There’s no such thing as a bad time to visit the beautiful and flamboyant city of Paris, even if the wind is blowing hard, it’s raining, or the temperatures are close to freezing. I know that this sounds like a pretty common phrase, the kind that everyone knows and accepts without questioning, but the good thing is that I can certify it. During my four days stay in the capital of France, I encountered almost all the possible bad weather conditions. And despite the chills, everything turned out beautifully; Paris has totally lived up to its reputation.
Known as “la Ville lumière” (the City of Light) or “la Ville de l’amour” (the City of love), Paris is the one of the world’s major cities. It’s a fascinating metropolis, with over two millenniums of history behind, 12 million inhabitants, some of the most outstanding buildings you’ll ever see, and some of the most charming gardens you’ll ever encounter. But all these things come at a price: Paris is, in the same time, one of the most expensive cities in the world, taking the top spot of this year’s analysis made by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
I have always been attracted by facts and figures, and Paris has a few interesting ones. For example, it has the highest number of libraries in the world (approx. 830), over 1,800 monuments, over 170 museums, 37 bridges over the Seine, and approx. 450 parks and gardens. All these in the unusual case in which you were wondering what to do…
But besides these figures, there are some false beliefs, too. One of the most common is that it’s called the City of Light because it was one of the first European cities to introduce gas street lighting. But in reality, it’s named like that due to the fact that it played a central role during the Age of Enlightenment – an intellectual and philosophical movement, which lasted for more than a century. During those years, Paris became the home or the meeting point for many intellectuals, such as writers and philosophers (Voltaire, Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot), mathematicians (Joseph-Louis Lagrange, Jean-Charles de Borda) and naturalists (Georges-Louis Leclerc).
How to Reach the city from the airport
The main air gateway of Paris is Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport, the second busiest airport in Europe, based on 2018 statistics. Besides CDG, there are two other airports, much smaller: Paris-Orly and Beauvais–Tillé, both used by low-cost carriers. I purchased some decent priced tickets from Air France, the French flag carrier, a company that flies most of the times to the main airport. Reaching the city center is fairly easy, and can be done in approximately 40 minutes, by using the RER B train (it’s the Blue line, and the cost per trip is €10.30). Tickets can be purchased at one of the many vending machines from the terminal. The train goes to the Gare du Nord, from where you can grab the metro (there’s no need to purchase a second ticket, the one for the train will guarantee the metro trip as well).
While strolling in the center, I discovered RoissyBus, a bus line that goes directly to the airport, at a price of €13.70. According to them, it takes between 60 and 75 minutes, so it’s a feasible option. I won’t recommend a cab or an Uber, unless you’re part of a bigger group. Such a trip will cost at least €60-70.
Accommodations in Paris don’t come cheap. If it’s your first visit, then definitely try staying in one of the central areas – any of the first eight arrondissements will do the job. I went a bit over my usual budget to stay in the city center, a decision that led to not using the metro at all (except for the airport trips). The hotel I stayed at was Le Relais Du Marais (76 Rue de Turbigo), located near the Place de la République. From there, I was able to reach many of the city’s sights in under 30 minutes. Despite being a bit cramped, the room had big windows and a French balcony, that came along with a pretty nice street view. One thing that I disliked was that too many staff members were almost completely lacking attention to details. Oh, well, I guess that this is the hospitality industry nowadays…
Guide to Paris
The more days you stay, the better. Of course, this applies to most big cities across the world. Are four days enough for Paris? I think so. I mean, I’ve missed a couple of places and a few things, but the time was sufficient, and the whole experience felt relaxing and refreshing:
- I’m going to start with one of the most enchanting neighbourhoods of the city: Montmartre. Situated on a large hill, it’s very popular among tourists, mostly because it has kept its old, village feel over the years. You will find here narrow, cobblestone alleys, street performers and artists (gathered around Place du Tertre – a bit of a tourist trap, if you ask me), and a wonderful panoramic view of Paris.
- Montmartre is also known for the imposing Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, a landmark visible from many points around the city, thanks to its position and large dome. The shininess of the church comes from the travertine stone, used for its construction. Entrance is free, but if you want to climb the dome or enter the crypt, you’ll have to pay. There’s one unique place in Montmartre, that should be on your travel list: Le Mur des je t’aime, a 40 square metres love-themed wall, having the phrase ‘I love you’ written 311 times, in 250 languages.
- Les Halles district used to host the city’s central fresh food market. The old, medieval market was demolished in the 1970s and was replaced by a large, underground shopping mall, Le Forum des Halles. Near this site you’ll spot the prominent Église Saint-Eustache, a fine example of the Gothic architecture, a style that originated in 12th-century France.
- Since we’re in this area, let me recommend you two locations for food and drinks: the first one is very traditional, a place that has opened its doors back in 1946, the brasserie Au Pied de Cochon (6 Rue Coquillière). The second one is a modern bistro/bar, with a few vintage additions and a lively atmosphere inside: Central Park (5 Rue du Jour).
- I was eager to see Atelier Brâncuși, a museum that contains the entire studio of the great artist and sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, formerly located on Impasse Ronsin alley. As a note, I grew up in the artist’s hometown in Romania, so I was able to enjoy the sight of some of his best works (The Sculptural Ensemble of Constantin Brâncuși at Târgu Jiu), for most of my childhood. The museum is free to visit, and accommodates sculptures, sketches, furniture, tools, record library and photographs.
- Situated right in the heart of Paris, Le Marais is one of the historical neighbourhoods, well-know for its rich history and magnificent architecture. Very representative for this district are the private mansions, the museums, the antiques dealers and the design shops. Some of the edifices found here are: l’Hôtel de Ville (the city hall), located in a striking 19th century Neo-Renaissance building, Place des Vosges, the city’s oldest planned square, and Musée Picasso, an art museum dedicated to Pablo Picasso, hosting over 5,000 of his works.
- Musée du Louvre needs no introduction. It is the world’s largest and most visited art museum, home to amazing masterpieces, such as paintings (The Mona Lisa / The Wedding at Cana / Liberty Leading the People), sculptures (Venus de Milo / The Winged Victory of Samothrace) or other various artefacts (Code of Hammurabi / The Napoleon III Apartments). The entrance to the museum is done via the Pyramide, a spectacular glass and metal structure. Designed by I.M. Pei, it was opened in 1989, to mark the 200 years anniversary of the French Revolution. In order to avoid the lines, it’s best to purchase your tickets in advance, directly from their official website (price of one is €17). And another thing to have in mind is to take at least three hours of your time for the visit.
- If you’re in search of nature, in front of the Louvre you will find the magnificent Jardin des Tuileries, a common meeting point for the locals. On the eastern entrance, you’ll spot a smaller garden, Jardin du Carrousel, with a majestic triumphal arch.
- A romantic way to end the day is a stroll along the Seine. The banks of the river are the perfect place to relax and enjoy a glass of French wine. And while you’re walking, let yourself be amazed by the bridges over the Seine, like Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts or Pont Alexandre III.
- In the middle of the Seine it’s l’Île de la Cité, one of the two natural islands of the city, the place where medieval Paris was established. The jewel of the island is for sure the celebrated Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Unfortunately, the cathedral has been permanently closed since April 2019, when a fire destroyed most of its roof and its spire. Estimations show that it will remain closed for at least five to six years. It’s a bummer that I couldn’t see it from up close, but I hope that I’ll come back one day. Other landmarks include the beautiful Gothic church of Sainte-Chapelle and Le Conciergerie, a former prison, the place where Marie Antoinette (the last Queen of France) spent her last living months, before being guillotined in 1793.
- Avenue des Champs-Élysées is amongst the most well-known streets in the world. It stretches for almost two kilometres, between Place de la Concorde and Place Charles de Gaulle, where the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is located. You will find here theatres, cafés and many, many luxury shops. So if you’re into luxury shopping, this is the best choice.
- It’s finally time to discuss about La Tour Eiffel, one of the symbols of Paris. I have to admit that I didn’t climb it. The decision came after I repeatedly read online that the whole experience is a bit overrated, so instead I searched for other options to get a panoramic view. These turned out to be Montmartre hill and the rooftop terrace of the Printemps Haussmann department store. The tower, standing at 324 meters tall, is pretty impressive especially during the night.
- Not far from the Tour Eiffel is an important monument for the military history of France, L’Hôtel des Invalides. The building complex contains several museums and churches, and one of the highlights is the tomb of Napoléon Bonaparte, inside Le Dôme des Invalides.
- On the way to the Latin Quarter, I recommend a stop at one of the two famous cafés on Boulevard Saint-Germain, Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain) or Les Deux Magots (6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés). These became hubs for many writers and philosophers, during the first half of the 20th century. My advice is to lay back and watch the people pass by, while sipping on a cup of coffee.
- The last district I’m going to talk about is the Latin Quarter, known for its vibrant atmosphere, fuelled by all the youngsters studying at one of the many universities in the area. In the same time, it’s a maze of narrow streets and hidden courtyards, which makes it an interesting and enjoyable part of Paris. If you’re up for a treat, visit Odette (77 Rue Galande) and try their choux pastries. Simply delicious.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the famed German philosopher, once wrote: “An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris”. I’m far from being an artist, but I will subscribe to his statement. Paris is classy and enchanting… But despite being home to so many landmarks and edifices, it doesn’t feel like one giant museum; people actually live here, you know, and the atmosphere around its quarters will help you realize that. Paris has reminded me, in some ways, of Lyon. Still, I truly believe that Paris should not be described, but felt. Go there and don’t be afraid to explore. Pack some comfortable shoes, and let yourself get lost on the streets.
À plus tard, Paris!
Author: Marian Bulacu
Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.