People often say that Paris is the kind of city you either love or you hate. But it is possible to do both!
More than 44 million travelers visited Paris in 2022, and anecdotal reviews of the city vary wildly.
Paris is my favorite city in the world, and the short hop across The English Channel means that I’m able to visit regularly. But no city is perfect, and it’s easy to see why a visit to Paris leaves some travelers with a bitter taste in their mouths.
You can love the view from the Eiffel Tower but hate the queues to get in. Love the quaint cafes, but hate the surly waiters.
Here are the top five things I both love and hate about visiting Paris:
Paris is a busy and bustling city, and it can be particularly crowded with tourists during the peak Spring and Summer months.
On the one hand, the crowds make for great people-watching, particularly when you’re sat outside a boulevard café with a coffee. People watching feels like a national sport in Paris, and the more people there are, the better!
On the other hand, visiting Paris attractions when they are crowded can be frustrating and time-consuming.
The elevators to ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower will leave you crammed in like sardines in a tin, and while I’ve been to the Louvre, I’ve only ever seen segments of the famous Mona Lisa from behind someone else’s head.
If you can, I recommend traveling to Paris during the quiet season: it may be bitterly cold in the winter, but at least you’ll have room to breathe in the city’s main attractions. You can also ice skate on the first deck of the Eiffel Tower during the winter months. And the Champs-Elysees looks so pretty when it’s lit up for Christmas.
It is possible to buy a baguette or croissant to take out and eat while sitting along the River Seine for just a couple of euros. This is one of my favorite ways to eat on a budget in Paris.
And walking around the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens or the famous Montmartre district doesn’t have a cost at all.
But accommodation and restaurant-standard food are expensive, particularly during peak periods. And while many European cities open their museums and art galleries to the public for free, it costs 17 euros to visit the Louvre in Paris.
In my experience, the cost of food and activities in particular can be more expensive than in many other European cities if you aren’t prepared to shop around or only enjoy activities that are free of charge.
The Size of the City
Paris is a large city, and many of its most famous attractions are not located close to each other.
The 300-meter-tall Eiffel Tower dominates the city skyline, while churches such as Notre Dame and the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur attract millions of visitors each year. But the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame are just over 5km apart from each other. You will travel almost 7km from the Eiffel Tower to reach the Basilica de Sacre-Coeur.
This means that if you want to see all of the main attractions in Paris in a relatively short period of time, you need to think ahead and plan your route to do so. It might look like you can wander from Montmartre to the Louvre in the movies, but it’s just not possible in the real world.
While this can mean that Paris isn’t as easy to navigate as other, smaller cities, the good news is that Paris has a very efficient and affordable Metro system. It’s also easy to use and operates until around 1 am.
My favorite way to explore the city’s main attractions is by Batobus: This convenient hop-on, hop-off boat will take you down the River Seine, allowing you to see and stop at all the main attractions you’ll pass on the way.
The size of the city can be both a hindrance and a help: It would be near-impossible to cram so many incredible attractions into a smaller space, and getting lost as you travel from A to B, discovering new side streets and hidden gems, is part of Paris’ charm.
French food has a reputation for being some of the best in the world. And there are some dishes that the French do better than anyone else.
If you’re looking for decadent fine dining, full-bodied red wines, crusty baguettes and pastries from tiny boulangeries, and delicate macarons and cakes, then there is nowhere better to be. You can even grab Laduree macarons whilst passing through certain train stations in Paris.
But if you’re looking for something a little less, well, French, then you’re going to be disappointed. In the mood for sushi or tacos? This is not the place for you.
While of course, world cuisine is available, there is less diversity in the food in Paris than in most other European capital cities. The comparison to London is a great example of this.
This might not be a problem if you’re only in Paris for a couple of days, but if you’re spending weeks in the city, you might find you start craving dishes that are a little more plain and simple than the traditional cuisine on offer.
The Je Ne Sais Quoi
Je ne sais quoi is a quality that cannot be described or named easily, and Paris just has it. It is a city that feels effortlessly cool.
Whether you’re admiring the fashion choices of the French ‘it girls’ or watching school children walking to the park, French people ooze style and confidence.
Even watching a middle-aged woman cycling home with a baguette for dinner feels exciting when you’re in Paris.
But if you arrive in Paris expecting perfection, you might be disappointed.
Paris has a reputation for being the most romantic city in the world, and it doesn’t always live up to that reputation. Some travelers arrive expecting love and romance and are shocked when they find Paris is a dirty, noisy city like any other.
The Eiffel Tower may be beautiful. But it also has a children’s carousel underneath it, and the surrounding streets are packed with hawkers selling low-quality souvenirs to tourists.
While for me, the chaos and the bustle add to the je ne sais quoi, it’s easy to see why this might put off other travelers, especially those expecting hearts and flowers at every turn.
It’s also worth mentioning that Paris smells. And not like flowers. This is particularly true in the heat of the summer when urine and garbage leave a lingering stench in parts of the city. It could either ruin the city for you or just add to its je ne sais quoi.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com