Paris, France is so well known, so often visited, so much written about, that most people have probably heard of and seen most of the sights well before they even arrive there. Everyone comes armed with expectations and an imposing list of sights and activities to be ticked off.
But despite its place as one of the world’s top tourist destinations and its frantic pace as a world capital, Paris is still capable of surprising its visitors with some beautifully mellow experiences, gentler and more intimate than might be expected.
If you want to sink beneath the shiny, hardened surface of the tourist trail, then follow me.
From the southern border of Montmartre to the Sacré Coeur
A good place to start is the Boulevard de Rochouart, around the Anvers Metro station, Paris 18th Arondissement. The street itself forms the southern border of Montmartre and is pleasant, tree-lined and filled with trendy, interesting shops.
If you head north from the station (I’m not going to give too precise directions – this route is for meandering, not high precision, high speed navigating, and half the pleasure comes from losing yourself in some of Paris’ most gently atmospheric areas), then you will eventually arrive at the park in front of the Sacre Coeur church.
If you feel up to the climb, it is quite a pleasant walk up the (many) steps through the park, or for the elderly, infirm and terminally lazy there is a funicular railway. Once you arrive at the top, the view of the city is absolutely beautiful, it is a good idea to bring a bottle of something worthy to enjoy it with, weather permitting.
If you want to capture the scene for posterity, the western end of the platform (your left as you are looking out over the city) gets you the best view of the Eiffel tower and the other sights of the city. It is also the best place to start making your way back down the hill.
Around Abbesses underground station
Immediately west of the platform are some nice streets with some interesting markets, but if you want to escape the crowds, head downhill and to your right, towards the Abesses Metro station.
This is an area of quiet wood-paneled cafés where you can enjoy a relaxing coffee and a light lunch without having to re-mortgage your house, old book shops, small art galleries, and tiny tree-lined squares, perfect for relaxing in and wondering what life might be like if you lived in one of the tall narrow houses which overlook them.
From Pigalle to the Jardin des Tuileries
If you keep heading south, you will end up on the Boulevard Clichy, close to the Pigalle Metro station, where, if you feel you have had enough of quiet introspection for one afternoon, you can call it a day.
On the other hand, if you want to keep going, you can head down Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle in the direction of Saint-Lazare, crossing over the Rue Saint-Lazare and eventually coming out on the Boulevard Haussmann.
From here it is a straight shot south to the Opera of Paris. There are no spectacular sights on this route, but it pleasant to spend an hour wandering through the quiet streets, admiring Paris’ distinctive style of buildings.
From the Place de l’Opéra, zigzag south through the area between the Place Vendôme and Avenue de la Opera and you will come eventually to the Garden of Tuileries. If you time it right, there is simply no better place to enjoy a chocolate crepe and a soothing coffee than the Tuileries at sunset when the shoppers have gone home and you can set the seal on an afternoon spent on Paris’ softer side.
Photos of Montmartre hill, Paris originally posted by Gabyu