The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for the France and Monaco: Jennifer Virgilio
When you need something special for a trip to Paris, Jennifer waves her magic wand, et voila. She can make the line at the Eiffel Tower disappear, snag front-row seats for Fashion Week, or turn a seven-hour layover into a holiday. Her VIP meet-and-greet starts at the aircraft door (or the train car if you’re arriving in Paris on the Eurostar) and includes fast-track entry through immigration and customs to a waiting car—particularly helpful if you have small children, mobility issues, or lots of luggage. While Jennifer is best known for her à la carte concierge services—not just in Paris but in London (where she used to live) and Rome (where she currently lives, married to the general manager of one of the city’s most illustrious hotels)—her background in the airline and hotel businesses, and her stable of stellar guides (experts in a variety of fields), enable her to flawlessly execute elaborate multi-day itineraries as well. Her reach extends throughout France to Monaco, where she can get you tickets to the Ferrari pit during the Grand Prix or provide you with a well-stocked private yacht off the coast, and beyond Rome to the rest of Italy, where her fleet of cars with English-speaking drivers can get you seamlessly from point A to point B.
Things to Do and See
Most overrated experience
Dinner at the Eiffel Tower. You can’t actually see the tower when you’re inside it; there are better options nearby, where you can have a table with a grand view of the tower itself.
Most underrated places
There are many chateaux around Paris besides Versailles: Vaux le Vicomte (which was actually the model for Versailles), Fontainebleau, and Chantilly are historic and grand but lesser-known, so they’re not overrun by tourists the way Versailles is.
Père Lachaise Cemetery. Many great talents are buried here—including Jim Morrison and Frédéric Chopin—most beneath impressive monuments that tell a story. It’s like an outdoor museum, though you won’t forget that you’re in a cemetery.
The 61-acre Parc des Buttes Chaumont, in the 19th Arrondissement, is one of the city’s original parks, and it’s a convenient place for a rest if you’re already visiting Montmartre. It’s known for the Temple de la Sibylle, which sits atop an island in the middle of a lake, and for its bridges and waterfalls.
How to spend a lazy Sunday
Sunday mornings are the best time to walk around Paris while the city is still asleep. Take advantage of this quiet moment. Arrive for brunch early, especially if you’re dining at a hip Montmartre spot. Afterward, visit the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, a flea market that is open only on Sundays and Mondays. It’s in a very non-touristy area of Paris, and you’ll find antiques, inexpensive clothing, and North African dishes to taste.
Prime picnic spot
For first-timers, there’s nothing better than sitting on the Champ de Mars in the heart of Paris with that iconic view of the Eiffel Tower. Or set up in the Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful park near the Left Bank that’s perfect for a picnic after you’ve explored the Latin Quarter.
Where to Stay and What to Eat
Best splurge hotels that are a good value
France has a unique designation, “five-star palace,” for hotels with the highest standard of service (they’re often not actually historic palaces). The Hotel de Crillon recently reopened after a five-year facelift and will likely receive this designation, already enjoyed by the likes of the Ritz Paris, Hotel Plaza Athenee, and Le Bristol. The best value is typically found at the four-star level—think Hotel Mansart, Le Saint, or Nell Hotel & Suites—although there are five-star boutique hotels that offer great value, charm, and location, among them Relais Christine, Grand Hotel du Palais Royal, Le Nolinski, Splendide Royal, and Castille. In the end, what’s best depends on each traveler’s budget and preferences. My favorite hotels almost always include complimentary breakfast and other perks for my guests.
Restaurant the locals love
Restaurant Pages, in the 16th Arrondissement, is a Michelin-starred spot that doesn’t feel stuffy. It has an open kitchen and an affordable prix fixe lunch menu at about $45 per person.
La Closerie des Lilas, a formal restaurant and more casual brasserie on the Left Bank, has a long history that includes names such as Emile Zola and Paul Cézanne, and an authentic Parisian ambiance and décor. When dining in the brasserie order the escargot, a classic preparation of this quintessentially French dish.
Dishes to try
Pierre Hermé is one of the country’s best pastry chefs, and his macaroons never feel mass-produced; they melt in your mouth. For sweet and savory crepes and galettes, follow the locals to Breizh Café in the Marais.
Meal worth the splurge
The experience of dining once at a three-star Michelin restaurant is often enough, but not so at L’Arpege, where chef Alain Passard keeps people coming back again and again. His dishes focus on the vegetables he grows at his biodynamic farm just outside the city.
Spring or early autumn: The weather is lovely (not too hot or too cold), and school is still in session so the city is not overrun by kids. In June, the days are longest, the temperature is pleasant, and the cherry blossoms are in bloom. And it’s when Parisians spend many an evening on the docks of the Ile Saint Louis with a musical instrument, a bottle of wine, and some playing cards. Plus, there are events galore, from Shakespeare en plein air in the Bois de Boulogne to the Paris Air Show.
August. Many French companies and their employees go on holiday, and some restaurants, shops, and businesses are closed. Parisians are mostly gone, with only tourists left in the city.
Don’t wait until the last minute to book the Eiffel Tower, or you will waste time queuing for hours. Buy your tickets online ahead of time (they can sell out three months in advance in high season); arrive 20 minutes before your scheduled entrance for the security screening.
Beware trickster thieves. They are known to ask you to sign a petition or play a game, then try to pick your pocket or snatch something from you.
The Louvre at about 9pm, when it’s illuminated and there aren’t any crowds.
The Pont des Arts (formerly known as the Love Lock Bridge) before sunset, to capture the Seine at twilight.
For Eiffel Tower shots, go to Pont Bir-Hakeim at sunset, or take a stroll on Île aux Cygnes for a beautiful view of the tower from afar.
For something truly unique, I can arrange for you to design your own clothing with a designer or create your own perfume with a perfumier. We also sometimes hire photographers to trail you while you tour the city, artfully blending family portraits with vacation snapshots.
Some taxi drivers will take the longest route possible once they hear your accent. Negotiate the price before getting in, or ask your concierge or bellman for assistance.
Some vendors at the Saint-Ouen antiques market will also take advantage of foreigners. It’s a fun place to stroll, but if you are serious about buying and you don’t speak French, bring a guide who knows the sellers and will recognize pieces that aren’t authentic.
Citymapper is the best way to figure out how to get around the city efficiently by foot, bus, or metro.
Meteo Paris provides accurate weather conditions, which are always changing in Paris.
I can arrange for you to go behind the scenes at the Louvre with one of the museum’s art curators, visiting rooms not open to the public and learning in depth about the collection’s most famous works and undiscovered gems. Or take a “wine tour” through the Louvre: A curator will show you the role that wine plays in various works on display, followed by a wine tasting and dinner inside the museum when it is closed.
Do not trust the unlicensed taxi drivers who stand inside the airport offering rides; go to the queue outside for a licensed taxi, or arrange a private transfer ahead of time (Uber is another option, but not always a prompt one).
Tips are normally included at meals; check your bill to be sure. Typical guidelines are 10% at restaurants, one or two euros in taxis, 20-25 euros per day for a private driver, and 25 euros per half-day for a private guide.
Rain is a possibility at any time of year, so always bring closed-toe shoes, layers, and an umbrella.