“Paris is always a good idea,” said an enthused Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, and millions of travelers agree. People are visiting the romantic City of Lights in record numbers. But where to stay once you’ve strolled the Champs Elysee: a full-service hotel or a DIY Airbnb? Both have their allures depending on your preferences.
When choosing a base location, keep the size of the city in mind, both for touring and safety. Paris spreads from the center out, with arrondissements -- or neighborhoods -- numbered concentrically starting with 1 at the center, then looping in small circles. These numbers are akin to postal codes.
For sightseeing purposes, the 1st through 6th arrondissements are all located near each other in the middle of the ring and are easy locations to explore from, as are those that comprise the next circle level. The 7th (where the Eiffel Tower is located) and 8th (Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees) are home to numerous hotels. The 9th through 11th arrondissements are also convenient places to stay.
Why Choose A Paris Hotel
In general, hotels provide you with an array of services that makes a trip to Paris as easy as saying bonjour. In large hotels, you can expect a concierge who can create detailed itineraries or make tough-to-get reservations; smaller hotels will have front desk staff who can help with directions and suggestions. Most hotels offer some sort of food and drink offerings, even if it’s just a light breakfast, and some have true restaurants and even room service, which means breakfast in bed. Plus, all hotels, no matter their size, will have housekeeping with fresh towels, toiletries, and crisp linens.
Paris is known for its petite hotels de charme -- properties that are small in size, often with similarly modest price tags but that deliver charm in buckets. In the sought-after 6th Arrondissement, Saint-Germain-des-Pres, you can find affordable gems such as the Artus, which has 26 rooms individually decorated in mod ’50s style and an ideal location on Rue de Buci near classic cafes and independent shops. It’s a personal favorite; when I stayed with my husband, the front desk recognized us after a day and offered up warm greetings -- usually by name -- each time we returned from our sightseeing excursions. The staff also offered personal suggestions for where to eat, shop, and stroll based on their preferences, which was a nice way to get an insider view of the neighborhood.
Another Paris hotel highlight: the grande dame “palace” hotels, so called for their palatial appointments, soaring ceilings, marble floors, and crystal chandeliers. A few that stand out include the Four Season George V, The Meurice, and The Shangri La. These large hotels often offer perks like swimming pools, decadent spas, decadent restaurants, private gardens, and elite concierges.
Once, when I stayed at the elaborate Shangri La, the concierge was able to procure sold-out tickets to a museum show along with access to a no-line entrance -- exactly the kind of VIP perk I had imagined from a five-star property. There was also dinner right downstairs at a Michelin-starred restaurant and champagne when I checked in and while touring the hotel’s historic wing, which was once the home of the Napoleon family, all of which were memorable Paris moments I enjoyed because I opted for hotel reservations.
Why Choose A Paris Airbnb
After I had visited Paris several times, I started thinking less about hotel amenities and more about space. Being able to stretch out and settle into a more homelike space when you travel is a highlight of staying in an Airbnb in Paris.
Since Airbnb consists of privately offered homestays -- both whole unit offerings and rooms in homes -- Airbnb Paris listings are often on residential blocks in the city where you won’t find hotels, so you’ll be able to immerse yourself more fully in French life. With a kitchen at your disposal, you can stock the pantry just like a local: Stop at a farmer’s market for fresh fruit, the boulangerie for fresh bread, and the patisserie for croissants for a truly French breakfast. You don’t need to cook, although you’ll definitely save money if you make even one dinner at “home,” but the convenience factor of having food at your disposal when you’re jet lagged is priceless.
Airbnbs also typically come with a local host, which gives you a unique opportunity to talk to a Paris resident who knows the neighborhood and can point you towards under-the-tourist-radar spots where a typical resident would go, even if it’s all via electronic communications. And Airbnb also offers curated experiences that allow you to plan your trip with one-stop-shopping, with everything from tickets to the Louvre to walking tours of the Catacombs.
Other Apartment Rentals
Another option in Paris is to use a vacation rental company. On a recent visit to Paris with my family, I rented an apartment using a specialized service called Paris Perfect. Unlike Airbnb, the company manages or owns a portfolio of properties, so although you’re getting a private residence, there’s a central agent to make a reservation through, sheet and towel service, available concierge services to make reservations and get suggestions (for an additional fee), and a local office where you can leave luggage, which is a great perk.
My apartment had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a duplex layout, and a modern kitchen, plus views of the Eiffel Tower and a tiny balcony just big enough for enjoying a glass of wine. It was heaven. A pastry shop just two doors away let us stock the kitchen for breakfasts at home, and we enjoyed our own wine-and-cheese happy hours in the spacious living room. And luckily, when my flight was delayed (and then canceled) having a management service on call allowed me to have a responsible professional to call who was able to extend my stay an additional night -- just like having a front desk at a hotel. For me, this wound up being the best of both hotel and rental worlds.
Note that whether you opt for a Paris hotel, Airbnb, or apartment rental, the further out you stay, the harder time you’ll have finding cabs or accessing the Metro, both of which can make for safety concerns in a new city. Also, be sure to read listing reviews, avoiding any that mention dark or abandoned buildings, streets, or neighborhoods. Always keep an eye out for pickpockets at popular tourist sights, and note that 112 is the equivalent of calling 911 in the United States.