My Late-Blooming Love Affair with Paris

By alison - January 25, 2013 (Updated: November 19, 2014)

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Euro Summer 2013.
Notre Dame, Paris, France

How do you fall in love when so many others are vying for your love’s attention?

Paris, France – It’s the city of lights, of poetry, of romance. It’s a city people fantasise about visiting and romantics fall in love with instantly. For me however, Paris wasn’t love at first sight. This is the story of my late blooming love affair with Paris.

Have you ever visited a city (probably back when you were young and foolish) and tried to do everything, and I do mean everything, in a limited amount of time?  The end result is exhaustion, usually accompanied by its good friends, frustration and disappointment. That pretty much sums up our first visit to Paris.

Andrew and I first visited Europe together in our early 20s. We took one of those crazy bus-tours that promise 18 cities in 26 days, thinking “When will we ever have the chance to see Europe again?” (Oh hindsight). So we tried to tick off all the boxes – Coliseum in Rome, check; gondola ride in Venice, check; Beer steins and coco clocks in Germany, check, Red light district in Amsterdam, check, snowy mountain peak in Switzerland, check. Our last stop was Paris – a city with a long tourist check list.

We were already exhausted from our whirlwind tour of Europe, but we HAD to see the Mona Lisa, and Notre Dame, and Montmartre, and cruise the Seine, and climb the Eifel Tower, and visit the Musee d’Orsay… after all, we had two whole days…

The Paris Check list

The Paris check-list… We can do it all in two days… right?

I’m sure you can see how this story ends. We burnt ourselves out racing from sight to sight, so we could check them off our list, never having the time to appreciate any one of them.

Despite that, I didn’t hate Paris. I just didn’t fall in love with it. There were a two perfect moments I still remember: stepping into Sacr Coeur just as a choir launched into song and taking a brief pause by the Seine and realising ‘I am in Paris.’ Most of the time however I was hot (as it was August), tired, and standing in a very, very long line.

I'm in Paris

I’m in Paris

Our second visit wasn’t much better. We were living in Amsterdam for three months and decided to drive to Paris for a long weekend. We didn’t want to drive in the city centre so we booked a hotel on the outskirts. As this was before the invention of TripAdvisor, our hotel choice was random and our budget was cheap. As you may know, not all of the outskirts of Paris are particularly lovely. I won’t say I feared for my safety exactly but I didn’t sleep well that weekend.

There were two upsides to that particular visit as well. First, we discovered our favourite view of Paris – from the roof of the Pompidou Centre. It’s free. You can see both the Eifel Tower and Sacré Coeur and there is a great (if overpriced) terrace where you can enjoy a drink or a meal.

Our favourite view of Paris

Our favourite view of Paris – from the roof of the Pompidou Centre

Our second discovery was Rue Mouffetard, a lively street lined with restaurants and food sellers. These days it can be quite touristy, but it still makes me feel like this is what Paris should be: lively shops, good food and cozy cafes. (I’m sure some Parisians will slam me for this, but I still love it). We return whenever we visit the city and we always have at least one great meal here.

Since those first two trips, we’ve returned to Paris with each of our families and each time we’ve made new discoveries: beautiful shops, delightful restaurants, quirky museums. But while my feelings for Paris were warming into affection, it still wasn’t true love.

That happened one August weekend, about three years ago. Andrew and I were invited to a dinner party in Paris, hosted by some visiting American friends. We hadn’t seen them in some time and their parties are always legendary, so we decided to make a weekend of it.

Our hotel was forgettable, but it was affordable and clean and in a ‘real’ Paris neighbourhood. Other than the dinner party (which was as legendary as we expected) we had absolutely no plans. In fact, thinking back on that weekend now, I really don’t remember anything specific that we did.

Exploring our Parisian neighbourhood

Exploring our Parisian neighbourhood

We walked a lot, in neighbourhoods off the beaten path. We spent hours sipping coffee on the terraces of non-descript cafes while people-watching. We had long meals in dark restaurants where we were the only tourists. In fact, it was exactly what visiting Paris should be but so rarely ever is. And yes, I fell head-over-heels in love.

My most recent trip to Paris was last July. My dear friend from Canada was visiting, and while she was happy to relinquish planning control for Copenhagen, Berlin and Budapest, I knew she had a Paris checklist much like my original one. July, Eifel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame… I was afraid this would end my Parisian love-affair forever.

As my friend means much more to me than my relationship with Paris, I was willing to sacrifice the love affair. But what if we could manage both: visiting some of the top tourist sites, in peak season, without burning out and still experiencing some of the ‘real’ Paris. I accepted the challenge.

Do we really need another photo of Mona?

Do we really need another photo of Mona?
The guide book says I should take a photo of this...

The guide book says I should take a photo of this…

The first step was finding the perfect place to stay in the right neighbourhood. After sifting through listing after listing, we found a studio apartment, within walking distance of all of the major sites, but still in an ‘off the tourist trail’ neighbourhood, at a reasonable price.

We started each day with a breakfast of flaky croissants and rich coffee at the corner cafe. We walked just about everywhere and remembered to stop and take our time. We bought museum cards so we didn’t have to wait in endless lines and we didn’t have to feel guilty if we didn’t spend hours exploring one place. Over four days we had checked most things off the list without feeling rushed or frustrated. We ate, we drank, we shopped and we explored (and we slept well at night).

We skipped the lines at the Louvre with our Museum Pass

We skipped the lines at the Louvre with our Museum Pass

Through it all, my love affair remained intact.

I wish I could take every new visitor to Paris by the hand and show them how they can have the best of both worlds. I would whisper ‘slow down’ in their ears and lead them to a hard chair at a sidewalk café.

Quiet Paris exists, if you know where to look

Quiet Paris exists, if you know where to look

I would lead them through the backstreets and tell them to put the map away and get lost.

I would tell them to abandon the restaurants with menus in 5 languages and instead go to the ones with illegible French scrawled on chalkboards.

Paris is not monogamous. She has enough love for us all.

Are you in love with Paris? Did you have a late-blooming love affair with a city? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer)

    A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer) January 25, 2013 at 11:05

    I had an extremely late-blooming love affair with Paris. It took no less than 4 visits before I truly appreciated the city for what it was. I really think it gets better once you stop running around from landmark to landmark – walk at your own pace, enjoy the sights and the city will only be more enjoyable.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 25, 2013 at 12:06

      I absolutely agree! It was about visit 4 or 5 for me as well.

  2. Comment by Nicole Basaraba

    Nicole Basaraba January 25, 2013 at 16:48

    Hi Alison,

    I also didn’t immediately fall for Paris. I only saw her in winter so I did miss out on the full impact of her beauty, but it was actually after looking back at photos and thinking about my time there that I realized I really did and do like Paris. I’m tempted to re-visit my favourite parts of Europe instead of going somewhere new just because I miss it.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 27, 2013 at 15:20

      Weather certainly has an impact on our impressions of places. There are quite a few places I’d love to revisit as well, both ones that I loved and other’s I think deserve a second chance. Venice in August… not a great impression 🙂

  3. Comment by Jenn

    Jenn January 25, 2013 at 22:50

    An amazing post with beautiful pics from our trip. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was so much more. Laughing like a little kid as I saw the Ile for the first time, being overwhelmed in the Opera and deciding on day 2 that the checklist wasn’t important anymore. I didn’t want to leave and I know I’ll spend many more days in that beautiful city. This was the kind of post I needed to end such a stressful week! MISS YOU!!!!

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 26, 2013 at 10:52

      So glad you liked it! Thanks so much for putting your trust in me for this trip. Hey, we should do it again some time soon 😉 Lots more stories to come, from Paris and the rest of our adventures 🙂 Miss you too babe!

  4. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler January 27, 2013 at 05:44

    I would definitely like to go back to Paris again. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of it. Although now with a kid in tow, I’m not as keen about visiting the city. I think it’s a great city for adults. I was fortunate enough to spend some time around Paris. I think the food is always interesting as same with getting lost in the city.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 27, 2013 at 15:21

      I think Paris would be a great city to explore with kids, although you’d probably end up doing different things than you did when you visited solo. I was actually really impressed to see people exposing their small children to art in some of the galleries and there are so many great green-spaces to explore with little-ones.

  5. Comment by Louise

    Louise February 1, 2013 at 11:23

    I have been to Paris once. It was as a child with my parents and I left feeling indifference about the city overall. To be fair I doubt I saw much of it as my mother is a big museum lover. Childhood holidays for me seem to be a long line of different museums. I did love Sacre Coeur though and promised I woud go back one day for that alone. Hopefully that one day is soon. As it will be with my husband who loaths most museums, there is a good chance I will experience the city in a way that will make me fall in love with it.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison February 1, 2013 at 11:30

      It’s definitely worth another visit as an adult. The museums are incredible but certainly not what the city is all about. Just get lost, eat some good food, sit at a cafe and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it 🙂

  6. Comment by Michael Hodson

    Michael Hodson February 3, 2013 at 18:01

    Really lovely and moody pictures. Glad I found you as part of the PTBA update I am doing. Keep up the good work.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison February 4, 2013 at 09:55

      Thanks Micheal! I’m excited to be part of PTBA.

  7. Pingback: Our 5 Favourite Cities in France | Expat Life in Belgium, Travel and Photography | CheeseWeb

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