is a work of art. It’s a city shaped by love and romance, known as the City of Lights, or La Ville des Lumières. Take a stroll down any charming cobbled street, gaze into the storefront windows or from the balconies above, illuminated by the gentle glow of the street lamps, and you'll feel inspired to make something beautiful.
“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.” - Thomas Jefferson
What most don’t know is that the name La Ville des Lumières actually comes from Paris's history as the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment rather than the actual lights. Paris was a center of education, ideas, and art in Europe, and today the city remains a cultural center of the world. But the name works both ways.
The city’s 19th-century street lamps make it a photographer’s dream. Set up your tripod at the top of Montparnasse Tower
at sunset, and you’ll get a prime view of the Eiffel Tower
and surrounding neighborhoods just as the lights are turning on. Also lit up at night is the Ferris wheel at Place du Concorde
, sat next to the 3,000-year-old Egyptian gift known as the Obelisk of Luxor
. Light and shadow dominate the sacred halls of the Cathédrale Notre Dame
, whose arches and intricate patterns are fine examples of French Gothic architecture.
While the city is charming in still life, it is absolutely stunning in motion. There’s a reason countless films have attempted to capture Paris's magic via the art of cinematography.
Moulin Rouge, Paris, France
The historical artists’ district of Montmartre
is home to the famous cabaret Moulin Rouge
, whose red windmill is featured in the 2001 musical of the same name. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris captures the director’s vision of a romantic Paris in the rain, featuring spots like Boulevard Saint Germain and the Pont Alexandre-III
. Even the Pixar movie Ratatouille portrays the charm of the Paris skyline via animation, with scenes from the river banks to the blue rooftops to the Pont d’arcole.
Pont Alexandre III, Paris, France
There’s a reason a film about how anyone can cook takes place in the City of Lights. Paris is one of the gastronomic centers of the world. The modern restaurant has its roots in French culture, and today the finest new chefs are coming out of l'ateliers run by famous chefs like Guy Martin and Alain Ducasse. Come to Paris to enjoy hand-chopped steak tartare at Le Severo
, oysters at l’Huîtrerie Régis
, or foie gras at L’Astrance
. Grab some macarons at the Ladurée pâtisserie
, or try some French cheeses at Chez Virginie
fromagerie. Or do some people watching from the tables at Le Sancerre
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” - Ernest Hemingway
Cafes were mingling spots for many expatriate writers who flocked to Paris to drink, let loose, and get inspired. Paris during the Jazz age of the 1920s was at the cutting edge of culture, attracting a post-WWI “Lost Generation" of writers. Ernest Hemingway was a struggling journalist in the ‘20s, and today tours are held in places he frequented, like the windy streets of the Left Bank, and the gardens of Jardin du Luxembourg. F. Scott Fitzgerald partied in places like Café du Dôme, and published The Great Gatsby during his time in Paris. George Orwell’s work in kitchens led to his memoir about poverty, Down and Out in Paris and London. Shakespeare & Company bookstore, which still stands today, was a gathering place for many Americans in Paris.
Among the writers and bohemians in 1920s Paris were surrealist painters like Salvador Dalí and Man Ray, as well as Pablo Picasso. They would often work and play in the historic Montmartre artists district. Check out Musée de Montmartre
, a house in which many artists lived and painted. Preceding them were the Belle Epoque artists of the late 19th and early 20th century, like Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh. All of these artists' works are now on display at the magnificent Louvre
Palace, the largest art museum in the world, most recognized by the glass pyramid in its courtyard.
Louvre Palace, Paris, France
Palais Garnier Opera House, Paris, France
Paris has always been at the forefront of architectural influence in the world. Beaux-Arts architecture is present in the Palais Garnier opera house, characterized by its French ornamentation within a logical design. Art-Deco was born in Paris in the ‘20s, and the Grand Rex movie theater is a fine example of Art-Deco optimism in the ambiance of the rooms. The famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is a massive Neoclassical arch celebrating French military might.
Of course, the iconic Eiffel Tower stands tall in the city center. Built by Gustave Eiffel as a temporary 20-year exhibition for the 1889 World’s Fair, this testament to French industry and science was eventually converted to a radio communication tower. Today it’s the most-visited paid monument in the world, featuring two restaurants and a lift up to the highest observation deck in the European Union.
Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
Above all, Paris inspires the artist within. Just observe the scenes playing out in front of you from a street corner cafe, and you’ll be tempted to make a film, write a poem, or paint a picture. The Eiffel Tower lights up at night, looming in the background of the Paris skyline as a beacon of manmade wonder. All around are examples of excellence in craft, inspiring the feeling that you can put something new and beautiful into the world too.