With its beautiful architecture, artistic atmosphere and delicious food, it isn’t hard to see why living in Paris tops the bucket lists of many hopeless romantics like myself. My Pinterest feed is overflowing with photographs of quaint cobbled streets, idyllic Parisian scenes which look like something from a movie, and lovely cherry-blossom-framed creamy French facades. Although I don’t live in Paris (yet), I have built up quite a collection of my own photographs from my visits, and thought it would be nice to share them alongside some of my thoughts, advice and travel tips for anyone considering a trip to Paris this season (tip #1: stop considering it and book your tickets, now).
Whilst it can be fun to visit the guidebook landmarks and cross things off your Paris checklist (everyone wants to see the Eiffel Tower at some point), you’ll probably find that you stumble across a lot of lovely hidden places on your journeys between destinations. I love the balance between the iconic buildings and the intricate details that you can only discover if you visit for yourself, making each person’s Parisian experience unique and personal. The top three things I love about Paris would have to be:
1. The atmosphere
Most places have a noticeable vibe or mood, but the only place I think I’ve ever properly felt it is in Paris. Perhaps it’s just because I’m a very visual person and I love muted pastel colours, but everything just seems to fit together nicely here. The buildings look like they do in paintings, the trees and archways frame subjects almost as if they were put there on purpose, and the spring fashion blends with the colours of the blossom decorating the streets. The hum of the French language fills the gaps between the buildings and the people, and there seems to be an artistic buzz in the air as if everyone else has noticed this too and feels inspired to create things. This makes the city very exciting; I always leave feeling inspired and with new ideas.
2. Cycling down the boulevards and walking through the cobbled streets
I love exploring the cobbled streets and looking up at the beautiful buildings, imagining that one day, one of the many windows will flood my French apartment with sunlight as I awake to the smell of croissants and coffee (I’m very idealistic, I’m sorry). I often find myself walking through Le Marais, St Germain and Montmartre, as they feel very cute and quaint to say they’re in the centre of a capital city. Crossing one of the padlock bridges (originally Pont des Arts but now on several others too) is interesting too, especially if you are visiting with a partner or friend. And once you’ve finished exploring on foot, you can hop on a bicycle and cycle along the river to explore another part of town.
3. Discovering hidden places
In a city so popular with tourists, it can be hard to discover something new and great that hasn’t been hyped up before. I like to use blogs, Pinterest and Flickr for inspiration, as you can find out about someone’s personal recommendations and secret locations as opposed to the typical sites which you can guarantee will be very busy. Somewhere I do like to go in Paris is the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop, which can be found on the left bank just by the Notre Dame. It is quite well-known but it feels like a secret when you’re inside – with shelves upon shelves crammed to the brim with fascinating old books, there is a magical atmosphere inside the small shop. Up the creaky staircase and off to the side, you’ll find a small room with a piano, often occupied by musical people who provide the soundtrack to the store. Just around the corner there’s a tiny cubbyhole with an old typewriter inside, on which you can write notes and then pin them to the walls around you. I left a note, see if you can find it and tweet me a photo 🙂
Can’t really do a blog post about Paris without mentioning macarons, now can I? These beautifully stylish and yummy meringue-based sweet biscuits are everywhere here, and popping into Ladurée (Champs-Elysées) is a must for me. Although there are a couple of Ladurée shops in London now, it feels different in Paris. If you really love them and want to buy a lot, there are other places where you can get them a little cheaper (cafés, supermarkets etc), but it’s still worth having a look inside here because it is very cool.
One way to significantly reduce the amount of tourists in your photos is to go for an evening stroll and photograph at night. Everything looks so lovely all lit up (Montmartre is particularly beautiful after dusk), and if you use a tripod and shoot in RAW, you should be able to make some really interesting pictures. If you don’t want to stand out/lug around a lot of equipment, choose just one lens and look for walls to perch your camera on as a tripod substitute. The Eiffel Tower sparkles for the first five minutes of every hour after dark until 1am. To get those photos of you sitting on a wall looking out at the tower, you need to get off at the metro station Trocadero (not Tour Eiffel). You get a great view, and once you’ve finished taking photos you can walk down the steps, past the fountains and carousels, over the river and end up under the Tower itself. Remember to be careful if you’re walking around at night with a camera – try to go with a friend and stay in well-lit, central areas. I have never had a problem but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
If you have time, I’d definitely recommend visiting a few art exhibitions – there is a plethora of galleries, including lots of contemporary ones such as the Pompidou Centre (museums don’t always have to be full of historical paintings, although there are plenty of those too!) I visited the Tim Burton exhibition at La Cinémathèque Française in 2012 which was really great – keep an eye out for shows all over the city. A major advantage of being a student/young EU citizen is that you can get into a lot of places for free or at a discounted rate just by being under 26 & showing your passport.
If you’re feeling adventurous or just want to ride the double-decker RER (it’s like something from Harry Potter), then head out to Versailles for an afternoon; you can get there in around 40 minutes from the centre of Paris. Not only is the palace itself absolutely stunning (the interior décor is to die for), but you can also walk around the grounds and pretend you live there. Tucked away towards the north in the depths of the gardens is Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet, which looks really cute and is top of my things-I-haven’t-done-in-Paris-yet list.
Okay this all sounds great, but Marie, HOW DO I GET THERE, I hear you ask? Well, you can fly, or luckily for anyone who lives in the UK, the Eurostar has made it very easy to get from London to Paris – much less hassle than going through airports. The Eurostar will take you directly to Gare du Nord, or from CDG airport you can catch the RER (big metro train) into the city centre for €10. If possible, go in the off-peak seasons (avoid July, August) – everything will be cheaper and quieter.
Once you’re in Paris, try not to use the metro all the time; they have an excellent bike-hiring system called Vélib which means you can pick up a bike from any of the cycle stations and drop it off at another one when you arrive at your destination! It’s a fantastic way to see Paris, the roads are very cyclist-friendly (they usually have separate cycle lanes to keep you safe from the traffic), and you’ll find that everything is actually much closer than you think. Why would you want to be stuck underground when you could be cycling down the Seine with the wind in your hair and a baguette in your basket?
Accommodation-wise, I’m by no means an expert – I usually just stay in small hotels, although recently we stayed in St Christopher’s Inn by the canal which suited our needs perfectly and was very reasonably priced for students. It has a great studenty/young travellers hostel vibe, free wifi, is in a good, central location close to two metro stations, and there’s a cycle station right outside. Not to mention the fact that breakfast is included, meaning you can eat bread and nutella to your heart’s content (warning: this can and will result in withdrawal symptoms upon returning to the UK).
Hopefully this has given you some ideas and inspiration if you’re thinking of visiting Paris sometime soon – happy travelling!
Love Marie x