The best way to see Paris

Have a hearty breakfast, grab yourself an umbrella and rug up as you prepare to front Paris in the middle of winter. Not only do you have the romantic city all to yourself late on a winter’s night, but as two Aussie travellers discovered, it’s also surprisingly beautiful…

“Paris is the most beautiful in the rain” a stunning young woman says to Owen Wilson in the romantic fantasy film Midnight in Paris, before they walk off into the night together.

Cheesy. I couldn’t help but laugh at those words that came out of her mouth on the tiny screen in front of me during the long flight to Europe.

My partner and I visited Paris during winter in early 2012. I had never been to Paris before, and I was keen to find out for myself whether Paris was the ‘City of Love’ as the romantics insist, or overrated, as the critics claim.

Surely the place would have to be brilliant, wouldn’t it? After all, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims Paris has the world’s highest number of foreign visitors each year. Of course, most of those tourists all have the same idea – go to Paris.

A magnificent street, hidden behind the Sacre Coeur
A magnificent street, hidden behind the Sacre Coeur

The 2000 year old city attains most of its elegant style from extensive remodeling in the 19th century. With a city so rich in history, we found the best way to capture the feel for one of the world’s most charming cities was through walking everywhere.  You can discover side streets and magnificent structures by walking right past them – most travellers would miss the finer details while sitting in their taxis or heated coaches!

The truth is you don’t even have to powerwalk, just stroll. Not only is it a much nicer way to see a city so full of history, but it is much cheaper than taking a taxi everywhere. However, it’s always nice to know that if you get tired, the Paris underground is a relatively cheap and convenient way of getting yourself from one place to another.

We found this was the perfect way to see Paris in the winter. By walking, your body is constantly moving and burning calories to keep you warm, as opposed to sitting still in a car as your metabolism slows and your body cools, even for as little as 15 minutes.

So long as you have a big, healthy breakfast to fuel your body all day (my breakfast consisted of two small multi-grain rolls with cheese, a yoghurt, an apple, a coffee and a croissant), rug up with thermals and lots of layers, and wear some comfy shoes, you’re all set for the day!

Part of seeing Paris is about seeing it in all its different forms. Make sure you catch a glimpse of this wonderful city from every angle:

  • I would suggest climbing Notre Dame Cathedral’s 400 spiralling steps during the morning. For about 15 euro you can watch over the city as people start their day, with beautiful church bells ringing throughout the morning air.the view from Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Go on the Grand Roue de Paris (the giant ferris wheel between the Louvre and Champs-Élysées) during the day. You will get a stunning, clear view down the Champs-Élysées, and you will be surprised at just how high it goes!
  • Head to Sacre Coeur in the early evening. After taking a (free) look inside, stand at the top of the steps that lead towards Rue Tardieu. Enjoy the colourful view of the city at sunset.
  • The Eiffel Tower offers spectacular views at night. From the top of France’s most iconic landmark, gaze over the city of sparkling lights.

The beauty of Paris in winter – only waiting in line at the Eiffel Tower for less than 20 minutes. (It’s not uncommon for tourists to wait for up to six hours in the summer months!)

Yet even more beautiful is walking around the city at night in the rain. That cheesy line about Paris being more beautiful in the rain definitely rings true, especially on a winter’s night.

My partner and I were walking home from the Eiffel Tower late one Wednesday night. Being wintertime and the middle of the week, everybody was inside their heated bedrooms and curling up in their beds, craving a good night’s sleep before work the next day. As we were walking near the lovely Boulevard des Italiens, the grey clouds above grew heavier, and it began to rain.

The few people who were left on the streets at that time quickly disappeared, leaving the magnificent city and cobblestone streets all to ourselves to explore. While our first instinct was to run home, we simply pulled out our umbrella and took our time taking unexpected turns.

We ended up stumbling across beautiful houses tucked away in side streets (the roads behind Sacre Coeur are simply marvellous). We discovered rows of gorgeous, little shops as well as hidden gardens which had beautiful white seats and an old-fashioned light post beside them.

As the rain gently pattered on the buildings, the cobblestone streets sparkled, while the lights from the old-fashioned lampposts glimmered off clean windows.

We truly had the city to ourselves that night, in all its beauty and all its glory. Few tourists can say that about one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Thinking about visiting Paris in winter? Here are a few more tips of when to see some of Paris’ most popular sites:

  • The Louvre: get there first thing on a Sunday morning. We didn’t have to queue up behind a single person to grab our ticket to see some of the world’s most famous artworks, and one of the world’s most beautiful museums.
  • A quick visit inside the Galeries de Lafayettes is a must. Try going during the day on a weekday, when most locals are busy working. Even if you don’t have much money to spend, the architecture is absolutely breathtaking and it’s definitely worth a look and a photo.
  • See what’s on at the Orsay Museum. For more popular exhibitions, arrive in the morning just after the museum opens. We stumbled into a temporary exhibition on contemporary art, and were pleasantly surprised!
  • What’s a trip to Paris without climbing the Eiffel Tower?! In winter aim to arrive between 5 and 6pm (while Parisians are still finishing work and heading home)
  • You can catch a relatively cheap Seine River cruise (around 10 euro) just outside the Eiffel Tower. While these cruises are offered at night, I personally think it’s best to catch one during the day so you can clearly see the intricate details of the bridges and learn about their history.

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Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.

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