Paris, the City of lights
No city in the world has better marketing than Paris. The city of lights, city of love, city of fashion. The city of croissants, macaroons, crepes and French baguettes. The city of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The city of great philosophical ideas. The city of liberty, equality and fraternity. The city well known from book novels and romantic movies. The city from photos on Instagram. But what is Paris really like?
One could say that Paris is no longer what it used to be when great artists like Victor Hugo, Claude Monet or Hemingway and thousands of others lived and had been creating here. Today, this city is full of tourists and tourist traps. The streets are full of immigrants from North Africa (from former French colonies) and the restaurants are overpriced. On the other hand, the reputation of the most romantic city in the world is not based just on fantasy. Couples in love literally come here to get engaged under the illuminated Eiffel Tower. In my opinion, Paris is the city of stories and muses. You can still feel the spirit of La Belle Époque in the air, which charmingly mixes with the smell of coffee, fresh pastries and cigarettes like a well-balanced French perfume. There is nothing better than soaking up the Parisian atmosphere. Recently, I fly to Paris at least four times a month, as I bid for these Parisian routes and with each visit I love this city even more. I’m already starting to feel like a Parisian here and I want to introduce you to this city in a way that no travel guide can. Follow my steps and you will fall in love with Paris…
La Tour Eiffel
The French icon Eiffel Tower was named after the engineer who had it built. It is said to be the most visited monument in the whole world! And although in its beginnings in 1889 many leading artists of Paris criticized it for its design, today we cannot imagine Paris without it. The tower has something to it, especially when it lit up. Every full hour after sunset, it starts to sparkle for a few minutes, and that’s the moment you want to stand under it in a sparkling dress and toast with a glass of champagne. I definitely advise you to avoid the difficult climbing to the top of the tower and the even more difficult waiting in line for tickets, rather sit on the grass in the park under the Eiffel Tower or on the wall in the Trocadero square and toast to this magical moment. If by chance you don’t carry a bottle or glasses in your purse, that’s okay. You will surely meet soon an inventive street salesman with a cool box in which he carries beers, wine or even champagne with glasses. There are quite a few people running around Trocadero who have sensed the business potential of this place. Or for this little party, prepare in advance, pack your own picnic basket and settle down in a more intimate place like the ever-bustling Trocadero − on the banks of the Seine River.
The best places with a view of the Eiffel Tower
I’m sure you’ve already seen the Trocadero views on thousands of Paris photographs. It is definitely one of the most popular locations as it offers an outstanding viewpoint on the Eiffel Tower right in the palm of your hand. However, I know places with a great view of the tower that are more intimate and more Parisian. Just a five-minute walk from the Trocadero is a little street with an equally photogenic view, and unlike the crowded square, Avenue des Camoens located in the residential part of the area is quiet and quite empty most of the day. Be sure to note also another address – the corner of Rue de l’Université and Avenue de la Bourdonnais. At the end of the Rue de l’Université, the Eiffel Tower looms before your eyes, and that’s also a great sight. Another such address is Rue de Monttessuy. In Paris, even the most ordinary street can become a perfect photo location. If you are up for a nice stroll, you can walk all the way up Rue Saint-Dominique till the corner of Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg until you reach Le Recruitement Cafe. Right here you will find a unique place with a real Parisian atmosphere like from an old movie. The street is full of small restaurants, bistros and cafes and feels a bit like a small town in the countryside. However, there is a clear sign in the background – the Eiffel Tower!
Bridges over the Seine river
There is also an interesting view of the Eiffel Tower from one of the many bridges over the Seine. In my opinion, the most beautiful bridge of all is the Pont de Alexandre III, which is worth a walk for its own architecture, not just for the view of the Eiffel Tower. Another photogenic gem above the river is the Pont de Bi-Hekeim, which you will surely recognize from many movies. The movie Inception is the first thing that comes to my mind. The Pont des Arts, bridge of love and secrets is mentioned in the movie Now You See Me. In the past, couples in love used to hang locks on the railing here so that their love would last forever, or to lock in some secret here. However, there have been hanging so many locks on the bridge that they had to be permanently removed.
One of the most romantic locations in the whole city, in my opinion, is around Notre Dame. And not only for Victor Hugo’s powerful story. When the surrounding area of the cathedral turns pink in the spring, you don’t want to be anywhere else than sitting in the park under the cherry blossoms and looking at Notre Dame. I also like this place because the banks of the Seine are lined with small stalls with old posters, records, books and magazines, adding to the nostalgic atmosphere of the place. And right on the other side of the bank opposite the temple is my favorite cafe and the most charming bookstore in Paris − Shakespeare and Co. Around the corner from the bookshop is a very photogenic street dominated by the Odette patisserie. On the same islet that Notre Dame stands on, but at its other end, is my another favorite place. Place Dauphine appears in many films. It’s the exact spot from the last episode of Sex and the City when the artist Aleksander Petrovsky took Carrie for a stroll. I also go on a date here with my eternal love. I like to sit down on the bench, watch the people around and enjoy my favorite French dessert – a chocolate éclair.
Le Musée du Louvre
The second most visited address in Paris is definitely the Louvre museum, which includes such treasures as Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile. It is said that a person would need at least three months to thoroughly see all the exhibited artworks. 3-4 hours will be enough for the first visit of the most important. However, expect long queues for tickets or buy tickets online. I was quite surprised at how tiny the Mona Lisa painting actually is. Many people stay at wandering around the glass pyramid that forms the entrance to the museum, but in my opinion, the most famous museum in the world should be seen from the inside. If you are under 26, you can visit many museums in Paris, including the Louvre, absolutely for free. And every first Sunday of the month is the Museum Day, when many museums offer free entry. I also have a tip for you for a great photo location: directly opposite the small glass pyramid is the entrance to the passage that opens onto Rue Rivoli. Stand inside under the arch and take pictures.
A Marilyn Monroe moment
There are ventilation shafts on Rue Rivoli that will defiantly raise your skirt if you walk through them. Here you can imitate the glamorous Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 movie Seven Year Itch. A similar ventilation shaft is also located in front of the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret building and creates an even more naughty effect.
For an unknown reason for me, not too many people take pictures in beautiful royal gardens – Jardin du Palais Royal (just a short walk from the pyramid) as they do around the Louvre. Maybe because it is not such en evident location find, exposed to everybody to see like Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower. The beautiful gardens are hidden in the courtyard of the Palais Royal, former royal palace which turned into the Constitutional Council. The inner courtyard is decorated with black and white striped columns as a piece of modern art by Daniel Buren. In addition, at this address, under the majestic arcades, you will also find several fancy cafes and restaurants with their terraces in the park, where Parisians play petanque. I especially recommend visiting this place during spring months when the cherry trees, magnolias, roses and daffodils are in full bloom. Go to Kitsune Cafe, located right under the arcades, then enjoy your matcha latte on a park bench.
Paris is full of beautiful green parks and Parisians know how to enjoy them. When you find yourself in the Jardin des Tuileries park (not far from the Louvre), for example, on a beautiful sunny day, all the green chairs will be gathered around the fountain. Parisians will chill here, read their books or newspaper, feed the pigeons or just chat with an ice cream in hand. I like the Jardin du Luxembourg park even more, where there is also a charming Medici fountain from 1620.
No area in Paris has as much bohemian charm as this neighborhood around Montmartre hill and the Sacré Coeur Basilica. Originally, it was an independent village, which was attached to the city in 1860 as the 18th district. The cable car or 222 steps lead to the top. Below the basilica you will find a traditional carousel and on Rue des Trois Frères there is an old photo booth that has become the inspiration of many Instagram influencers. The sinking house is also very photogenic. In reality, however, this is not a paradox in architecture, but only an optical illusion. As you sit on the steps below the basilica to take in the view of Paris, look to your right and spot a dark orange creamy house behind a bank of grass. Tilt the camera to the left a little and suddenly the house in the photo starts to sink.
I personally love to wander the streets around Montmartre, which are full of restaurants, cafes and art shops. From the end of the 18th century until today, this district has been a place of bohemians, poets and artists. To this day, painters set up their easels and paint portraits of passing tourists, as a reminder of what this place once used to be. Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Amadeo Modigliani lived and worked at this address at the beginning of the 20th century. There is even a museum dedicated to Salvatore Dalí not far from the square. Although the restaurants in the area are considerably overpriced, they have an atmosphere that is worth paying extra for. Many establishments in Paris around Montmartre and Notre Dame work on the principle of a daily menu. For a price of around 16 euros, you can order a three-course meal from the daily menu, and it’s well worth it. After all, the French would never leave the table without ending the meal with wine, dessert or cheese! One of the most photographed houses in Montmartre is La Maison Rose (The Pink House). Apart from being a photogenic facade and a good restaurant, it is a house with a story behind. It is said that the initial owner of the house was one of Picasso’s models and lovers, who allegedly posed and warmed the bed for also other painters. And maybe she was the real reason why the painter Casagema committed suicide.
There is another very photogenic place near Montmartre, practically at the metro stop, at the address Le Refuge des Fondus. After that, however, I recommend heading down the street towards the Moulin Rouge. There is a restaurant on the side of the street opposite the cabaret, which you must visit. The reason is not only the exceptional Italian cuisine, but also the inspiring interior of the restaurant. A spiral staircase, tall windows and lots of paintings on the walls. Italian cuisine and French design is a great combination. You can easily recognize the restaurant from the outside, it is located in a tall pink building. Pink Mama is so popular that it doesn’t take reservations to give everyone a chance. If you want to get a seat at a table, you have to queue. Around 45 minutes before seven in the evening, when the restaurant opens, there are already a lot of people waiting on the street. Fortunately, the restaurant has five floors and the queue moves pretty quickly once it opens. The food is not at all expensive by Parisian standards, but very delicious.
Gustave Moreau Museum
I’m not that much into museums, but I really enjoy this one in Paris. Musée Gustave-Moreau, which is dedicated, as the name suggests, to the symbolist artist Gustave Moreau. In house no.14 at Rue de La Rochefoucauld, once set up his studio Moreau’s teacher Francois-Édouard Picot, from whom Moreau’s parents bought the house for their son in 1852. Gustave Moreau lived and worked here until his death in 1898. The year before he died, he wrote a will, in which he bequeathed the house and all his paintings to the state to preserve his collection in its entirety. And so in 1903, Gustav’s house was transformed into a museum. The top floor with its high ceilings is particularly fascinating, where huge detailed paintings hang around the spiral staircase.
Parisian Notting Hill
Even Paris has its Nothing Hill, that is, a very charming little street with brightly colored houses and cobblestone road. It is called Rue Crémieux and is located in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. It is a real life bloggers paradise as these houses have colorful facades similar to, for example, the homes on the Italian island of Burano. This place is also 100% pedestrian, so there are no cars or any other transportation means whatsoever that can ruin the background of your Instagram shot!
Monet Gardens in Giverny
And since we are slowly moving away from the center of Paris, let’s go in the footsteps of artists even further. Not far from Paris is the picturesque village of Giverny, where the great impressionist Claude Monet lived and worked. The artist preferred to paint his own garden, and that garden from his famous paintings still exists today! If you love French countryside, blooming gardens, daydreaming and art, then Monet gardens are a must. In addition, this fairy-tale place is located less than an hour away by train from Paris. Life is art and Claude Monet understood this well. As inventive in his painting, as in his gardens, he turned his land into another piece of art, which is today the second most visited tourist site in Normandy, right after the Mont Saint-Michel. Not only did he find in his gardens an endless well of inspiration for his work, the gardens themselves became an admired form of art. They show their beauty every year and change their face according to the current season. Here, too, one can see the painter’s sense of detail, perspective and aesthetics.
Water-lilies from the paintings
In 1983 Monet acquired a vacant piece of land across the road from the Clos-Normand which he then transformed into a Japanese water garden by diverting water from the local stream. Monet was fascinated by Japanese culture, which is also reflected in his garden. There are bamboo trees and other oriental plants, a Japanese-style bridge across the pond, and water lilies floating on the water. Those water lilies that made Monet so famous. In addition to the gardens, you can also visit the house where Monet lived with his children and his beloved wife Alice. Some of Monet’s paintings hang in the original pink house, and you’ll also find the artist’s collection of Japanese art. For a moment, you will find yourself in a completely different time.
How to get to Monet Gardens
Monet gardens are usually open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the period from March 22 to November 1. Every season, the gardens get different look, depending on which flowers start to bloom. The best season is spring and early summer. The entrance fee is 9.50 euros and the museum gets crowded very fast. To avoid crowds and skip the lines, come early in the morning and buy tickets online in advance. And how to actually get here? It is just a 45 minutes by SNCF train, which departs regularly from Gare Saint-Lazare. A train ticket costs from 10 to 16 euros for a one-way trip. You get off the train at the train station in Vernon and right in front of the station you find shuttle bus or sightseeing train tours to Giverny for another 8 euros (round trip ticket). In my opinion, the train is more fun because it takes you on a little sightseeing tour around the town of Giverny. Departures of shuttles are adjusted to train arrivals from Paris, which makes it all very easy.
When you’re in Paris and have enough of Eiffel Tower, take the train and head out to explore more distant corners. Château de Versailles was the main royal residence since the time of King Louis XIV. from 1682 until the outbreak of the French Revolution. The castle is undoubtedly the place of many stories, but also the site of masses of people. Honestly, I have never seen such a crowded historical site like Versailles. It is said to be the most visited monument in Paris – right after the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. And even if you come early in the morning and buy tickets in advance online, you can’t completely avoid crowds and endless lines. You can skip one long line for tickets, but you still have to wait in line before the security checks. I manage to get tangled up among a group of tourists in a special ‘tourists group’ line and by pretending I’m one of them I get inside a little earlier plus I got a bit of some professional interpretation for free. You can skip the long lines entirely by just visiting the gardens of Versailles. But then you wouldn’t see the wonderful Hall of Mirrors or Gallery of Battles, which refer to the magnificence of the founder Louis XIV. The recreational residence of Marie Antoinette – Queen’s Hamlet in the middle of the park is especially interesting. And how to get to Versailles? Easily by RER city train – yellow line.
I love Paris, days spent in the Jardin des Tuileries park with a book in hand, dinners in one of the local cafes, watching people on the street and sipping red wine. And then I move to the jazz bar. One of the best jazz bars in Paris is the rather low-key bar Le Baiser Salé. I always listen to quality music here and meet the interesting people of Paris…