Where to find bistro comforts, gilded French classics, and internationally inspired innovations in the always delicious French capital
Jolted by two lockdowns during 2020, Paris restaurants are thriving again. In August 2021, the city began requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination before entering restaurants, which boosted public confidence about indoor dining; it also helps that 80 percent of the French have now been vaccinated. So the scene is simmering again, with some fascinating new openings that show off not only how Paris has become deliciously cosmopolitan, but also reclaimed its status as one of the world’s favorite cities to eat.
The French capital is bustling with a brilliant constellation of restaurants by talented chefs from near and far: Menkicchi is maybe the best ramen shop in Paris, young Franco-Malian chef Mory Sacko cooks stunningly original Franco-African-Japanese dishes at MoSuke, and Korean-born chef Sukwon Yong shows off the growing influence of Asia on contemporary French cooking at the reboot of Le Bistrot Flaubert. Plus there’s an inventive and diverse array of casual dining options, like the affordable Café du Coin, excellent Montmartre bistro Le Maquis, and Parcelles, an outstanding new bistrot a vins in the Marais. There’s also been a renaissance of Paris’s long-established gastronomic landscape, with traditional bistros, brasseries, and stylish restaurants serving classic French cooking made famous by chef Auguste Escoffier, including dishes like blanquette de veau (veal in cream sauce) and pistachio souffles.
The bulk of Paris’s famed haute cuisine is fiscally out of reach for many. However Michelin-starred Comice, headed by Canadian chef Noam Gedalof and sommelier Etheliya Hananova (the two are married), is an indulgence that won’t completely melt your credit card. The look strikes a similar balance: elegant but relaxed, with striking arrangements from a renowned local florist. Hananova’s wine list — which features lesser-known wines from around the world — is terrific, as is Gedalof’s light, inventive contemporary French cooking. Try the duck foie gras with hazelnuts, strawberries, balsamic, and black pepper, or the roast chicken with polenta, wild mushrooms, and a salad of wild herbs. [$$$$]
2. Up at The O2
What is it? Ever wondered what London looks like from 53 metres above North Greenwich? Find out with a ticket for Up at The O2. The ultimate AAA pass gains you access to the roof, where you’ll be able to see across the capital, spotting famous sites like the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard and Canary Wharf.
Why go? For an incredible 360-degree view – and that adorable climbing onesie.
3. ArcelorMittal Orbit and slide
What is it? This network of curly-wurly red scaffolding lords it over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from its position right alongside the Olympic Stadium. Designed by the artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond, it stands 114.5m (376ft) tall – with lifts (and a 455-step staircase) up to two platforms from which you take in the interesting, if not entirely spectacular, view. There are also two of Kapoor’s entertaining distorting mirrors inside and the options to abseil or slide down to the ground.
Why go? Two things: the view and the slide. Hold on to your stomach and enjoy the speedy descent down the 12-loop corkscrew.
4. London Eye
What is it? Much like the Millenium Dome – or, as it’s known to those who don’t remember the twentieth century, the O2 Arena – the London Eye was built to celebrate the year 2000. Since then, the Eye has been a resounding success and it’s hard to picture London’s skyline without it. It rarely ever comes to a stop, so you won’t be standing on ceremony when you get on. Before you know it, you’re halfway into the sky and taking in sweeping vistas of the city.
Why go? The location. Not only does it offer a great view of the capital, but there are oodles of top attractions nearby.
5. Westminster Abbey
What is it? Like the Pantheon Crypt in Paris, where you can see the tombs and memorials to great figures from history, Westminster Abbey is a popular attraction to peruse the graves, tablets, busts and stone dedications. In fact, seventeen monarchs are buried here, along with dukes, countesses and history’s ‘celebs’ (Think Darwin, Dickens and Hardy). Founded by Benedictine monks in 960 AD, there have also been 16 royal weddings here and every single British coronation has taken place within the Abbey’s walls since 1066.
Why go? To see Gothic grandeur in all its splendour.
6. Buckingham Palace
What is it? A chance to see world-famous art, glimpse regal opulence and get inside HRH’s headquarters. Tourist and locals alike know the façade of Buckingham Palace, which stands at the end of The Mall. But it was only in 1913 that this addition was made, by King George V and Queen Mary. Before that, in 1633, the palace wasn’t even royal – it belonged to Lord Goring, who was forced to hand over ownership to the Royal Family (under King George III) due to a flaw in his contract. Poor chap.
Why go? To snoop around the most famous royal residence in the world.
7. Hampton Court Palace
What is it? A resplendent palace with plush grounds on the edge of south-west London. From the Tudor indoor tennis court to the Royal Maze, from the King’s private loo to the Magic Garden adventure playground, there’s something here for all ages. History buffs and art enthusiasts should purchase the ticket for the Palace and Gardens; those with little ones in tow will appreciate the Magic Garden and Maze ticket.
Why go? To get lost in the Royal Maze.
8. Houses of Parliament
What is it? The seat of British democracy. Take an audio tour through the House of Lords and House of Commons to bring the building to life. It takes around 90 minutes and features leading parliamentary figures such as Mr Speaker and Black Rod. Feeling fancy? Choose the tour that comes with afternoon tea beside the Thames.
Why go? For a dazzling combo of history, politics and architecture.
9. Madame Tussauds
What is it? In 1802 Marie Tussaud made her waxwork debut in the capital (32 years after she founded the show in Paris). By 1884 she decided to lay down permanent roots in Marylebone and she’s been there ever since (well, her legacy at least). Visitors to Madame Tussauds today will find some 300 lifelike models including contemporary actors such as George Clooney and historic icons like Einstein and Monroe. Elsewhere The Queen stands proudly on the Royal Balcony and stars like Zoella hang out in the YouTube zone.
Why go? To snap a selfie with all the famous faces. Instagram, incoming.
10. St Paul’s Cathedral
What is it? Iconic though St Paul’s may be, the cathedral as we know it today is in fact version six, at least. Mark five was razed to the ground by the Great Fire of London in 1666, mark three was also destroyed by fire, in 1087, and mark four fell to ruins under Henry VIII’s leadership. Thankfully Sir Christopher Wren’s design, which was completed in 1708, survived 12 monarchs and two world wars. If you’ve paid for main admission you’ll be treated to an introductory talk before being taken on a 90-minute tour.
Why go? To test your hearing in the Whispering Gallery.