When you grow up in the UK, Paris is an extremely common city to visit.
I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years: school trips with History of Art class to the Louvre and a sneaky visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower, covered in snow; grumpily dragging my feet three steps behind my parents on family holidays; InterRailing with friends when our most crucial objective was finding a cheap hostel on the Parisian outskirts and eating our body weight in frites.
If you see a city often enough, it can lead to taking that place for granted – but occasionally it’s good to step back and remember why a city like this one is so special. Why does it keep attracting so many visitors, year after year?
For months, France has been on a knife edge
The general election between Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen has given stark definition to how severely politics has divided the country.
Yet with the result that France’s newest president is one who advocates liberalism, unity and above all, hope, millions are breathing a sigh of relief – so I thought it was high time to celebrate with a bit of Parisian beauty.
Especially in springtime.
Paris welcomes those who love walking
Make no mistake, Paris is one huge city. Yet I still always choose to walk around it as much as possible!
Perhaps it’s because my sense of direction isn’t great, and I get lost before I know what’s happened – or maybe its because I tend to feel like photographing the Metro stations instead of actually riding said Metro?
In the spring it’s immediately more tempting to wander through Paris by foot, anyhow.
There’s something about poker-straight Parisian streets which suddenly burst out into large open roundabouts topped with fountains and perfectly manicured topiary; something about the curving buildings with their regimented rows of windows; something about the pale stone contrasting with bright blue skies…
On second thought, walking is the best way to stop and contemplate Paris. Perhaps it’s that.
The architecture is straight out of the movies
On my most recent trip to Paris (travelling through the city on a Chilean band’s music tour), I had a sudden surge of appreciation for Europe’s architecture. Moving so quickly through the continent meant I noticed the differences between countries more immediately – and France’s buildings are some of the most beautiful!
In case you’d forgotten, Paris is also famous for one of the world’s most iconic architectural marvels.
The Eiffel Tower, a beast of interlaced metal, is always visible wherever you go in the city, and is a rather perfect spot for an impromptu picnic amongst the wildflowers.
Paris is practically overwhelmed with art
The cultural heritage which Paris boasts can be best summed up by its love of art. It makes me supremely happy to see the hordes of tourists wandering the Louvre complex, pressing their palms to its iconic glass pyramid, and even craning their necks to see just a little bit more of Mona Lisa’s face.
Although it might be a slight case of tourists feeling obligated to visit art galleries simply because they’re the ‘touristy thing to do’, being absorbed by art in a city like Paris can only be a good thing.
There’s so much art to be found outdoors, too – like the open-air park filled with Rodin sculptures, the intricately carved fountains, the surprising amount of street art, and the golden statues which stand guard on the bridges crisscrossing the Siene.
No matter what direction you walk, you’ll eventually find yourself in Jardin des Tuileries, huge sprawling public gardens dotted with statues. Here Parisians sunbathe, take a cat nap or simply sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
I say simple, but it’s a pretty popular pastime.
Paris has street markets at seemingly every turn
I’m a true sucker for a street market, and have serendipitously been blessed with the eagle eyes necessary to spot one at a hundred paces. Great news for me; bad news for anyone I happen to be travelling with.
At this little spot beside the Siene, I bargained for a few pairs of handmade earrings, gazed at huge chunks of amber being used to balance elegant woven scarves, lost myself amongst countless prints of old French maps and adverts for tobacco, alcohol, Evian water and 1920s cruise liners.
Then I got really excited about a dusty table filled with collections of rusted daggers and ancient pistols, and clutched an undated photo of men playing around in a Parisian street for much too long.
For someone obsessed with storytelling, these kinds of objects (and their possible backstories) are my kind of gold dust.
French food is undeniably delicious
For some reason, Paris practically begs you to indulge in its local food. From macarons and petit fours to crepes, galettes and baguettes, French cuisine is the epitomy of casual gluttony.
You can start your day by munching on a pain au chocolate, accidentally pick up a boxful of tartiflette from a stall outside the Pompidou, have your eyes (and stomach) tempted by a delicious-looking Croque Monsieur two hours later and still find utter joy in walking down a side street and being swept into a cheese shop purely by its smell.
And as for my most favourite and satisfying Parisian sight?
Watching people actually queue for their daily baguette at the local boulangerie and carrying the resulting spear of bread around, with absolutely no trace of irony.
Paris’s quintessential ‘French-ness’ is undeniable
France’s stereotypical charm – baguettes, berets, even the occasional sniffy attitude – is what makes this city so fascinating for me.
There are numerous similarities to London, too: filled with little neighbourhoods which each have their own distinctive characters and are completely individual, yet all still channelling the same French vibe.
From smiling buskers on street corners to to casual typing on stone balconies (and even the crowds of happily posing tourists), Paris is a really fantastic place for people-watching.
Paris, the city of love
Regardless of your political proclivity, there’s no doubt that Paris is just ‘one of those cities’: a place where millions come each year, either to celebrate something special or simply to explore.
It’s a city of love – clearly evident from the ‘love locks’ which weighed down a Parisian bridge so much that they had to be removed – and it’s why Paris is so special.
Love is everything. And I’ve wandered this city too often with the people I love to see Paris any other way.