Every day here in Paris that passes by is a reminder of the history that hangs in the air and I am constantly inspired, renewed and overjoyed to be living in a place with such possibilities. Daily, I find myself thinking, “I wonder if Hemingway once walked this street or could this boulangerie have been a favourite of Monet and his cohorts?” Enchanted by the cobblestone streets, the lacy-iron work lining the windowsills, the brilliant gold that decorates architectural feats like the Palais Garnier or Les Invalides, I am often stopped in my tracks with unmatchable views of the Eiffel Tower and Sacre-Coeur. Views that leave me awe-inspired and filled with such wonder… I wonder what the city was like 100, 200, 300 years ago or who else was standing right here, feeling the same exact emotion. Constantly invigorated by this foreign context I now call home, this city — haunted, with an air of mystery, where around every corner there lurks a spiritual or architectural delight, is Paris.
Over the course of the last 7 months that I have spent here, I’ve compiled an ever-growing list of some of my favourite views and photographic gems in the City of Lights. Places that, for those looking for the “Most Instagrammable Spots” or “The Parisian-est Paris Pictures Ever” would take the gold.
One of my go-to spots and favourites for when I actually fare the cold weather and put on my running shoes, as my apartment is just down the street. Once you catch your breath (and pat yourself on the back) after hot-footing it up the 200-odd stairs that make up the colossal staircase in front of Sacre-Cœur, make a sharp left and and follow the curve of the cobblestones. As you enter into the turn, look out at the view and you’ll catch an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower. Head up just a tiny bit more and make a right, positioning yourself just above the little green park and the Eiffel Tower will now be framed by the trees. Beautiful, no?
All the crowds flock to the above mentioned staircase that sits right in front of the glistening white church, that or they take the Funicular de Montmartre. But, some of the best ‘hidden’ staircases lie just around the corner! Once you get to the top of the hill, by way of the stairs or the
disgusting, I mean, charming funicular, hike a left and follow the curve around the corner. Here is one of the most gorgeous staircases, lined with old streetlamps and teeming with historical charm. This one is complete with a fantastic view, too.
One of my favourite mornings was when a dear friend of mine came to town for her birthday, arriving at the crack of dawn. Picking her up from the bus stop at Porte Maillot (17ème) we headed back to my first apartment in the 18ème, just at the base of Sacré-Cœur. The sun was rising and magnificent flairs of colour shot through the sky; ribbons of purple, orange and vibrant pink hues began to dance before our eyes so we knew it was going to be a worthwhile sunrise. Piling on the peacoats, beanies and boots, we ran (while huffing and puffing) up the staircase, just in time to see the sun peak over the horizon and illuminate the city in a morning glow. Sunrise at Sacré-Cœur is one of my number one recommendations for any stay in Paris as it is a time when everything is still and hardly a soul is there (when normally this area is a crowded cluster or tourists). And hey, after the early AM wake-up call, you can head to a nearby café for a croissant and café crème.
(Image by my dear friend Kelsey, taken on her birthday on a chilly day in November)
While the façade of Notre-Dame may be one of the most iconic monuments in Paris, it’s truly the view from the top that leaves one with awe-inspiring chills. On a busy day, the queue to the top could take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half — however, if you get there early or not at the peak hours, you may get lucky and only have to wait for 10! If facing the front of the cathedral, the queue is on the left side, on Rue du Cloître Notre Dame. 387 steps up in the stoic watchtowers above the heart of Paris, overlooking the grandeur of the stone-grey city, the enigmatic stories of men passed are swallowed in the Seine as the faintest cadence of an extolling melody haunts the air.
Hidden Street with View of the Eiffel Tower: Avenue de Camoens, 16ème
Before I moved to Paris, I would find the most brilliant and heart-warming pictures of Paris, saving each one to my desktop – hoping that in the near future I would be able to take similar pictures myself. Little did I know that some months later, I would be making this dream a reality. On free days, I like to stroll, peruse and find hidden gems in the city, although for me, everything sort of feels like a hidden gem. Streets fitted with gorgeous shutters, their white paint chipping and lush flowerpots sitting just above the onyx iron, it’s true that most of my walks seem to be something out of a Woody Allen montage. One sunny day in September, my roommate and I trucked along the Seine and hiked our way to the bourgeois area of the 16ème in search of ‘tumblr-esque’ views of the Eiffel Tower. Cliché, I know. But alas, I never tire of marveling over that beauty, or photographing it for that matter. We felt like we struck gold when we found this off-the-beaten-path street, just a stones throw away from Trocadero, sans the cacophony of tourists snapping their best selfies with the lacy masterpiece.
Although Trocadero is mobbed by tourists daily, as long as you’re quick and can get the right angle — this is THE place for a clear shot view of Monsieur Eiffel’s masterpiece.
Literally right beneath the stairs of Trocadero, Champ de Mars is another one of those places that is in my category of “I AM NEVER COMING HERE ON A WEEKEND UNLESS I WANT TO GOUGE MY EYES OUT.” Solely because of the hoards of tourists that flock here. I mean, I understand why, because well… the Eiffel Tour, but as a warning, this place on a weekend (particularly a sunny one) is not for the faint of heart. Best for stuffing your face with cheese, baguettes and macarons, this site – rich with history about the early days of Paris – is perfect for a picnic, only sans the tourists. Bon courage.
If you’re craving verdant green and a lush landscape for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, this somewhat ‘secret’ park in the 19ème is the perfect place. Delight in the many wonders of this park, with its cascading waterfalls, hilly slopes, magnificent views, quaint cafés and cute little pop-up shops that cater to your every sugary need: crêpes, gauffres avec nutella or barbe à papa (cotton candy). On a sunny Sunday, this park looks much like Seraut’s iconic painting ‘Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte – 1884’. Oh AND there’s also some hidden, no longer in use train tracks, which you can find by venturing through overgrown brush and down the rabbit’s hole.
Meaning “the good market”, or “the good deal” in French, Le Bon Marché began as a small shop in Paris during 1838 and expanded to be a department store around the 1850s. The creation of the first “department store” heralded a whole new culture of commerce with fixed prices, lower margins, home delivery, item exchange, mail order, promotional sales, and more. This proved to be so successful and revolutionary that this commercial model was soon copied around the world. As the store grew, a new building was necessary and the gorgeous architecture was constructed in 1869. Louis-Charles Boileu and Gustave Eiffel (yes, THAT guy that designed the Eiffel Tower) contributed to the architecture of steel and glass that is seen today. Most of the sales people will be quick to announce that photos are interdits, or not allowed — but as long as you’re sneaky, you might be able to catch some good ones!
La Maison (or any other cute café/bistro), 17ème
Several years ago during my first trip to Paris with my mom, we discovered one of our now favourite restaurants around the corner from our hotel. Every morning we would stop by the café for a morning cappuccino and croissant and marvel as the waiters delicately wrote out the menu du jour, with perfect French precision. Upon my arrival in Paris this past August, we had to go again, as it was now our tradition. Well, a beautifully mustached man now works there and I fell head over heels. I mean, I fall in love every day in Paris, but this old-fashioned looking gent particularly caught my eye. So my mom and I went several times, only for me to then drag every single one of my friends there and occasionally stop by for a café every now and then. While I may not be on my way to the altar with this beau gosse, I did happen to score some very Parisian photographs, taking my habitual petit déjeuner.
In the heart of Saint-Germaine-des-Prés are these two competing cafés, each with a compelling story. The two places were past haunts of some of Paris’s most well-known authors, intellects and artists during the first half of the 20th century. Café de Flore is commonly referred to as Hemingway’s café, while Les Deux Magots is more typically associated with the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus. If you’re wanting to feel and look extra Parisian, sit back with a pair of sunnies, your best pals and take a café while watching the world pass by. (That’s exactly what I was doing in the above photo, taken by my dear friend, Carrie of High School Déjà Vu – she’s the sweetest and foxiest lady who teaches French lessons via le web, and just so happens to call California home, and sometimes Paris, too.)
While photography is not allowed at Musée d’Orsay (which is really such a pity for those trying to snap the “Just pretending like I’m Blair Waldorf waiting for my Prince in front of Manet’s famous ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’” but c’est pas grave.) Anywho, the giant clock at Musée d’Orsay happens to have one heck of a view – directly overlooking the hill of Montmartre and with the contrast and shadows amped up is quite mysterious.
Open French Markets, Particularly Rue Mouffetard, 5ème
When I first arrived in Paris, my French intensive classes were held just down the street at Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle. We’d frequent Rue Mouffetard during our breaks and for a bite to eat as the street is teeming with fromageries, charcuteries, delicious smelling boulangeries and more. Although it is extremely aesthetically pleasing (really, what isn’t in Paris?) the history behind the street is what particularly interests me. One of Paris’s oldest and liveliest neighbourhoods, the road has been in use for approximately 2000 years and it still has buildings dating from the 12th century. When Haussmann commenced his redevelopment plans of Paris in 1860, he decided to exlcude rue Mouffetard as the Panthéon sits a the top of the hill. As a result, the remnants of an old Roman road remain intact and the street served as inspiration for Victor Hugo as he wrote ‘Les Misérables’.
Situated in an arrondisement that I certainly don’t frequent enough, the candy coloured street of Rue Crémieux is a photographers wonderland. The adorable houses are painted in vibrant hues and it almost looks like a street from Alice in Wonderland or Candyland!
Preferably in the summer, preferably with a beer in hand. The canal is a great place to stroll, sit and fall in love with the many well-dressed Parisian men that frequent the area. Also situated on the canal is one of my favourite music-art-bar venues, Point Éphémère. Catch sunset here for rays of sunlight glittering in the water — or take a late night stroll and see colourful buildings reflected in the water.
Seriously, any of them will do. I prefer the good-smelling ones with pastel colours decorating the outside… but that’s just about every single one. Make sure to grab a baguette, or four. Also, macarons. Because what photo is complete without macarons?
The remaining 16 covered passages in Paris aren’t that well-known, and when I stumble upon one, I always feel like I’ve found buried treasure. The precursors of today’s shopping malls, the covered passages started springing up in the mid 1700s. These ‘secret passages’ allowed shoppers to find everything they needed in a covered alley, protected from the freezing cold and icy rain — which meant no mud either! At one point, Paris had 140+ passages, but today, only 16 of them remain. Most of them are situated on Rive Droite (the right bank) in the 2nd arrondisement.
Coco Chanel used to frequent this old-timey café located next to le Jardin des Tuileries and it’s easy to see why. The place is chock-full of colourful macarons and beautifully displayed desserts, and kinda sorta makes one feel like they are a princess (Gabrielle, I get it). While I personally think their acclaimed hot-chocolate is more like drinking fudge soup that makes me want to gag due to how rich it is, the rest of their desserts are divine!
Lastly, in the off-chance that you’re actually able to find an available apartment in Paris that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg… Go crazy living out your French dreams there! That or make friends with a French friend and take their apartment hostage. That way you can do French things like drink red wine at midnight while dancing in the wood-floored flat, or flirting with your cute neighbours and making crêpes at 2am.
Many of the above images were pulled from my personal Instagram; for more: @macherechelsea
Or from Gayle Dawn Photography
I could keep adding to this list and many more places keep popping into my head, so there may have to be a ‘Part Deux’. There are so many amazing possibilities of things to do, places to go, people to see — that I’m not sure a week, a month, or even a year in Paris would be enough. One could even argue that a lifetime in Paris would not suffice.