Perhaps rivaled only by Venice as the city that's even more photogenic and dreamlike after dusk than it is during the day, Paris also boasts a remarkably diverse nightlife scene. Not only are there a variety of free or relatively inexpensive things to do at night in the French capital, but it's also a city that caters to all ages, interests, and preferred styles. If students and 20-somethings prefer Berlin and New York for their high-energy clubbing scenes, and London is best for pubs and world-class theatre, Paris is less of a specialist. People may tend to associate Parisian nights out either with traditional cancan dancing or chic clubs populated by intimidating fashionistas, but the truth is that there are plenty of experiences to be had that fall entirely outside those familiar cliches. Whether you're angling for a good glass of wine on a terrace overlooking the softly lit streets, or are in for a whole night's worth of wild clubbing, there's something for everyone.
As films from An American in Paris and Midnight in Paris suggest, there's something indisputably otherworldly and enchanting about strolling through the Parisian streets, la nuit tombée (at nightfall).
The banks of the Seine are ideal in the warmer months: particular spots include the Pont Neuf area, the Pont des Arts, and the Ile de la Cité. We especially recommend strolls along those riverbanks offering vantages of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Illuminated at night, Notre-Dame's dramatic facades and spires will likely leave you gobsmacked.
Other places in the capital that are local favorites for late-night ambling include the Marais where you can wander around the narrow, medieval-era streets and passageways and take in the ambiance before ducking into a bar or restaurant for dinner and drinks Also visit the Rue Montorgueil district, perfect for a stroll before or after a show at an old theatre in the nearby "Grands Boulevards."
Whether you're itching for a long night of salsa or Latin dancing, are wondering where the city's most talented DJs get the crowds moving until dawn, or are hoping to find a gritty rock bar where indie tunes rule the night, the French capital has it all.
If you're hoping to spend the wee hours of the morning at a good club, there's something perfect out there for all varieties of late-night revelers. While at first glance, Paris might not seem to have the rollicking nightlife scene of Berlin or London, the city does have some good clubs worth your time, whether you're a fan of classic clubbing at Rex or the arty, indie scene at La Bellevilloise.
Particularly for those who find the traditional restaurant scene in Paris a mite intimidating/pretentious/starchy/all of the above, wine bars offer a fantastic, laid-back antidote to that brand of formality. Stake out a table early on in the evening—bars don't allow reservations—and settle on a good bottle of red or white wine paired with cheese, charcuterie, and other nibbles. Some of the edgier wine bars on the list, including Le Verre Volé and Frenchie Bar à Vins, offer a relatively relaxed vibe, but serve gourmet small plates featuring gorgeously arranged vegetables, delicate cuts of meat or fish, and desserts to go with a bit of sweet wine (hydromel or Riesling, maybe) at the end of the meal.
While it's a cliche thing to recommend, a night cruise on the Seine River is both romantic and picturesque, and one of the best ways to take in the city's most iconic monuments after dusk. From dry land, you don't get the same vantage points of Paris in all its nocturnal glory. Sights that are especially worth seeing after nightfall include the Louvre, the Pont des Arts, the Assemblée Nationale, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, all bathed in carefully curated light to achieve magical effects. The shimmering play of that light on the water tends to seduce even the most cynical visitors. As long as you have a camera with a good low-light setting, the evening photo ops are unbeatable.
If you'd rather not have to worry about fitting dinner in before or after your cruise, there are plenty of dinner and cruise packages on offer. Some are more formal than others, so we'd recommend shopping around to find the package that best suits the occasion and your budget.
Go See a Traditional Show or Parisian Cabaret
The obvious thing that springs to mind when imagining a typical show in Paris is, of course, the kitschy fun of a traditional Parisian cabaret—but for those with more demanding tastes, there's plenty in store for you, too.
For theatre aficionados, some English-language plays and musicals run in the capital in any given month. If you know some French and would like to take your Gallic skills for a test run, L'official des Spectacles is a great general site for show listings in Paris, from plays to one-person shows and musicals.
Looking for a night out that involves stretching your gastronomic muscles? Few places in the world offer more variety and excitement in the arena of cuisine than Paris. But as we've noted elsewhere, finding a good restaurant in the capital isn't as effortless as you may assume.
Gambling on dinner at any old corner place near your hotel might mean you stumble on Michelin-level gold—or it may have you end up wishing you'd just ordered a crepe from that stand across the street, and saved 100 Euros. Luckily, with a little bit of research and planning, Paris's best restaurants aren't hard to find, and they're not always costly either.
If your budget is tight and you're hoping to find the most delicious bang for your (Euro) bucks, our guide on scrumptious street food is essential. In the warmer months, sitting outside with a good falafel or crepe rather than eating indoors can be ideal. Traditional French fare doesn't have to be pricey either. Classic Parisian haunts like Chartier and Polidor serve affordable (by Parisian standards) takes on local favorites.
After dinner, an exceptional cocktail may be in order. Whether it's a trendy bitters or botanicals-infused artisanal gin you're after, or an artful concoction like the fruity, citrusy one pictured here, read on for our picks of some of the city's more stylish places to lounge.
Paris has plenty of stylish haunts steeped in history, like Harry's New York Bar, a favorite of many literary luminaries, but also has a burgeoning "mixology" scene as of late, with bars like Experimental Cocktail Club and Candelaria serving more expensive drinks made with top-shelf booze.
Also, "speakeasy-style" bars, like Moonshiner, which is hidden behind a pizzeria, have become immensely popular. While many of these are admittedly no longer secret, they offer sophisticated and intriguing settings for a night out on the town—not to mention some of the most expertly shaken cocktails and creative drinks available.
The French capital never has a shortage of concerts, operas, and music festivals. For opera fans, the vibrant scene in Paris means there's almost always something worthwhile to see; the modern Opera Bastille offers a program that includes both classic performances and more contemporary, experimental operatic shows.
If it's a rock concert you're after, the Bataclan remains a local favorite. The Cite de la Musique in the sprawling cultural complex known as La Villette puts on all variety of concerts and musical performances as well, from classical music to rock shows.
Finally, don't miss fantastic jazz performances at events such as Banlieues Bleues, an annual favorite that brings together some of the world's most talented jazz acts.
Take an Evening Dip in an Art-Deco Pool
Hankering for a pre- or after-dinner dip? Even if you're visiting in the autumn or winter, consider packing your suit and bathing cap: there's the Piscine Pontoise, a lavish old art-deco style pool in the historic Latin Quarter that's heated and sheltered from the elements. Enjoy the shimmering lights on the water and admire the stately architectural details that have made this pool one of the most popular places to come for relief from the heat and city bustle. This might be one of the most relaxing, and picturesque, ways to get some exercise in to justify that champagne, duck pate, and creme brûlée at dinner.
The nightlife scene in Paris is neither frenetic and wild nor subdued and sleepy: it's somewhere in the middle, with most locals preferring a laid-back, but stylish and aesthetically pleasing, vibe. This "Goldilocks" vibe extends to the rooftop bar scene. These have been gaining a loyal following in recent years, and are an excellent bet for a night out, as long as you're not intimidated by fashion-conscious crowds. Le Perchoir is among the most coveted—so much so that the owners recently opened another location in the Marais district, just next to the BHV Department Store.
We also recommend the large, cozy-cool rooftop bar at Mama Shelter, a bar, restaurant, and hotel complex in the ultra-hip northeast designed by the architect Philippe Starck.
Some travelers may be surprised to note that there's still a remarkable lack of sprawling multiplex movie theatres in Paris. Locals seem to prefer either old arthouse places or new stables, such as the MK2 theatre chain, that remain mostly dedicated to independent films. So how to account for this local particularity? Parisians take the art of cinema—and the art of going out to the cinema—far too seriously to favor the soulless, shamelessly corporate multiplex. That doesn't mean they don't indulge, like the rest of us, in a good global blockbuster from time to time. They tend to see film as a pure art form, rather than as mere entertainment. Their moviegoing rituals often reflect that attitude.
For a proper night out at the cinema in the capital, you'd generally enjoy a drink on or near the premises of your chosen theatre, before or after the show, and spend lots of time discussing and critiquing the film you've just seen with your friends or partner. And as we've mentioned elsewhere, popcorn is not regarded well by fellow spectators—unless you're off to see the latest Star Wars film or another noisy blockbuster, rendering your crunching and munching inoffensive. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Take Advantage of Paris's Craft Beer Scene
While wine and cocktails have long been staples of Parisian nights out, the advent of the craft brewery and brewpub in the capital is more recent. Authentic brasseries and cafes around the city have long offered familiar French and European beers on tap, from Amstel to Hoegaarden—but it's only in the past few years that microbreweries and craft beer pubs have started to spring up around the city.
Many of these are concentrated in northeastern Paris, home to a younger and hipper after-dark scene. La Fine Mousse is among the most popular, with 20 different beers on draft.
Every June 21, a beloved musical festival known as the Fete de la Musique turns the streets of Paris over to hundreds of live performances. The best part? It's entirely free!
From amateur jazz or blues groups performing outside local bars to concerts from well-known performers at large venues, the Fete de la Musique is a fantastic opportunity to bring in the summer solstice. The longest day of the year can be spent outdoors, wandering from concert to concert and taking in all variety of musical genres. You can also choose "a la carte" from the vast list of free performances scheduled for the evening.
Meet Parisians at a Private Supper Club
For something a little offbeat, private dinner clubs have been gaining popularity among visitors to the French capital. What better way to meet a Parisian host, strike up a good conversation or two with fellow diners, and see a private residence? This is a great way to get a bit of an insider's glimpse of city life, not to mention meet new people and share in something a bit off-the-beaten-track.
At these supper clubs, private hosts either prepare special dinners themselves or hire a chef to create a special menu, then allow guests (anywhere from two to 60, generally) to their private table for a night.
Ready to give the experience a try yourself? American resident Jim Haynes' regular dinners are especially famous, but also require reservations well in advance. For a more casual experience, the popular "Talk Time" is a food-and-language meet-up held in the Latin Quarter—perfect for brushing up on your French!
Catch a World-Class Ballet or Modern Dance Performance
Paris is one of the globe's best places to enjoy world-class ballet and modern dance performances. The National Ballet boasts some of the finest dancers you're ever likely to witness, performing regularly at the Palais Opera Garnier. (Opera performances have meanwhile been moved primarily to the Opera Bastille).
More experimental, contemporary dance troupes offer fantastic performances at venues such as the Palais de Chaillot and elsewhere around the city.