17 May City of Love: romantic things to do in Paris
There is no escaping the romance of Paris. In the early 19th century Paris revelled in the artistic and literary liberation of Romanticism, yet this graceful city has always inspired love. It permeates through the city where loved-up couples laze in its manicured gardens, get intimate in candlelit wine bars and stroll along the Seine arm-in-arm at sunset. The opportunities for romance are endless but here are our top picks of romantic things to do in the City of Love.
1. Take in the view from the Eiffel Tower
It’s no surprise why the Eiffel Tower witnesses so many marriage proposals: scaling the three floors of the 324m Parisian icon to the sweeping panoramic views of the city is utterly romantic – and even more irresistible with a glass of pink Champagne in hand at the top-floor Champagne Bar. Rev up the romance stakes with an ascent after-dark when the tower sparkles every hour on the hour with 20,000 gold lights.
2. Say ‘Je t’aime’ in Montmartre
Montmartre and its signature Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart Basilica) is a place of pilgrimage for romantics as well as the religious. Steep staircases scale the hillside to the basilica’s lofty dove-white domes, from where vistas of the city – from the front steps or from inside its main dome – are second to none.
Delve into the fabled heart of this artist neighbourhood at the Musée de Montmartre, set in the 17th-century manor where Impressionist painter Renoir and later Realist painter Suzanne Valadon had studios. The intimate garden here – rope swing hung from a tree evocative of Renoir’s The Swing (1876) – is particularly romantic.
Weave your way to place des Abbesses and discover how to say ‘Je t’aime’ in 250 languages on the Les Mur des Je t’aime (lesjetaime.com). Dedicated to love, the I Love You Wall, painted on enamelled lava tiles, is the creation of artists Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito.
3. Admire the French Romantics
From place des Abbesses walk south to the Musée de la Vie Romantique, incongruous yet still at home in red-light Pigalle. The romantic mansion with green shutters and tangled garden sits in a cobbled courtyard at the end of a tree-shaded alley. Writer George Sand and painter Ary Scheffer lived here, and objects exhibited create a wonderful flashback to Romantic-era Paris when Chopin, Delacroix et al attended salons in the house.
Admire works by Romantic painter Delacroix in the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay (in either museum hook up with THATLou for a love-themed treasure hunt). Or head to Delacroix’s studio-home Musée National Eugène Delacroix to peek at more intimate works like An Unmade Bed (1828). In the genre of sculpture Rodin was the man: be inspired by his The Kiss (1889) and other curvaceous works at the Musée Rodin.
Writer Victor Hugo was another great French Romantic, inspired by Notre Dame. Get close to him at house-museum Maison de Victor Hugo on place des Vosges – a city square full of romancing couples on warm days.
4. Discover covered passageways
Indulge in the romantic nostalgia of 19th-century Paris in the Right Bank’s covered shopping arcades. Browse antique and secondhand bookshops in Passage Verdeau (metro Grands Boulevards, 10th arrondissement), and doll house miniatures and old-fashioned toys in Passage Jouffroy. Tea room Le Valentin (restaurantparis9.fr) seduces with homemade gâteaux (cakes).
Stroll south to Passage des Panoramas (2nd arrondissement), the first arcade to be lit with gas lamps in 1817. Vintage boutiques burst with collectibles here (stamps, coins, medals, postcards etc) and old-world bistros mix with on-the-trend eating addresses like gluten-free Noglu (noglu.fr) and Philippe Starck’s Caffè Stern in an old engraving workshop.
From Passage des Panoramas continue to Jardin du Palais Royal, wrapped within the elegant arches of Galerie de Montpensier and Galerie de Valois. Guy Martin’s gastronomic Le Grand Véfour here is the last word in 18th-century opulence.
5. Stroll arm-in-arm down Canal St-Martin
There is no finer spot for a romantic stroll or cycle than along the shaded 19th-century tow paths of tranquil Canal St-Martin. Linger on the iron footbridge by the intersection of rue de la Grange and quai de Jemmapes to watch the vintage road bridge swing open to let canal boats pass. Or grab a waterside pew at Chez Prune to boat-watch and fall in love with this fashionable Soho-boho quartier.
For lunch feast on traditional French in the vintage romance of Le Chansionnier or play it cool with a bottle of wine from Le Verre Volé and a pizza and pink helium balloon to take away from Pink Flamingo.
6. Take to the water
There is a certain romance to sailing down the Seine on a Bateaux Parisiens or Bateaux Mouches river cruise. But two in a boat is more memorable. Head to the Bois de Boulogne to glide in a rowing boat around Lac Inférieur – romance and serenity guaranteed. Afterwards make your way through the woods to Jardin Shakespeare where plants, flowers and trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays grow. Summertime performances in the garden’s delightful open-air theatre are magic.
7. Dinner for two
Les Ombres and Café Branly have splendid Eiffel Tower views, certain to set hearts aflutter any time of year. In summer warm Paris evenings woo lovers with a stunning rooftop garden at La Tour d’Argent (latourdargent.com), cobbled courtyard dining at Derrière, and romantic dining beneath the stars on cafe terraces all over the city.
The maze of candlelit rooms inside a vine-clad 17th-century townhouse in the 5th arrondissement at Le Coupe-Chou is overwhelmingly romantic – as are the tables between art nouveau columns at Mini Palais in Grand Palais. Top choices for a romantic lunch are the gravel terrace of Le Saut du Loup near the Louvre or Le Frank at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Bois de Boulogne. Feast on aphrodisiac oysters at Au Rocher de Cancale – a favourite since 1804 – or pair a dozen with wine at Le Baron Rouge then whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ears while gorging at dessert restaurant Dessance.
Paris’ most romantic hotels
- The ultimate place to stay is black-clad Hôtel Amour in the increasingly trendy 9th arrondissement.
- Luxurious choices loaded with history, romance and seductive gardens include Hôtel du Jeu de Paume on Île St-Louis and Le Pavillon de la Reine in a courtyard off place des Vosges.
- Opt for a rose petal-covered levitating bed beneath a starry ceiling at contemporary romantic The Five Hotel.
- The decor alone at midrange options Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais, Hôtel du Petit Moulin and Hôtel Félicien sweeps romantics off their feet.
- Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of a free bed between bookshelves at riverside bookshop Shakespeare and Company – a night here is the stuff of romance.
- Stylish doubles with private terrace at Generator Hostel (generatorhostels.com) overlook Montmartre – or go for a dorm bed with bathroom art declaring ‘je pense que je t’aime’ (I think I love you).