Report Card: Does Paris Make the Grade
Pretty pictures of a beautiful travel destination are enticing, but not enough to base a decision on. Smart travelers know they need to weigh all of the options before pulling the trigger and booking airfare.
What is there to do? How easy is it to get around? Will there be anything you'll enjoy eating? How difficult is it to visit on a budget?
To answer these and other questions, we've created the first in our series of Travel Report Cards, assessing accommodations, dining, attractions and more to provide a comprehensive ranking system. As 38 million tourists visited Greater Paris last year, we decided to make the City of Light our first pupil.
Did Paris make the grade? Read on!
In 2018, more than 72 million passengers moved through Paris' Charles de Gaulle international airport (aka Roissy), the 10th busiest airport in the world and the second-busiest in Europe.
The good news about the airport? You'll have no trouble finding a flight. More than 150 different airlines fly through it, meaning you can also easily redeem or collect miles no matter what your trusted airline is.
The bad news? Its on-time performance leaves much to be desired. In AirHelp's recent airport rankings, it got a poor 5.8/10 score in the category of timeliness. So while booking a flight is stress-free, you may not arrive when you want to — which is decidedly stress-inducing.
Paris — home to the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, flaky croissants, Nutella-stuffed crepes and to-die-for stinky cheese — is one of the first cities people think of when they think of fantastic cuisine. And the numbers confirm that it is indeed the creme de la creme of foodie cities.
Since 1926, Michelin has been awarding star ratings to the finest restaurants in the world, and when it comes to this particular honor, Paris is nearly on top. As of 2019, Paris is home to 123 Michelin stars — second only to Tokyo.
In general, travelers love its cuisine more than any other city except Florence and Rome (stiff competition) and its sheer volume of restaurants — 40,000 — impresses.
If there's one thing that really hurts the food scene, it's the affordability factor; this is one of the priciest spots on earth to eat a dinner out. The city's extremely rich cuisine can also be a bit of an acquired taste, and it's not particularly healthy, if that's important to you.
Together, these factors prevent the city's food scene from nabbing A marks, though of course it's still very good on the whole.
As of 2017, Paris touted 140,00 hotel rooms, the third-highest number in the world (only resort-happy Orlando and Las Vegas have it beat).
Those seeking luxury have access to some of the poshest accommodations on earth; the city lands at No. 4 on the list of the cities with the most five-star hotels, with 56 properties earning this prestigious distinction.
Seeking more affordable options? Paris has the second-largest number of active Airbnb listings in the world: 38,522, with a reasonable average price of $118 a night.
Finding a place to stay, on pretty much any budget, is no problem here.
Paris has more museums than any other city in the world — 297! — and 36 more than the runner-up, Moscow. Some of the world's biggest collections of art are found within its hallowed buildings, such as the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, the Rodin Museum and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Centre Pompidou.
Not only could you practically spend 300 days sampling all of the museums, but you can see the world's largest (the Louvre) and the world's best (d'Orsay).
We just wish Paris would take a page out of London's book and offer free entry rather than making us shell out tons of Euros to see what's inside...
More than 1.5 billion people ride the Paris Metro, a sprawling system encompassing 14 lines and 245 stations across 54 square miles. It's one of the busiest Metro systems in the world, and considered one of the cleanest and easiest to use. Plus, visitors don't need to speak French to understand the map and the ticketing system, both of which feature numerous languages. And it's very safe to boot.
So why doesn't it get top marks? The system is old, dating back to 1900, and shows its age in issues with comfort and accessibility.
All told, 68 percent of people are satisfied with public transportation in Paris — quite good, but not as high as cities including London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chicago, Moscow and Madrid.
If you'd rather hail a taxi, there are 20,000 driving around the city 24 hours a day, though cabbies here aren't always the most polite. Uber, meanwhile, is available for ride-sharing.
In a city that is more than 2,000 years old, you are bound to find something historic at every turn. Of course, the city's iconic Notre Dame cathedral, constructed between 1163 and 1345, caught on fire earlier this year and was practically destroyed, but the city will keep its beloved church standing, vowing to rebuild it exactly as it looked before. Much of the original building remains, including the dual bell towers, meaning history is intact.
Other historic sites that draw visitors are the Arc de Triomphe, celebrating Napoleon's victories; the 19th-century landmark Eiffel Tower; and even the Louvre Museum, housed in a former grand palace.
Even if children couldn't care less about art and history, they will love a trip to Paris. From riding the Ferris Wheel and enjoying other amusements in Jardin d'Acclimation, to splashing in fountains and picnicking in parks, to tasting delicious chocolates at the Chocolate Museum and decadent macaroons at local bakeries, little ones have plenty to do and see.
Plus, the city is home to one of the most-visited amusement parks in Europe: Disneyland Paris. More than 320 million people have visited this theme park since it opened in 1992 — it accounts for just over 6 percent of France's tourism!
As the French skincare company L'Oréal says, "Because We're Worth It." That could very well be Paris' own tagline — this city knows it has the goods. And that means it will cost you a bit more to visit than most cities.
According to a recent study of the most expensive vacation destinations in the world, Paris is the 23rd most-expensive city on earth to visit. It will cost you more than $200 per day, per person to stay, eat and play in Paris, which means one five-day trip will set you back a grand.
And that doesn't include airfare or, for that matter, shopping. (This is, after all, the birthplace of fashion, including Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Louis Vuitton.)
Is it worth it? Yes.
Do we have to be happy about it? No.
While Paris isn't cheap, this doesn't mean you need multiple credit cards to truly experience the city's charm. If you play it smart, you'll find a number of ways to enjoy the city without spending a dime.
It costs zero dollars to stroll through the city's sprawling gardens, such as the Jardins des Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens, and massive boulevards like the Champs Elysees.
It's also free to visit the Musee de la Sculpture en Plein Air, the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and the Maison Victor Hugo, as well as over a dozen additional free museums in the city. Many museums also offer free entry on the first Sunday of every month and Bastille Day, including the Louvre.
One of Paris' many nicknames is "City of Love," and it seems everywhere you turn, there are couples holding hands and locked in an embrace. "Travel+Leisure" even recently rated Paris as the most romantic city in the world.
Lovebirds just can't resist this city where French wine and champagne flow freely; where attractions include the "love locks" bridge and charming streets with nooks seemingly designed for a private kiss; and where the lights twinkling off the Eiffel Tower at night look like something out of a dream. Ooh la la.
The romance of Paris can be found in film, as well, including "Funny Face" with Audrey Hepburn and Woody Allen's love story to the city, "Midnight in Paris."
Paris stretches more than 40 square miles and is filled with 2.1 million people. A very cosmopolitan city, it isn't known for its parks and gardens, although the Champ de Mars park directly in front of the Eiffel Tower is a top spot for picnics because it affords the city's best view. (You can also drink in the park, unlike American parks!)
It may feel like the city is filled with concrete more than gardens, but there are actually 450+ parks and gardens with more than 250,000 trees in Paris, including the beautiful Luxembourg Garden and the Tuileries Garden near the Louvre, both perfect for picnics near statues and flowers.
Still, if outdoor adventure is what you're looking for, this is far from the best European city to find it. (Try Lucerne, Switzerland; Capri, Italy; or Corfu, Greece instead.)
Live Entertainment & Nightlife
From the famed Paris Opera House to the leggy dances of the Moulin Rouge, which has been providing live entertainment since 1889, Paris is a hotbed for music and theater.
Burlesque, especially popular in the mid- to-late 1800s, was the rage in Paris when the Moulin Rouge featured barely dressed dancers and champagne was served by the bucket beneath the red windmill in the Montmarte district. Today, shows sell out for theatergoers looking to step back in time to experience cabaret shows.
Are modern theater shows what you're looking for? Watch them at nearly 150 top-notch venues.
When you're done enjoying live entertainment, finding a libation to cap off the night is easy. Be sure to sample an old-fashioned cocktail at Harry's New York Bar, complete with mustachioed bartenders serving drinks in the same venue Ernest Hemingway was known to frequent during his Parisian days.
If for some reason, you — yawn — get tired of Paris, never fear, as there are day trips that will delight you. A simple train ride will have you at the sprawling Palace of Versailles within an hour.
With a little more time on the road, you can visit Monet's former home and understand why his gardens inspired so many paintings. Farther beyond, you can make a somber visit to Normandy Beach to see where thousands of soldiers, many from America, lost their lives on D-Day, or to the castle on an island, the Mont Saint-Michel.
All told, Paris and its surrounding attractions warrant a couple of weeks to see and do it all.
There are cities renowned for their annual festivals — think Pamplona with its Running of the Bulls — that provide an extra reason to visit. And there are certainly a few annual celebrations worth visiting Paris for.
The city celebrates its day of independence, Bastille Day, on July 14, bringing military parades and flyovers. It's also the only day of the year that the Eiffel Tower shoots fireworks from its frame.
Spending New Year's Eve in Paris is also popular. And Parisian sports fans head to the City of Light when the Tour de France bicycle race comes to an end in the city. After riding 2,175 miles, the winner hits the finish line on the Champs-Elysées at the Place de la Concorde.
That said, festivals and festivities just aren't a big thing in Paris. Its competition, London, has the Chelsea Flower Show, the Trooping of the Colour, the Proms and many carnivals, outside of its holiday celebrations.
Paris could step it up and serve as home to more annual events for travelers to book a vacation around.
As anyone following the news is aware, Paris has become a target of terrorism in recent years. In May 2018, a stabbing took place near the Garnier Opera; the year before, numerous attacks were reported near Notre Dame, the Champs-Élysées and the Louvre. In November 2015, the deadliest attack in France's history happened at a concert, when 90 people were killed during a siege, with multiple suicide bombings coinciding with the attack.
While scary, though, these headlines hardly tell the whole story of the city. In fact, the data site SafeAround gives the city a respectable 67.4 out of 100 on its index, landing it at No. 41 on the list of 148 countries. The Overseas Security Advisory Council also deems Paris to be generally safe, though it does note that it's relatively common for pickpockets to prey on tourists (many pickpockets are children under the age of 16, as they are less likely to be arrested or prosecuted).
Is this the safest city in the world? Not really. Is it truly dangerous? Not at all. The city is well aware of its position and is heavy on security at all times. There are risks, as with anywhere, but you should be just fine.
How do travelers feel about Paris overall?
According to TripAdvisor, tourists love a lot about the city.
More than 134,000 people have visited the Eiffel Tower, and 92 percent of them rank it as "excellent" or "good." The same share of people give those top marks to the Arc de Triomphe, and 93 percent adore the Notre Dame Cathedral (and that includes reviews from after the fire).
All told, dozens of attractions in the city earn at least a 4.5 out of 5 rating from travelers, a truly impressive feat.
The people have spoken and...they love what Paris has to offer.
Making the Grade
So, how does Paris rank after factoring in all of the needs of travelers? After averaging all the scores, we find that Paris doesn't quite get top marks. Still, scoring "As" in more than half of the items on our list should be an indication that Paris is as worthy as the majority of travelers say it is.
Despite not excelling in every category, "Far and Wide" highly recommends visiting Paris. What are you waiting for?
FINAL GRADE: B+