For a city with so many nicknames, Paris sure does live up to all its’ heightened expectations.
My first rendezvous with Paris was during the spring of 2009- coincidentally, it was also my first visit to Europe. Though the sites were as beautiful as I’d imagined and the culture a lovely acquisition, below freezing weather prevented me from delving in the entire outdoor Parisian experience.
This past October, I returned to the City of Lights to discover Paris for its’ complete worth- to determine for myself whether its’ reputation as a “mecca of art, culture, fashion, history, and architecture” had validity. Let it be known, I was not disappointed.
Of course, Paris is renowned for housing some of the most famous museums in the world- including the Louvre and the d’Orsay, but my favorite part is not the art or the sculptures, but the outdoor culture that makes the city such an appealing place.
I believe that in order to experience the true culture of Paris, you need to walk it. Believe me when I say, Paris is one of the most walkable cities I’ve visited in my seventeen years of life. And for me, that is exactly what made my Parisian experience so enjoyable. So much of the city’s charm lies not in the major tourist attractions- whether that is the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre Museum- but rather, within the districts that define Paris as the mecca it is so often thought of. Rather than focus on the city’s obvious attractions, I’d like to share some of the places which made me fall for Paris’ charm over the course of my two weeks there.
Begin with the Marais Walk, which takes you through one of the city’s most characteristic quarters and ends in the artsy Beaubourg district. This walk is perhaps my favorite, as it introduces you to the historically aristocratic districts of Paris, meanwhile resonating with the medieval nature that Paris once held. After undergoing renovation, the Marais district is now a trendy and prosperous community which includes the Jewish quarter, lovely fashion, an artistic perspective, and the Parisian reality. The literal translation of Marais is “swamp,” which is what the area used to be prior to the reign of Henry IV. He converted the area into the hometown of the French aristocracy during his time as king and mansions such as the Hotel de Sully and Place des Vosges were built, which now are home to museums and libraries. Paris’ Jewish quarter was once the largest in Western Europe, and though it has diminished in size, it still embraces the culture quite well through food, quaint cafes, and a vibrant community. Be sure to stop for some falafel on Rue des Rosiers, as L’As du Falafel is considered the best falafel shop in France.
Once you’ve tired yourself out from eating and walking too much, take Bus 69, or even 68 (a lesser known route, and one that I recommend greatly) to get a feel for the city in its entirety. Bus 69 is suggested by many tour guides, as it covers some of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. As Rick Steves says, why pay an excess amount for a tour company to give you an overview of Paris when city bus #69 can do it for the cost of a Metro ticket? 69 begins at the Eiffel Tower and ends at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery- home of Oscar Wilde’s grave. Meanwhile, Bus 68 ends its route at Place de la Clichy, which is near the Opera Garnier and also a great shopping spot with both local boutiques and larger chains. Clichy is also special in that it hasn’t been altered by urban planners, therefore leaving many of the building facades untouched to resound with the antiquity of Paris.
To understand why Paris has been the cultural capital of Europe for so many centuries, travelers must embark on the Historic Paris Walk which brings together generations of history in a three-mile stretch. The walk begins with one of the most famous cathedrals in the world- the Notre Dame de Paris. And what a sight it is. In the many times I’ve visited Paris, the Notre Dame has always been my first stop. The cathedral is omnipotent, and you can feel the presence of the history and the power of the Notre Dame within you, whether you’re inside or outside the premises. The Notre Dame is the center of France: distances throughout the country are measured in terms of their proximity to this cathedral. A highlight of this walk is the Ile St. Louis, a quaint and classy residential island, with only high-end apartments, boutiques, and restaurants. My personal favorite is the world famous Berthillon ice cream parlor, and I promise, it is more than deserving of its fame. This small island epitomizes the romance and serenity of the Parisian experience. From here, you’ll switch to the left bank of the Seine to explore Medieval Paris, the Latin Quarter, Boulevard St. Michel, the Palais de Justice, Pont Neuf, and finally, the Seine. I recommend that you spend some time strolling along the banks, taking in the muffled city noises while enjoying the cool breeze that the river provides you.
End your day with a visit to Paris’ most famous park- the Tuileries Gardens- or with a quieter and more relaxing visit to the Luxembourg Gardens. The Tuileries Gardens connect the Louvre, Orsay, Jeu de Paume, and Orangerie museums and they offer an ideal spot to clear your mind after spending the day absorbing the art and culture that is so predominant within the Louvre. Meanwhile, the Luxembourg Gardens hold a special place in my heart. The 60-acre garden is picture perfect and so beautiful that it seems unreal. Flower beds are spread throughout the entirety of the park and the colors are lovely, especially in mid-October. The quiet atmosphere is idyllic for budding artists and musicians, while also providing a lovely getaway for residents from the bustling city.
A week is not nearly enough to truly appreciate Paris. Neither is a month. There are so many aspects of the city to explore, and yet, so little time to do so. If you’re looking for a relaxing vacation, lively nightlife, or a dynamic city with the best of both, Paris is the place to be. As Audrey Hepburn once so famously said, “Paris is always a good idea.”