Paris – the city of love? How can a city not be romantic, if even the chocolate on your cappuccino spells “Love”? And I admit I have contributed a love lock to the clutter on Paris bridges across the Seine river and thrown away the key… and had a romantic walk through the Luxembourg gardens… yet there is so much more to Paris than that. The architecture, the museums, the art, the food, the shopping – they are all good enough reasons on their own to make Paris a dream destination in my book!
I was not won over by Paris easily. After a horrible experience in my childhood, I did not return to France for many years. After my mom and sister were scolded for their attempts to speak French, which were apparently not up to standard for the discerning French ears, I found many places much more friendly to foreign visitors to take up my vacation time. Fortunately for foreign visitors, that attitude has changed significantly in Paris and you can visit the city “only” speaking English without being scolded, allowing you to enjoy what Paris has to offer.
If romance is not the trigger for your trip, culture could very well be. With 134 museums (I’m not kidding!), there is certainly something for everybody! The Louvre is the largest museum in the world and high on the list of many visitors. While the “Mona Lisa” is the most famous piece of art, there are over 35,000 works of art in the museum, covering the ages. They are spread out over 15 acres, so you should pack your walking shoes and focus on one exhibit – or come back.
One of my favorites is the Musee d’Orsay. It’s on the other side of the Seine in a former railway station and focuses on art created in the Western world between 1848 and 1914. Whichever museum you pick, you can wander for hours and marvel at the art mankind has created…
After spending time indoors, a walk outdoors might be a nice change. After many return visits, I am still amazed every time, how many beautiful buildings you will see just walking aimlessly through the streets of Paris. At every turn, there seems to be a gorgeous palace or impressive church. Walking out of a small alley might open your view to a beautiful square. And even residential buildings are stunning in their architecture and often beautifully restored. And if you prefer some nature, Paris is the most heavily wooded capital in Europe with 400 parks and more than 450,000 trees (ok, I didn’t count them, so give or take a few). My favorite Park are the Luxembourg Gardens, with its pools and palace, flower beds and lawns and tree-lined walkways. It makes for a relaxing stroll, even on a crisp winter day, and you can linger on countless benches and chairs around the park.
After all that walking, it’s time for a break – and you are in luck! Every corner of a building, building facing a square or park and many in between seems to house a cafe or restaurant. And, because you don’t just sit in a cafe to drink or eat, but to see and be seen, many of them have tables and chairs arranged on the sidewalk, with two chairs at each little round table facing the street instead of each other! While that is not very romantic at all, it’s a lot of fun and I could spend hours watching people, just having a coffee or sweets or great sandwich with crunchy baguette or.. well you get the idea… If you are ready for your dinner, you are also in for a treat. The choices of great food in Paris are endless – and so are the choices of affordable wine to go with it! Many restaurants offer a full experience – and that includes people dressing up for their dinner. Compared to the US or Asia, you will find people more dressed up for the occasion, which makes it much for festive even if it is a little more effort than shorts & flip flops!
Paris overall is an expensive city and that continues with another draw for visitors, the shopping. While you might not find the sales and discounts you can find in the US or nearby London or Germany, you will find an unbelievable number of little boutiques with a truly unique selection of things to buy – whether it’s clothing or for the home, jewelry or cosmetics. From the design and fashion stores around Fauborg Saint Honore to the department and chain stores along Boulevard Haussmann, you have plenty of options. My favorite shopping destination is the Marais: You will find many small shops with unique offerings and a nice cafe or restaurant is never more than a few steps away for some more people watching!
Paris is a fascinating city to visit and if you enjoy museums and theaters, you will have plenty of choices to occupy you for many days. While you have to share the beauty of the city with 30 million visitors a year, there are so many things to see and neighborhoods to explore that it is not too difficult to leave the crowds behind and shape your very personal dream experience in Paris.