As one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, Paris continues to inspire the hearts and minds of people the world over. Its golden stone facades and timeless monuments have stood the test of time. Its grand palaces and ancient walls remain as relics of a bygone era marked by strife, class warfare and revolutions. Most importantly, Paris is one of the most revisited cities in the world by tourists, and all for the right reasons.
The early history of the Celts is foggy and full of doubt, but it’s believed that they originated somewhere in the eastern quarter of Central Europe around the 2nd millennium BCE. They migrated across the continent, arriving in France somewhere around the 7th century BCE. In the 3rd century, a group of Celtic Gauls called the Parisii settled here.
Hundreds of years of fighting between the Gauls and the Roman Empire ended in 52 BCE, with the latter taking control of the area. The settlement on the Seine river flourished and became the Roman town of Lutetia (Latin: ‘midwater dwelling’, in French, Lutèce). The population grew to some 10, 000 inhabitants by the 3rd century AD.
The Great Migrations began around the middle of the 3rd century AD, with raids carried out by the Franks; the Alemanii raided from the east, razing and pillaging the settlement on the south bank, and its inhabitants evacuated to the Île de la Cité, which was subsequently fortified with stone walls to keep the invaders out.
Prominent events in the city’s history include:
- the city being destroyed by barbarians (280 AD);
- being rebuilt and renamed Paris (360 AD);
- Attila the Hun’s unsuccessful attempt to invade it (451 AD);
- a square château is built by King Philippe-Auguste. It is developed and expanded by subsequent kings over the next 600 years, and later becomes the Louvre (1220 AD);
- the start of the Hundred Years War (1337 AD);
- Urban revolts that cause the royals to abandon the city for 100 years (1400s AD);
- The storming of the Bastille by a Parisian mob (1789 AD);
- The fall of the monarchy and proclamation of the first republic. The Parisians make way for the rise of modern democracy (1792 AD);
- The Treaty of Versailles (1919 AD);
- Paris falls to German occupying forces (June, 1940 AD). It gains its independence in 1944 AD;
- France adopts a new constitution and French women win the right to vote (1946).
When one thinks of Paris, what instantly comes to mind is the Eiffel Tower. This magnificent structure is an iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars (a public greenspace). It was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. It was erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair.
At the time, some of France’s leading intellectuals and artists criticized it for its design, but nonetheless, it became a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (French: “Arch of Triumph of the Star”) is another memorable landmark. It stands in the heart of the Place Charles de Gaulle, right at the western end of the Champs-Élysées.
The Arc honours those who fought and died for their country in the times of the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. Every French victory and all generals are inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.
Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a tribute to anonymous combatants who fell in the World Wars.
Christianity once had a tight grip on France and a leftover of that age is the cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-Paris. A gem of Gothic architecture, the Notre-Dame is arguably one of the prestigious churches in Europe. Built in the Middle-Ages, it served as inspiration for Victor Hugo’s epic 19th century novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
In 1996, the book was loosely adapted into an animated film by Walt Disney Pictures.
It goes without saying that Paris is a strong contender for the culture capital of Europe. To further compliment that notion is the Louvre. It’s reckoned as the world’s largest museum. Whether that’s fact or fiction, the Louvre is one of the most majestic palaces of Europe.
The museum was in use as the former residence of the Kings of France. The Louvre and its glass pyramid open onto the garden of the Tuileries. It also serves as the home of the Mona Lisa, perhaps the most talked about painting in the world.
Among other places to visit are the Panthéon (a former church), the Opera Garnier, and the Les Invalides complex (once a home to wounded/homeless war veterans in the time of Louis XIV and now famous for housing the tomb of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte).
Best Shopping Ideas
Installed in the art deco former swimming pool of the Lutétia, the Hermès’ Left Bank store (17 rue de Sèvres, 75006) is spectacular. The stalls lie amid the giant wooden cones, where you’ll find exquisite silk scarves, luxurious wallets and handbags, exclusive perfumes, jewellery of the finest quality, and tableware. Add in a café, and it all comes together for a phenomenal price.
For your indie fashion needs, the best place to go is Isabel Marent (16 rue de Charonne, 75011). For Marent, this original boutique marches on from the days when she first introduced her vision of Parisian ethno-chic.
A cult favourite, the boutique offers lots of short dresses, grunge-themed trousers, ethnic-inspired patterns to die for, and lace and flounces paired with expertly cut black jackets or bohemian knits.
In the hunt for beautifully made French clothes for kids and babies, Bonpoint (6 rue de Tournon, 75006) will not fail to impress. The clothes are displayed beneath the chandeliers and old parquet of a grandiose 17th-century mansion. Whether its a birthday or big event, play sessions or outdoor activities, Bonpoint delivers.
After shopping, parents can take their children into the vaulted basement, where a Japanese organic restaurant called Nanashi spoons out bento boxes and tea.
Arts and Antiques
As one of the hidden treasures of Paris, Au Petit Bonheur de Chance (3 rue Saint Paul, 75004) is a tiny but valuable shop. Look around and you’ll find vintage notebooks, kitchenware, rare toys, and nearly any random antique you could ever imagine.
The Marché Paul Bert flea market (96-110 rue des Rosiers 93400, Saint Ouen) is open Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays. Founded just after the Second World War, the owner of a former market garden decided to use it differently. He decided to set up a motor garage (later on, this became the Marché Serpette).
With approval from the municipal authorities, he offered the rest of his land for renting stalls to budding secondhand dealers.
Shoppers will find 220 stalls across 7 aisles, selling beautiful decor from Napoleonic to industrial furniture, and from 1950s to 1970s furniture. The best part is the chaotic and disorganized arrangements.
Food and Dining
Paul Gagnaire (6 rue Balzac, 75008) is one of the most inventive chefs around today. He’s known for drawing inspiration from painting and jazz. The lavish dining room provides the stage for an entourage of dishes, from the tiny appetizers – try the tuna meringue, or the clam that comes with diced veg – to a whirlwind of desserts, all propelled by a formation of graceful waiters.
With a name inspired by the French steampunk novelist, Le Jules Verne (Eiffel Tower, 75007) makes for one of the best romantic spots in town, 400ft (122 metres) up the Eiffel Tower.
The restaurant takes the stuffiness out of grand-occasion dining with a suave decor by Patrick Jouin, and nonchalant waiters who respect your social media habit of standing up and taking photos.
Le Jules Verne has improved its food to match the view of the city, right down to the “chocolate bolt dessert”, a tribute to the 2.5 million bolts that hold the tower together.
Dress code is smart and formal – not the style of the common people who swarm the tower from down below.
The Shangri-La is a Paris hotel offering Michelin-starred restaurants, mind-blowing views of the Eiffel Tower, and extremely relaxed interiors. This is an escapade into a sybaritic vision of France past.
Once the private residence of Roland Bonaparte (Napolean’s great nephew), it was filled with eagles, crowns, and imperial bees in the style of Louis XIV. (Contact: 0033153671998; deluxe rooms can start at £651 a night)
Alternatively, the Mandarin Hotel offers sophisticated interiors, outstanding service, and a lovely courtyard garden, located on exclusive Saint-Honoré (not too far from the Louvre and Place Vendôme).
The rooms are designed for lounging around: soft, plushy rugs, warm colours, and over-sized beds that may very well be the envy of Mount Olympus (Contact: 0080028283838; rooms start from £475 a night).
Pros and Cons
- Extremely cultured and artistic city. The perfect European location to feel inspired as an artist.
- The monuments are breathtaking.
- Cheese. The quality and variety of choice are immense.
- People Dress Well. Wearing yoga pants in public (something that most Brits and Americans don’t moan about) isn’t acceptable in Paris.
- Trained professionals. Even florists train for years before taking on a simple-looking career choice.
- The political history warms the hearts and the French are known for their ability to stand up to injustice from the higher ups.
- The metro system. Efficient, on time and reliable to get you to your destination.
- The cost. Food is expensive, hotels are expensive, and shopping is expensive. Paris is COSTLY. Restaurants around attractions will raise their prices and rub their hands malevolently as tourists queue up.
- Beggars/Scam artists. English-speaking tourists are a walking ATM to the more desperate locals of Paris. From holding signs with a fake sob story, to selling fake “golden” rings, the con men are to be avoided like the plague.
- Dirtiness. One of the most visited cities in the world is not safe from uncleanliness. Some visitors reported the smell of urine on the streets, and men have been caught relieving themselves on the side streets.
- Store closures. Most stores across the city close early and have inconsistent hours.
- The tourists. Paris attracts an overpopulated horde of tourists. To avoid the crowds, find alternative (hopefully legal) entrances into these buildings. Forget about finding easy access into the Eiffel Tower, the queue is very long. Instead, take a tour or book for Le Jules Verne.
- Rudeness. Parisians are people, they come in different shapes and sizes. Religions and nationalities vary between them, just like anywhere else on the planet. However, you’ll do wisely to learn some French and be as polite as possible, otherwise you’ll stress out the wrong person at the wrong time.
- Charles de Gaulle Airport. Queues going nowhere, little seating room at the departure gates, indecipherable loudspeaker announcements, and an ugly terminal 2.