Paris At Night:
7 Things to Do After Dark
in the City of Light
Paris is one of those world cities so grand that you could stay for years and never run out of new places to go and new things to do during the day. For all the many travel articles I see written about the city’s best museums and restaurants and macaron shops, however, there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the options for travelers once the sun goes down. Some are obvious backpacker favorites, others unknown neighborhoods full of Parisians but largely unbothered by the tourist hordes. It isn’t just in the catered chalets France can promise merriment and good times: all of these options will also make for a fun night in the City of Light.
Watch the Light Show on the Eiffel Tower
This is the classic ‘Paris by night on a budget’ option. Every hour on the hour from sunset till past midnight, the Eiffel Tower lights up with 20,00 flashing lights and for five minutes somehow manages to dominate the skyline of the city even more than it does during the rest of the day. Watch it from on high off the terrace at Trocadero, from just beneath on the Champ-de-Mars, or from any far point of the city. Almost certainly you’ll see it while you’re in Paris, shimmering on the skyline like a beacon to travelers from around the world. May as well make an event out of it!
Sitting (and Drinking Wine) on the Seine
Of course, for those more inclined towards wine simply sitting on the side of the Seine is one of the best possible spots to enjoy that hourly Eiffel Tower light show and watch the many Seine river cruise boats going by. When I was in Paris as a college student, this was one of the standard choices at night; the only real question being whether to go for the €5 or €10 bottle of wine. My last trip through, in April of this year, saw more time on river ships than on the shores themselves, but regardless of what side of the Seine you’re sitting on the views and ambience are always awesome and there are few better places to play at being a temporary hobo.
Explore the 1eme Arrondissement
The 1eme Arrondissement (1st District) of Paris is where as a tourist you’re going to spend most of your time. The Louvre Museum, Cathedral of Notre Dame, and Palais Royale are all here and by day there are seemingly countless museums and churches and art exhibits to explore. Come back at night, though, and since the exhibition spaces are closed the crowds are much thinner. As a bonus, the lights are on outside of all the amazing architecture that fills the center of Paris and the buildings become somehow even more photogenic than during the daytime.
Catch the New School Nightlife
If you’re looking for somewhere a little more lively to have a drink than the sides of the Seine, head instead to one of the many districts in Paris that are known for nightlife. Menil Montant, Republique, Bastille, and Bellville (for starters) are crowded with tiny bars that get stuffed with music fans who come for drinks and dancing and joie de vivre. While in town I managed to catch concerts in Menil Montant and Belleville, both in tiny spaces that I likely wouldn’t have found without the help of a local friend. Luckily, you don’t have to find either of them! Walking around any of these neighborhoods is an exercise accompanied by strained notes striking the ears from underground bands that even your snobbiest ‘Music Guy’ friend has never heard of.
Or, Explore Old School Nightlife
To be sure, Paris by night has long been dominated by singing and dancing: the cabaret. A little bit risque, a little bit over the top, and a lot cheesy; but definitely an experience to remember. My visit to the Paradis Latin Cabaret could have been better only if they had let me take pictures throughout the entirety of the show (keep that in mind – no photos are are allowed except during the Can Can and that only with permission). I have to admit that while this is not necessarily something I would have gone for on my own (I was in Paris doing some photography work, recall) the food was delicious and the show was entertaining and the dancers impressive. Especially after spending nights in places like Belleville going to more contemporary concerts, changing things up with one of Paris’ famous cabarets was an excellent counterpoint to complete the experience of being in the city.
For a truly panoramic view of Paris as the sun sets and the millions of individual lights of the cityscape start to light up, it actually is pretty hard to top the Montparnasse Tower. (Not impossible, of course, the Eiffel Tower and Tour First are both taller but the former is an essential part of the skyline and the latter isn’t open to the public.) The ambience inside the Tour Montparnasse is decidedly contrived and touristy, with big colorful displays pointing out all the notable buildings on the skyline and of course a cafe offering crepes and coffee and more. Up on the the open-air top floor, however, as the sun goes down and the wind picks up and all the color drains out of the sky and seems to run into the illuminated boulevards below? That feels a little more special, and a lot more enjoyable. Though seedy, Montparnasse is actually a barhopping area as well and so a trip to Tower could easily be combined with a couple of drinks out on the town.
For me, in terms of both photography and travel, one of the greatest joys is simply to wander. Whether in the center of the city watching street performers outside of the Opera Garnier (budding hopefuls, perhaps?) or out in the further districts as the day winds down and people take to the largest cafes and tiniest bars all throughout the city; it matters very little. What matters is that often regardless of the where, whether Paris or Peru, these meandering hours are most often the times that true *moments* offer themselves up and take the wanderer.
I was in Paris primarily to work as a photographer with GetYourGuide to shoot a number of their tours in the city. Of those mentioned here, the Montparnasse Tower and Seine River Cruise are probably the best value for good views at an inexpensive price, though I personally wasn’t crazy about the cruise. While looking for a place to stay in the city, budget travelers will want to check out these hostels in Paris for cheap accommodation. Otherwise, there are countless hotels in Paris.