Travel Q&A: Dining Solo in Paris, Shopping in Shanghai

If the budget calls for splurging, one place a solo diner won't feel alone is Le Cinq at the Four Seasons hotel.
If the budget calls for splurging, one place a solo diner won't feel alone is Le Cinq at the Four Seasons hotel. (2000 Photo By Petter Oftedal, For The Washington Post)
By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 20, 2009

Q. I will be renting an apartment in Paris and spending 10 days solo there. I wonder what you could suggest for eating alone. I thought that I might have my main meal at lunch when a woman dining alone may be more acceptable to the Parisians. Do you have any suggestions for where and when to dine?

Susan Anderson, Arlington

A. Ah, dining solo -- the very thought can make the most confident traveler weak in the knees. For every person who thinks nothing of settling down happily at a table for one, there's another who finds meals the most stressful part of the day. Dining alone can be especially hard for women, who may find themselves seated at crummy tables and treated shabbily by waiters.

Take heart. Paris is one of the best places in the world to be by yourself. It may be the city of love, but it's also a haven for all types, and that includes brooding loners, solitary artistes and adventurous singles.

True, you might want to avoid overtly romantic restaurants or super-trendy hot spots where appearances are all. Much better to seek out a boisterous neighborhood bistro or brasserie, where it's easy to blend in and indulge in the fine art of people-watching. Les Deux Magots (6 Place St.-Germain) and Le Petit Zinc (11 Rue St. Benoit) on the Left Bank are two classic places to get started.

Another place you might feel more comfortable is a luxe hotel restaurant, where other singles are likely to turn up. For a splurge, Katherine Johnstone of the French Government Tourist Office says you can't go wrong with Le Cinq restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel George V (31 Avenue George V). Think traditional French, elegant, sophisticated. Reservations are a must.

Another option: a department store restaurant. At the newly renovated Brasserie in the Printemps store (64 Boulevard Haussmann, sixth floor), traditional cuisine is served in a sublime setting, under a giant art nouveau glass dome built in 1924.

But don't be discouraged from trying out a couple of hot new places.

Two suggestions from Johnstone: Restaurant Frenchie (5 Rue de Nil), a modern bistro in the 2nd arrondissement with a nice funny name, well-regarded chef and decent prices; and La Société (4 Place St.-Germain), a brasserie-cum-jaz-bar on the Left Bank.

Wherever you end up, remember to speak to the staff with confidence and ask your server lots of questions. A few enthusiastic "mercis" and "s'il vous plaits" will go far toward establishing a rapport and making you more comfortable.

My husband and I plan to be in Shanghai in December and were looking forward to shopping at the Xiangyang Road street market, which I had the pleasure of visiting about five years ago. Now I've heard that it has closed. Can you tell me if that is the case? And if so, do you know of another market like it?

Carol Barnes, Chantilly

Used to be, if you were in Shanghai and jonesing for a fake Hermès, Louis Vuitton or Prada, you headed for the downtown Xiangyang Road market, an outdoor bazaar with more than 800 shops selling an array of cheap counterfeit goods. Alas, the market was closed down by the government in 2006. Try the Qipu Road Market, which is similarly huge and where bargaining is expected. Or hit the shops on Nanjing Road, Shanghai's main shopping street.

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