Intimidatingly fashionable, historical and grand, there is no city quite like Paris, and no two trips there are ever the same. Oliver Hall experiences beauty, culture and debauchery, in equally important measures.

London’s St Pancras Station is bustling and whimsical as we walk up the Eurostar entry. The International Departures Lounge feels like we have entered another land as French shops, restaurants and cafes surround us, and eager musicians jump on the resident piano to busk.

This is part of the beauty of travelling Eurostar ( In a parallel universe, my partner and I are beginning our romantic break at dingy Luton airport, embarking on a noisy budget flight that will take us to Paris’ distant outskirts. Instead, we’re enjoying a cosmopolitan central London station and a seamlessly smooth train ride that will take us into the heart of the city of love.

Eurostar trains go tip to tip

We arrive on a cool, dark December evening, so we have searched to make sure we have a welcoming, well-located ‘home’ in a neighbourhood – just an easy Uber from the Gare du Nord.

Hotel De La Boétie (91 rue La Boétie) is exactly what we were looking for. Recently refurbished with vintage decor, original features painted with pops of vibrant colour and handmade finishing touches like the woven bed head give it a strong sense of old Paris meets new.

Hotel De La Boétie

Even better, the hotel is a stone’s throw from the Champs-Élysées, so we head out into the brisk Paris air to see the Arc de Triomphe, the mesmerising Christmas lights (far superior to London’s) and the gorgeous flagship shop fronts of Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton. Most glamorous of all, next to Louis Vuitton’s multilevel ‘Maison’, now sits a building designed to look like a giant piece of LV’s signature luggage. Due to open in 2026, this will become the fashion brand’s first hotel!

In the morning, we plan a typical tourist’s day for my partner’s first time in Paris, and how better to do this than over decadent French pastries? Tapisserie ( is a pâtisserie that comes highly recommended by locals. It looks rustic and quaint on the outside and serves a classic Kiwi flat white on the inside. Naturally, we order far too many sweet treats and leave with sore tummies and sugar highs.

Pastries at LaTapisserie

Walking down the Seine is the perfect way to burn off calories, and if it wasn’t for our limited time, we would book a boat cruise and jump off at the fabled Notre Dame Cathedral, which is due to reopen on Sunday 8 December this year, after fires severely damaged the building back in 2019. But instead, we turn left on Quai Francois Mitterand and head towards some iconic glass pyramids.

The Louvre ( remains an essential way to spend a day in Paris. From the juxtaposition of the historical facades that surround it to its sleek underground foyer and claustrophobic Egyptian tombs to soaring Greek pillars, you can always find something to surprise you.

The Louvre

For me, the most impressive parts of the Louvre are The Red Rooms, featuring huge masterpieces from the 18th and 19th centuries filling the walls. Some single paintings stand six metres high and ten metres wide and represent nearly a decade’s work.

If you like your men sculpted, bulging and hard as granite, The Michelangelo Gallery’s overview of Italian sculpture from the 16th to the 19th century should satisfy you. Finally, don’t go to see the Mona Lisa, go to view the throngs of international visitors trying to get pictures of her like rabid paparazzi!

If you prefer contemporary or modern art, the Palais de Tokyo and Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris further up the Seine (and Le Marais’ Centre Pompidou) present neon-bright exhibitions that offer a punk-like alternative to Paris’ chic perfection. Finally, for those who like to enjoy their art in tranquility, the Musée de l’Orangerie, featuring rooms dedicated to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies collection, is a perfect spot for quiet reflection.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was writing a Paris travel article for express (now YOUR ex), the Eiffel Tower’s media team led us past the two-and-a-half-hour queue and sent us to the top in the elevator reserved for service people and staff! Nineteen years on, they made it very clear that this would not be happening again. With a new online booking system, you can select a half-hour entry window that helps you avoid the long queues of the past.

Selfies aside, climbing to the top of the tower is a must because it shows what a perfectly planned city Paris is, as it expands in precise grids before your very eyes. (If only our cities would take note.)

The beautiful Basilique du Sacré-Coeur.

At this point, my original plan was to head over to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, which offers a view back at the tower from the top of Montmartre Hill, but friends are calling and demanding we come to Le Marais. When you get the opportunity for a night out in Paris’ gay district, you don’t say no!

At about 7pm this Wednesday night in early December, the bars are either packed (people screaming for the drag queen at Freedj can be heard down the street) or empty (bear bar Cox was bear-less), so we settle on a beer at the intimate Quetzal Bar as our friend Barbara takes us through plans for the night and corrals her mates into joining us.

Dinner at Aux Anysetiers Du Roy.

First stop will be dinner at the sublime Aux Anysetiers Du Roy (, a traditional French restaurant in a 17th-century building filled with period décor – with a menu to match. The French onion soup and boeuf bourguignon are fantastic, but nothing compared to the smoky, warming house cassoulet that still makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Dinner is followed by digestifs, and for the first time, I try Green Chartreuse – a herbaceous green liquor that makes absinthe look weak. It’s time to party, and there’s only one place we want to go!

Le Raidd (@raidd_paris) is infamous for its ‘shower shows!’ Studly strippers don’t appear on stage but instead in a shower cubicle built into the wall. As one friend put it, “They get clean – while you feel dirty!”

Shower time at Le Raidd.

The crowd at Le Raidd is a great mix of young bisexuals snogging everyone they know, international students dancing up a storm and middle-aged voyeuristic gay men cruising fellow onlookers. When the strippers aren’t soaping up, a drag queen is on stage, seeming quite hilarious despite us not understanding a word she’s saying. A brilliant DJ expertly mixes Sia into Rihanna into Beyonce and beyond. It’s 3am when we stagger out, and the party is showing no signs of stopping.

Feeling worse for wear, the next morning we thank the gods that we have a very different day planned. Versailles is a must-see and just a short train ride from central Paris. It’s a romantic, picturesque area affluent in history and architecture, and we have used to find the closest hotel to the Palace – Hôtel le Versailles (7 Rue Sainte-Anne). As promised, the hotel is cosy and plush, with a big bath tub to soak in before we have an evening that dramatically contrasts our previous night’s exploits.

We visit the Palace of Versailles’ ‘Royal Opera’ hall to see the ballet ‘Blanche Neige’ with costumes designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. There is a real buzz in the air as we enter the palace at night after all the cajoled tourists have departed. Everyone we pass is dressed to the nines and drinking champagne. The ballet turns out to be beautiful, but it’s not really the show that you’re there to see. It’s the gilded gold opulence of the ‘Royal Opera’ hall, once a ballroom welcoming the guests of Marie Antoinette. It does not disappoint.

We should have stopped for dinner at La Tour (, which has exemplary reviews and is perfectly aligned between our hotel and the Palace, but instead we decided to explore the picturesque town. Venturing deeper into the heart of Versailles, past picturesque churches and elegant boutiques, emerging into the marketplace and a cluster of bars packed with students, where (sensing that all the good restaurants had now closed) we ate some seriously undiscerning dishes and headed back to our hotel.

The next day, we explored the Palace and its gorgeous grounds, which, on a beautiful day, you could walk around for hours. Exploring Chateau de Versailles ( feels like each room is trying to outdo the other as each is even more ornate than the next. It climaxes in the famed Hall of Mirrors, where 357 large mirrors reflect the view over the gardens. The 43 lit chandeliers and 30 overhead mural compositions highlight the king’s various self-proclaimed prowesses and virtues. The more you learn about France’s historic royalty and aristocracy, the more the age of social media narcissism feels less far removed.

Returning back to Paris, we hear that Channel Tunnel staff have gone on strike and all trains have been cancelled. Eurostar are quick to get in touch and provide us with a hotel for the night, not to mention a Business Premier upgrade for the next day, so we’re thrilled.

I think about taking him to Montmartre as previously planned. We walk the cobbled streets lined with artists and soak in the bohemian atmosphere of this unexpected final night in Paris.

So why on Earth did we end up back at Raidd Bar instead?!

This time venturing on to a wild afterparty, where the staircase down to the basement dance floor descends over the roof-free men’s toilets!

Chef Raymond Blanc creates Eurostar’s Business Class Menu.

I can’t fathom what inspired us to make that decision, but I can tell you that the Bloody Mary’s in Eurostar’s Business Premier lounge and (Michelin-starred chef) Raymond Blanc’s on-board menu could not have been more appreciated.

This trip was supported by Eurostar and strongly believe that everyone should be able to experience the world as themselves and not be put in a position to choose between a bucket list adventure or personal wellbeing. Properties with‘s Travel Proud badge displayed show potential guests that they can expect to be warmly welcomed and accepted when they arrive at their destination.