I was looking forward to going to Paris for the first time this summer. Was Paris on the top of my travel list? Well, to be honest… no. But I had seen enough movies set in Paris to paint this picture in my mind of a quaint, affluent city—oh and of course it’s in black and white.
The one thing that I always found fascinating about Paris is how much people swoon over it at its mention. You always hear about the American in Paris clichés and the romantic Parisian narratives that have been crafted. But why? What makes Paris so special? I mean, what does Paris have that cities like London and New York don’t?
So before arriving to Paris, I made a promise to myself: that I would not fall in love with Paris just for the sake of it. I would fall in love with Paris on my own terms. I would fall in love with Paris because past the glitz and the glamour…I found something deeper. Now what that something would be, I wasn’t exactly sure. I only had three days there, but this is what I found:
I don’t like it, I Louvre it.
I’m all for exploring outside the beaten path, but Paris is one of those places where I wanted to revel in the touristy and cheesy. There are just so many popular places that can’t be missed. With that being said, it was the middle of summer. The Louvre was very, very busy, yet very much as interesting and beautiful. The glass pyramid is a sight in itself. Egyptian antiquities to Renaissance art make it a living and breathing Humanities lesson. You can really get lost in it all…literally. So keep your museum map handy.
Many visit the Louvre solely for the art inside and forget to explore what surrounds it. Nearby you will find the famous Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge that takes strollers over the Seine River from the Louvre to the West Bank.
There is also the Jardins du Palais Royal, which is one of the most beautiful and surprisingly quiet spots in Paris. It is a great place to pick out a chair and people watch. PS- The majority of the parks in Paris don’t have benches, but they have chairs. I love this; you can basically just grab a chair and sit wherever you wish.
The old locks of Love Lock Bridge on the Pont des Arts were removed this summer, but those intent on locking their love have found some other places to do so along the Seine River. The sides of the bridge have been replaced with painted murals. Regardless, locks on a bridge were pretty much exactly what I expected it to be… just a whole lot of locks on a bridge.
I wasn’t a huge lover of macarons…until I got my hands on Ladureé macarons. Now I’m a believer. My two favorite flavors: Rose and Marie Antoinette Tea (the pink and blue ones).
Being in Paris felt a lot like being on a movie set. Especially walking around at night under the city lights. I couldn’t help but think that there was a slight chance that I would be transported back to 1920s Paris at midnight like Owen Wilson. The city comes alive at night as cafés turn into wine bars and lit up theaters appear on boulevards.
Uniform cream and taupe buildings decorated with dark iron windowsills line the streets. This aesthetic is the product of the 19th century Haussmanian architectural revival, where most of the center of Paris was demolished and reconstructed. The city has a lot of open space with wide streets and large parks that make it feel far more relaxed and refreshing than your typical big city.
Paris is home to my three favorite food groups: bread, cheese and wine. It is also pretty much a fact that nutella tastes better in Paris. While Paris is home to Michelin star restaurants and has developed as a hub for the culinary arts, some of the best food is the simple food.
Try a crepe from a street cart, visit a boulangerie for a croissant + French press coffee or plant yourself at an open-air bistro for dinner. Washing down rich and fresh food with smooth red wine is a way of life in Paris.
Montmartre is Paris’s oldest district. It used to be the old stomping grounds of Hemingway, Dali, and Picasso and is home to absinthe and cabaret. This corner of the city has a bohemian flair, packed with street artists and colorful cafes.
Its winding steep streets balance well with the straight, regimented streets of areas like Champs-Elysees. The bright white Sacre-Coeur Basilica sits majestically upon a hill overlooking the entire city. The steps leading up to the top are inviting and the perfect spot to enjoy the views over a picnic of cheese and a bottle of wine.
Lido de Paris
Everyone needs to experience a French Cabaret while in the city of lights. We spent an evening at the Lido de Paris for a live french cabaret called Paris Merveilles, which means Paris Wonders. Lido de Paris has been around since 1946 and is located in the elegant Champs-Elysees. Here you can wine and dine in a theatre draped in chandeliers while watching an unforgettable performance.
It’s so much more than just sparkly costumes and topless dancing. This show combines old-school French cabaret glitter and glamour with modern state of the art acts including an ice-skating rink, a water show and laser acts. It artfully captures the essence of Paris, both old and new.
Last but not least, the Eiffel tower. It’s a beauty of architecture. It’s a place where you can appreciate the romanticism of the city even for just a moment (until the guy selling I <3 Paris trinkets comes and hassles you).
It’s a reminder of humanity’s ingenuity and times gone by. It’s the heart of the city’s lovers, and those who love the lovers, and those who love to hate the lovers and…ya I think you get the gist. Paris is the city of love and even the pigeons are loving on each other.
The Eiffel Tower was the first landmark I toured, which is best seen at night when the lines are more manageable. The lights sparkle every hour on the dot after the sun sets (10 o’clock in the middle of July). My first night in Paris was magical, where I watched the sun go down over a 5-course Prix fixe meal at 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant and then climbed to the top to see the Eiffel Tower light up at midnight over the city of Paris.
Sometimes travelers visit a place and leave disappointed, when high hopes and expectations are trampled on by reality. No, the streets don’t smell like Chanel No. 5 and yes, the city may be crowded, dirty and cold in parts. But it will also be beautiful, stunning and exciting. Understanding that this reality is still something worth dreaming about is how one can truly begin to appreciate a place for what it is.
Somewhere underneath the Haussmann rooftops and along the cobbled streets on the banks of the Seine River, I’m reminded that some things are just popular for a reason.
This is Paris at its most magical: monuments, views, winding streets, lights, sauntering crowds— it all draws you in. Everyone’s experience here is different. I found an electric place that was never, not even for half a second, dull.
Paris is a city worth loving. Now you’ve just got to go and fall in love with it for yourself.
“I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.” — Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris