Mention Paris and you immediately think of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre but beyond these icons, there is a city full of charm with an amazing culture for those who take the time to look closer. Taking a peek behind the famous Parisian landmarks reveals a whole new layer of this magnificent city that can elicit an intake of breath from even the most cynical and seasoned traveller.
This rang true for Olenka Palac, an Infinity consultant who has been to many, many places on this planet, but on her first trip to Paris, really got to understand why the French are so proud of the “City of Love.”
“Although a big city, I found Paris is very easy to walk around, and a walking tour gives you access to tiny alleyways and hidden courtyards, that you would perhaps never find on your own.
The bonus with these walking tours is that you also get to hear all about the interesting history of the buildings and particular areas, that make Paris, well Paris.”
Touring by bike is also very popular and there are bike places everywhere that provide bikes for hire at very reasonable prices. Biking makes getting around the larger parts of Paris much easier, and it sure feels like a very Parisian thing to do. But Olenka warns when riding to be careful, “their road rules are a little different, and a lot crazier than ours!”
Whether you walk, ride, or jump on an open hop-on hop-off bus tour, take advantage of the fact that many Parisian icons like the Eiffel Tour and the Champs Elysee are within a compact area and well worth a visit. In fact the Louvre probably needs a couple of visits to do it justice. Also these landmark places take on a completely different aspect by night – Paris takes on more of a romantic feel, and then Paris is known as the City of Light!
Of course to truly soak up the Parisian vibe, you can spend some time at a street café watching the world go by and trying out your high school French, or some phrases from your guide-book.
The French have a reputation for being dismissive of non French speaking tourists, but Olenka did not find that at all, and recommends to just learn a couple of simple words before you go, and don’t be shy to try them out on a local!
“A little tip - Bonjour is used in the first half of the day, but after lunch and in the evenings use Bonsoir.”
For those who love Paris and all things Parisian, just a short distance away is France’s third largest city of Lyon. This city is just as beautiful as Paris but gives you a chance to enjoy some more of the real French city lifestyle but with fewer tourists, fewer souvenir shops, and far fewer cars.
“You can still see and do “touristy” things in Lyon, such as visit the Basilica that is very similar to the Notre Dame, only this one is perched on a hilltop, overlooking the entire city.”
Outside the well-visited tourist sites, you can easily spend days exploring the narrow streets, tiny courtyards and boutique shopping precincts, and do a half-day walking tour, which will show you some lesser visited spots to give you a better sense of how the French live.
One of the most notable elements of French life is of course their food. Lyon is no exception with a whole range of Lyonnaise food and wine available at the many cafes and restaurants.
Olenka was brave enough to try some local delicacies, including a dish not for the faint-hearted that had tripe as the main ingredient!
“No matter whether you’re after a fresh croissant or a delicious degustation menu, be sure to try the local delicacies too, they may seem a bit out there, but when in France…?!”
“ I never had Paris or Lyon on my MUST see and do list but not only did I see amazingly beautiful famous French landmarks, I also got a more intimate insight into French life by visiting the cobblestone lanes, back roads and tiny tucked away courtyards of both these beautiful cities. I now understand why the French are so proud of their culture, and stand so proudly when their National Anthem is played.
Vive La France!”