Dubbed one of the world's most romantic cities, Paris is more than just a destination for love; it happens to be a thriving centre for art, fashion, gastronomy and culture – plenty to keep any creative soul happy and entertained.
With beautiful cobbled streets, appealing café culture and its central area along the River Seine classified as a UNESCO Heritage Site, it's no surprise that Paris welcomed over 22million visitors in 2015. There's literally history wherever you turn – from the 12th century Notre Dame Cathedral and the iconic Eiffel Tower to Montmartre's Basilica of Sacré-Cœur and the Sainte-Chapelle.
Whether you're passionate about art and culture, can't get enough of food, or simply want to find inspiration from the local design scene, Paris is unstoppable. As Ernest Hemingway famously wrote: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
Being something of a regular visit to the City of Light, I'll now try and share some insider tips on where to go – that's whether you're enjoying a little break, or are away on business.
The local creative scene
First things first, let's take a closer look at why Paris is one of the world's most vibrant creative cities. Recognised as an important hub for enterprise, this is a city where leading international ad agencies have more than just a "base" – think DDB France, Grey, M&C Saatchi, McCann, Ogilvy & Mather, Havas and TBWA\France.
Graphic design-wise, there's a wealth of independent studios including Playground, founded by Valentin Adam; Les Graphiquants, who are dishing out some excellent typographic-led work; Say What Studio, brought to you by founders Benoit Berger and Nathalie Kapagiannidi, and 84.Paris, an "ideas" agency working for brands as big as Google and Facebook.
Aside from the late great René Gruau, Paris is also home to plenty of famous illustrators. Ëlodie specialises in fashion and beauty and has illustrated for Stella McCartney, Nina Ricci and Victoria's Secret. There's Floriane Boishy whose client list includes the likes of Peugeot and Iveco. Then there's the cheeky Cécile Dormeau whose colourful animated gifs explore the ups and downs of adult life. And you have the mighty stylist Lili des Bellons, who continues to thrash out neon-fused artworks of the weird and wonderful.
This is also where the French office of the Central Illustration Agency is based, representing the likes of Rose Blake, Mick Brownfield, Mario Wagner and Lynnie Zulu – to name but a few.
Over on the digital side of things, Paris is really becoming "one to watch" in terms of innovation, with a fast-growing startup scene and many agencies breaking the mould and commanding projects from some of the world's biggest brands – Valtech, Hula-Hoop, Lieu Commun, En 3 Mots and Merci-Michel are worthy of a mention.
Where to co-work
For those who need somewhere to work, Paris offers plenty of decent co-working spaces. Hubsy has two locations – its Arts & Métiers base on Rue Réaumur is an industrial-style loft space, spread out over three levels. With high-speed wifi, self serve buffet, two meeting rooms and a printer – you have everything at your disposal.
Remix has four hubs across Paris, each one offering all the usual benefits of co-working. We like Small Stables on Cour des PetitesÉcurie. Or what about Coworkshop, located near two of the city's major train stations, Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est and close to the Saint Martin Canal in the 10th district. Extremely welcoming, you can just rock up and become part of the community.
Laptop is another great solution that offers hot desks by the hour or day, and flexible desks from Monday to Friday. Join a growing tribe of UX designers, developers, researchers and writers who populate this ecosystem.
For more ideas, check out Le Carte du Coworking, a handy online resource that shows you all the current co-working spaces in Paris, and how to find them – listing all of their details too.
Where to stay
Design lovers looking to be inspired by their accommodation should look no further than Hôtel Bachaumont, which was renovated by French industrial designer, Dorothée Meilichzon. With subtle Art Deco touches – a nod to the building's heritage – and a sophisticated colour palette, you'll feel like you've arrived in style.
Once a private bathhouse for the likes of Marcel Proust, a hotspot for the Bohemians of the Belle Époque, and a famed nightclub where Jagger and Bowie romped, Les Bains is gloriously back – this time, as a boutique hotel in Le Marais district of Paris. With distressed leather chairs and sofas in the "honesty" bar, a graffiti-clad enclosed patio, and statement carpets throughout – the hotel's stunning interiors will please any creative.
The rather different Five Hotel promises a unique "sensory experience" that will tease and awaken all of your senses. Based in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, this designer boutique hotel has "floating" beds with starry ceilings and, even better, is centrally located, so you'll have no trouble finding your way around.
Hotel Montalembert in the heart of Saint-Germain is just a few steps away from the Orsay and the Louvre museums, and is surrounded by designer stores, exclusive art galleries, antique shops, famous cafés (check out Café de Flore and Deux Magots) and the luxury department store, Le Bon Marché.
The Hotel des Academies et des Arts is a luxurious boutique hotel bursting with a mixture of modern and classic design, and it even supports the local art scene through regular exhibitions.
Need something cheaper? Generator is a design-led city centre hostel near Paris's Gare du Nord. It's super hip, super cool and the prices aren't too shabby either. On the hostel's ground floor, you'll find Café Fabien with its canteen and conservatory overlooking the garden. Head up to the 9th floor to discover Le Rooftop, with its bar and awe-inspiring views of Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre.
Where to shop
Arguably one of the most shopping-friendly cities on the planet, Paris offers something for all budgets and tastes.
Of course, when in Paris, one must absolutely try its macarons. And although the subject of fierce debate, some of the best are available at Pierre Herme. Combining beautiful design with a range of unusual flavours, these delectable and colourful delights are synonymous with French baking.
For treasure hunters, there’s no better place to visit than the Famous flea market, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. From vintage clothing to jewellery, books and records, you’re sure to find something here. For a more extensive collection of vintage and retro clothing, FREE’P’STAR sells both new-to-you clothing from the US, and its own designs made from upcycled fabric. With prices starting at €1, it will be difficult not to fill your suitcase.
If you’re creatively inclined then Montmartre’s Atelier Nota, will be up your street. A family-run business, all your stationery needs are bound to be fulfilled. Similarly, Colette is a wonderful place to while away an afternoon exploring creative fancy goods.
One for the music lovers, Toolbox Records has the work of over 10,000 artists. Whether you like your bass low or your beat fast, hidden gems are to be found here. If you favour more alternative rock or jazz artists, then Souffle Continu is perhaps more catered to your tastes. Born Bad Records specialises in the French rock scene, offering visitors the opportunity to take home the true sounds of Paris.
As with all European cities, you don’t have to stray far to find a cold beverage in Paris. If you’re a fan of fine wines, then welcome to heaven. And if you’re not, tantalising beers and cocktails are never more than a few yards away either.
Close to the Louvre is a popular bistro à vins called Les Fines Gueules, set in a handsome 18th century stone house. Sourcing its food from the best suppliers in Paris and serving up delicious local dishes, it also has an extensive wine menu.
Who doesn’t love a rooftop bar? Le Perchoir, described as one of the best rooftop bars in Paris, is known and frequented by the locals, which is normally a sign that somewhere is worth a visit. Before even considering the drink options, the view of Parisian rooftops is appealing enough. Kick back with a mojito and enjoy the scenery on offer.
For further glamour and historic surroundings, Pershing Hall near the Champs Elysées serves up champagne and cocktails in a luxury five-star hotel, formerly a building constructed for the Count of Paris at the end of the 18th century.
If you’re more of a sea than land kind of person, the Le Batofar is for you. All who board this boat are treated to a bar, nightclub and restaurant experience, with a soundtrack of electronic, hip-hop and alternative music.
Beer lovers should try People’s Drugstore, located in the vibrant district of Pigalle. Although not an actual bar, with 550 beers to choose from, it’s worth grabbing a couple and sitting on the sidewalk with the locals.
For an authentic taste of Parisian nightlife, try Aux Folies off rue de Belleville. You won’t find flashy interiors here, but if your French is good you may well meet some local artists. Wine and beer is extremely reasonably priced, which can in some way account for its popularity.
To ramp things up a notch without going full-blown clubbing, Le Repaire de Charonne is a 1980’s themed cocktail bar, which offers free arcade games such as Street Fighter and Pacman, alongside a soundtrack that’s guaranteed to have your toes tapping.
Love food? Since the late 18th century, Paris has been famous for its haute cuisine, and there are now 9,000 restaurants dotted around the city. Of course, the Michelin Guide has been a standard guide to French restaurants since 1900, awarding its highest award, three stars, to the best restaurants in France. In 2015, of the 29 Michelin three-star restaurants in France, nine are located in Paris. Mark my words, when it comes to top-class gastronomy, you will be spoilt for choice.
So where to eat? If you can stretch the wallet, try one of the best – that's what I say. Or at least book a table for lunch, as that tends to be cheaper. L'Ambroisie in the Place des Vosges is highly recommended. Le Cinq offers another taste of fine dining. Or how about L'Astrance where chef Pascal Barbot will no doubt prove that they deserve to be one of the 50 best restaurants in the world.
For something a little more relaxed, Cinq Mars on Rue de Verneuil is open for lunch and dinner, offering a menu full of rustic French treats – try the sausage with mashed potato. La Bocca Della Verita on Rue du Sabot is incredibly popular with the locals, serving quality Italian food daily. Or how about L'Osteria Dell'Anima – an Italian hidden gem with decent food and decent prices.
If European food is starting to become a little repetitive, try Godjo, an African restaurant in the St Victor area of Paris – try the sharing platters; they are to die for. To really enjoy something quirky, wander over to Le Derrière on the Rue des Gravilliers where smokers won't have to go outside but can find a secret smoking room full of taxidermy and candlelight, hidden behind a wardrobe. Intriguing.
For some relaxed food "on the go", you simply must try Le Marché des Enfants Rouges – a food market where you'll be able to try different cuisine from around the world, including Japanese bento, Italian homemade pasta or treats from Lebanon, Morocco and the Caribbean.
If you just want a quick break, to rest those weary legs, then check out Honor on Rue Du Faubourg St Honoré – it's Paris's first and only outdoor independent coffee shop serving fantastic coffee and cake. Or there's Folks & Sparrows on Rue Saint Sebastien, a café and speciality food emporium which brings a little of Brooklyn to Paris (its owner Franck used to live in the Big Apple).
Off the beaten track tourist recommendations
When in Paris, one simply must check out the usual tourist hotspots – the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, the Louvre museum (which happens to be the most visited in the world), the Musée National d'Art Moderne (which houses the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe), and its Musée d'Orsay (noted for its collection of French Impressionist art). But what about the less obvious stuff?
First up, why not discover the many passages or covered shopping malls of Paris, starting off with the Galerie Vivienne? Built in 1823 with mosaic floors, ornate ceilings and luxurious designer brands, it's perfect for a mooch. Or head over to Passage du Grand-Cerf nearby – expect to be wowed by its incredible glass roof.
59 Rivoli is a notorious former squat now transformed into 30 artists' studios, an exhibition space and a concert venue. The building's six stories and its art shows are free to everyone, and you'll particularly enjoy its colourful facade and art-covered internal staircases.
For something a little more unusual, the Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creatures might be worth a visit. Expect quite the dark collection, courtesy of owner Jacques Sirgent, an expert scholar on the undead.
If you can't get enough of culture, why not check out L'Entrepôt? It's a boutique cinema specialising in independent films, and there's even an art gallery on the top floor, including a restaurant and bar with regular live music. Or you could hop over to Montmartre to catch some music or poetry at the tiny, but historic, Au Lapin Agile – a place where Picasso and Matisse apparently used to drink and pay the bill with their artworks.
Perhaps you fancy exploring the La Petite Ceinture, a disused railway circling Paris that has become a haven for wildflowers and fauna. We'd also recommend a visit to Bibliothèque Nationale de France, a colossal library that houses what was once the world's largest book collection.
If the weather's nice and you fancy resting your legs, go find a spot in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Based in the northeastern side of Paris, it's a hidden gem that many locals don't even know about. With its own waterfall, lake, grotto and temple, it's perfect for a picnic and to lie back and reflect on your visit to Paris.