Ah, Paris. Sweet Paris. It’s the city of love, where young amorous hearts light up like the glittering Eiffel—blah, blah, blah. Move it along, will you? I’ve got a meeting in 10.
Look, Paris may have a reputation as the romance capital of Europe, but it’s also a major business hub—which means many Bostonians hopping daily direct flights from Logan are heading there for work, not wooing. That raises the question: How can time-pressed professionals make the most of a brief stay? The short answer: Secure a smart room, then make executive decisions about skipping certain tourist standbys in favor of more thoughtful, equally engaging picks. Allow us to explain, sans PowerPoint.
First, choose your home base. Work will probably take you to La Défense, the major business district just outside Paris proper. Like Boston’s Financial District, it’s a worker beehive that stops buzzing after 5 pm and on weekends (though events like food truck fests are starting to bring more energy to the area after office hours). Here’s where you’ll find the marvelous Meliá Paris La Défense, the largest four-star hotel to open in the city in the past decade. Looking like a glistening glass boat hull, it houses 369 hotel rooms as modern and spiffy as a Hugo Boss suit: Think charcoal and cream fabrics with orange accents—plus panoramic views over Paris. (Find them at the DJ-fueled Skyline Paris Lounge & Bar too.) You’ll start each morning with a workout at the 19th-floor fitness center overlooking the city, then graze on parfaits, charcuterie and other fancy French breakfast fare at the Level Lounge, reserved for guests who splurge on premium service. (Do it. It’s going on the company card.) By night, indulge at Le Miroir, the hotel’s restaurant—one of the best in the ’hood—serving modern Mediterranean cuisine in a trendy room with a wide wall of windows for unparalleled people watching on the esplanade.
Oh, about that. The Meliá is located basically atop the Esplanade de la Défense subway stop, so you’re under 10 minutes (Metro time, not MBTA time) from the touristy stuff, but at a brand-new hotel with better rates than comparable downtown options. Here are a few tips for making the most of your sightseeing time.
Everyone loves: Ascending the Eiffel Tower to see Paris from its highest point. (And snap kissy-face selfies, of course.) Smarter move: We’re not going to sniff at the appeal of such a landmark—but one of Paris’s lowest points will make for a more interesting status update. The Catacombs of Paris, dubbed the “world’s largest grave,” is a fascinating underground museum-maze whose labyrinthine corridors contain the bones of six million Parisians. There’s even a wall where some devoted couples sign their names. Till death do they part.
Everyone loves: Humming their favorite song from Disney’s Hunchback while visiting the Cathédrale Notre Dame. The Gothic wonder is certainly impressive—especially if you plod up the 387 steps of the tower tour, which offers amazing Seine views and a front-row audience with stone gargoyles. Smarter move: Notre Dame’s fame dwarfs that of the nearby chapel Sainte-Chapelle, but the smaller structure holds an awe-inspiring surprise on its second floor, where radiant stained glass scenes rise 50 feet high across four ribbed walls, casting brilliant and beautiful colored light. It’s a religious experience, and it’ll take way less time than fighting the larger crowds at Notre Dame—so you can still make time to hit Sacré-Coeur, a hilltop basilica that is the second highest point in Paris. After taking in the view, explore the charming shops and cafes below in the cobblestone-lined Montmartre neighborhood, still the beating heart of Paris’s bohemian arts scene.
Everyone loves: Crowding around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre or the impressionist masterworks at the Musée d’Orsay, some of the greatest art the world has ever seen. We get it, we get it. Smarter move: Yeah, everyone should go once. But at some of these institutions you’ll spend more time staring at the back of someone’s head than at the works on the wall. Throngs seem thinner at contemporary art destinations, even the well-known Centre Pompidou, a tube-covered creation from Renzo Piano (the Italian architect behind the new Gardner wing and the revamped Harvard Art Museums), which looks like a hamster Habitrail but is actually Europe’s largest modern art museum. And still being discovered is Fondation Louis Vuitton, a $143 million contemporary art museum holding works from artists from Basquiat to Warhol, which the famous French fashion house opened in October 2014. Its Frank Gehry-designed building, which resembles a boat unfurling glass sails, is architectural art too.
-Meliá Paris La Défense is located near the stark concrete Grande Arche, opened in ’89 after a design contest that aimed to create a contemporary bookend to the Arc de Triomphe at the other end of the Champs-Élysées.
-Besides Le Miroir, most of the good food is to be found beyond La Défense. But wine? You’re covered with Apogé, a wine shop/bar with an ample terrace, where you can sample any of the 200-plus varietals before buying.
Apogé 21 Esplanade du Général de Gaulle, Paris, apoge.fr
Centre Pompidou Place Georges-Pompidou, Paris, centrepompidou.fr
Les Catacombes de Paris 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, Paris, catacombes.paris.fr
Fondation Louis Vuitton 8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Paris, fondationlouisvuitton.fr
Meliá Paris La Défense 2 Esplanade du Général de Gaulle, Courbevoie, melia.com
Sacré-Coeur 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, Paris, sacre-coeur-montmartre.com
Sainte-Chapelle 4 Boulevard du Palais, Paris, sainte-chapelle.monuments-nationaux.fr