Exploring Paris: The Cultural Hotspot Of Europe

17 May 2019
POSTED BY Y Magazine

In spite of recent tragedy, the Paris, the capital of France forges on, says Swati Basu Das.

As a piece of a travelogue, this postcard from Paris dates back to April 1, 2019. At the time, little did I – or anyone for that matter – think that devastation would befall its icon, the Grand Lady of Paris – the Cathédrale Basilique Notre Dame de Paris on April 15. On the day I visited, it stood flawless. Two weeks later the cathedral spire collapsed in a catastrophic fire.

This city of lights and romance, with all its lustre of diversity is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most iconic of capitals. A city well-connected by Metro and best explored on foot, Paris showcases its indelible Haussmanian architecture at every step. The range of buildings dates back centuries and highlights the city’s early Medieval period, alongside current contemporary designs.

Be it its ornate limestone facades, the old bridges, or the tree-lined boulevards along the banks of the River Seine, Paris is a city that glitters with history. Apart from its grand buildings, monuments, and patios, it’s also a metropolis that revels in a love for life – or ‘joie de vivre’ as the French say.

For history buffs wanting to explore the darker side of this City of Lights that runs deep underneath its most subterranean corners, you’ll want to check out the infamous catacombs of Paris. These dark chambers of the dead and underground cemeteries date back to the 1700s. A tour down below can be a spooky experience, so only the brave should venture down to explore its Catacomb Museum.

Built around the River Seine, Paris has several bridges that connect the Right Bank and the Left Bank of the city – each with their own unique cultural distinction. Possessing an old-world charm, Pont Neuf claims to be the oldest among the the city’s 37 bridges. Easily accessible by the Number 7 Metro line to Pont Neuf Station, the bridge is an ideal location to view the Eiffel Tower from a distance.

Between Pont Marie and the Louvre Museum are the Seine-side book-stalls or the ‘bouquinistes’, selling old and rare titles. It’s a readers’ haven, and a walk along the riverfront to explore these treasure troves is worth an afternoon’s diversion.

A 30-minute metro ride from Champ de Mars Station will take you to Rue Montorgueil – a perennial street market in Paris. Walking down its cobbled path, you can spot fine restaurants, bistros, cheese shops, and some of the city’s oldest bakeries.

Artistically magnificent and majestic, Paris will always remain a cultural and architectural delight despite the structural loss it has incurred. Our Grand Lady of Paris will rise again.

My favourite place- A Metro ride to Abbesses will take you to the hilltop Montmartre. An 800-metre walk uphill from the station to the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur (the white church) unfolds Bohemian architecture at every step. This charming cobbled quarter is best experienced over a cup of coffee as you admire the landscape that inspired Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. Having your sketch done by one of the local street artists is the only souvenir you’ll need. An evening walk around this unique neighbourhood is simply unforgettable and it’s the best place to sample a variety of French culinary delights.

Highlights- It’s impossible to think of Paris and not think of the monumental icons that it’s constructed over the centuries – and a trip up the Eiffel Tower was one of our most cherished memories from the trip. Braving the hours in a long queue to climb high up the tower and viewing the city from this height is nothing short of breath-taking. The more you pay, the higher you can ascend, and it’s the best sunset point after Montmatre and, of course, one of the city’s most Instagram-able.

Paris is also a city of immeasurable art. Home to Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ and many more, it’s iconic Louvre Museum is the world’s most magnificent art gallery.

While the 850-year-old Cathédrale Basilique Notre Dame de Paris was and is, one of the most stunning examples of French Gothic architecture and it’s recent devastating fire may have stripped its spires, but will never extinguish its soul.

Lowlights- Keep your wits about you and don’t fall victim to pickpockets in many of the city’s touristic public hotspots – it can ruin your trip. Plus, all major attractions in Paris have terrifyingly long queues, so expect to spend hours to get your tickets and see the sights.

Souvenirs- Buy books and antique items from the ‘bouquinistes’ along the River Seine; Eiffel Tower miniatures; delicious French sweet treats like chocolates, éclairs, and macarons; street art paintings; or decadent French cheese.

Getting there- Oman Air operates direct flights to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport from Muscat International Airport.    

Where to stay- There are several luxury and budget hotels around the central Opera Garnier area and sites such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor can offer a plethora of other choices.

Top 5 things to do

1. Get sketched by a Montmartre street artist.

2. Take a walking tour down the city boulevards.

3. Enjoy a lunch-time cruise on the River Seine.

4. Relish in the artworks of the Louvre Museum.

5. Snag a birds-eye view from atop the Eiffel Tower.

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