Catching a performance in Paris is a treat. French and international opera, ballet and theatre companies and cabaret dancers take to the stage in fabled venues, while elsewhere a flurry of young, passionate, highly creative musicians, thespians and other artists make the city’s fascinating fringe art scene what it is.
Whirling lines of feather-boa-clad, high-kicking dancers at grand-scale cabarets like cancan creator Moulin Rouge are a quintessential fixture on Paris’ entertainment scene – for everyone but Parisians. Still, the dazzling sets, costumes and dancing guarantee an entertaining evening (or matinee).
Tickets to these spectacles start at around €90 (from around €165/190 with lunch/dinner), with the option of Champagne. Reserve ahead.
Festivals for just about every musical genre ensure that everyone gets to listen in. Street music is a constant in this busker-filled city, with summer adding stirring open-air concerts along the Seine and in city parks to the year-round serenade of accordions.
Jazz & Blues
Paris became Europe’s most important jazz centre after WWII and the city’s best clubs and cellars still lure international stars.
Admission generally ranges from free to around €30 depending on artist, time and venue.
Download podcasts, tunes, concert information and all that jazz from Paris’ jazz radio station, TSF (www.tsfjazz.com).
While chanson literally means ‘song’ in French, it also specifically refers to a style of heartfelt, lyric-driven music typified by Édith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Aznavour et al. You’ll come across some rousing live covers of their most famous songs at traditional venues. Contemporary twists on the genre include the fusion of dance beats with traditional chanson melodies. The term also covers intimate cabarets such as Montmartre’s Au Lapin Agile.
Admission ranges from free to around €30 depending on artist, time and venue.
Feature: Édith Piaf
Born in Belleville in 1915, Édith Gassion was dubbed la môme piaf (urchin sparrow) by her first employer, Louis Leplée, who introduced her to Paris’ cabarets.
After Leplée’s murder, ex–French Legionnaire Raymond Asso liberated her from her hustler friends and inspired her first big hit, ‘Mon Légionnaire’ (My Legionnaire) in 1937.
Although seriously injured in a car accident in 1951, Piaf continued to take the world stage despite her declining health, and recorded some of her best-known songs, such as ‘Je ne Regrette Rien’ (I Regret Nothing). She died in 1963 and is buried at Cimetière Père Lachaise.
Rock, Pop & Indie
The city hosts dozens of orchestral, organ and chamber-music concerts each week. In addition to theatres and concert halls, Paris’ beautiful, centuries-old stone churches have magnificent acoustics; posters outside advertise upcoming events with ticket information, or visit www.ampconcerts.com, where you can make online reservations. Tickets cost around €23 to €30.
World & Latino
Musiques du monde (world music) has a huge following in Paris, where everything – from Algerian raï and other North African music to Senegalese mbalax and West Indian zouk – goes at clubs. Many venues have salsa classes.
The film lover’s ultimate city, Paris has some wonderful movie houses to catch new flicks, avant-garde cinema and priceless classics.
Foreign films (including English-language films) screened in their original language with French subtitles are labelled ‘VO’ (version originale). Films labelled ‘VF’ (version française) are dubbed in French.
L’Officiel des Spectacles lists the full crop of Paris’ cinematic pickings and screening times; online, check out http://cinema.leparisien.fr.
The city's film archive, the Forum des Images, screens films set in Paris.
First-run tickets cost around €11.50 for adults (€13.50 for 3D). Students and over 60s get discounted tickets (usually around €8.50) from 7pm Sunday to 7pm Friday. Discounted tickets for children and teens have no restrictions. Most cinemas have across-the-board discounts before noon.
Opera & Ballet
Theatre productions, including those originally written in other languages, are invariably performed in French. Only occasionally do English-speaking troupes play at smaller venues in and around town. Consult L’Officiel des Spectacles (www.offi.fr) for details.
Non-French speakers should check out Theatre in Paris, whose bilingual hosts provide an English-language program and direct you to your seats. Typically there are upwards of 10 shows on offer, from French classics to contemporary comedies and Broadway-style productions with English surtitles. Book via its English online ticketing platform.
Buskers in Paris
Paris’ gaggle of clowns, mime artists, living statues, acrobats, in-line skaters, buskers and other street entertainers can be loads of fun and cost substantially less than a theatre ticket (a few coins in the hat is appreciated). Some excellent musicians perform in the long, echo-filled corridors of the metro (artists audition for the privilege). Outside, you can be sure of a good show at the following:
Place Georges Pompidou, 4e The huge square in front of the Centre Pompidou.
Pont St-Louis, 4e The bridge linking Paris’ two islands.
Pont au Double, 4e The pedestrian bridge linking Notre Dame with the Left Bank.
Place Joachim du Bellay, 1er Musicians and fire-eaters near the Fontaine des Innocents.
Parc de la Villette, 19e African drummers at the weekend.
Place du Tertre, 18e Montmartre’s original main square is Paris’ busiest busker stage.
Need to Know
Paris’ top listings guide, L’Officiel des Spectacles (www.offi.fr; €1), is published in French but is easy to navigate. It's available from newsstands on Wednesday, and is crammed with everything that’s on in the capital.
- LYLO (www.lylo.fr) Short for Les Yeux, Les Oreilles (meaning ‘eyes and ears’), offering the low-down on concerts, festivals and more.
- Le Figaro Scope (http://evene.lefigaro.fr) Music, cinema and theatre listings.
- Paris Nightlife (www.parisnightlife.fr) All-encompassing listings site.
The most convenient place to purchase concert, theatre and other cultural and sporting-event tickets is from electronics and entertainment megashop Fnac, whether in person at the billeteries (ticket offices) or by phone or online. There are branches throughout Paris, including in the Forum des Halles. Tickets generally can’t be refunded.
On the day of performance, theatre, opera and ballet tickets are sold for half price (plus €3.50 commission) at the central Kiosque Théâtre Madeleine.