Each week, Yahoo Travel pits rival destinations against each other to determine once and for all which one is the best. Up this week are two European capitals: Paris and London.
The Case for Paris
By Wendy Lyn
Since Paris is much smaller than London, its center and outlying quartiers can be navigated in a short period of time. Instead of jam-packed schedules and crowding into the massive tourist-laden museums such as the Louvre, visitors are now taking long weekend breaks to spend time outdoors exploring the city’s authentic neighborhoods to get a feel for how Parisians really live and play. In just a few days, they can eat in the superhot 11th arrondissement restaurants (Bones, Septime, the Clown Bar); sip late-night cocktails on hidden rooftops (Le Perchoir) and in underground caverns (Lockwood); go for an early-morning hike through the cobblestone streets of Edith Piaf’s Belleville before lunch at Le Baratin wine bar; and picnic along the Canal Saint-Martin, where barge pilots steer through the narrow waterways.
Marion Cotillard (Photo: Getty Images)
Population: 2.5 million.
Famous faces: Jane Birkin, Olivia de Havilland, Marion Cotillard, Lenny Kravitz, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Natalie Portman, Hillary Swank, Olivier Martinez, Halle Berry, Matt Damon.
Uber taxi services are popular in Paris. (Photo: Getty Images)
Popular way to get around town: Forget taking a taxi; the affordable car service Uber is all the rage. Simply download the app using a credit card, tap it when you need a car, and the GPS locator tells the driver exactly where you are. Bonus? You don’t need to know your address or speak French. The driver sends a text that he is en route; attaches his photo, name, and contact information; and shows his current location and arrival time in real time. Once in the car, you get cold water bottles, iPhone chargers, and A/C. When you leave the car, no cash is needed and the tip is included.
The crowds at L’Avant Comptoir (Photo: Twitter)
Great food that gets ridiculously long lines: Yves Camdeborde’s wildly popular L’Avant Comptoir (hidden behind a crepes stand in St. Germain) is the hot spot where you can find Parisian and international food personalities elbow to elbow around the massive zinc bar seven days a week. They’re tucking into bricks of salted Bordier butter and crusty loaves of Thierry Breton bread, and sipping natural wine while choosing from the extensive hors d’oeuvres menu. Don’t miss the crazy-delicious duck confit sausage hot dog or the ham and artichoke waffle.
Related: Paris — the Cool Kid’s Guide
Why it’s fun to visit: Who doesn’t dream of a trip to Paris? Just don’t go in August when the entire country is at the beach!
The lobby of the Hotel Peninsula (Photo: Hotel Peninsula)
Grand hotels to take your breath away: With the opening of the luxurious Hotel Peninsula, many of the other hotels in Paris are stepping it up — from the Ritz and the Plaza Athénée (both reopening soon) to the Crillon (closed until 2015 for an overhaul). Just steps from the Arc de Triomphe, the Peninsula “hand-picked” France’s finest artisans six years ago to restore the 19th-century Haussmanian building. The hotel’s elegant L’Oiseau Blanc rooftop terrace bar and restaurant boasts breathtaking views over Paris.
The coffee and sweets at Fondation Cafe (Photo: Fondation Café/Facebook)
Pick your buzz — coffee or tea: Truly great coffee has eluded Parisians and its visitors for years, until a host of young entrepreneurs from Australia and France recently discovered this gap in the market. Today, fantastic coffee roasters and espresso bars doing bean to cup can be found throughout the city. Especially popular are the Fondation Café in NOMA (North Marais) and the Belleville Brulerie, which supplies many of the cool coffee houses with top-sourced freshly roasted beans and hosts weekend “cupping” parties.
Sip rosé in Provence (Photo: John Brosz/Flickr)
Urban escape: Provence for the day? Why not? A 7 a.m. departure on the TGV from Paris’s Gare du Lyon takes you to Avignon by 9:30 a.m., where you can rent a convertible directly at the station. Within minutes you’ll be driving through rosé vineyards west towards Uzès, a stunning little town where you can stock up on local wine, goat cheese, cherries, and apricots at the farmers’ market and head to the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, which spans the Gardon River, for picnicking and swimming. Take the 6 p.m. train back to Paris and arrive at 8:30 p.m., just in time for dinner at 9 p.m.
The rooftop bar at Le Pechoir (Photo: PetiteMoiParis/Flickr)
Best watering holes: Rooftop bars and restaurants are taking over the city, thanks to the team behind the Le Perchoir (the bird’s nest) in the 11th arrondissement, where tapas, cocktails, and stunning 360-degree views of the Paris skyline caused a stampede when it opened last summer. Now it’s just launched the second location behind the BHV department store in the Marais and a supertrendy new concept on a riverboat just past the Eiffel Tower called La Passerelle, where cocktails, barbecue, music, and views are luring Parisians to the west after hours.
The scene at Buttes-Chaumont park (Photo: Evan Bench/Flickr)
Green space: The Tuileries and Luxembourg? Been there, done that. These days Parisians are headed to northeast Paris. Opt for long summer evenings lounging on the Canal Saint-Martin with stops at Christopher Vasseur’s gorgeous Du Pain et des Idées bakery for his lemon nougat “escargot” buns or bottles to go from Le Verre Volé wine bistro, or the new O Divin Epicerie (deli-wine shop) in Belleville to pick up custom gourmet baguette sandwiches, wine, charcuterie, and cheese plates to picnic in the hilly lake-filled Buttes-Chaumont park with jaw-dropping citywide views of Paris.
Wendy Lyn blogs about Paris for her website the Paris Kitchen and also leads culinary-themed tours of the city; the Wall Street Journal named her one of the top 10 culinary guides in Europe.
The Case for London
By Annie Fitzsimmons
London is the ultimate dynamo, the capital that easily beats the rest of the world’s great cities, even dreamy Paris. The diversity in London is unparalleled and is reflected in a food scene that many consider the best in the world. Its historic grandeur finds an equal match in its embrace of cutting-edge trends and culture. While it is an action-packed urban expanse, London has endless intimate corners of tranquility and peace. Every single one of its distinct neighborhoods, from classic enclaves like Chelsea and Notting Hill to trend-setting East London, feels more like a small village and gives you a fantastic reason to get lost. Paris can get pigeonholed into being for lovers or oenophiles. London is for absolutely everyone.
The royal family (Photo: Getty Images)
Population: 8.3 million.
Famous faces: Is Prince “Cheeks” George enough? He lives with his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka William and Kate). There’s also Prince Harry, Nigella Lawson, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Oliver, Kate Winslet, and Keira Knightley.
The “Tube” entrance from Heathrow Airport (Photo: Getty Images)
Popular way to get around town: Only a newbie would take a cab from the airport. London’s airport transportation is better than anywhere else in the world. The Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains run several times per hour and are superfast. Once you’re in central London, the Underground, or “Tube,” is clean, easy, fast, and a great value. Getting around London feels chic and sophisticated even if you’re crammed in the Tube. Of course, splurging on a black cab, with the insanely knowledgeable drivers, is also a must. You get to your destination and some local flavor at the same time.
The long lines at Burger and Lobster (Photo: BurgerandLobster/Twitter)
Great food that gets ridiculously long lines: First, you don’t line up here. You “queue,” which makes it seem much more orderly. But Londoners aren’t as obsessive when it comes to lining up for food, which is nice. You’re more likely to find an absurd wait at Westminster Abbey. That said, Burger and Lobster is still drawing lines for its two decadent signature items, the burger and the lobster roll, even though there are now six locations.
The London skyline (Photo: Getty Images)
Why it’s fun to visit: London welcomes you into the good life immediately. Sure, if you run into the Royals, there is decorum to follow. But more than in any other city, the people in London are all about a good time and they want you to join them. People crowd in from around the world to visit or work, and they often fall in love, trying to figure out how quickly they can return. New skyscrapers and building projects are transforming London’s landscape, like the pointy Shard and revitalization of the Battersea Power Station. Projects like the exciting South Bank have already changed the city.
The Corinthia Hotel at night (Photo: Moryd/Flickr)
Grand hotels to take your breath away: London’s grandest dames include Claridge’s, the Connaught, and the Savoy. But more recent additions like the nearly perfect Corinthia Hotel, the Rosewood Hotel London in Holborn, and the Shangri-La, at the Shard, are helping to shape the city’s hotel boom. I still love smaller hotels like Blakes in South Kensington, considered to be the first boutique hotel in the world, and the decadently stylish, old-time Goring Hotel.
The tearoom at the Savoy Hotel (Photo: Getty Images)
Pick your buzz — coffee or tea: There is not a single problem in the world that can’t be solved by a cup of tea and a nice chat. Coffee might wake you up, but it can’t soothe your soul the way tea in London does. A range of stylish tearooms allow you to choose what kind of tea you’re in the mood for. For time-honored tradition, there’s Claridge’s, the Savoy, or the Orangery at Kensington Palace. Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell and Cocomaya are more modern finds. You don’t need to splash out on the full tea, either — a lighter cream tea, with scones, clotted cream, and jam, still has those magical soothing qualities.
The gardens at Barnsley House (Photo: Barnsley House/Twitter)
Urban escape: England is a small isle, and within two hours from London, you can choose between the gorgeous duo of historic university towns, Oxford and Cambridge; the stunningly beautiful Georgian town of Bath; or the fairytale land of Hampshire and the New Forest. If you have a car, the Cotswolds are your best option, and you should probably spend a night at one of the dreamy hotels, like Barnsley House, with its fantastic gardens.
Primrose Hill (Photo: Getty Images)
Green space: London’s parks are ubiquitous — they are everywhere. Find smaller corners of famous parks, like the marble statues and fountain of the Italian Gardens in Kensington Gardens, a quiet bridge in St. James’s Park to gaze at Buckingham Palace, the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park, or the Japanese garden in Holland Park. One of London’s best skyline views is from atop Primrose Hill, and frolicking in Hampstead Heath feels like being in the countryside. Tiny hidden parks and green space can be found behind grand buildings and on neighborhood streets.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Best watering holes: Have you heard that Brits can drink? It can be tough to keep up but worth a try. Despite pubs closing and many more being run by corporate overlords, the pub is still the heartbeat of London, and many are turning gastro in style with great eats. In posh South Kensington, you’ll find local revelers at the Anglesea Arms or the Pig’s Ear. Notting Hill’s local favorites include the Prince Bonaparte, Windsor Castle Pub, and the Pelican. In Islington, the Drapers Arms and the Wenlock Arms are superpopular. My personal favorite is the Holly Bush Pub in Hampstead, which is everything you want a British pub to be.
Annie Fitzsimmons has built a career at the intersection of travel and media, most recently penning National Geographic’s Urban Insider column and as a contributing editor to National Geographic Traveler. In addition to National Geographic, Annie’s work on travel, hotels, dining, health/wellness, and lifestyle can be found in print and digital forms for USA Today, Forbes, and CNN.