Yes, Paris is a tourist trap. Join the crowds in the most famous areas and it is anything but romantic. You’ll be jostled, approached by scammers and people wanting to sell you cheap junk, maybe even pick-pocketed. Did you know that there is another Paris? I found it. This other Paris is peaceful, poetic, inspirational and while not exactly silent – almost. How do you find it? You get up early. Those same areas which are vile at the height of the day are fresh and gentle early in the morning. At this time of day you WILL find the Paris of your dreams.
Later in the day, peace reigns but you have to be a bit creative in finding it. For instance I love to walk by the Seine. Divine views – with peace – may be found in the 5ème (the Latin Quarter). A gorgeous morning’s walk starts at Jardin des Plantes. After admiring the plants of this impressive garden, a short walk takes you to the Seine. There, the Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air (outdoor sculpture museum) is situated within Jardin Tino Rossi. This free sculpture garden beside the river is almost empty of people. Barges steam by on the Seine, the odd person walks a dog, fishermen fish, birds sing. If you want to rise above it all – for free – you can go to the nearby Institut du Monde Arabe at 1 rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard and take the elevator to the viewing terrace. Stunning views are all yours. You may see one or two other people up there or you may be quite alone, as I was.
Two other free and queue-less views over Paris are those seen from the roof terraces of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps (Maison) department stores. The Galeries Lafayette roof terrace closes when weather is really bad however Printemps is open as long as the shop is. A café is on this level of Printemps. It is called “Café Déli-Cieux”. You don’t have to eat there to see the views. You can just discreetly walk through to the outside area. I bought myself lunch and oh how I enjoyed it as I sat by the window watching the clouds rush over Paris. Then I went outside for lots of photography.
I’ve read that as Printemps and Galeries Lafayette are so close to one another, the views are almost identical. I disagree. Both are worth visiting as the vantage points give you quite different viewing experiences. However if I only had time for one, I’d choose Printemps.
Another tip for receiving the spirit of Paris is to be a slow visitor; meander and linger. I spotted two swans from the opposite river bank. It took me a while to cross the bridge but they waited for me. When I got a few metres from them I got down on my haunches and ever-so-slowly sidled down the cobbled path so as not to startle them. I didn’t care what I looked like doing this! I must have sat with them for about 45 minutes. It was sublime to just be: me and the swans. The interlude I had with them was a highlight of my trip. The world raced by on the quai above but down by the water’s edge it was blissful.
Here are a few more photos from my Parisian walks.
My recipe for Paris is – visit popular sites early in the morning before tourists get out of bed. Later in the day range far and wide. There is so much to explore beyond the obvious tourist attractions. Voilà!