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 rated hotel in the country one to five stars.
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 really mean about the experience you'll have in the hotel?
Here's a quick overview about what you can tell about a Paris hotel based on the number of stars - and what you can't tell.
The key thing to know about the French star system is that it awards points based almost 300 criteria related to hotel facilities, service, and accessibility/sustainable development commitment.
Some of the criteria, such as room size, impose mandatory standards for each star level. 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.
Hotels are evaluated once every five years to ensure that their star rating is correct.
Here's what you can generally expect at each star level:
If you're looking for a 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), shared bathrooms (or an en suite bathroom as small as 16 square feet), a staff that speaks only French, and very few 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 more, stars.
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.
Finally, you should expect a minimalist hotel lobby, no elevator, and the reception staff available for as few as 8 hours. And if you usually pay with plastic, you should know that 1-star hotels are not required to accept credit cards.
1-Star Hotel Example: Hôtel du Dragon, 6th Arrondissement
Hôtel du Dragon, located near Sciences Po and Saint-Sulpice Church in the heart of the upscale 6th Arrondissement, is a rare find: a 1-star hotel where each of its 28 guestrooms (spread over 7 floors; no elevator) have private modern bathrooms. It occupies a building built in 1700 on a quiet street in a wonderful neighborhood, where you'll find numerous cafes, bistros, bookstores, antique shops, and boutiques.
Two-star Paris hotels can be a bargain, especially if you find one with nicely updated decor near popular attractions.
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, and in some 2-star hotels, all rooms will have them.
Lobbies will be larger, 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 the 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 a rarity in 2-star hotels.
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 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.
Check out Paris Discovery Guide's recommendations for more bargain 2-star Paris hotels in another popular area:
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 must have an en suite bathroom. Rooms may still feel tiny (this is the norm in Paris hotels) - together, the guestroom plus bathroom must total almost 50% more square footage than guestrooms (without bath) in 1- and 2-star hotels, so this still doesn't add up to much space.
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 typically speaks 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.
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 at a somewhat lower price tag
3-Star Hotel Example: Relais du Louvre - 1st Arrondissement
With a terrific location near the Louvre, the Seine River, and Notre Dame, 3-star Relais du Louvre features 24 guestrooms and suites with appealing country French decor. With air conditioning, an elevator, evening room service for warm and cold meals, an airport shuttle service, concierge services, multiple languages (including English) spoken by the 24x7 front desk staff, private safes in all rooms, and even gluten-free options for breakfast, Relais du Louvre goes far beyond the minimum 3-star requirements yet offers competitive rates in this super-popular part of the city.
Most 4-star Paris hotels are squarely in the luxury range, with more spacious guestrooms and bathrooms, mandated air conditioning, and a lot more amenities than required. Those with more than 30 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. 4-star (and 5-star) hotels are required to provide concierge services to make dinner and entertainment reservations, provide sightseeing information, etc. They are also required to have someone to take your bags to your room. If you forget to bring an adapter for your electrical devices, they will provide you with one.
At least 11 food and beverage choices must be offered 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, and more.
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.
4-Star Hotel Example: Lyric Hôtel - 9th Arrondissement
With 47 beautifully decorated guestrooms and suites, luxury bathrooms, and a dazzling lobby and other public spaces, Lyric Hôtel easily fits into the 4-star hotel category, even without considering its multilingual reception staff, concierge services, splendid hot and cold breakfast buffet, and excellent location near the Paris Opera. What sets it apart, though, is the spa, complete with an indoor swimming pool under a glass roof, a sauna, steam bath, and fitness room.
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 well-known 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
Situated in Paris's Golden Triangle, famous for its designer showrooms and superb shopping, Marignon Champs-Élysées offers 50 rooms and suites furnished to emulate luxurious modern Parisian apartments. With views of the Eiffel Tower from the private terraces of some of the rooms and suites, personalized service, and an excellent on-site restaurant serving lunch and dinner, this hotel epitomizes sophisticated 5-star luxury and comfort in an ideal location.
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.
More about Paris 5-Star Palace Hotels - Find out what makes each one special
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.
The star ratings also don't tell you much about price. Sure, any 2-star hotel will be a lot cheaper than any 4-star or 5-star. But you'll find lots of overlap among the ranges, particularly between 3-star and 4-star hotels, as well as between some 4-star and some 5-star properties. There are also real bargains at each star level - hotels that deliver more than you'd expect for the price.