It is often difficult for world-famous cities to live up to expectations, and for an Instagram favourite like Paris this is particularly true. The city’s beautiful monuments and museums are cluttered with tourists. Paris’ promise to be the city of light, romance and beauty appears impossible to deliver, as the city is crushed by the weight of its own reputation.
Upon driving into the outskirts of Paris, the city presents itself as a bleak, urban landscape. The towering blocks of flats, with scraps of paint missing on the outside and windows boarded up, are a sore sight. The blocks loom over the city roads, which are rampant with cars travelling in all directions at all speeds. At first glance, Paris appears drab and uninviting. It is a world away from the romance and culture expected.
As you enter the centre of the city, the buildings do become impressive. Upon leaving the metro station Palais Royal, the station nearest to the world-famous art-gallery the Louvre, you are greeted with bundles of tourists in every direction. As you walk through the Louvre gardens, it becomes apparent that everyone wants to find out what the fuss about Paris is.
It shows the huge draw that Paris has on the world, as everyone, from groups of teenagers to families, crowd around the glass prisms of the Louvre and gawk at their leaflets and maps.
From the Louvre, the obvious step is to venture towards the Arc de Triomphe and through the Champs-Elysees. As you leave the Louvre, Paris opens up for you, with the Arc-de Triomphe peaking in the distance, and the lights of Champs-Elysees luring the traveller closer. Walking the long street of Champs-Elysees is underwhelming. The street is cluttered with international brands and shops that are all too familiar. It becomes a road that could be found in any of the world’s biggest cities, seeming decidedly un-Parisian.
Finding the Eiffel Tower is a surprisingly difficult task, given the height and fame of the monument. Walking around the various museums and streets that enclose the tower is a frustrating task, as there are no signs which signal the Eiffel Tower being close, and worryingly, no sight of the tower itself. The walk through the streets eventually leads you into the gardens of the Eiffel Tower. Masked by trees, the it is still not clearly visible.
Once you have navigated through the trees and the tourists of the park grounds, you eventually find the famed tower. The tower’s foundations are a square of concrete which are filled with shops and stalls selling various over-priced items. Whilst finally being up close to the tower, it becomes far less attractive and appealing as the photos online foretold. Stretching your neck to view the top of the tower, it becomes unclear as to why this glorified piece of scaffolding has managed to deceive and seduce tourists for years.
Unfortunately for Paris it has fallen into the trap of many a great city and has voided itself of unique charm in favour of showcasing international consumer brands and becoming a tourist-trap. Whilst all this is the case, it is to be remembered that travel is all about experiencing a city. It is far more insightful and eye-opening to visit Paris and see it in reality rather than a fantasy-land on Instagram.
While the main attractions of Paris can be awash with tourists and only appear to undermine your expectations of the city, in the end it only helps you to find your own reasons to fall in love with Paris. Away from the city’s centre, a true Parisian Paris awaits discovery.