Paris hotels are long on romance, glamour and a strong sense of place. That’s especially true of the so-called “palace” hotels—those designated by the government tourism office as beyond-five-star exceptional. Also especially true: They’re pricey. Which makes it that much more important to choose the right one. We’ve looked at the differences between a few of the top choices to give you a bit of hotel savoir faire.

By Sarah Marcantonio
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée
Photo by Hôtel Plaza Athénée

Hôtel Plaza Athénée

When you dream of Paris, what do you see? If it’s returning to your plush room, laden with shopping bags, gazing at the Eiffel Tower from your terrace, stay at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée. Located in the 8th, on the Avenue Montaigne, the hotel is at once dreamily classic and fashionably now. Maybe it’s the scarlet red awnings, or the proximity to Dior and Céline, or the gorgeous young things sipping champagne in La Galerie. Perhaps it’s the (relatively) health-conscious cuisine at Alain Ducasse, served at spaceship-like banquettes. A recent renovation perked up the 154 rooms and 54 suites, most of them in French Regency style, and some with dazzling Eiffel Tower views. (We’re less fond of the Art Deco rooms on the upper floors.) For post-shopping therapy, be sure to book a facial at the Dior Institut, which comes with an expert skin consultation for a personalized, “couture-inspired” approach.

Who It’s Best For: The fashion-conscious who want something classic but sans stuffiness.

Suite Duke and Duchess of Windsor
Photo by Ritz Paris

Ritz Paris

If it was good enough for Coco Chanel, it better be good enough for you. On the Place Vendôme, the Ritz Paris was Chanel’s favorite hotel and eventual home. She was not alone: Frequent guests like Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor contributed to the Ritz’s fabled history. The recent overhaul successfully balanced authenticity—the gilding still glints, the taps are still shaped like swans, Colin Field still shakes up Paris’s best martini in the Bar Hemingway—with the demands of today’s luxury clientele. Now half of the 142 rooms are suites and the hotel has added high-speed Wi-Fi, heated bathroom floors, alfresco dining in the garden. You’ll pay for the privilege of staying in a living legend, with rates slightly higher than the competition. Still, Coco, who once said, “Fashion fades, only style remains the same,” would certainly approve.

Who It’s Best For: Francophiles who want a connection to history, and anyone whose heart flutters at old-school elegance. 

Le Jardin Français
Photo by Le Bristol Paris

Le Bristol Paris

A perennial favorite for its traditional but warm welcome, Le Bristol presides over the quieter end of the Rue du Faubourg-St. Honoré, a time-honored landmark for nearly a century. Owned and run by the Oetker family for nearly four decades, the 88-room hotel is imbued with a sense of amiable hospitality—refined but never stiff—as epitomized by Fa-Raon, a Burmese cat who lounges around the lobby. That makes it as good a choice for well-off families as for C-suite executives. The rooms are classicism defined, with bright floral prints, antique mirrors, Louis XV and XVI furniture, though some guests find them dated. Epicure, with three Michelin stars, is an exquisite choice for dinner or lunch, especially in summer, when tables are set in the garden. And 114 Faubourg, the brasserie, serves a decadent brunch.

Who It’s Best For: Experienced travelers who appreciate the warm embrace of a family-run hotel.

Bar Les Ambassadeurs
Photo by Hôtel de Crillon

Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel

The Hôtel de Crillon was a Parisian landmark even before it was a hotel. Built on the Place de la Concorde in 1758 as a home for the counts of the Crillon dynasty, the palace just underwent a four-year renovation that, like the Ritz, restored historic details but added important contemporary touches. The idea is, in part, to create a social scene for locals. Hence the hair salon by David Lucas, the chic but accessible Brasserie d’Aumont, the cocktail menu and live entertainment at Les Ambassadeurs. The 124 rooms include 10 signature suites with over-the-top design by Karl Lagerfeld, among others. But standard accommodations are pretty grand, and while not contemporary per se, they’re fairly restrained and residential-feeling for a palace. Beds are dressed in crisp duvets, walls are covered in camel or elephant gray, fresh flowers placed on marble and brass tables. An underground spa and pool have been added to appeal to the wellness set.

Who It’s Best For: Jet-setters who want to stay in the buzziest hotel in Paris.

Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse
Photo by Le Meurice

Le Meurice

Across the street from the Tuileries Gardens and a quick walk to the Louvre museum, Le Meurice is perfectly positioned for the major sights, an enviable location especially for first-time visitors and families. Like the other palace hotels on this list, the decor leans classic but with whimsical touches. Thank designer Philippe Starck, whose frequent revamps of the public spaces have added midcentury chairs here, surrealist murals there. (Frequent guest Salvador Dalí was a manifest inspiration.) Young guests are big fans of the carousel and treasure hunt, organized by the hotel, in the Tuileries. You can even book a “family day” at Spa Valmont: manicures and facials for the girls, massages for the boys, and grown-up treatments for the parents.

Who It’s Best For: Families and first-time visitors who want to be close to the key sights.

Lobby
Photo by Four Seasons George V

Four Seasons George V

It’s no surprise that the Four Seasons delivers the luxury hotel goods: spacious rooms, a reliable and helpful staff, top-notch cuisine and fawning attention to details (the hotel imports nearly 10,000 flowers per week). But the Four Seasons George V, located in the "Golden Triangle" of the 8th, also contains, literally, no surprises. To some, it feels just a little too perfect, lacking in soul. That said, the 245 rooms are some of the most spacious in Paris, beginning at 538 square feet, all of them with balconies. The decor is classic French—though the furniture is mostly reproductions. It’s a great place for families, with kids’ programming that includes back-of-the-house tours. Note that the glamorous indoor pool is under renovation until 2018, as is the spa.

Who It’s Best For: Families and others who want reliable Four Seasons comforts without sacrificing grand Parisian ambience