Travel: Why the French capital is a traveller's dream

From museums documenting important artworks to cafes offering baked delicacies, Paris is a must-visit



Avenue des Champs-Élysées is located in Paris’ 8th Arrondissement. Photo by Abdul Karim Hanif
Avenue des Champs-Élysées is located in Paris’ 8th Arrondissement. Photo by Abdul Karim Hanif
by

Abdul Karim

Published: Thu 29 Dec 2022, 11:34 PM

France has been one of the last countries to have eased border and travel restrictions for tourists arriving from outside the EU region. It was on August 1, 2022, when France dropped all of its Covid-19 restrictions to facilitate international arrivals. Much to the delight of its hospitality and tourism industry, the reopening has been bearing fruit.

While official figures for the year 2022 are yet to be announced, recent data suggested that a total of 322 million nights were spent by tourists in France from April to September this year, which is 2.4 percent more than in 2019.

The French capital has long been a popular attraction amongst honeymooners, museum hoppers, or even spontaneous travellers who arrive in Paris for a quick trip. With over 120 museums located in Paris alone and numerous landmarks to visit, exploring the city can be an overwhelming task. It is also one of the destinations one can visit regularly and still have things pending on the to-do list.

I am one of the travellers that often makes fleeting visits or club too many destinations during a short trip. I am sure that I am not the only one that tends to do this and hence, I will share my travel tips on making the most of your time here. If you've been to Paris and think that you've been there and done that, I'd suggest rethinking and planning another trip soon. This picture-perfect city is worth exploring more after you've ticked the popular landmarks off the list.

In this piece, we will look at the best ways of making the most of your time in Paris, including a new museum that opened its doors to the public for the first time. We will also understand why Paris is also considered a ‘city of love’, as it was a point that had left me puzzled during my previous trip as a solo traveller. The city's popularity was further elevated with the hit Netflix show Emily in Paris.

How to get here

UAE residents have at least five non-stop direct flights to Paris, courtesy of three-direct flights offered by Emirates Airline and two by Air France. The main international airport, Charles de Gaulle, is just over 30kms away from the city center and the most cost-effective and convenient way to reach your hotel is by booking an Uber. The ride-hailing platform is also quite handy to explore the city if time is of the essence.

Understanding Paris

Paris is divided into 20 Paris Arrondissements or districts. If you look at the map, the city is in a round circuit and each of the arrondissements has its own character and unique spots to explore.

The First Arrondissement is often described as ‘the belly of Paris’ where it houses the popular market district of Les Halles. It is the place where one will spend most of their time in Paris, exploring the monuments and the elegant squares. It is where you’ll find the Louvre Museum and Tuileries Gardens, and can also hop on a Seine river cruise to discover the French capital from the water.

Another popular arrondissement worth noting in your travel itinerary is what is commonly known as the Latin Quarter. The 5th Arrondissement of Paris is where the Romans settled for the first time, founding the Roman city of Lutetia. This is the place to be for buying souvenirs at a price that won’t break the bank and if you’re on a quest for a lively atmosphere. It is known for its historical monuments, medieval buildings, narrow lanes, and pocket-friendly restaurants that offer enticing meal deals. Considering the area’s history, I grabbed a meal at a laidback Italian eatery called Pizza Sarno. My spouse described her pizza as the best she's ever had, so that was a winner. This district houses the Panthéon, Paris Sorbonne University, and is where you'll find the best views of Notre Dame.

The 7th Arrondissement of Paris is the district for visiting the Eiffel Tower and the Les Invalides. It is a very affluent neighbourhood where you will spot some embassies housed in the beautiful private mansions of the locality. Standing 986 feet tall, the Eiffel Tower once held the title of the world's tallest structure and is the most popular attraction of the city, attracting over 7 million annual visitors. Ticket prices to go to the top start from around EUR26.80 for an adult and queues can be fairly long. If your time is limited, then it is best to skip going up the tower for the views. Instead cross over to the other side of the Seine river to Jardins du Trocadéro for the best shots of the tower. Most of the videos and images you might have spotted on social media have usually been filmed from this location. After a full day spent exploring the city, make sure to return to the gardens to see the glittering tower under the night sky.

The 8th Arrondissement of Paris is the district of fashion and luxury. This is where you will find Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This is where you’ll find the beautiful five-star historic hotels of Paris along with Elysée Palace, which is the official residence of the French President along with the ever-so-famous Arc de Triomphe.

Where to go for the best views of Paris?

You’ll notice that most buildings in Paris are of the same height, so finding an elevated area for capturing the whole city in an image can be a challenge. Though some of the locations for the picture-perfect aerial view include Montparnasse Tower, which has a 56th-floor observation deck, Basilica Sacre Coeur, which is located on top of the Montmarte and is known to be one of the highest vantage points in Paris as well as the top of the department store Galeries Lafayette Haussmann.

What are the best museums to visit?

There are over 120 museums in Paris and each will require at least a few hours to explore. With limited time, it is a challenge to explore all of them. Therefore, it is best to select around two or three that cater to your interest and are also within proximity. Getting around in Paris whether on an Uber or even the metro can be time-consuming, especially during rush hours.

Here is a list of some of the best museums for travellers from our part of the world:

Louvre Museum, former French Renaissance palace, and now the world's biggest art museum; home to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa

Musée en Herbe, which is a family-friendly interactive art museum for children

Orangerie Museum, an art museum with Monet's massive water lily paintings

Centre Pompidou or Museum National Modern and contemporary art houses Paris's most famous 'inside-out' exhibition space.

Hotel de Ville, which is a City Hall and one of the most famous landmarks

Les Invalides, a military museum which also houses Napoleon's Tomb.

Hôtel de la Marine

Located in Place de la Concorde this naval museum is one of the newest must-see Paris attractions. Constructed in 1775, it offers visitors a glimpse into the 18th century's design. The building was planned to be a repository for state treasures, though, after the French Revolution, it became the headquarters of the French Navy until 2015. It went through four years of renovations and opened to the public in June 2021. If you're a fan of luxurious historical items, then this museum should be added to your list of attractions to visit.

Where to stay

This is, arguably, one of the most important elements to define your Parisian experience. As a solo traveller, the Latin Quarter or the 11th Arrondissement of Republique can be great for its hip cafes and creative shops.

Though on a romantic getaway or to replicate a Parisian experience that can be seen on shows such as Emily in Paris, it is best to choose one of the luxury hotels on offer. I called Mandarin Oriental, Paris, my home for my trip to Paris. It is where I found a true Parisian experience blended with the elegant Asian hospitality of the Far East. It is located right in the heart of Paris's shopping district of Rue Saint-Honoré. Located inside a 1930s Art Deco-inspired building, the hotel is just a stroll away from Palace Vendôme and is surrounded by the world's most prestigious luxury brands.

Sightseeing and shopping and ease of access to all the popular landmarks ticked most of my boxes for the place to stay here. The size of a room matters quite a lot for Middle Eastern visitors, and it is usually difficult to find a room that offers ample space at hotels in Western Europe. This property has 135 luxurious rooms and all of them tend to be quite spacious, which did mean more room for shopping bags. If you're looking at going all out and big, then you can go ahead and book a two-storey 'Panoramic Suite' that boasts exceptional views of the city.

You'll also find yourself at home if you're on the quest for some exquisite French gastronomy, thanks to the hotel's Executive Chef Thierry Marx, who operates a gourmet restaurant called Le Sur Mesure which also holds two Michelin stars, a contemporary dining eatery Camellia along with a Parisian cake shop.

My favourite spot was the indoor open-air garden of their outlet 'Bar 8', which attracted a lot of natural light during the day and offered a relaxing space in the evenings to wind down in a well-lit environment.

WKND Verdict

Overall, the bustling streets of Paris are back following the end of the pandemic. It is an all-season destination that is well worth a quick trip during the long weekend holidays. When I arrived in the city during my previous trip as a solo traveller, I always wondered where the romantic element fit into all the history, culture, and shopping the city has to offer. The truth lies in the spirit and aura of the city. One can spend hours just exploring the city on foot, admiring the views. The vast options of museums and the countless picture-perfect backdrops Paris offers, make the visitors yearn for more fleeting visits.

abdulkarim@khaleejtimes.com


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