By Anne Olivia Bauso
For hotels from Beverly Hills to Beijing, a neat row of five stars is the universal symbol for luxury—absolute, utmost, borderline ridiculous luxury. Unless you’re talking about France—which we are—where decadence is a whole different game. A decade ago, the country introduced a hotel category a notch above five stars: the coveted Palace distinction. Only la creme de la creme of the France’s five-star hotels are even considered for Palace status, and contenders must meet a rigorous checklist of features and amenities (think concierge, spa, multilingual staff), as well as factors like location, heritage, cultural importance, and overall beauty. Paris being, well, Paris, unsurprisingly holds nearly half of the country’s Palace hotels. Each and every one deserves a spot on your bucket list, but if your credit line can’t swing a stay for your next trip to the French capital, we’ve found 12 (much) cheaper, but equally Parisian alternatives.
The Palace Pick: Le Bristol
We’ll start with Le Bristol, the first hotel in France to ever receive Palace distinction, and consistently the #1 hotel in Paris on TripAdvisor. In short, this hotel is a legend. Since the day it opened its doors in 1925, it’s attracted serious VIPs: Marilyn Monroe, Prince, and Gwyneth Paltrow (ie the poster girl of amazing taste) have all been devoted members of the le fan club. The environment may be posh (La Prairie and Tata Harper spas, four Michelin stars total) but Le Bristol is famously family-friendly: there’s a dedicated kids’ program and little kids (and Oyster hotel reviewers!) love Fa-Raon, the fluffy white Burmese cat who calls the hotel home.
The Alterntive Le Bristol Hotel Pick: Hotel Malte – Astotel
Everything about Le Bristol is lavish, including the nightly rates. If you’d rather save some Euros for coq au vin and Beaujolais, Hotel Malte is a fabulous—and far cheaper—back-up plan. Part of the highly rated Astotel family of small Parisian hotels, Hotel Malte (also kid-friendly) is a lovely boutique hotel in the central Opera district, close to the Louvre and Place Vendome. Rooms are itty but still feel pretty fresh from their 2016 renovation. Of course, there’s no three-Michelin-star dining on-site, but Hotel Malte’s breakfast buffet consists of local meats, cheeses, pastries, and breads, plus the hotel offers free snacks and coffee in the afternoons.
The Palace Pick: Hotel de Crillon, a Rosewood Hotel
What was once the private home of a duke on Place de la Concorde became a luxury hotel in 1909. During its original hotel run, it attracted celebs of all stripes, from Charlie Chaplin to Madonna. The hotel’s salons (now landmarked) were the site of post-WW1 peace conferences and its bar made a cameo in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” But by this century, the Ancien Regime vibe wasn’t up for snuff (or Palace ranking) and the hotel closed for a massive four-year renovation. When it reopened in mid 2017, it was officially the stuff of Paris Palaces—and it earned the title to prove it a little more than a year later. Notables include staff uniforms by Hugo Matha, flowers by Djordje Varda, four restaurants and bars (L’ecrin with a Michelin star), and a Sense, A Rosewood spa with a super-Instagrammable skylit pool hand-laid with mermaid-y gold tiles. As long as you’re dreaming of staying here, set your fantasy in one of the Karl Lagerfeld-designed Les Grands Appartements or suite “Choupette,” named for his Instagram-famous cat (@choupetteofficiel, people!).
The Hotel de Crillon Alternative Pick: Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg
Just half a block behind Hotel de Crillon, near the corner of Rue Saint-Honore, Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg is an excellent alternative for those who can’t quite spare Crillon’s eye-watering rates. While not as storied as Crillon, Sofitel is no slouch in the French heritage department: the hotel occupies two private 19th-century mansions, both of which served as the headquarters for French Marie Claire for decades. High fashion remains the name of the game here, with haute-couture gowns on display, bellhops rolling away Louis Vuitton shopping on silver carts, and a full house of editors during Fashion Weeks.
The Palace Pick: Four Seasons Hotel George V
As if you need a clue about what kind of hotel this is, check out the Range Rovers and Mercedes S-Class black cars idling by the front door. Note the top-hatted doormen greeting returning guests by name and porters whisking Rimowa luggage off to the rooms. This is what is considered by many to be among the best hotels in Europe, and it’s apparent moments before you walk in. Once inside, it’s all restored 17th-century tapestries, crystal chandeliers, marble statues, and thousands of flowers (fresh from Amsterdam in weekly shipments). Splendor aside, it’s the service that guests most marvel over. Naturally, room rates reflect the impeccable scene and service; even starting rates are in quadruple digits.
The Alternative Four Seasons Pick: Hotel Keppler
Just a five-minute walk from George V and a fraction of the cost, Hotel Keppler offers Pierre-Yves Rochon interiors (the French design genius behind Hotel George V, as well as the Peninsula in Shanghai, the St. Regis in Rome, the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills…) and a boutique atmosphere. Okay, there’s no 50,000-bottle wine cellar or huge array of ballrooms, but you do have elegant rooms (some with terraces and Eiffel Towel views) and easy proximity to the Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Palais de Tokyo, and world-class shopping.
The Palace Pick: Le Meurice
Le Meurice has collected many, many claims of fame over its 200-year history. Pierre François Guerlain opened his very first shop at the hotel in 1828. Pablo Picasso married Olga here in 1918; Ginger Rogers and Jacques Bergerac also tied the knot at Le Meurice in 1952. From top to bottom, this is a hotel fit for royalty (and, as exptected, it has welcomed royals from Queen Victoria to the Sultan of Zanzibar). On top of regal history and decor, the hotel boasts a central location directly across from the Tuileries Garden, with the Louvre and Place de la Concorde on either side. A surprise to no one: rates are exorbitant.
The Le Meurice Alternative Pick: Hotel des Grands Boulevards
Le Meurice may go back to 1815, but the building that is now this exquisite little boutique hotel went up during the French Revolution. That’s the era that designer Dorothee Meilichzon drew inspiration from for this 2018 opening, incorporating motifs from Versailles and Marie Antoinette throughout the hotel. (This reviewer’s favorite nod to the 18th-century queen? Grands Boulevards’ jewel of a cocktail bar, The Shell.)
The Palace Pick: Park Hyatt Paris – Vendôme
Haussmann-era buildings with ivy-covered iron terraces. A stellar Right Bank location near the Place Vendome, the Louvre, and the Paris Opera. Ample features like multiple restaurants and a 2,700-square foot Creme de la Mer spa. This is Paris luxury, through and through. And we haven’t even mentioned the rooms yet, which are sleek and super spacious—especially for Paris standards. Rooms start at nearly 300 square feet, in a city where 120 square feet rather standard.
The Alternative Park Hyatt Paris – Vendome Pick: Hotel Indigo Paris – Opera
Do people know about this hotel? People should know about this hotel! It used to be an aparthotel—an important fact to note, as when Indigo took it over in 2014, the hotel brand preserved the original proportions instead of carving the apartments up in order to increase room quantity and profit. To sum up: these are some of the most spacious rooms you’re going to find in this area (the tony Opera district) and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the rates (super reasonable). One more quick mention in this elevator pitch, all 57 of those large rooms and suites face Rue Edouard VII, a closed-to-traffic side street with a historic square, right off the commerce-packed Boulevard des Capucines.
The Palace Pick: Le Royal Monceau-Raffles Paris
When an Oyster reviewer first visited Le Royal Monceau, she wondered if the hotel’s rates were the highest in the city. Of course, all that credit card flexing brings perks beyond the wildest dreams of most travelers. Hotel features go above and beyond most five-star standards (thus, the Palace designation), from Michelin-star dining to Philippe Starck design to a Clarins spa with Paris’ longest indoor pool. The marble, mirrored bathrooms should stop even the most deep-pocketed, seen-it-all traveler dead in their tracks.
Le Royal Monceau-Raffles Paris Alternative Pick: Hotel Saint-Marc
This upscale boutique hotel boasts Art Deco-inspired interiors and a 2nd arrondissement address near the Palais-Royal and the Louvre. Amenities, including a pool, spa, outdoor cobblestoned patio, and free afternoon refreshments, are impressive for a small hotel in central Paris.
The Palace Pick: Shangri-La Hotel
Originally an actual palace (that of French imperial Prince Roland Bonaparte, Napoleon’s grandnephew), the Shangri-La Hotel Paris is every bit the Palace hotel (and the first Shangri-La hotel in Europe). The meticulously restored property more than lives up to its elite brand name and pedigree: Two of its three restaurants are Michelin-starred (including the country’s first Chinese restaurant to receive the award), its mosaic swimming pool is lined with Doric columns, and the views of the Eiffel Tower from balconies—and even from some lucky guests’ tubs—are unmatched. Even Queen Bey couldn’t resist a photo shoot or two from the hotel’s rooftop.
The Shangri-La Alternative Pick: Hotel de Sers
Like Shangri-La, Hotel de Sers was built in the late 1800s as the private mansion for a French imperial, in this case, the Marquis de Sers. And similar to Shangri-La, the structure came under the ownership of a distinguished hotel brand in the 2000s—B Signature Hotels & Resorts, a French family-run hotel company whose properties include Hotel Montalembert and Bel Ami. There’s no Michelin-star dining here, though there is an open-air French restaurant, set in a courtyard that originally led to the stables, and one-bedroom terrace suites with views of the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur. (No word on if the tower is visible from any of the tubs.)
The Palace Pick: Mandarin Oriental, Paris
While many Palaces embrace their Old World luxury, the Mandarin on Rue Saint-Honore is categorically fresh and contemporary. Every possible luxury is available here, from fresh flowers in the guest rooms and camellia garden courtyard to the two-Michelin-star restaurant and staff who lavishes attention on the guests and the presentation of the hotel down to the tiniest detail. More than 2,000 glowing reviews on Tripadvisor can’t be wrong! Mandarin Oriental is magnifique.
The Mandarin Oriental Alternative Pick: The Hoxton
Paris’ Palaces have luxury in the bag, but they almost all lack that hip factor, something The Hoxton has in spades. If youthful energy and modern Parisian style matter to you, bypass the Palaces (and the sticker shock they may cause) for a stay at this relative newcomer off of Boulevard Poissonniere. Much of the ground floor is dedicated to public hangout space—new arrivals might think they’ve stumbled into some sort of co-working space/day party/photo shoot rather than a traditional hotel. Despite the cool crowd, decor, and vibe, Hoxton is not without its own Parisian backstory: Before the London-based hotel brand breathed new life into it, the building was an abandoned 18th-century hotel particulier, and before that, the grand mansion of Etienne Rivie, a confidant of Louis XV, back when this part of Paris was little but countryside.
The Palace Pick: La Reserve Paris
This intimate luxe pick has the distinction of being the smallest of the Paris Palaces. Like Shangri-La, it has imperial origins: the building was originally built in 1854 as a townhouse for Napoleon III’s half brother, the Duc de Morny. The vibe remains; interior spaces feel like those in a private mansion, rather than a hotel. But make no mistake, this is a hotel, a full-scale luxury hotel with 40 exquisite butler-serviced rooms, two-Michelin-starred dining (Le Gabriel restaurant), two glam bars, and luxury car service anywhere in Paris (what Metro?).
The La Reserve Paris Alternative Pick: Le Cinq Codet
While most Palaces occupy vast old noble digs, Le Cinq Codet is housed in the former French Telecom switching center from the 1930s. (Cool!). The Art Deco building—a definite contrast from the street’s Haussmann apartment buildings—looks like an ocean liner floating in the Left Bank, with a curving facade and bi-level room suites that feel like a luxury ship cabin. Interiors are courtesy of architect Jean-Philippe Nuel (the same visionary behind Hotel Molitor and Sofitel La Defense); expect hundreds of pieces of contemporary art and custom furnishings. The overall effect is quite sober and sophisticated (not unlike La Reserve).
The Palace Pick: The Peninsula
Every inch of The Peninsula oozes pure decadence, from the glossy marble floors and gold Corinthian columns to the fleet of chauffered luxury cars (BMWs, Mini Coopers, and vintage Rolls-Royces, people!) and 600-person strong staff. Heating, lighting, blinds, calls are all operated by tablets in the rooms, which are some of the largest in Paris. Like Hotel de Crillon, The Peninsula recently underwent a four-year, multi-million dollar restoration, and it certainly shows—the opulent interiors are undeniably fresh to the point that they feel modern. Six food and drink options include a rooftop restaurant with beautiful panoramic views over the city.
The Peninsula Alternative Pick: Hotel Raphael
Stay directly across the street for about half—or far less—than a night at the Peninsula will cost you. Unlike Peninsula, Hotel Raphael has had no major renovation since it opened in 1925—and that’s precisely what its devotees love about it. That and the fact that it’s not owned by an international chain; Raphael has been run by the same family for four generations. Dark oak paneling and authentic 18th-century art and antiques (including a J. M. W. Turner painting) define the common spaces and guest suites. Those interconnecting suites have hosted A-listers like Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando all the way to world leaders—and their entire security detail—in town for the recent 100-year commemoration of WWI. Book right, and you may stay in one of the suites that Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn lived in while filming 1963’s “Charade.”
The Palace Pick: Hotel Plaza Athenee
Many consider Hotel Plaza Athenee the last word in Parisian luxury. The hotel is quintessentially Parisian from the get-go, with a cut-stone facade, charming red awnings, wrought-iron window railings spilling over with red geraniums, and a classic Belle Epoque doorway awning made of glass and wrought iron. The spectacle continues inside, with oak, marble, crystal, and silk everywhere you look. (The hotel reopened in 2014 after extensive renovations under the direction of Jean-Jacques Ory—he who designed LVMH’s Paris headquarters.) Long the “second home” of countless celebrities, the hotel’s star factor lives on with its restaurant by Michelin-star chef Alain Ducasse and Dior spa, the first of its kind in the world. Fashionistas may know it as the setting Christian Dior deemed worthy of his dress collection debut in 1947.
The Hotel Le Plaza Athenee Alternative Pick: Hotel Balmoral
Built in 1880, the elegant Balmoral Hotel opened its doors to guests in 1902. The hotel’s proximity to the Arc de Triomphe (a mere three-minute walk away) is a big draw, as well as its chic rooms and suites (including two-bedroom apartments) and services like a 24-hour lounge bar and a pet-friendly policy. More than 1,000 TripAdvisor reviewers have deemed the hotel excellent.
The Palace Pick: Hotel Lutetia
Left Bank lovers, this one’s for you! This Art Deco/Nouveau landmark in Saint Germain des Pres is the newbie of the bunch, thanks to a full-blown, four-year renovation that culminated in 2018 and led to Palace distinction in 2019. The only Palace in Rive Gauche, Lutetia wows in every way, from the solid Italian marble bathrooms to the holistic spa to the 1910 fresco and live jazz in Le Bar Josephine (named for Josephine Baker, who, along with Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Albert Camus, was a Lutetia regular back in the day).
The Lutetia Alternative Pick: Hotel Monge
Hotel Monge’s recent rehab was decidedly not to the tune of $200+ million, like Hotel Lutetia’s, but nonetheless, its 2016 renovation left the place sparkling and fresh. The hotel’s Left Bank location is within a 15-minute walk from Notre Dame, the Pantheon, and the Jardin des Plantes. Hotel Signature St. Germain des Pres, Hotel Le Six , and Hotel Duc de Saint Simon (a favorite of Lauren Bacall’s) are other excellent picks in this area.
The Future Palace Pick: The Ritz
The Ritz Paris isn’t technically Palace designated, but we suspect they’ll receive the official classification before too long. In any case, it might as well be a Palace.
Welcome to one of the most—if not the most—famous hotels in the world. There’s no way to convey the glamour, luxury, and legend of this Paris icon, though if anyone has come close, it was Ernest Hemingway when he wrote, “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz.” Since its opening 122 years ago, the Ritz has earned high-profile fans in Hemingway, of course, as well as the Fitzgeralds and Coco Chanel (a 30-year-long resident) all the way up to Kate Moss, Blake Lively, and Jennifer Aniston. Everything is as sumptuous as you might imagine (love the gold swan faucets!) without feeling overly old guard and stuffy; the staff knows this is as much a tourist attraction as it is a hotel, and it treats non-guests stopping by for a drink at the bar with as much kindness as it does to those paying 1,000-plus Euros to be there—on our visit, we got an enthusiastic and earnest, “Hey, lady! What do you think?” from a sweet bartender whose crisp uniform concealed full-sleeve tattoos.
The Ritz Alternative Pick: Maison Souquet
You don’t have to be a Ritz-level baller to enjoy gorgeous Belle Epoque digs. The gorgeous Maison Souquet—a one-time pleasure house for high-society Parisians after kinky nights at the Moulin Rouge—brings the extravagance of turn-of-the-century Paris to life with Jacques Garcia decor and exquisitely refurbished interiors. Naturally, Maison Souquet doesn’t complete with the Ritz in terms of grandeur and features, but its transportative atmosphere is stunning, and its amenities, like an underground spa with private hammam, rare for a small Paris hotel.