Paris: Where Do I Even Begin?

"Paris is a feeling," as my mom would say. It involves all of your senses at once. However, PARIS DOESN'T STINK. Sometimes when I talk about how much I love Paris, people say things like, "I heard that Paris smells bad." Ok, the metro systems smell weird sometimes, but it's a huge city. What do you expect? The only smell that comes to mind for me is the smell of gardenia around the Eiffel Tower and the Champs de Mars. The first time I visited Paris was in late June of 2015. All around the Eiffel Tower area smelled like gardenia, almost like honeysuckle. It's still hard to describe.

Like I said, Paris is a huge city. It has its fair share of both AristoCats and alley cats. No city is perfect, but Paris gets close. I always try to choose a color that represents each city that I visit. Paris is light blue, though this is not just because of the rooftops. Light blue is elegant, whimsical, and somehow calming despite the fast-paced, big city life which feels overwhelming at first. The main center of Paris is definitely something straight out of a movie, partially because so many movies take place in Paris. History is all around: from Notre Dame's roots in the 12th century to Napoleon's war victories, and quite a few dark times from the city's past as well. Lots of this history isn't blatantly seen. The more you learn about each iconic location, the more intriguing and charmingly complex Paris becomes. Peel it back one famous place at a time in all of the city's majesty. Majesty is an accurate word to describe Paris, if one can ever put Paris into words at all.

Start at the start: Ile de la Cite, the larger of the two islands on the Seine River. The city was founded here and refounded in the medieval ages. Ile de la Cite is the home to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Construction began in 1163. During the revolution, the people wanted to disassociate with the Catholic church as it was connected with the monarchy that they sought to eradicate. However, Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame was able to give a different symbol to the cathedral, one that did not remind the Parisians of their troubling past and dissent for the monarchy. As Hugo was so loved by everyone in France, Notre Dame still stands today and even still holds Mass. Entrance is free. However, the bell towers are not, but the price is low and the view of Paris from the towers is perfect. So far, Notre Dame is my favorite way to see Paris from above. The earlier you arrive, the shorter the line to go to the top. Near the Notre Dame is probably the cutest restaurant I've ever seen: Au Vieux de Paris d'Arcole. "Au Vieux Paris" translates as "to old Paris" and old it definitely is. It's location dates back to the 1500s. Also near the cathedral is the world-famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company. In the 1960s, college students could sleep here for free if they read a book and left a quick review of it. It's tight spaces and sitting areas make the store feel like an old movie about an eccentric scholar of some sort, if that even makes sense.

This island is also home to the Sainte Chapelle. Often known as Saint Louis, King Louis IX used it to house his relics of Christ. The architecture is the same Gothic style as the Notre Dame. Though it is smaller, some consider it to be even more beautiful with 15 immaculate stained glass windows covering the walls. Right next door to the Sainte Chapelle is La Conciergerie. A royal residence turned into a prison, this location is most well known for being the building in which Marie Antoinette was imprisoned during the French Revolution. She and her husband King Louis XVI were tried for treason and later beheaded at the end of the 1700s.

More royal history is an short walk off of the Ile de la Cite to the Louvre Museum. Before it became a huge museum (featuring the Mona Lisa), the Louvre was a palace inhabited by French royals for centuries. Even before that, it served as a fortress during medieval times. Today it is known for the massive glass pyramid in the center of the palace courtyard. Though the Louvre is likely the most famous museum in Europe, the Mona Lisa is rather small and usually has crowds of tourists attempting to get near it. There is more to the Louvre than this one painting. 

Further west of the Right Bank of the Seine River are the Tuileries Gardens (Jardins des Tuileries). These gardens date back to the 1600s and feature multiple statues, sitting areas, and ponds. The gardens are named Tuileries because they are at the former site of the Palais de Tuileries built for Queen Catherine de Medici in 1564, who wanted the gardens as well. The renowned gardener for King Louis XIV gave the gardens their current formal style in 1664.

Between the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens is the Place du Carrousel. The highlight of the square is the Carrousel Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon Bonaparte would march troops under this arch to celebrate battle victories. It is older than the much larger Arc de Triomphe, which can be seen out in the distance from the Place du Carrousel. Both reflect Roman influences and look similar to the Arch of Constantine and the Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome.

What is great about Paris is so many iconic historical sites are near to each other when walking along the Seine in basically a continuous string. After going from the Ile de la Cite to the Louvre, Place du Carrousel, and the Tuileries Gardens, you come across Place de la Concorde. The center features a gold-pointed column, a ferris wheel, and fountains. King Louis XVI commissioned the creation of this square. Ironically, this was the site of his beheading during the French Revolution later on. Place de la Concorde now marks one end of arguably the most famous street in Paris: The Champs Elysees. This street features luxury shopping, and even has a song written in its honor. The western end of the street is marked by the Arc de Triomphe. As previously mentioned, this arch is much bigger than the arch at Place du Carrousel and is newer as well. Even still, construction began 200 years ago in 1806. It honors those who died during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars that followed. Under the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. During World War II, Hitler marched his troops under the Arc after the French surrendered. But the Allied troops marched under it as well after their victory. The Arc also offers a great view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower at the top of the monument.

Back down on the Seine keep going west along the Right Bank to the Petit Palais and La Grand Palais. One you get there, you can cross Pont Alexandre III. It's a gorgeous bridge with gold statues and streetlights. And now for the grand finale: the Eiffel Tower. Even though it was only supposed to be a temporary structure for the Worlds Fair in 1889, the monument was never taken down and is now the most iconic location in Paris recognized all over the world. There are great ways to see it from all four of its sides and definitely needs to be seen at night too as it illuminates in a golden glow. Every hour on the hour, the lights sparkle for five minutes of pure magic.

For me, what makes Paris so endearing is the details: the pink flower trees in the spring, the vintage-like metro signs that are reminiscent of the past and present, the sidewalk cafes, the tall buildings with light blue-grey roofs and red chimney tops, and the street vendors with antique posters and books. It's not all like a movie, but the city center sure is. Like a movie held close to everyone's heart and everyone's dreams. Thomas Jefferson's quote, "A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life" sums up the city pretty well. I came across a blog that said, "Paris encapsulates all that it is to be free and alive." I think of both of these quotes when I think about the last time I was in Paris, clicking my heels and singing "Thomas O'Malley" as I walked along the Seine. Truly a feeling that I will never forget.

Transportation tips: Don't be intimidated by the size of Paris's metro subway system. It is very user-friendly and pretty much all the lines interconnect. Transferring from one line to another on one journey does not cost any extra money unless you totally exit the subway station. You can buy tickets in bulk or buy a day pass (which has a student discount offer). The Metro does not serve Paris' airports, but buses and trains do. However, tickets to get from the airport to the city center and vice-versa are more expensive than a metro ticket. Major train stations accessible by metro (such as Gare du Nord) near the center of Paris have trains that reach the airports.

  • Dive into the history of cabaret in Paris, highlighted by the Moulin Rouge and the Montmarte district. Not far from there is the Sacre Coeur Basilica on the top of the district. It offers a hilltop view and is lit up wonderfully at night. 
  • There are more famous bridges in Paris as well. The Pont des Arts was the famous lock bridge before all the tourists' locks made it so heavy that it began to break. It leads to the language academy where scholars work to keep the French language distinctly and traditionally French. 
  • There are great open-top buses that give audio tours all over the city and free walking tours as well. These tours get you closer to the major attractions than can river boat tours.
  • Pink tulip trees bloom in the beginning of April, making each part of Paris even more gorgeous. The second week of April is when the trees are full of pink petals.

Au Vieux Paris d'Arcole Restaurant

Pont Alexandre III and the Grand Palais

The Louvre Museum and Palace

Arc du Carrousel

Moulin Rouge

Sacre Coeur

The Eiffel Tower sparkling at night

Place de la Concorde

Arc de Triomphe

La Conciergerie

Sainte Chapelle and the Palais de Justice

A Metro sign and market on Ile de la Cite

Charming details of Paris

Pink flower trees near Hotel de Ville

Sidewalk cafes

Tuileries Gardens

Rue Cremieux - one of the many adorable and chic streets of Paris (near Gare de Lyon train station)


  1. Man, I need to get back to Paris. It's been too long.....


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