48 hours alone in Paris

Scores of British couples will be celebrating dinner à deux in Paris tonight. But the French capital still has plenty to offer those savouring it tout seul - and best of all, there'll be no fights about who pays the bill, says Simon Calder
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The Independent Travel

A city for lovers? Sure, but Paris is also a superb destination for solo travellers, with art and architecture best savoured undistracted, and excellent places to eat and drink where lone visitors of either gender will feel comfortable.


A city for lovers? Sure, but Paris is also a superb destination for solo travellers, with art and architecture best savoured undistracted, and excellent places to eat and drink where lone visitors of either gender will feel comfortable.


Many of the lovebirds taking the Eurostar (08705 186 186, www.eurostar.com) to Paris this weekend are paying the top whack of £298 from London Waterloo to Gare du Nord. Plan a few weeks in advance and you should get a trip for the lowest fare of £59 return. Air fares from airports all over the UK to Charles de Gaulle airport start at around £70 return, but increase sharply close to departure, and at busy times. Compare fares on Air France (0845 0845 111, www.airfrance.com), British Airways (0870 850 9 850, www.ba.com), BMI (0870 60 70 555, www.flybmi.com) and easyJet (0870 600 0000, www.easyJet.com) and FlyBE (08705 676 676, www.flybe.com).

From the airport, the RER train takes about half an hour to reach Gare du Nord or Chatelet-Les Halles in the city centre; the €7.70 (£5.30) one-way ticket allows a transfer to any Metro station in central Paris.


The Grand Axe slices through the city from the Grande Arche de la Défense - one of the monuments created by François Mitterrand - to the Louvre. The Convention and Visitors Bureau is at 127 avenue des Champs-Elysées ( www.paris-touristoffice.com). Continue the line, in imagination, and you end up at Place de la Bastille - the location for another Mitterrand grand projet, the Opéra Bastille.


When Greta Garbo wanted to be alone, she chose the Lancaster at 7 rue de Berri (00 33 1 40 76 40 76; www.hotel-lancaster.fr), just off the Champs-Elysées. A night in one of the 60 individually styled rooms costs around €400 (£285). More centrally, you could be a star at the Hôtel du Septième Art at 20 rue St-Paul (00 33 1 44 54 85 00), which celebrates the silver screen and has comfortable single rooms at €75 (£51). The budget alternative is the youth hostel, close to the Bastille at 10 rue Trousseau (00 33 1 47 00 62 00, www.aijparis.com). A bed in a dorm costs €13 (£9), including breakfast.


Pay €10 (£7) for an all-day ticket at the Centre Georges Pompidou and ride the five-level escalator to the gallery. It opens 11am-8.50pm daily except Tuesday. Or for a free view of the world, wander into the entrance hall and find your place on the vast map on the floor.


The Marais, the ancient core of the Right Bank, is an area of the city that is much more practicable tout seul because of narrow streets and narrower trottoirs. Take a simple but rewarding slice through the Marais from the Pompidou Centre, heading east along rue Rambuteau, which continues into rue des Francs-Bourgeois and ends at the serene and symmetrical place des Vosges. Along the way, call in at Notre-Dame des Blancs-Monteaux (00 33 1 42 72 09 37; open 10am-noon and 4.30pm-7pm, 9am-noon on Sundays) and detour to see the Espace des Blancs-Manteaux - a market-turned-artspace.

At the Place des Vosges, visit the 17th-century mansion in the south-east corner at number 6. This is the Maison de Victor Hugo (00 33 1 42 72 10 16), where the writer lived in a second-floor apartment from 1832 to 1848 and wrote some of Les Misérables. It opens 10am-5.40pm daily except Monday, admission free.

To walk in company, join an organised two-hour tour by Paris Walks (00 33 1 48 09 21 40, www.paris-walks.com); €10 (£7) .


Explore the superb passages in the financial district. They are full of small, intriguing shops specialising in everything from art to underwear. A Métro ride to Grands Boulevards or Bourse places you close to the film-set Passage des Panoramas. Head south from here to view the mosaics and reliefs in the Galerie Vivienne. Just east is Passage Choiseul, where Papeterie Lavrut sells art materials and postcards.


Stay in Passage Choiseul. Eavesdrop on the other customers at Best Saveurs (00 33 1 40 15 90 22) at number 66. To touch base with home, at Planet Delices (almost opposite) log on to the web if your laptop is Wi-Fi capable.


Mona Lisa: miserable? Never. The Louvre is full of artworks to inspire the solo traveller. To confirm your suspicion of crowds, seek out Theodore Gericault's Raft of Medusa (in room 77 on the first floor of the Denon wing), which depicts shipwreck survivors jostling for space on a small raft. Another work that celebrates solitude is Pierrot (also known as Gilles) by the Flemish painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, in room 36 on the second floor of the Sully wing. View the harlequin figure and consider the nobility of being single.

It opens 9am-9.45pm on Monday and Wednesday, 9am-6pm Thurs-Sun; closed Tuesday. Admission is €8.50 (£5.80); free on the first Sunday of the month.


Une orgasme? That'll be €3.50 (£2.50) during the happy hour (4-7pm) at Cuba Compagnie, a trendy but friendly bar on the corner of rue du Chemin Vert and boulevard Beaumarchais. The cocktail contains vodka and grenadine. Or wear your heart on your sleeve by ordering a Desperados (beer laced with tequila) at the Café Crème on the Rue de Birague.


Pick somewhere small and friendly. Close to the Louvre, seek out the brasserie-restaurant Café de l'Epoque at the corner of rue de Bouloi and rue Croix des Petit Champs (00 33 1 42 52 36 00), for andouillette or steak and excellent wines. For a cheerful vegetarian option, try Piccolo Teatro on rue des Ecouffes (00 33 1 42 72 17 79).


Seek the company of a couple of saints, namely the first-century martyrs St Gervais and St Protais. The church named in their honour, facing Place St Gervais, has exquisitely carved misericords - and lots of 20th-century stained-glass, including a window on the south side that is a memorial to those who died on Good Friday 1918, when a shell from a long-range German shell hit the church and killed around 100 worshippers.


Find the shiny, modern Opéra Bastille. Walk beside it, along rue de Lyon, and look to the left to see a wall that marks the end of the old railway arches. Climb the stairs and you find yourself on the Promenade Plantée, a linear park. Glide for 20 minutes or so through the elevated gardens. Then descend, turn right and walk back along the Viaduc des Arts, a series of cafes and galleries that have filled the arches.


At the Café Viaduc, on the corner of rue Abel, the Sunday Jazz Brunch, from noon, costs €23 (£17), musique compris.

Alternatively, head for the Canal St-Martin, the elegant waterway that runs along the east side of the city centre. Where the canal meets rue des Recollets, Antoine et Lili is a relaxed café with Middle Eastern influences in both the cuisine (wraps, humous, juices) and the furnishings: low benches with bright cushions that clash cheerfully with the pink and red walls. Four other options are within 30 seconds' walk: Nashwa, La 25e Image (a café-gallery), Le Sportsman and L'Atmosphere.


An excellent way to see the city is to join one of the regulare tours offered by Paris à vélo c'est sympa!, at 22 rue Alphonse Baudin (00 33 1 48 87 60 01, www.parisvelosympa.com) - a two-hour guided ride costs €30 (£22). The Sunday afternoon jaunt is recommended because of the lack of traffic, but there is also an organised ride on Saturday morning. Book in advance.


Solo visitors to Paris get a more profound view of the city. Plumb the depths at Paris Historique, the organisation dedicated to preserving the capital's architectural heritage. Its headquarters at 44 rue Miron (00 33 1 48 87 74 31, www.paris-historique.org) occupy the ancient maison d'Ourscamp, which you can visit free of charge 11am-6pm daily except Sunday, when it opens 2pm-7pm. Don't miss the 13th-century cellar.