There is so much written about Paris that it seems there is nothing left to talk about. However if you look close enough you will find hidden streets, neighborhoods and Parisian lifestyle that should be given a second glance. It truly is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and has sights and activities that could easily last you for a year. So how do you know what to do and where to start?
We started in the most touristy areas of Paris and then worked our way to places that were even unknown to me. Not every sight can be seen and not every activity can be done.
In the first part, I discussed the tourist attractions and essentials of Paris. In this post I will focus on the neighborhoods, Parisian attitude and Versailles. To visit Paris, one must mix the touristy with the lesser known to have a great time.
If you’re into discovering the neighborhoods or arrondissements of Paris, here is my knowledge of where you should visit. Some of the arrondissements, like the 14th, and 15th arrondissements are rarely touched but have great architecture and some great restaurants. Being that I’ve been to Paris many times, I have now started to focus on the arrondissements that I’ve never been to and are less traveled.
1st, 7th and 8th Arrondissements
It’s very likely that you will step into the these arrondissements a couple of times because all of these arrondissements hold famous landmarks like the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées or Eiffel Tower. They are essentially very touristy but it’s possible to find fantastic French architecture and hidden quiet streets, especially in the 7th arrondissement, where the Eiffel Tower is located.
Also note that the 7th and 8th arrondissements is where many scenes of Paris are shot. They’re beautiful, tasteful and of course incredibly expensive to stay in. If it was New York, this is where Manhattan would be. The hotel I stayed in for one night, Hyatt Paris Madeleine was in the 8th arrondissement and costs around $450 euros a night. But these are the perfect arrondissements to enjoy fantastic Parisian scenes at a brasserie with a cup of coffee. Quite honestly the 7th and 8th are one of my favorite arrondissements.
Le Marais straddles the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris and has lovely French architecture and museums such as Picasso. I love this arrondissement and is probably my favorites. It’s like the chic but humble arrondissement with cute shops that are affordable and tasteful.
It is now known as the gay area of Paris and the place to shop for beautiful antiques, take photos of important architecture and buy souvenirs. In fact my favorites tea shop is in this neighborhood, Mariages Frères, and is a perfectly great neighborhood to snap photos while sipping on tea. What I really came for was to get a glance at Parisian gay guys and there are several gay bars in this neighborhood to do that. Oh and French men are cute!
Île de la Cité
This part of Paris is the center of all of Paris and really of that of France. This was where it all began 1,000 plus years ago when Paris was a Roman city.
Today Île de la Cité is still one of the most visited areas in Paris and still remains very touristy in the summer months. Near the Notre-Dame we found the lines to get in, extremely long. I’ve never waited to get into Notre-Dame, so it was shocking to see the line wrapping around the front square. People don’t know this but in front of the Notre-Dame there is a marker in the ground called the Parvis Notre-Dame, or the starting point from which everything in France is measured from.
While on the Île de la Cité, we also visited the Conciergerie or the former prison where Marie Antoinette was held during the last of her days. Next to the Conciergerie is the Palais de Justice, or the former Royal Palace now used for judicial purposes. Directly in front of the palace is where Marie Antoinette was beheaded in 1793.
The Île de la Cité also hosts really great souvenir shops and cafés, even though it’s a tad touristy. We were able to sit at any café outside and have some beer, wine or coffee while resting and people watching. This part of Paris is essential and really a great place to start your Paris travels.
Montmartre and the 18th Arrondissement
Montmartre is one of my favorite parts of Paris and was one of the first neighborhoods we visited. Located at the highest point of Paris, it was once known as where Bohemian painters and writers of Paris hung out. Known to be a seedy area at one point, today the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, sits on top of the hill and has free admission but we couldn’t take pictures inside!
In front of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica is where the citizens of Paris hang out and drank beer and wine and just chill on a summer night. Obviously tourists come to hang out as well but it definitely felt like Parisians love the view equally if not more. And the view is breath-taking and definitely worth it. At the bottom of the Montmartre hill near the Métro stop – Abbesses, there is a funicular that shuttles people up and down the Montmartre hill. You can use your Métro pass for the funicular.
Much of 18th arrondissement is known to be a poor arrondissement and is kind of seedy. It’s not surprising that the prostitution area of Paris, Pigalle, is in this arrondissement and feels a little sketch. Also the Flea Market at Porte de Clignancourt is at the northern most boundary of this arrondissement. That area is alright but I would keep a look out for your things. You have men selling iPhones and other weird items, and who knows where they get them.
The Latin Quarter is known as the student arrondissement because it houses some of the great university’s of Paris. This arrondissement is a great place to visit because mainly of the many cheap bistros and bars and the fact it is so lively thanks to all the students around. It’s actually a great place to stay in because it’s nearly in the center of Paris and it’s relatively inexpensive to find a decent hotel. I really love this area because of the book shops and the cute cafés that line the streets.
If you ever notice photos from Paris and wondered where the skyscraper are or where they were, La Défense is your answer. You won’t miss this area of Paris, especially from the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, but it’s not essential to visit. This is the financial and business district and there isn’t too much to see that you haven’t already seen, especially if you’re from the US. However there is one building that may be worth visiting and that is the building that is a white cube. If you’ve ever seen the Bourne Identity than you would recognize it immediately.
14th, 15th and 16th Arrondissement
There is the area where we stayed in and is really known as the residential, rich and safer part of Paris. In fact most of the rich Parisians live on the western side of the 15th arrondissement and the architecture is what we think of Paris. There isn’t much sights here but the main thing is to take plenty of wonderful pictures including great shots of the Eiffel Tower. This is where the every day rich Parisian lives so it was kind of cool to be in a totally Parisian part of Paris, away from mass tourism. However the area is on the outer part of Paris and takes a bit to get to from the center. And there isn’t much to do in terms of tourism.
The Eastern and Northern Arrondissements
These are rarely touched and to be honestly I wouldn’t really venture into some of these areas as they are known to be a little rough, especially the 19th, and 20th arrondissements. The 11th arrondissement (Oberkampf) actually is very lively and has some of the best clubs of all the city but if you didn’t come to Paris to club than you probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much.
Up in the north it’s hit or miss in turns of rough areas and picturesque areas. Montmartre is actually in the 18th arrondissement, the same with the Flea Market, but the area is a little shady sometimes and not probably not the best place at night. The same goes with the 9th and the 10th arrondissements. Overall Paris is much safer than probably most American cities so just use smarts and caution.
Parisian Joie de Vivre
Many travelers don’t talk about this while talking about Paris but I’ve always been interested in the attitude that you should have while in Paris. The French love the Joie de Vivre attitude, and my understanding behind it is enjoying life to the fullest without any guilt. And I’m a big believer in taking part in the culture and attitude of wherever you’re traveling; just to try it on yourself and see how you like it (within reason).
What I like about Paris and the French in general is that they don’t take life too seriously. There is a certain ease about living in France because I think the French know that they live in beautiful cities in usually beautiful landscapes. So why not enjoy their surroundings? There is no need to over work and I think if you decide to work while on your vacation in Paris, you really need to get your priorities in check.
Because the French like to find joy in things that are considered everyday tasks. In fact, I think that is an proper way to view life because if you can’t find joy while eating than perhaps you need to change the way you think or what you’re eating.
It’s why you will see 3 hour dinners or 2 hour lunches. It’s not like the French don’t work hard, because they do, it’s that they take time out of their days to relax and enjoy those cheeses or that bottle of wine. Why would you rush and try to fit in a meal that properly needs 2 hours to enjoy fully? I love it. I love to take in everything and actually sit at a café where my only responsibility is to enjoy a great bottle of French wine or some espresso. Take a break, turn off your phone, and just take it all in because you surely don’t get to be in Paris everyday (unless you’re a Parisian already).
Versailles is one of the most important sites in Paris and should be visited. We decided to take other peoples advice and get there at 8 in the morning to have the gardens to ourselves. So we took the RER line to Versailles Rive Gauches or just RG when it’s posted on the billboard. The train ride takes about 30 to 45 minutes and we arrived at Versailles just before 8, right in time to get into the gardens and have it to ourselves. At 9am the main Chateau opens and there was already a line to get in. A museum pass will get you in Versailles but you still have to wait in the main line.
What is Versailles like?
Grand! In fact we only got to see a tenth of what actually is in the palace and that’s because most of the palace is cut off from the general population. One of the main reasons that I love Versailles is why it was built in the first place. The King really wanted to show off France and needed a palace that would be the best in Europe. The palace is worldly known for its decadence and you will not be disappointed when you see how the Kings and Queens of Monarchy France lived.
Built in the 17th century by the flamboyant Sun King, Versailles was meant to trump every palace in Europe and was supposed to show France as an innovator in arts, sculptures and architecture. I really think they hit the mark when constructing because it became the symbol of French Monarchy and was quickly copied. French style became the ideal for Royalty across Europe.
It’s interesting to note that Versailles was actually built on basically a swamp but because King Louis the 14th loved the site so much it had to be built there. First off, the grounds are absolutely massive and it takes hours just to walk across the gardens of Versailles. The scary part is, that Versailles used to be even bigger than it is today and they used the massive grounds to for hunting.
Once inside Versailles, we saw the most important rooms of Versailles and they guide us through the history of construction right up until the Monarchy left. After the Monarchy left, Versailles was actually left abandoned and dilapidated until 100 years later it was turned into a museum with many of the rooms restored to its original glory.
My favorite room is the Queens Chamber because of the decorations and the history of the room. Marie Antoinette barely escaped the mobs while they were storming Versailles by going through doors on the left side to her husbands chamber. Each room or apartments as they called them, held some sort of significance and was constructed to reflect that the King of France was the most powerful in the world. When you go into the Kings apartments it’s suppose to be over the top to convey that the King of France had all the resources to build such extravagant rooms.
Another favorite of mine is the renowned Hall of Mirrors, which is a long hallway with mirrors on one side of the wall facing windows on the other. The hallway is then illuminated by the sun which undeniably makes it one of the best rooms in all of Versailles.
My suggestion is to get to Versailles early and spend at least a half of day there. You will need it because the grounds are massive even though they have trams to take you around certain parts of the grounds (the fee to get on the tram is like 5 euros one way).
We also decided to walk the massive gardens which literally could take you an hour to walk the stretch. We only walked about a half and hour to the famous Petit-Trianon. This little chateau is located about a mile away from the main Versailles and was used a retreat for Marie Antoinette. I loved this part of the Versailles grounds because it’s more quiet than the main part and just as opulent. They have some of the original artwork and furniture that was used during the Monarchy.
If you love to travel or have any reason to go to Europe, Paris should be on the top of your list. For some reason this city has a lovely grasp on me and I always want to return. I never get tired of turning the corner and looking up to see the Eiffel Tower. Or walking around late at night, dropping in a brasserie for a coffee, taking damn good photography of architecture, enjoying French men and fashion or taking in the floodlights that Paris masterfully knows how to do. Visit Paris and it will change your life or at the very least the way you think! Paris, je t’aime <3
images by: shawnvoyage