Paris has always eluded me, in the fact I’ve been there three times (albeit one of those times was extremely brief) and yet haven’t quite found the words to ever write about it on the blog.
The main reason is that I can’t quite decide how I feel about it, and I can never seem to put my finger on why. It’s like a love/hate relationship with no real explanation – parts of it are pleasant, I adore Notre Dame, but there’s a part of me that views it as any other city; busy, modern and dirty, which isn’t exactly the picture you conjure up in your mind when you think of Paris.
It’s a common question between travellers and travel bloggers – “how do you feel about Paris?” And the answers are always split virtually 50/50 between either loving it, or being disappointed by it, with the occasional person even naming it the worst city they’ve ever visited.
How can one of the most popular cities on the entire planet be so divisive? There are plenty of other cities which appeal to some people more than others – I see plenty of people bash Rome, whereas I loved it. On the flipside, lots of people adore Barcelona, but I wasn’t a huge fan. Venice? A polarising destination if there ever was one – yet it seems most people love it even when they weren’t expecting to (I’m firmly on that side of the camp!). But I’ve never known a single destination to cause such division as Paris.
I’ve therefore always wondered what exactly it is about Paris that instantly elicits strong reactions from people, whether they love it or hate it, and I’ve come up with a few reasons why Paris seems to be the Marmite of cities.
It’s too romanticised and doesn’t live up to it
The main thing, I’ve realised, is the reputation. You know to expect the gritty sides of London and New York City – but Paris? Paris is such a romantic destination! So when you rock up and find that it has its downsides just like every other city, and isn’t actually something out of a fairytale, I can see why people are disappointed.
It’s the expectation of everywhere feeling glamorous, of corner coffee shops where you can watch all the locals ride past on bicycles with baguettes in the baskets, of art nouveau buildings popping up everywhere you turn.
Instead, there are dirty streets, dodgy areas, scammers selling knock-off wares, and roads packed with several lanes of traffic.
Paris is the epitome of why I’m generally not a huge fan of cities – because this is what cities are like! You often have to dig deeper than the surface to realise it’s got much more to offer, and I think that’s what surprises people about Paris – you expect all the grandeur and glamour to hit you in the face the second you arrive, and… it doesn’t.
It’s absolutely massive – and modern
Another thing I feel like people don’t expect is that Paris isn’t all historic theatres and fancy museums. It’s a working, living city that keeps up with the times and everything that comes along with that. It has modern tower blocks and lots of traffic.
It’s not cobblestone streets where everyone cycles and drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes.
It also means you have to choose which areas you’d like to see – after all, you wouldn’t visit London and expect to visit every neighbourhood, let alone the suburbs. And that means you can end up with very different experiences depending on where you go.
It’s often the first place people visit abroad
Paris was the first foreign city I ever visited, and I suspect that’s the same for many people.
Therefore, I visited with zero travel experience, zero real-world experience, and most likely (in fact, definitely) did not “do” Paris properly.
Certainly from the UK, Paris is such an accessible destination that it’s easy to visit in your late teens, with your short-term boyfriend, by which the fleeting and doomed relationship could actually sour your memory of the city anyway. This is, to be fair, exactly what happened with me.
There are areas of Paris I enjoyed – I would love to explore more of Montmartre, but in 2008, it wasn’t a case of finding a blog with all the best Instagram locations that perhaps took you away from the main attractions (and thank goodness – I never wanted to be a shallow traveller anyway, but when you’re 18 it doesn’t always go deeper than that).
It was about hitting all the main spots, walking down Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, climbing up the Eiffel Tower, and then realising that Notre Dame is far too far to walk from there (I’ve just looked it up – it would take an hour!) and therefore having to work out the confusing metro system.
I feel like this could go either way – perhaps you’re in awe of being in a foreign country and want to lap it all up regardless, or you could be overwhelmed by it not being what you expected (see #1).
I’d be really interested to go back now with countless cities under my belt, to see what I make of Paris now. It helps that I have friends there, and I feel like if I scratch deeper than the surface, it’s quite possible that I would end up appreciating it much more as a city.
“It’s not very friendly”
Note the quotation marks – whether you agree with it or not, it’s quite a common reason people give for not liking Paris.
Once again, Paris suffers from the effect of being a large city vs the rest of the country. In the UK, Londoners have the reputation of being unfriendly. In the USA, New Yorkers have the same reputation. And yes, Paris is exactly the same.
It’s probably not that people are actually unfriendly. It’s that they’re caught up in busy city lives, they’re abrupt, and the automatic reaction to people not giving five minutes to help gets people’s backs up, when actually they’re not there for the tourists.
Given that I have several friends in Paris who are among the nicest people I’ve ever met, I’d definitely take it with a pinch of salt!
I think that’s just something you have to deal with. I’ve always heard the stories of people ordering something in a restaurant and the waiter looking down on them and saying disparagingly, “it’s la, not le“. As an aside, the worst experience we’ve had of this was actually elsewhere in France.
All the tacky tourist sellers & scammers
You get this in most big tourist cities – Rome was particularly bad, and even worse than Paris in my opinion, yet it didn’t sully my experience of Rome as a whole. But Paris was pretty overwhelming for it, especially for my first experience of a large city outside of London.
Again, it doesn’t really help the image of a quaint city with views overlooking some of the most famous structures in the world, when you’ve got hundreds of people next to you yelling at everyone to buy some cheap imported Eiffel Tower keyrings that’ll break before you even get back to your hotel, or offering to draw a shitty caricature to really remind you of your stay.
More people have visited
As with any widespread topics, it’s made more intense by the sample size – and if you’ve been abroad, it seems you’ve most likely been to Paris. The more people who have an opinion, the more likely it is that they’ll differ.
And as with anything, your opinion will be defined by your experience – and your experience really could be anything. I recently had an (unintentional) argument with someone who said she despised Venice because she visited on a cruise – somehow, it’s not unimaginable that descending on a tiny, cramped city at the exact same time as 5,000 other people would be pretty horrendous. Stay a couple of days and experience Venice in the evenings without the crowds, or wander off to the quieter canals? A totally different experience, and probably exactly why I loved it.
So it’s no wonder that people don’t like Paris when they haven’t experienced it “properly” (and I am including myself in this).
The second time I visited was much more relaxed because we’d both been to the tourist areas before and instead just took a wander to a couple of parks, though we did end up enjoying the sun by the Eiffel Tower, too.
Side note: I’ve never visited Paris in the height of summer. I never want to. My visits have been in April or May, and our upcoming one will be September. Paris will always be busy regardless, but I always recommend shoulder season for pretty much anywhere!
It’s exactly why I want to go back, to give the city another chance which I feel it deserves, and to find out why the other 50% do sing its praises.
We’re actually heading back to Paris later this year, as an unintended add-on to our honeymoon, as our flight home offered a connection in Paris that could either be one hour long or nine hours long. I know which one I would rather do – for one thing, an hour isn’t comfortably long enough for the connection!
I’m really looking forward to spending a few hours doing something new and hopefully discovering a different side of Paris that we haven’t experienced before. Hopefully a side of the city that will make us love it.
So stay tuned to find out if we finally get it, or if our love/hate relationship with Paris will continue on forever…
25 thoughts on “On Paris, And Why Everyone Either Loves It Or Hates It”
Hahaha…can totally relate. Visited Paris years and years ago on a bus tour. Might not have been the best way to see it, but the short time that I was there left me disappointed. Crowds of people and yes they seemed rude and intent on correcting my attempts to speak their language. Have never been back and not a place that I may ever return to.
I am firmly on the “love Paris” team. I’ve been about 6 times now and just adore exploring the city. I have had the usual negatives too: the scammers, the unfriendlies, the over-busy touristy areas. But I guess I’ve found that the good outweighs that and now I’m happy to just enjoy the city. No big plans each time I go. I think you have to have at least one trip like that or you’ll never see Paris as anything else except a busy, dirty city where you just have to check things off your list. Hope your next trip allows you a glimpse into how I see Paris. If not, then at least you gave it another shot and you’ll know it’s not for you. It wouldn’t be fun if we all liked the same things anyway
I really appreciate this post. My experience with Paris has actually been a back-and-forth thing: I first stepped into the city for a summer abroad (and I enjoyed it), but then had a lackluster/soured experience during my second time around. But it was gradually over the next four years of living in France and making repeated visits to the capital that Paris slowly redeemed itself and grew on me. It’s a matter of finding the neighborhood(s), the restaurant(s) and bar(s), and the local(s) that/who speak to you, and by finding that niche does the visit become meaningful. It was through these repeated visits that I’ve found my favorite eateries, my favorite museums, and my friends whom I’ll continue to check out whenever I return time and time again. I hope you find something that speaks to you on your upcoming trip to the French capital…I hope to return next spring for my birthday. That’d be the dream!
Interesting. I’ve never been to Paris and, to be completely honest, I don’t have any desire to visit. But perhaps that’s because I’ve read many accounts of people who didn’t like it and few accounts of people who did. I’m sure I’ll end up visiting one day so I’ll try to go in with an open mind and see how it goes.
This was a interesting post to read as we are heading to Paris this fall for the first time. I’m interested to see if you feeling about it changes with your visit. Truthfully we have gone back and forth about it since booking our tickets. But now we’re committed so we’ll see how it turns out.
This is such a relatable post and very well written. I have friends who live there so visit once a year normally, and honestly – I go nowhere near the tourist hotspots. It’s so busy, noisy and full of people trying to scam you. But if you get out to some of the local neighbourhoods, the wine bars, the food, the local community – is absolutely stunning. I think it’s one of those places you just have to go with an open mind every time; I used to HATE going to London and now I’ve discovered so many parts of it, I adore it.
I’d say I’m lukewarm about Paris, as while I enjoyed exploring some less-well-known corners of the city on my last trip, it’s not a city I’m itching to go back to. I’d recommend La Coulée Verte and La Petite Ceinture if you fancy an urban green space that’s a bit different 🙂 I also enjoyed ambling round some of the cemeteries (Père Lachaise, Montparnasse) on my last visit… not sure what that says about me!
It’s funny because my “should I go to Barcelona?” post (before the pandemic put paid to those plans) was the most divisive post I’d experienced (until I wrote about Airbnbs – haha). So Barcelona is to me what Paris is to you, except that I haven’t actually been to Barcelona yet.
I actually really like Paris (and all the parts of France that I’ve been to). I’ve been there 3 times and always in summer. People have been rude to me in London and coastal Italy. Never in Paris. Sometimes I think that this idea of Parisians being generally rude is kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy. People hear it, then go to Paris and are subconsciously on the lookout for rudeness or a snub.
Sometimes you need to look for beauty in a destination. I certainly had no trouble with that in the City of Light and I love Paris. I doubt that Parisiennes really care what we think about their city. It is their home afterall.
It’s an interesting take on one of the most popular cities in the world. Personally, I hate crowds and that can sometimes dampen my mood anywhere, but I usually move out of the tourist areas into other locations. I visited Paris when I was 12 or so. I thought it was magical and fun, but then again I wasn’t paying for anything. I wouldn’t mind visiting again as an adult, but there are other places I still want to see.
I visited Paris twice and loved it both times! Before the first visit I didn’t expect much and honestly thought that Paris is probably overrated. But it pleasantly surprised me and about a year after my first visit I planned another trip – to visit places in Paris I missed during the first trip.
Contrary to Paris I expected much more from Rome and it really dissappointed me. Not with the amount of history and architecture (which it has plenty), but with its athmosphere, dirtiness and yes, scammers and pesky sellers.
So, may be it’s all about managing expectations 🙂
We’ve visited Paris twice and enjoyed ourselves both times but wouldn’t say it was amongst our favourite cities. We never experienced any rudeness and our attempts to speak French were appreciated. Sometimes expectations can have an impact and you’re absolutely right when you say that opinions are often defined by the experience you have.
I love the idea of Paris, and walking through the pretty streets and seeing the architecture. While I’ve never had a bad experience with the people, the friends I was with did. Being told to shush in an open-air cafe is just one of a few things that happened on a last trip.
I think your comment about ‘it depends on your experience’ is key to forming your opinion – whether about Paris or anywhere else. First impressions are lasting impressions! Luckily I’ve never had anything but the best experiences in Paris, with the most charming and helpful locals, hoteliers, waiters etc – so I love it. Whereas my Dad, minutes after arriving on the Eurostar from London for his first visit to Paris, declared himself unimpressed with the city. Having seen some of the less attractive neighbourhoods just before we reached the Gare du Nord! (I mean, doesn’t every train line into a city centre take you past the seediest backstreets?!)
I ran a poll on Paris a while ago and it returned very mixed reviews also I haven’t been myself since I was 18 so I will have to have a proper visit and try myself I suppose. Tha js for the honest views
I like Paris. I don’t LOVE Paris. I was actually surprised by its edge and grit – there’s a lot of darkness lingering below the surface of the city of lights.
Oh yes, Paris divides people and I remember this discussion on Twitter. It spiked some very drastic opinions on the city. I’m too not that convinced of it. I’ve only been once but I remember being very disappointed. Paris is often depicted as this very romantic city with a glamorous touch. Its PR department has really worked hard here for building up that rep. But the city is actually very run-down. French were snobbish and unfriendly to visitors. My first impressions weren’t too good. It tries to be something that it is not. However, I’m open to giving Paris another chance if I make it there again.
Carolin | Solo Travel Story
I am particularly interested in this debate! I have never been to Paris but will be there for a 2 day (1 night) visit this spring. I am trying to keep my expectations in check and hope to be delighted!
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You should go back to Paris! Parisians have twice as many lovers as the British. Average Parisian has NINETEEN lovers in their lifetime, compared with 9 in UK. A 1/4 of Parisians have been involved in a threesome. Longstanding couples account for just 25 percent of the population and 58% have admitted to cheating on their partners. #FrenchFancies
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Wow, what a fun, fascinating fact! I don’t know who you are – normally I delete your bizarre comments but I thought I’d leave this one.
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I’ve been to Paris several times but never for very long and haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of it. At the moment I don’t have strong feelings either way. It’s definitely not love at first sight but there was nothing I particularly disliked either. Like any big city I’d probably need to spend some extended time there to really get to know it before deciding one way or the other. However, I don’t think I’d ever be able to see it as a romantic place and can’t understand how any big busy city can have this reputation (or myth). What’s romantic about crowds, scammers and hasslers, traffic, pollution, etc?
I’ve visited Paris twice and I’m still very much undecided. There’s aspects I’ve loved and things that have put me off. The first time we visited we drove from Germany, got lost in the outskirts and ended up in a very questionable looking neighbourhood .Maybe I’ll give it one more go and that will sway me one way or another- third time a charm?