As one of Europe’s largest cities, Paris has been a focal point not just for photographers but anyone who seeks inspiration for their work. It sees millions of visitors each year and still manages to maintain its appeal and character. Recently I returned from this beautiful place and quickly remembered why it’s arguably the most photogenic city there is.
Big City Challenges
This was my fourth visit to the ‘City of Lights’ but it hasn’t changed much in my lifetime. Like other major cities it has its challenges when it comes to things like gridlock and crime. Security has always been tight in Paris but more so now than ever with recent attacks and continued terrorism threats. But I’m not the kind of person to give in to intimidation and I’ll insist on living my life without that fear. And from what I’ve seen and what history has shown us the French feel the same way.
I unintentionally visited during the inauguration of newly-elected President Macron so the city was quite heavy with security. And while police and even the military have a strong presence in many popular areas you can still stroll through the streets and not feel like you are in a ‘Die Hard’ movie. Paris has proven itself to be resilient and continues to embrace visitors from all over the world.
Avoiding the Crowds
Paris gets very congested during the day, especially at its top tourist spots. Everyone wants to see the majestic Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero or the view from the Arc de Triomphe. But by venturing away from the ordinary spots or just avoiding the busy times of day you can really enjoy the city the way it was meant to be.
My favorite time to explore big cities like Paris is in the early morning, starting out an hour or two before sunrise. When you do this you get to experience the city in a way most people never do. That is without crowds or traffic. It’s unbelievably peaceful, especially on weekend mornings when there aren’t as many people commuting in for work and most of the tourists are sleeping in after a late night. Walking along the Seine and watching the sun come up will be a great memory of mine for the rest of my life.
Stepping through Paris
Paris has a lot to take in and walking is the best way to see it in my opinion. Come prepared with a good map and comfortable shoes because many of the highlights are not in close proximity to each other. You can move about different parts of the city using the metro system or the plentiful taxis but know you’ll likely miss many neat places that are tucked away if you do.
Montmartre is a charming area of the city that is home to the historic Sacre Couer, a basilica situated on a hill that overlooks the city. If you’re not satisfied with the moderate climb to get here you can ascend 300 stairs further up to the top of the basilica by way of the steep and narrow stairway. It’s totally worth the experience and the views are amazing.
No Place Like It
Paris has been a center of cultural evolution for centuries and has attracted many brilliant minds who come to study and be inspired. This has led to the city hosting some of the most magnificent and well known examples of architecture, urban design, and the arts.
Known for its landmarks and not its skyscrapers, most of the city has avoided vertical development with few exceptions. The city has historically limited the height of its buildings. As part of an urban revitalization in the mid 19th century carried out by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, most buildings were capped at five or six stories tall. The buildings built during this era line many of the streets today.
The Montparnasse Tower is a solitary skyscraper which sits south of central Paris. The tower, a controversial development completed in the 1970’s, led the city to strictly prevent further vertical development in the central part of the city. To meet the needs of a growing economy, the La Defense area was set aside as the business district west of the city center and is home to nearly all of its skyscrapers. Montparnasse however offers some incredible views of the city and the top is open to visitors.
Paris is one of a kind. Few cities are able to generate the same level of inspiration. It will without doubt continue to serve as one of the world’s greatest cities for centuries to come. For now I can only look forward to my next peaceful morning walk along the Seine.