With Paris Fashion Week right around the corner, the City of Lights is on plenty of people’s minds. Sure, we’re looking forward to Fashion Month’s grand finale, including Nicolas Ghesquière’s comeback with his first collection for Louis Vuitton, the always-anticipated work by Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and more stunning presentations from some of the world’s elite design experts. But there’s much more to be seen in this iconic city than just a few runway shows. Whether you’re a front row regular, a newbie fighting to make it into the standing section or simply someone taking in the abundant beauty, here’s your guide to navigating Paris.
Getting There and Getting Around:
If you’ve been at it since New York Fashion Week, your bags are probably already packed. If not, pack accordingly. While this doesn’t mean striped crew-neck sweaters and berets (please, don’t), plenty of versatile black garments, stylish scarves, sharp outerwear and fresh footwear will serve as a solid base to the “Parisian chic” sensibility. Some smart tips would be to bring a pickpocket-proof bag, as theft is an unfortunate possibility, and of course, bring a few standout statement pieces to get in on the Fashion Week festivities.
Transportation is definitely an essential for Paris Fashion Week, and while some people are lucky enough to have a driver cart them around to all of the shows, many will have to rely on the cities resources to get from A to B (and everywhere in between). Boasting one of the best transportation systems in the world, the RATP’s Metro, RER, bus and tram lines will surely get you wherever you need to go, so don’t hesitate to pick up a Navigo or carnet. If you do choose the taxi route…don’t. Trying to get a cab is borderline torturous, wasting precious time and potentially missing shows. Instead, set aside some extra euros for the Uber app, which seems more efficient in Paris than many other cities. And if all else fails, the city is small enough to make walking a somewhat reasonable option. If you have the time, you’ll definitely be treated by the ubiquitous beauty at every corner along the way.
For any last-minute hotel plans, it’s always best to avoid the wild tourist traps. Why not treat yourself and go the luxury route? Easily one of the most elite would be Hôtel Costes, situated right on the high-end Rue Saint Honoré in Paris’ 1er arrondissement. The lavish lodging features a restaurant, bar, florist, perfume boutique and more. For something a little more “off the beaten path,” check out Hôtel Amour, the epitome of “Parisian cool.” A diamond in the rough, located in the stereotypically seedy Pigalle neighborhood, this spot features a delicious restaurant on a picturesque terrace and painfully chic chambres.
Sightseeing and Museums:
Not only is it the fashion capital of the world, but Paris is also the home to some of the world’s best artwork. While museums like the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou earned their fame for a reason, it never hurts to switch it up a bit. Tucked away in Montmartre is the impressive Espace Dali, showing several of Salvador Dali’s sketches and sculptures. The Palais de Tokyo in the 16e arrondissement is a unique and provocative modern art museum where one can expect to see the unexpected, too. If the Jardin des Tuileries doesn’t impress you, head over to the far corner of the gardens and check out the Musée de l’Orangerie, which holds Monet’s iconic water lilies alongside other incomprehensibly fantastic art.
And while the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe are all must-see landmarks, you won’t have trouble finding them during a casual stroll, and there’s really no need to climb them. Instead, opt for the Grande Arche of La Défense, the centerpiece of the ultra-modern commerce district just to the west of the city limits. The Catacombes de Paris are also an astonishing experience, while you can keep up your grim pleasures with a visit to Père Lachaise, the enormous cemetery that hosts Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and more. If it’s a church you seek, there’s no shortage of those, either. Right by Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle trumps its more famous neighbor, noted by mind-boggling, kaleidoscopic stained glass. Overall, Paris is the type of city where you can literally stumble upon beauty and inspiration at any second, making it exponentially easier to find another captivating landmark or exhibition.
Let’s not forget about French cuisine. You could walk into any brasserie and get a perfectly done croque monsieur (or madame), satisfy your post-night-out cravings with a 4am crêpe or indulge in macarons so pretty you almost don’t want to eat them…almost. But if we absolutely have to talk about a few standout places, then Paris has definitely got those, too.
Les Deux Abeilles is one option, located in the 7e right near the Eiffel Tower, while Restaurant le Châteaubriand and its neighbor/sibling spot, Le Dauphin are also great bets. If you choose to stop by the Palais de Tokyo, why not grab a bite to eat at the trendy, Kris Van Assche-endorsed Monsieur Bleu? Le Schmuck is yet another fantastic restaurant, and it’s nothing like its name suggests; high-quality dishes and superb ambience confirm this place’s undeniable 6e arrondissement sophistication. But hey, who says these are all the best Paris has to offer? Like previously mentioned, this town is home to some of the best cuisine on the planet, which is noticeable just about everywhere.
Not everyone likes to do their meals big, and not everyone wants to go out on the town for a drink. For that, there are great options for low-key boissons and conversations with friends. Despite its historical prevalence and reputation as a Parisian hotspot, Les Deux Magots is still a perfect place to grab arguably the best coffee in the entire city. For something a little out of the ordinary, Toraya is one of the oldest Japanese patisseries. Definitely try their to-die-for green tea hot chocolate. For an immaculate wine selection in an intimate setting, head straight to La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, which also has amazing champagne and exceptional tapas.
It’s no New York or Barcelona, but Paris likes to party. And during Fashion Week, that’s exponentially more noticeable. While the City of Lights has the tendency to lean on the more selective side, there’s no shortage of hotspots. The go-to venues for the fashion crowd tend to be Le Montana, Le Carmen, Le Baron and of course, Silencio. Meanwhile, Derrière and Le Tango are a couple underrated favorites.
Shopping, Shopping, Shopping:
Okay, where does one even begin when it comes to Paris’ shopping? This might as well be a guide of its own, as the fashion capital of the world is, by default, the shopping capital of the world. Let’s break it down piece by piece, focusing a bit on some of the best neighborhoods to get your own personal slice of Parisian chic.
Passy (Metro: Passy)
Start off in the 16e arrondissement, the peaceful, upscale quarter of Paris that embodies all of the dreams you’ve had of picturesque streets and authentic French culture. Of course, such a sophisticated area is bound to have some great shopping finds. Passy is a go-to neighborhood, featuring any major chain retailer you could imagine next to some of the most astonishing boutiques. While vintage isn’t Passy’s strong point, any second-time-around pieces you might find would only be the highest quality Chanel, Dior, Lanvin or other A-list Parisian labels. A postcard glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in between stores doesn’t quite hurt, either.
George V-Montaigne (Metro: George V; Alma-Marceau)
If Passy’s luxury finds don’t do the trick, George V and parallel Avenue Montaigne aren’t too far away. With the same beautiful scenery, old-fashioned buildings and fairytale-like cobblestone streets, this little area is home to some of Paris’ top maisons. For goods from the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, Chloé and many, many more, this area will definitely have what you seek.
Champs Élysées (Metro: Champs Élysées-Clemenceau; Franklin D. Roosevelt; George V; Charles de Gaulle-Étoile)
Just behind the quaint George V-Montaigne area is the hyper-famous Champs Élysées. It’s substantially less secluded than the former; you’ll be navigating through immense crowds of tourists along this celebrated street, which is finalized by the Arc de Triomphe in all its grandeur. However, there’s something enticing about the juxtaposition of commercial labels like H&M and Zara with luxury giants like Louis Vuitton. Whether or not you’ll find an adequate piece of Paris fashion is debatable, but you can’t leave Paris without stopping by the Champs Élysées.
Saint-Honoré, Vendôme, Madeleine and more (Metro: Concorde; Tuileries; Madeleine)
The entirety of the 1er arrondissement is like shopping heaven, set in possibly the most dreamlike area imaginable. Sure, it’s still a little touristy, as the Louvre and the Musée de l’Orangerie are both right down the street. Yet the unlimited supply of acclaimed retailers is unbeatable. Rue Saint-Honoré – which holds Balenciaga, Givenchy, Sandro, Saint Laurent, Hôtel Costes, Colette and countless other beautiful boutiques – runs directly into Place Vendôme, the drop-dead-gorgeous square that’s lined with hotels, restaurants and jewelers. The Marché Saint-Honoré offers a selection of spectacular eateries, too, all perfect for a quick break during what could easily be an all-day affair. Walk just a bit further, and you’ll be in the Madeleine neighborhood, which makes it seem as if shopping heaven will never end.
Haussmann (Metro: Opéra; Chaussée d’Antin-La Fayette; Auber; Havre-Caumartin)
And who says it has to end? Though the Grands Magasins on Boulevard Haussmann are virtually surrounded by Metro stations, you could easily walk from Madeleine after embarking on the previously suggested shopping excursion. If you crave the convenience of a department store, Haussmann is all about that, with Galeries Lafayette and Printemps right next to each other. And department store is putting it lightly, as both shops are like nothing you could ever imagine. Each one features separate stores of equal inventory for men, as well as beauty products, ready-to-wear, shoes, handbags, jewelry and more under one roof. And that’s not all. Lafayette Gourmet serves as a grocery store of sorts, only with the highest quality products around. Meanwhile, Brasserie Printemps next door offers a selection for more of a sit-down meal, all under an incredible stained-glass dome. Oh, Galeries Lafayette has one of those beautiful domes, too, don’t worry. Shoppers can even stop by the salon at the top of Printemps if they’d like to get pampered in between trying on all of those international designer outfits, and to top it all off, both retailers offer a 12% tax refund to foreigners. Yes, it’s a little overwhelming, and breaking down on the floor and crying tears of joy is a possibility.
Le Marais (Metro: Saint-Paul, Hôtel de Ville; Filles du Calvaire)
A vibrant neighborhood with even more history and culture, Le Marais spans between both the 3e and 4e arrondissements. Sure, there are some high-end designer boutiques, but it’s the world-renowned vintage shops and jaw-dropping art galleries that really set this area apart from the rest. Verging on the hipster side, Le Marais is quickly reinventing a modern idea of Parisian cool, with a lively youth culture and eclectic sense of style. You can find one-of-a-kind stores like the Broken Arm or Les Vignoles for those items that will have your friends back home feeling insanely jealous, while the expressive, fun neighborhood is home to plenty of places made cool simply by their appearances. A historically Jewish neighborhood, Le Marais is one of the very few places in Paris that you’ll find things open on a Sunday, which will definitely come in handy for your day-off shopping, dining or art-hunting desires.
Saint-Germain-des-Près (Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Près; Rue du Bac; Sèvres-Babylone)
It doesn’t get more “Parisian chic” than this. The quaint neighborhood that embodies Rive Gauche style is home to even more high-end designer boutiques, including Karl Lagerfeld, Alexis Mabille, Sonia Rykiel and just about any others you can think of. Though not as off-the-beaten-path as some of the side streets in Le Marais, Saint Germain is far more peaceful than many other overcrowded Parisian shopping districts. Le Bon Marché is a fantastic alternative to the department stores on Boulevard Haussmann, featuring an incredible inventory in a less chaotic environment. With tons of authentic French cuisine and cultured, educated inhabitants, it’s not hard to feel at home when finding your new favorite outfit.
Okay, so maybe it will be a little hard to find time for even half of these things during the rush of Paris Fashion Week. But there’s still so much more to mention in this incredible city, as beauty, art, fashion and inspiration all pop up just about everywhere. Keep these things in mind during your next visit to the City of Lights, whether you’re attending fashion shows or simply wandering around. Enjoy!
All photos in this article by Scott Shapiro