It took me many years of traveling around Europe and not only to finally make up my mind and travel to one of the most visited cities in the world: Paris.
This was mainly because I had this idea in my head that it would be overrated and that if I did decide to go there, I might have too many expectations and would end up being disappointed. Also, the fact that it was the number one destination for romantic trips didn’t really encourage me, hopeless solo traveler, to go there and be surrounded by couples taking cheesy pictures with the Eiffel Tower on the background.
Expectations and first impressions
At the age of 27, after traveling across the world and having seen a number of impressive places, I finally decided to give Paris a chance. After all, it’s so close by and it is quite ridiculous to say I’ve been to Australia but never to Paris. So I went ahead and booked my flight along with a five nights stay in an Airbnb and got ready to be either completely disappointed or pleasantly surprised. I won’t spoil the surprise and tell you right away if I liked it or not, but I do have to mention that I had really high expectations. As soon as I even started talking about going to Paris, the people I knew started talking about how amazing it is, how I would be completely blown away, enraptured by this marvelous, astonishing, magnificent city. I have to say, that’s a lot of pressure being put on you, my dear Paris.
Anyway, even if this contributed to fueling my already high expectations, I can be a quite rational person so I kept my feet on the ground and left some room for doubt.
I did my research, looked up the most important places to see, asked for advice from people that have been and lived there and well, I had already seen Midnight in Paris and that had a big impact on the expectations I had.
So without prolonging this any further, I’m going to go through my six days in Paris and the places I liked the most (totally subjective taste, just to make it clear).
For starters, as soon as I arrived in Paris and got out of the metro Alesia, I noticed at least two of my expectations had been met: I started seeing people carrying baguettes all over the place (in the bag, in the pocket, under the arm) and I noticed the typical Parisian Cafès at almost every street corner.
My Airbnb had also met my expectations: I had a cozy little studio rearranged in what used to be an Artist’s atelier in a typical Parisian Impasse, big enough for one person, with a loft bed, a tiny kitchen area in one corner and a pallet armchair in the other, all very cute and tasteful.
I got to spend almost one week in Paris and managed to go from sunny spring weather on the first day to real snowy winter on the last one – crazy mid-March weather.
So here are the places I visited and what I think of each one of them, ordered more or less by preference – and it was quite hard to put them in a order.
Definitely my favorite spot in all Paris. I went there for the first time on a sunny afternoon, walking all the way from Cimitiére de Pére Lachaise. After climbing this really romantic stairwell with street lamps all along, I arrived in front of the Basilique du Sacré Cœur, this white church standing out on the blue background of the sky. Right in front of it, an amazing belvedere from where you could see a big part of the city. I’ve always had a fascination with these views from the top so I stayed there enchanted for quite some time while people were taking pictures all around me.
Needless to say that Montmartre was one of those places that I had really great expectations about and that I imagined quite in detail so I was really excited about going to what is possibly the most famous artist’s neighborhood in the world, walking along tiny streets and lovely squares filled with street artists. I have to say it totally met my expectations. After a walk around the Sacré Cœur, I kept wandering around and finally, attracted by the sound of music playing, I arrived at the artists’ square, Place du Tertre.
There were painters and musicians and all kinds of artists populating the tiny square, and colorful cafès all around, with tables outside and people enjoying the feeble sun of mid-March. It was obviously full of tourists and that kinda took just a bit of its charm away, like every touristic spot but still, the atmosphere was really nice.
I stopped to listen to a musician playing the cello, took a tour of the square checking the paintings and drawings of the many painters and simply enjoyed the view. From the square, following a narrow street also filled with souvenir shops and cafès, you get to the Cafè Le Consulat and if you walk around some more and wander along the tiny alleys you can find amazing views of the city below.
When going down on the stairway right in front of the Sacrè Coeur, you can reach the lower part of Montmartre and a few minutes walk to the right leads to the metro station of Abbesses and the Wall of Love (Le Mur des Je t’aime). A blue tiles wall is covered in the sentence I love you written 311 times in 250 languages. Apparently, the red shapes that can be seen on the wall are all pieces of a broken heart and if put together they make a full heart. It’s a really cute spot with a small garden around it and obviously lots of people taking pictures.
I liked Montmartre so much that I decided to go back there on my last day and I had a chance to see completely different views as everything was covered in snow. The white walls of the Sacré Coeur blended in with the white sky and the white ground and it gave it a totally different look. Place du Tertre was still filled with artists despite the very low temperatures but I managed to enjoy it a bit more given the few tourists that dared to walk around on a cold and snowy Monday morning.
I bought an evening entrance to this museum, right after the Louvre, to spare some money (Thursday evenings are cheaper even for the not-so-young) and because I thought it would be a good idea to do it all in one day. Turned out to be not such a brilliant idea. It can get very tiring to just walk around and look at paintings and statues for something like 8/9 hours in one day. As the Louvre (or maybe more?) it is totally worth it but be wise, do it in two separate days!
The first impressive thing is actually the building itself since the museum is in what used to be the Gare d’Orsay, a railway station built between 1989 and 1900. One really beautiful and distinctive feature is the big clock right in the main hall of what used to be the train station, as well as the two outside clocks at the two ends of the building that can also be seen from the inside, one in the cafè and one at the end of galleries next to the souvenir shop.
As opposed to the Louvre, in my opinion, the Musée d’Orsay is the place to go to see amazing paintings since it holds the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.
The most impressive thing for me was the huge collection of Claude Monet paintings, including a famous Blue Water Lillies but also Luncheon on the Grass, the challenge to Edouard Manet’s painting with the same title, also here. Other paintings I really loved were The Birth of Venus by Alexandre Cabanel and William Bouguereau’s Dante and Virgil. There are lots of Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; obviously Vincent van Gogh with his amazing Starry Night, the Self-Portrait and Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles; Gustave Courbet with the controversial The Origin of the World; many Edgar Degas including some paintings of his Ballet collection, Jean-François Millet with some examples of his favourite subject: peasant life; Auguste Renoir’s famous Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette. This list could go on and on but these are the ones that stuck to my mind and that I found the most impressive, given that I was never an amazing student when it came to the history of art.
Of course, the sculptures collection is also impressive with lots of Rodin sculptures and many many others aligned in the Main Hall of the museum.
My late evening museum visit lasted until closing time, I was so fascinated by all the paintings and sculptures inside as well as by the building itself which is totally worthy of holding such beautiful pieces of art.
Jardins de Luxembourg
I went there on my first day in Paris, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and found hundreds of people sitting around on chairs and chaise-longues sunbathing, all turned in the same direction to catch as much of the feeble spring sun as they could. The gardens are huge and very curated and neat, with benches and chairs that anybody could use to relax – not that I managed to find an empty one. At first, I had a walk among the various enclosed green areas with all kind of sculptures, including a small replica of the Statue of Liberty. Actually, it is a copy of the replica of the Statue since the original replica was moved to the Musée d’Orsay in 2012.
I went for a stroll along parkways lined with leafless trees as it was only the first hint of spring that wouldn’t last long – it snowed just a couple of days after my sunny spring walk.
I finally got to the main part of the Gardens, the area with the big round fountain in the middle and green grass all around. People were sitting on one side of the fountain with their faces in the sun and the coats to protect them from the chilly wind while children were playing with tiny sailboats in the fountain. As a first impression of the city, the Jardins de Luxembourg did a good job in meeting my expectations. It was a peaceful and relaxing view and I would totally recommend going there, maybe on a lazy Sunday afternoon, to read a book while enjoying the sun and the pure fresh air, while being right in the center of this busy city.
Cimitiére de Pére Lachaise
So I have to admit that I mainly decided to visit the Cimitiére de Pére Lachaise because of Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s tombs but I did my research and realized there was much more to see in there so I thought it would be definitely worth spending a few hours one morning.
The cemetery is well known for holding many important tombs as well as for being the first garden cemetery (opened in 1804) and for holding three World War II memorials. It is also the most visited cemetery in the world.
It was a sunny morning and the walk around the cemetery itself was a peaceful and relaxing one – now seriously, what is more peaceful than a cemetery?
There’s a weird feeling in walking among the tombs of so many great historical figures and important personalities. Realizing that I was staring at the place where that author I read so many times or that composer or singer whose music I listened to are resting, it made me think about how we all have the chance of leaving a mark in this world and for a moment I hoped I could absorb just a little bit of the talent and greatness of those spirits resting there. This is maybe getting too spiritual and that is not typically me but I truly felt this sense of greatness lying there just a few feet under the ground I was walking on.
Some of the tombs I stopped to admire were the ones of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Chopin, Jim Morrison, Molière, La Fontaine, Apollinaire, Eugène Delacroix, Honoré de Balzac and Georges Mélies.
There were also many beautifully decorated tombs of less known personalities and I think it is definitely worth spending a couple of hours to walk around and admire them and also take a moment to acknowledge the greatness of those people who have somehow contributed in bringing some beauty to this world, each one of them in their own way.
Now about one of the most famous museums in the world. Little off-topic: my admiration for the Louvre suffered a bit from the recent music video by Beyonce and Jay-Z (as did my admiration for Beyonce but that’s another story) but still, I didn’t know about this back then so I’ll just leave it there. You can look at the video and mute the sound to enjoy a couple of nice shots of the inside of the museum until you can get to Paris for the real deal.
Anyway, you obviously cannot skip the Louvre if you’re going to Paris, that’s what I told myself. So after the initial disappointment and slight depression due to the fact that I realized I was already too old to have a free entry or at least a discount (free entry until the age of 25 if you’re from the EEA), I decided nevertheless to do an investment and visit the Louvre, so I bought myself an online ticket for what was supposed to be a rainy day. Of course, the day turned out to be nice and sunny exactly until five minutes before my museum tour was over when it actually started raining, but that’s again another story.
If you want, you could totally spend a whole day inside the Louvre without looking twice at a single picture, it’s incredibly huge. I won’t go through all the things I’ve seen but there are a couple of things worth mentioning.
First of all, the Mona Lisa (which is indeed a masterpiece, no doubt there) is by far the least attractive feature for me (sorry Leo).
The areas I found the most astonishing were the ones dedicated to sculptures: the Venus de Milo, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss and the Winged Victory of Samothrace are only a few of the amazing sculptures that made my jaw drop in awe. There are entire galleries filled with less famous but just as amazing sculptures and I could have spent hours staring at the perfection of each one of them if only I had the time.
Of course, the paintings areas also contained some amazing pieces of art like the Liberty Guiding the People by Eugène Delacroix, The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault, Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her Sisters and the newly restored unconventional David and Goliath by Daniele da Volterra painted on both sides.
All in all the Louvre is definitely worth the time and money. It’s tiring so get ready to walk a lot but it repays in beauty and magnificence.
Notre Dame de Paris
One of the most famous cathedrals in the world. I have to say initially I was a bit let down as soon as I saw it from Pont Saint-Michel as I expected it to be a bit more eye-catching.
Instead, the front doesn’t look particularly magnificent but what really conquered me was the sides and back of the cathedral with the famous gargoyles and chimeras and even more the inside.
It truly is an amazing example of Gothic architecture and as I got in I walked around staring at the high ceiling, the arcades and columns and colored windows like the north rose window. Inside it was also possible to see and read about the whole history of the construction of the cathedral on some panels that explained and showed the evolution of this amazing construction, from how it used to be in 1163 when the construction of the choir begun, all the way to when the last details were completed almost 200 years later, in 1345, with multiple architects working in their own singular style.When walking around the cathedral on the outside, it’s possible to see the totally different style of the back as well as the gargoyles lined along the sides. What I did not know is that actually, the gargoyles have a purpose: they are drain sprouts so that rainwater won’t damage the walls of the cathedral. It’s interesting to see how each one of them looks different due to the damages and erosion throughout the centuries. There are some that look scary and angry and other that seem to be smiling at you.
Unfortunately, I didn’t climb all the way up but that’s definitely on my to do list for next time I visit Paris.
Here it goes: the famous Parisian monument and one of the most famous in the world. I didn’t make it in time to book the tickets online (apparently they are not available even if you look with one week of advance) but I thought come on! I can’t go to Paris and not go on top of the Tour Eiffel, right? Especially with my passion for high buildings and views from the top. So I gathered all the patience I had and decided to give it a chance by going straight there and buying the ticket on the spot. I was already planning on going a bit before sunset so I could enjoy the view from the top during my favorite time of the day. Little did I know that almost four hours of queue were waiting for me. I endured that only because I was there with friends, otherwise hyperactive restless me could never have waited in line alone all that time. Obviously, sunset came and went by, nighttime fell over Paris, the tower started lighting up at the strike of the hour and at some point, it even started raining. After the endless wait, we finally managed to climb up.
I have to say that the view is pretty amazing even during nighttime. You can see Paris from every point of view and angle and get lost in the city lights. It was obviously very windy and freezing cold which made it hard to just stand there and enjoy the view as I would have liked to do. Instead, I had to take a quick tour of the floor, admire the city, take a few photos and then I was completely frozen and dying to go back on the ground.
If you’re asking me if it’s worth it I would say it totally is but maybe during daytime or sunset and definitely on a less cold day.
The highlight of the evening for me was when we got back down and waited for the hour to strike to see the flashing lights on. It was in my opinion even better than the view from the top and definitely way better than seeing the tower during the daytime.
Île Saint Louis
A friend of mine told me this was the place to go to have a really delicious crêpe so I took her advice and on a rainy late afternoon, I decided it would be a good idea to find a cozy warm place where I could rest while experiencing some French cuisine.
I looked for a place the least touristy possible and got a table next to the window to enjoy the street view and I obviously went for a Nutella crêpe with whipped cream on top. I have to say that it was one of the best crepes I ever had and it was incredibly fulfilling.
The island itself was really cute and I don’t know if it was due to the cold and light rain but the fact that there were only a few people on the streets made it even better: in case it wasn’t clear I don’t really like places that are crowded with tourists taking pictures. This might come as pretentious coming from a tourist but whenever I visit a new place I try to get an authentic, local experience, despite the fact that you will see me wandering around, my head turning in every direction and my eyes trying to take it all in. Not to mention the ever-present camera but hey, I still do that even in my hometown or in places I’ve lived in for months or years.
Anyway, after my crepe I walked around some more, admiring the corner street cafés and the street lamps reflecting on the wet cobblestone street and for a moment it felt like being a scene from Midnight in Paris.
Dinner in Saint-Germain-des-Prés
When I asked my friends for nice places to go out in the evening and maybe have dinner they all suggested Saint-Germain-des-Prés so I decided to give it a try.
The neighborhood is a central one in Paris, in the 6th arrondissement, south of the river Seine Seine, where the church of the former Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is located.
The area is associated with the Existentialist movement in the 1940s and 1950s which had as main figures Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The whole area is filled with bookshops and with famous cafés such as Le Deux Magots, once the rendezvous of the intellectual élite of the city or Café de Flore, one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris.
I first took a walk around during a late afternoon, walking from the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church along Boulevard Saint-Germain and then wandered around the tiny streets filled with bars and restaurants.
In the whole neighborhood, there’s a really nice atmosphere with a truly “Parisian” feeling with little alleys and the lots and lots of cafés, all with a cozy looking atmosphere inside.
We wanted to go to a typically French restaurant to try some local cuisine but we didn’t really do a research or choose a specific place so we just walked around until a rustic French restaurant caught our eye and we decided to go in.
We had a menu with an onion soup to start and a Chateaubriand steak (I personally chose it because it sounded really fancy) with a side of fries and green beans and an amazing béarnaise sauce.
Unfortunately the weather was again not in our favour, with a light rain and really low temperatures, so we didn’t get a chance to enjoy the neighborhood much after dinner but the areas must be really nice for a walk on a warm summer night and a cocktail at one of the bars – like Maison Sauvage which really caught my eye.
The place to go to have a nice view of the Tour Eiffel and take a romantic photo. I obviously settled with taking a few selfies and asking some random passer-by to take a picture of me with the cloudy background and the Parisian monument.
On the hill of Trocadéro, formerly hill of Chaillot, you can find the Palais de Chaillot, rebuilt for the Exposition Internationale of 1937 from the Palais du Trocadéro which had been previously arranged for the 1867 World’s Fair.
Unfortunately, by the time I got here, almost at the end of my trip, winter had come. The sky was grey with heavy clouds, it was freezing cold and after a bit, it started snowing. It’s a place I would definitely love to go back to enjoy the view, maybe with a blue sky on a sunny warm day and take a few photos.
After taking some time to admire the view I decided it would be wiser to just get a salted caramel crepe and get going. It’s not far away from Trocadéro that you can find a tiny park with a lovely less mainstream view of the Tour Eiffel and Pont d’Iéna which leads right in front of the monument. By the time I got on the bridge, everything was a blurry white mess which made it impossible to even look up at the tower so I continued with my snowy promenade along the Seine.
Cimitiére de Montmartre
Not as famous and big as the Pére Lachaise one but definitely a place to visit if you have some spare time. I went there the second time I was in Montmartre, on a cold Monday morning so the place was mostly empty.
The cemetery is actually the third largest one in Paris, right after Pére Lachaise and the Montparnasse one. It mostly holds the tombs of famous artists that lived and worked in the Montmartre area and it was built in 1825.
The cemetery is situated in the lower part of Montmartre, below street level and it still has only one entrance as when it was built.
Some of the most important tombs you can find here are the ones of the composer Hector Berlioz, the singer and actress Dalida, the writer Stendhal, the painter Edgar Degas, the novelist Alexandre Dumas (son), the filmmaker François Truffaut and it originally held the remains of Émile Zoila, moved in the Pantheon in 1908 while the family tomb is still here along with his name on it.
Again, as for the Pére Lachaise cemetery, it’s worth to take a walk and admire the beautifully decorated graves, the chapels and the statues around the cemetery itself.
Atelier de Brancusi
What to do on a rainy afternoon in Paris for free? You can visit the Atelier of Brancusi, right next to the Centre Pompidou. I obviously had to go there since he’s one of the few artists from my home country which is also very famous around the world. Constantin Brancusi is a famous modern sculptor born in Romania but he spent most of his life in Paris where he opened his first atelier in Rue du Montparnasse in 1907. The artist left all his art pieces to the French state that reconstructed the atelier in 1997 in the same square that holds the Centre Pompidou.
Brancusi saw the atelier like a Temple where every sculpture had his own place and nothing was left around casually. The atelier where we can now admire the artist’s sculptures was re-created based on the artist’s latest work atelier with every sculpture placed in its own original spot.
The most famous sculptures created by Brancusi are the Endless Column, the series Bird in the space (L’Oiseau dans l’espace) and the controversial Princess X.
The famous avenue lined with designer shops is obviously a place to see when in Paris even if it wasn’t the thing I felt most attracted to.
I think it’s nice to take a walk if you have some spare time or if you actually want to go for some shopping as it’s a really nice avenue and there are many shops but, to be honest in my opinion the best thing about the Champs Elysées is the Arc de Triomphe at the end.
I didn’t get a chance to go on top and enjoy the view because of the bad weather as it was freezing cold and because honestly I didn’t want to stand in line but it is quite impressive already from the other end of the avenue. It used to be the tallest triumphal arch before the one in Mexico City was built in 1938. The Arc de Triomphe was inspired by the Arch of Titus in Rome and it honors the fighters and victims of the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars.
The Arch was inaugurated in 1836 and is located right in the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, previously known as Place de l’Étoile. It is beautifully decorated in Neoclassical style with sculptures and reliefs representing important moments of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic era. The pillars also hold engraved the names of the military leaders of the French Revolution and Empire, with the names of the ones who died underlined.
One of the things that I look forward to doing on my next trip to Paris is going on top of the Arch for a nice view of Paris.
Some more random thoughts and places…
In between all the places, monuments and museums I also got the chance to walk by some other well-known places and buildings that I didn’t get the chance to see from the inside or to enjoy much due to the really bad weather that I had in the last days of my trip, when it was either raining, snowing or simply freezing cold.
I imagine that with proper weather a walk along the Seine must be really beautiful whereas I got the chance to walk against the snowstorm all the way from the Eiffel tower to Saint Germain, all while not even being able to see properly because the snow was going in my eyes and sticking to my eyelashes. Not exactly what I had in mind when picturing myself going for a promenade along the Seine.
The Galerie Lafayette was my refuge from the cold one morning. My favorite section is the one with the food, with colorful eclairs and mountains of macaroons, sophisticated and decorated pastry and lots of chocolate. There are many across the city but I went to the one close to the Opéra.
The Paris Opéra is another one of the places that I wish I could have enjoyed, specifically the Palais Garnier, located in Place de l’Opéra, that is open to visitors. The building looks magnificent from the outside and is considered one of the symbols of Paris, along with the Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Sacré Coeur.
Of course, another mandatory stop is the Moulin Rouge, the famous Parisian cabaret where the can-can dance was born. The cabaret is located in the neighborhood of Pigalle, right at the foot of the Montmartre hill. I only went by it during my last day but as many other places, it’s on my to-do list to go see a can-can dance show there.
Finally, during one cold afternoon, while waiting for dinner time, I went to see the Panthéon, situated in the Latin quarter. Again, as for the Arc de Triomphe, the inspiration came from the Pantheon in Rome, with the dome and the columns on the façade. The Panthéon was originally built as a church but it then became a mausoleum, holding the remains of distinguished French citizens.
My conclusion at the end of almost one week in Paris is that it’s a city to live in for a while to be able to experience all it has to offer. It’s a city full of life, of art and breathtaking views. It definitely reached my expectations and made me want to go back.
I was impressed by the architecture, conquered by the little alleys with corner street cafés and amazed by the artistic patrimony. I didn’t manage to take a day tour to Versailles or Giverny, check the Musée Marmottan or the Centre Pompidou or properly enjoy a walk along the Seine. In the six days I’ve been there Paris gave me a lot but left me with even more unexplored places and many reasons to go back.
Last but not least… these ducks on the river bank are too cute not to share!