Published on September 8th, 2013 | by Charu Suri
5 An Insider’s Guide to Paris
As Audrey Hepburn once famously said, “Paris is always a good idea.”
My acquaintances with Paris were several, after living in London and taking many trips with the EuroStar to the city that always reminds me of great literature (think Dumas, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant ) and more. As a life-long admirer and pianist who adored Claude Debussy’s music, I loved visits to Paris because I felt like I inhaled his impressionism as soon as I disembarked. From the blushing gardens, bustling Moulin Rouge to the stylish arrondissements, the art scene is truly a rational exuberance.
It is definitely a more expensive city, but there are ways to sample the local culture affordably, if you know where to look.
The Canal Saint-Martin (photo by Jori Avlis)
The “Paris Pass”
Like New York, Paris offers many attractions gratis or for a throwaway price.
If you want to see all the main sights you can invest in one of the discount passes such as the Paris Pass. This gives you entry to 60 attractions in and around the city including the Arc de Triomphe, Musée de Louvre, Musée D’Orsay and Notre-Dame. The pass also gives you the luxury of jumping the queue, which means you might explore some places you wouldn’t have visited otherwise. It’s not the best deal for everyone though; in most cases children under 18 are allowed into museums and monuments for free, and European Union residents under 26 are offered free admission to permanent collections too. Whether it’s worth it also depends on which sights you want to see and how long they’ll take you to look around. The Louvre, for instance, can easily fill up an entire day (or more, if you want to look at every piece of artwork!). If you mainly want to see the most visited sights, it might be the better option than individual entry.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (Photo via Flickr)
Slow Cruising Along the Seine
It’s easy to spend all your time visiting the most popular sights, but it’s important to try to get under the skin of the place too. Although you’ll remember the main monuments, it’s the unique experiences and special moments that will stay with you.
The Seine River is a romantic sight to behold as it winds its way through the city. You can view it from the bridges and stroll alongside it holding hands, or take one of the many river cruises on offer. Paris also has 81 miles of canals and underground waterways to explore which are equally as romantic. Canauxrama offers cruises that take in less touristy parts of the city. Cruise slowly along the Canal Saint-Martin and the Canal de l’Ourcq and learn about the history of the area. Travel underground and then resurface to go through locks and under pretty footbridges. Enjoy the leafy surroundings of the ancient trees that line the banks. It’s a great way to get away from the crowds of bustling tourists and enjoy a gentler pace of sightseeing.
Visit one of the many the beautiful parks in the city. Pack a picnic of baguettes, cheese and a bottle of local wine and you’re all set to enjoy the scenery and watch the afternoon slip by. The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a particularly romantic park as it has cascading waterfalls, a folly on top of a cliff, a grotto and an idyllic lake.
Saint-Severin Cathedral (photo via Flickr)
Marché Rue Dejean
Montmartre is one of the most scenic districts of Paris. The historic neighbrhood’s main sight is the impressive Sacré Cœur. From the steps you’ll be treated to one of the best views of the city. After you’ve taken in the bustling atmosphere of the tourist areas, escape the crowds and explore the winding lanes to get a real flavor of Parisian life. While you’re wandering the streets, it’s worth visiting the nearby Marché Rue Dejean. This African street market feels a million miles from Paris, with its exotic fruits, fragrant spices and brightly colored chilli peppers. Another nearby site worth a visit is the ‘I Love You Wall’ in the Abbesses Gardens. The artwork was created by two artists – Frederic Baron and Claire Kito – as a rendezvous place for lovers. The words ‘I love you’ are depicted over a thousand times in over 300 different languages. The monument covers 40 square meters and uses 612 tiles. The phrases were collected by Baron in a notebook and scribed by oriental calligrapher Kito to create this special piece of artwork.
The Eiffel Tower is on most people’s must-see list. Going up the tower is an amazing experience, but one of the best – and most romantic – experiences you can have is to sit close to the base of it on a summer’s evening. The surrounding area is packed with tourists taking in the atmosphere of the iconic location that is illuminated in the night sky, and it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the romance of the place. If you want to go up it you’ll find the queues a bit shorter at night and the views of the city lights make it worth the effort. It’s a good idea to pre-book your ticket online to bypass the queues. You can display your tickets on your phone or tablet so you can book ahead even if you don’t have a printer.
There are lots of architectural masterpieces in Paris, many of which are free of charge to enter. Close to Notre-Dame is the Church of Saint-Severin, one of the oldest churches standing on the Left Bank. The church includes some fine gargoyles and ancient stained glass windows as well as the oldest bells in Paris, cast in 1412. Make the effort to explore some of the buildings off the beaten track and you’ll find the further you go from the crowds, the closer you’ll get to discovering the real Paris.
Paris has a fantastic gourmet café culture, so whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a chocaholic you should make the effort to sample as many as you can while you’re there. On your way to the Louvre, call in for breakfast at the cozy Le Fumoir or on a cold winter’s day pop in to Mamie Gateaux for a thick, rich chocolat chaud. If you want to make sure you choose an establishment at the top of its game, then look out for the words “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (MOF) on the awnings and windows as this indicates the baker or chef is one of the top culinary craftspeople in the country.
Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but it doesn’t have to cost the Earth.
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