So beyond eating, drinking and shopping to my heart’s content, what else have I spent my time in Paris doing? Indulging in a little culture, obviously. Once again, I hasten to emphasise this is far from an exhaustive list and there are countless culture guides to this city online. Here’s just un petit aperçu of what I recommend.
In my opinion, the perfect way to spend time in Paris is by wandering through a museum or gallery. I started a small postcard collection from each of my visits and now I think I own several trees worth of prints. The good news is that as long as you’re young (under 26 for most sites) and carrying ID, entry is gratuitous or reasonably reduced. Most galleries or museums also have longer opening hours on at least one day a week, which is a gift in order to avoid the tourists. Having ticked off the major interests quite quickly upon arrival – Le Louvre, Le Centre Pompidou, Le Musée Nationale Picasso, Le Musée d’Orsay – I can safely say I would not attempt a peak times entry again.
My favourite so far has actually been the Musée Rodin, in the 7th arrondissement. Perhaps it was the quiet, rainy day I visited or the absence of road traffic noise as I explored the gardens, but this really does not feel like a busy national gallery. Situated in a mansion on Rue de la Varenne, it is like a beautifully decorated home, full of Rodin’s sculptures at every turn, with a well-thought-out display of works in an intimate setting. Certainly worlds away from bullet proof glass and selfie competitions in front of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. Totally not worth it, by the way. Le Palais de Tokyo has a gorgeous collection of modern art although I’d only go if you’re willing to have the ‘so what is art?” conversation with your accompanying companion (my least favourite chat about my degree choice).
If you happen to be in Paris before the 25th of June, you certainly have to see Au-délà des Étoiles at the Musée d’Orsay. I liked it so much I even bought a poster of the exhibition flyer, so yet more paper to document my favourite artwork in Paris. If not, make sure you see Monet’s masterpieces at Musée de l’Orangerie. I could talk about Impressionism for hours, days even, so I will keep this short and simple; Go. You will love it.
A little fresh air?
Thanks to the Blitz-free history of the city, the original architecture is everywhere and is undeniably beautiful. However, it tends to get a little mundane after a while (or perhaps I genuinely missed village life?) so if you’re looking to stretch your legs and are willing to travel then a day trip to Bois de Boulogne (the big green mass you can see from the top of the Eiffel Tower) or Versailles is a perfect opportunity. You could go boating at Boulogne or enjoy a picnic, watching and hoping for people to fall in the lake. Although it seems you are shuffled through the Chateau de Versailles at a disappointing speed and the crowds of tourists make it difficult to appreciate the Chateau itself, the gardens are truly a work of art. Just try and pick a sunny day.
If you don’t want to travel as far, then Parc des Buttes Chaumont is my top suggestion. There is actually a romantic story behind my love affair with this park. It played, in fact, a major part in my Mum and Dad’s honeymoon to Paris over two decades ago just before I was born. Regardless of any sentimental link I feel, the park is big, beautiful and broad enough that you don’t feel like you’re trapped in Paris. Of course you could always visit Place de Vosges for the most Parisian of park experiences, the quintessential Paris square, but you can’t relax to quite the same standard.
I’d also suggest spending an afternoon looking round the Cimetière de Père Lachaise. It sounds a little odd to enjoy exploring a cemetery but this is a unique experience. You can even track down the resting places of Greats such as Oscar Wilde or Édith Piaf, although it’s a little too easy to get lost there. I’m completely convinced visiting Molière’s grave was the help I needed to pass my exam last semester.
If you want to feel ‘out of Paris’ whilst barely taking the metro, go and explore La Défense. It is the sheer magnitude of contrast between the modern skyscrapers and somewhat quaint Parisian architecture in the background that makes this so impressive. Of course you might not be searching for this ‘escaping’ feeling but after 9 months of Metro – Boulot – Dodo, I appreciate a trip that makes me reconsider this stunner of a city.
Enfin, in my humble opinion, there is no better way to appreciate Paris than to go to the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette and treat yourself to a glass of champagne overlooking the city. It’s not as impressive as view as from Tour Montparnasse but there is something very exciting about feeling at the centre of it all. It’s also an easy way to forget your penniless student lifestyle whilst taking in the magic of the moment.
Canal Kiss You?
It’s no secret that my favourite place to be this year has been Canal Saint Martin, and I count myself very fortunate that I lived just a few minutes walk away. I find that if I start explaining why I love it, people tend to get bored quite quickly. To give a short summary; it’s just chic. There’s enough boutiques (such as Babel and Quai 71 in my previous post) to keep you amused and enough cocktails to keep you satisfied for the foreseeable future. One of the book shops Artazart is a complete gem that I discovered far too late into this year. As an art lover myself, it has a diverse and interesting mix but if you aren’t that bothered by technicalities, it has a great collection of ‘coffee table books’ (and if anyone wants to buy me a welcome home present, a book from here would be perfect). It’s a self-proclaimed ‘Library of Creation’ and I can assure you, every item is a creative masterpiece given the recognition it deserves. It also happens to stock the designs I crave from Papier Tigre so it’s a complete winner in my eyes.
There is something delightfully Parisian about sitting alongside the canal on a sunny evening with a bottle of cider watching the boats go by. If you have a Sunday free, you can even walk the length of the canal through the Bastille markets to the banks of the Seine. It’s the perfect stroll whilst most of the city is still sleeping off their cocktails from the soirée before, and an easy food solution if you don’t fancy spending on brunch.
I don’t think I’ll ever be an expert unless I live here for decades and of course some of the most interesting places I have discovered have little practical use at this current stage of my life. For instance, I found the perfect shop for purchasing original print posters from psychedelic raves in 1960s San Francisco, but who knows if I’ll ever be asked for that recommendation? (Librairie Galerie Louis Rozen, if you are in fact the niche customer searching)
It’s hard to remember everything else I have loved in this city. Despite the days à Diderot dragging by and the assessments feeling never-ending, suddenly I find myself at the end of this year abroad and it seems over too soon. I won’t bore you with the basics; go up the Eiffel Tower (you simply can’t avoid the queue), take a boat trip down the Seine, watch the sunset from Montmartre… Even 9 months on, I find myself walking familiar routes and noticing new side streets or being drawn to different boutiques only to discover a hidden treasure. I don’t think I could ever see everything and that is a gift, I like to think. I certainly have not found myself bored during my time abroad.
If you do happen to like or visit any of these places then please let me know! There is so much more to discover here. The to-do list will never be complete. Luckily, I don’t plan on staying away for too long.