When I was 7 years old, my father decided to take us on a two weeks trip to Europe because he wanted his children to ‘see the world’. Our destinations included: UK, France, Holland, Switzerland, (passing through Belgium and Germany) and stop-over in Cyprus. I was very young and not so impressionable, and while I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Euro Disney, I was way too immature to truly appreciate this walk through history that I was taking. However what this trip did was activate an inherent passion for travelling and adventure.
Fast forward to 13 years later and I find myself returning to Paris on an academic trip with my University. This time I was well read, a history geek, trained in French and the experience was eye opening and entirely different. Everyone wants to visit Paris once in their lifetime because it is ‘the most romantic city in the world’ and it has the ‘Eiffel Tower’ and ‘Louvre museum’. It is so much more than that. Paris is one of those cities that has managed to retain the nostalgia and authenticity of hundreds of years of history of art and culture. If you want to visit the city and really explore then please don’t throw it into a hectic trip with ten other European cities – give yourself at least three days to visit the different sections of the city, indulge in street life and, of course, visit the world-famous monuments. It is one of those cities that is layered with character; once you get over the overwhelming facade of heritage buildings and historical sites you begin to appreciate the street food, the roadside cafes and vendors, the little parks and gardens, even the Paris underground to get a real feel of the PEOPLE of Paris.
I visited Paris for the third time for another academic trip during my Masters. This time I was armed with a mind full of favorite places to return to and a heart full of the longing to discover something new. The history and geography of France is such that there are plenty of cities and sites within travelling distance of Paris, which makes it one of those cities you can visit again and again, each time enhancing your experience.
– Of course one should cover the main tourist attractions. In peak season, the line to the Eiffel Tower is mind staggeringly long, but the experience of looking over all of Paris on the top of one of the modern wonders of the world is well worth it. You feel as though you have been part of a special out of body experience that you share with a select few and of course the 360 degree pictures will be a lifetime keepsake.
– The Latin Quarter is my favorite section of Paris. As you turn onto the side of the River Seine you immediately feel the air change as if you are walking through another era in time. Not only have many a famous scene been shot on its many little bridges, it also houses the Notre Dame Cathedral; I highly suggest taking half an hour out to just sit on one of the benches, close your eyes and be at peace with yourself. You will not regret it.
– Sacre Coeur: the steps of this iconic church are my happy place. Once you are done with a round of the inside of the church, take a few minutes to sit on the steps in the light Paris breeze, enjoy an unparalleled view of the city and enjoy some live street music. If that doesn’t make your heart dance, I don’t know what will. If you are lucky – you might even witness a film or fashion shoot in progress.
– Take a boat ride along the River Seine – it is up to you between which points you would like to travel. This gives you a break from walking and allows you to gaze serenely onto Paris passing you by.
– Art lover or not, visiting the Louvre museum allows you to literally fast track through hundreds of years of art and mystery. This is where the famous Mona Lisa is housed. The museum itself used to be a Palace, so you can wonder at the grand interior if the paintings don’t catch your fancy. (Great shame if they don’t!)
– If you really really must, then yes, walk along the Champs Elysees and get a taste of Paris’ high fashion tastes, but the main point of interest here should be the Arc de Triomphe. After that, visit the Modern Arch on the other side of Paris and see the stark difference in the history’s historical and modern areas.
– Most importantly, give yourself time to just walk around. Pick a random underground station, step out and just walk through the streets of Paris. If French cuisine really isn’t your thing, try authentic fresh Parisian pastries from street vendors. Speak to locals (no, they aren’t really that unfriendly) and ask them for recommendations on quaint local cafes, parks or shops. I truly believe you haven’t really visited a place until you do what the locals do.