drinks with an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower, make tracks for the terrace bar of the Les Ombres restaurant. And if all night dancing’s what you’re after, there are lots of clubs that stay open until 5 or 6am, including the popular-with-celebs L’Arc, on the Champs Élysées.
While us Brits tend to save them for Shrove Tuesday, pancakes are a staple in the Parisian diet. Go for a savoury option, with a filling like ham and cheese. Or, treat your sweet tooth to one that’s slathered with Nutella.
You can’t go to Paris without tucking into a buttery croissant. You’ll find them in bakeries on almost every street corner. Do as the French do and dunk yours in a hot cup of coffee.
France might be famous for its baguettes, but their number one choice of sandwich is made with sliced bread. Order a croque-monsieur and you’ll be served a toasted sarnie with ham and cheese. The ‘female’ equivalent, meanwhile, comes with an egg on top.
Steak frites is exactly what it sounds like – steak and chips – and you’ll find it on many a bistro menu. Whatever you do, don’t ask for your steak to be well-done – it’ll result in some serious eye-rolling from your waiter.
Macarons are France’s – more sophisticated – answer to the custard cream biscuit. Two brightly coloured, meringue pastries are sandwiched together with a creamy filling. They come in every flavour you can think of – from orange blossom to morello cherry.
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