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A Review of Paris: The Best Things to Do and the Classics to Skip, Taken From a Local

The first few weeks of classes can be stressful. Many of us are trying to figure out which classes to take; others are learning how to balance a social life with their academic schedule. No matter the case, though, as the school year resumes, pretty much everyone is sad to see summer go. I certainly am.

As a citizen of France and the United States, my dual nationality took on a whole new meaning this summer. In the past, all French citizenship really entailed was being able to brag to my American friends that I’m French, and being able to brag to my French friends that I’m American. This summer, however, I was given the opportunity to understand what a privilege being an EU citizen really is. While Americans were locked out of Europe for most of the summer, I was finally able to get away and spend some overdue time with family and friends — not to mention get a not-so-small change of scenery. 

While I was in Paris working and interning, I was also able to live in and absorb a culture other than that of the United States. And because it was summer, I had some extra time to take notes. I went in with a long list of things I knew I wanted to do in Paris — places to explore, exhibits to see, restaurants that were a must. Naturally, I came away with a list of glowing reviews I made for myself — and for my loyal Her Campus readers, bien sûr. However, I also took notes on the things that fell flat for me in Paris. While there weren’t many, there were enough that I knew others should beware of them.

Native or not, dual-citizen or single, like everyone, my first stop in Paris this summer was Le Musée du Louvre. Spoiler alert: This was not a point on my summer agenda that fell flat. The Louvre was absolutely spectacular, as everyone else will tell you. A common mistake many make, though, is visiting with the intention of seeing everything – this cannot be done, and it shouldn’t be! One could spend an entire day in each room of the Louvre and still have missed a sculpture, painting, drawing or photo.

Now, not all of us have the luxury of time, so I wouldn’t recommend traveling to the Louvre only to see one room at a time. I will say, however, that travellers should visit the Louvre with a focus on something. I focused on Greek and Roman antiquity, which is a personal preference; the adrenaline and joy I felt from The Athena of Velletri may come to another from gazing at The Great Sphinx of Tanis in the Egyptian history section or from admiring Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Regardless of your preferred art history period or mode of art, Le Musée du Louvre is a must. But we knew this already.

What you may not have known is that you can spend just as much time walking along the Seine, gazing upon just as beautiful (in my humble opinion) art, albeit very different. During any old day in Paris — it doesn’t have to be particularly beautiful — one can always turn to the Seine for a lovely walk. It can be particularly fun if you are looking to buy — or just observe — some antiques, books, antique books, paintings, drawings, and more. The last time I was there, I purchased a ballerina painting that seemed to mimic the famous works of Degas. This is my go-to activity on a calmer day in Paris, and one many tourists don’t realize is an option.

Conversely, a popular tourist attraction is Sainte Chapelle, a Gothic-style, royal chapel located within the residence of the French monarchy prior to the 14th century. Despite the grandeur implied within this description, La Sainte Chapelle is worth omitting. After visiting it for the first time this summer, I was underwhelmed mainly due to the size; it is a surprisingly small chapel. My entire “visit” was less than fifteen minutes! Of course, it has the classic stained glass windows one might associate with any French Gothic structure, but while they are lovely, unique they are not. Any tourist would be better suited to visit Notre Dame, which is just a short walk down the Seine, and much more notable.

Much more fun than Notre Dame — though less notable — is a visit just outside of Paris, to Saint-Ouen, where there is an endless (quite literally!) marché aux puces featuring antique art, trinkets, furniture, books, and more. The market is much like the line of vendors along the Seine, although the one in Saint-Ouen is more extensive — and more legitimate. Pieces of art there will go for thousands of dollars—as will the furniture and antique jewelry. Whether or not you appreciate art and antiques, though, les marchés aux puces are a staple of Parisian culture and antiquity. No one should miss it!

Something else perhaps to miss, however, is La Tour Eiffel — the Eiffel Tower. Some may be reading this and think I’ve lost all credibility now, but I assure you, it is much more pleasant to look at the Eiffel Tower from a distance than to go visit it up close. If the concern is to see the view of Paris, I once again assure you there is an even better view to be had — which includes the Eiffel Tower and is free — on the rooftop of the Galeries LaFayette located in the ninth arrondissement on Boulevard Haussman.

The Eiffel Tower is a tourist attraction of course, so it is filled with tourists — naturally. Consequently, there are pick-pockets and obnoxious vendors trying to steal and scheme for your money. It makes for a poor atmosphere. The Galeries LaFayette, however, is much more pleasant. The interior design resembles a modern cathedral, but is filled to the brim with haute couture designers and brands. Even if that kind of shopping isn’t your style, it’s fun to walk through.

One last thing all tourists must do but often forget to or don’t prioritize is booking a show to see the national opera or ballet company of France in Paris. Paris has almost always been the center of the art world — any type — so even if you don’t personally feel thrilled by the idea of going to the opera or ballet, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. In fact, you’ll likely leave le Palais Garnier or l’Opéra Bastille with a newfound appreciation for a different form of art. This past summer, the ballet company put on Roméo et Juliette, and even as a writer, I was at a loss for words. Still, I do not have the vocabulary to describe how magnifique it was! Perhaps, as with everything in Paris, there was just an air of je ne sais quoi.

Noa Fay

Columbia Barnard '24

I am studying at Barnard College of Columbia University. Some of my academic interests include American politics, Israeli politics, Russian language, and Greek mythology. I am also a passionate opera singer and writer. In January 2020 I published my first novel, One Cruel House, and I hope to publish more.
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