Reserve a room or suite at almost any hotel in Paris - or, for that matter, anywhere in France - and you'll see stars.
That's because France has an official hotel star rating system that awards every hotel in the country one to five stars. By law, hotels must post their stars near their main entrance to enable visitors to know what to expect.
A small select group of exceptionally outstanding 5-star hotels receive an additional honor: the Palace designation.
But when you're booking a room in Paris, what does the number of stars say to you about the experience you'll have in the hotel? Should you even care how many stars a hotel has?
Here's a quick overview about what you can tell about a Paris hotel based on its number of stars - and, surprisingly, what you can't tell.
What Do French Star Ratings for Hotels Mean?
What does a star mean? You might think the stars displayed by almost every hotel door in France measure quality, but in fact, they show how well a hotel rates based on factors that may - or may not - add up to quality.
The key thing to know about the French star system is that it awards points based on almost 300 criteria related to hotel facilities, service, and a commitment to accessibility/sustainable development.
Some of the criteria, such as room size, define mandatory standards for each star level and must be considered when determining the hotel's score.
Other criteria, such as having an onsite fitness center or private terrace, are optional. Still other criteria, such as whether a hotel's restaurant (if there is one) is air-conditioned may be mandatory or optional, based on the star level. So in short, it's complicated.
Each hotel is re-evaluated once every five years to ensure that its star rating is correct.
1-Star Paris Hotels ★
If you're looking for cheap accommodations in Paris, you may be tempted to book a 1-star hotel. But be aware: cheap rates usually mean very small guest rooms (as small as 80 square feet - for example, 8' by 10'), shared bathrooms (or an en suite bathroom as small as 16 square feet - 4' by 4'), a staff that speaks only French, and almost no amenities.
You may also be relatively far from the more popular parts of the city. Most central Paris hotels close to major tourist attractions now have at least two, and usually three or more, stars. In fact, even 3-star hotels are becoming somewhat scarce as many have upgraded in order to qualify for 4 stars.
But let's get back to 1-star hotels.
Like all Paris hotels, 1-star hotels are required to serve breakfast, and to offer at least 5 types of choices, such as fruit juice, hot tea and coffee, jam, bread, and croissants - oops, that's six, so maybe you won't get croissants. Or maybe you can get coffee but no tea.
Bottom line, the breakfast will probably be simple and basic - maybe not that different from what you'd have at home on a busy weekday morning.
Finally, you should expect a minimalist hotel lobby, no elevator, and reception staff available for as little as only 8 hours. And if you usually pay with plastic, you should know that 1-star hotels do not required to accept your credit card - so be prepared, if necessary, to head for the nearest ATM machine before checkout.
But ... keep in mind that some 1-stars do in fact exist in central locations - usually in small centuries-old buildings where enlarging the room size to even the 2-star standard is not possible due to stairwell locations or other structural features. Read hotel reviews from other travelers, and if you like what you see, congratulate yourself on finding a hidden gem!
1-Star Paris Hotel Hidden Gem Example: Hôtel du Dragon, 6th Arrondissement
2-Star Hotels ★★
Two-star Paris hotels can be bargains, especially if you find one with nicely updated decor near popular attractions. If you don't care about decor, you'll have even more choices.
Don't expect much in the way of space or amenities: minimum room size requirements are the same as for 1-star hotels. However, at least 75% of guestrooms must have private bathrooms for a hotel to get two stars, and in some 2-star hotels, all rooms will have them.
Lobbies will be larger (although still small in most cases), and the reception staff will speak at least one European language (not necessarily English) other than French. Two-star (and higher) hotels are required to accept credit cards.
If French hotel has 5 floors (including the ground floor), it must have an elevator in order to get 2 stars - but not all 2-star hotels have this many floors. Air conditioning is not a requirement and is a rarity in 2-star hotels in Paris and relatively non-existent in 2-star hotels elsewhere in France.
2-Star Hotel Example: Hôtel Cujas Panthéon, 5th Arrondissement
Tucked away in the Latin Quarter on a quiet street leading up to the Panthéon, 2-star Hôtel Cujas Panthéon offers 48 guest rooms with private bathrooms and - not a "given" in 2-star Paris hotels - air conditioning. The hotel is in an 18th century building with an elevator going to all floors.
An attractive lobby and breakfast area plus 24x7 front desk service makes this a 2-star gem in one of the city's most popular neighborhoods. Decor, as you can see in the photo, is simple and tasteful.
Check out Paris Discovery Guide's recommendations for more bargain 2-star Paris hotels in another popular area:
3-Star Hotels ★★★
Three-star Paris hotels can be the sweet spot for comfort and charm at affordable rates.
If you look carefully, you can find plenty of lovely boutique 3-star hotels located in 17th and 18th century townhouses and even mansions.
According to the French star rating system, all guestrooms in 3-star hotels must have an en suite bathroom. Rooms may still feel tiny (but this is the norm in Paris hotels, almost regardless of the star rating) - together, the guestroom plus bathroom must total almost 50% more square footage than guestrooms (without bathrooms) in 1- and 2-star hotels, so this still doesn't add up to much space.
It's not uncommon to find 3-star hotels where the bathroom is almost the same size as the bedroom (a hint that these may have once been two separate rooms).
However, many 3-star hotels will offer rooms in several different size categories, so you may want to consider booking a larger room. Booking.com does a good job of showing you different room choices when you click on the hotel name.
You can expect lobbies and other public spaces in 3-star hotels to feel more spacious. Reception staff members typically speak English in addition to French and other languages, although this is not required.
You'll also find a bar - a 3 star requirement - in the lobby. It may be a small unattended "honor" bar - but handy if you want a drink at night without venturing out.
An elevator is also required in 3-star hotels with 4 or more floors (including the ground floor), which means that virtually all 3-star Paris hotels will have one since very few city buildings have fewer than 4 floors.
Air conditioning is not required, but for competitive reasons, most 3-star Parisian hotels do have it.
Although you may think of 3-star Paris hotels as mid-range, in reality, many of them compete based on quality (something that the star system doesn't measure). So look for many of the luxury and high-end design touches and personalized service that you'll find in 4-star and higher hotels - but usually at a somewhat lower price tag.
3-Star Hotel Example: Relais du Louvre - 1st Arrondissement
4-Star Paris Hotels ★★★★
Most 4-star hotels in Paris fall squarely in the luxury range, offering more spacious guestrooms and bathrooms, mandated air conditioning, and a lot more amenities than required. Those with more than 30 rooms must provide reception services 24x7, and it is not unusual for those with 30 or fewer rooms to do so as well.
Virtually all reception staff will speak English as well as other languages. Four-star (and 5-star) hotels are required to provide concierge services to make dinner and entertainment reservations, provide sightseeing information, and have someone available to take your bags to your room. If you forget to bring an adapter for your electrical devices, they will provide you with one for use during your stay. A growing (and welcome) trend among 4-star hotels is to provide umbrellas for guests to use on rainy days.
Four-star hotels must serve at least 11 food and beverage choices for breakfast, which usually means a lavish spread with plenty of fresh fruits, fancy pastries, nuts, smoked salmon, cold meats, cereals, hot dishes such as bacon and eggs, gourmet jams and honey, and cold cereals such as muesli (ie, European granola).
To earn 4 stars, hotels must offer a lot beyond the minimum - so expect to see amenities such as fitness rooms, outdoor dining terraces, car services, business services, laundry, high-speed internet, and late-night dining options. The latest and trendiest amenities in new 4-star Paris hotels are spas, hammams, and indoor pools.
4-Star Hotel Example: Lyric Hôtel - 9th Arrondissement
5-Star Hotels ★★★★★
In terms of mandatory requirements, the biggest visible difference between 4-star and 5-star hotels is space - guestrooms, bathrooms, and public spaces will be larger, and there will be an onsite restaurant and room service. English is a required language for 5-star hotels.
Whereas 3-star and even 4-star hotels often have space limitations due to being in historic townhouses that simply don't accommodate large guestrooms, 5-star hotels typically occupy much larger commercial buildings or mansions. A number of 5-star hotels have spas, and even swimming pools - part of how they earn the number of points required to gain the 5-star rating.
Breakfast choices will be extensive. The onsite restaurant may be headed by a famous chef, and perhaps be Michelin-starred.
A car service with drivers must be available.
Safes are required in guestrooms (although you'll also find them in most 3-star and 4-star hotels).
Typically, you can expect top-notch service.
5-Star Hotel Example: Marignon Champs-Élysées - 8th Arrondissement
Palace Hotels ★★★★★ +
Palace hotels are a special category of high-end 5-star hotels.
This coveted designation is awarded to a small number of establishments with exceptional facilities (look for swimming pools, spas, roof-top terraces, gourmet Michelin-starred restaurants), amenities, and services. They must represent the highest standards of French hospitality and culture.
Only eight Paris hotels have been selected for Palace status: Le Bristol, Le Meurice, Le Park Hyatt Vendôme, Plaza Athénée, Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental, and Le Royal Monceau Raffles.
Palace Hotel Example: Shangri-La Hotel - 16th Arrondissement
Luxury Palace Shangri-La's large, lavish 101 guestrooms and suites offer Eiffel Tower and sweeping Paris views from private terraces. With 3 restaurants, a renowned spa complete with large indoor swimming pool, and every service and amenity you can imagine, this special hotel deserves its special Palace designation.
What Do French Star Ratings NOT Tell You?
The biggest thing the stars don't measure is quality. They won't tell you if service is warm and attentive, if your bed will be comfortable, or if the hotel is clean.
They don't tell you anything about the view from your room, the noise you may hear from the street, or the convenience of the location.
To find out about all of these things, read reviews. TripAdvisor is a good place to start, especially if you disregard the outliers - you know, those reviewers who totally slam a hotel that most others seem to like, as well as those who gush about how wonderful everything is while the majority seems more skeptical. Look for the consensus rather than the anomaly.