Last week I left Paris and spent the last hours of Thanksgiving and the rest of the weekend in London. With only 4 days in the city and a budget to follow, I don’t think I covered nearly as much as the city as I would have wished. Nevertheless, I still think I got to see enough of the city to be able to have a distinct impression of it and to make a comparison between Paris and London (and New York City).
London is much larger than Paris but without an underground/tube system to match, which consequently makes it much more difficult to get around. In Paris it’s so easy to walk around aimlessly; within 5 minutes you can find yourself in a new neighborhood where there is something “worthy” to see, whether it’s a view of the river, a monument, a museum, a pictoresque street, or a window full of delicious-looking pastries. Walking around in London is daunting because you never know when the next time you will come across a tube stop; in Paris, I can never get loss because either I can walk 5 minutes in any direction and find a neighborhood I’m more familiar with or I can easily find a metro to bring me back to an arrondissement I know.
Another downside to London is how expensive it is. I was warned about this but thought I wouldn’t be affected as someone who wasn’t renting a hotel room, expecting fine dining or make any large purchases. But unfortunately I must agree.
Because you need to take the tube to get from one place to the next, especially since I was staying in a neighborhood far from the center, I had to pay 2#s each ride ( thats $3.20 whereas a subway ride in NYC cost $2.25 and you get free transfers from train to bus in NYC). There was also the fact that the conversion rate was working against me in both dollars and euros. Additionally, there were little hints that made London seem much more “money hungry” than Paris: you had to pay to get a map of the museum or to store your umbrella in a locker, which a sign deemed “mandatory” to do.
Despite all of that, I feel like I much prefer the city of London to Paris. Paris is definitely more student friendly and tourist friendly; if your looking to spend less than a week in a city and you want to see a lot and do a lot I would suggest Paris due to how convienient getting around is. But London.. there’s just something about London that I adore. I think it’s because London satisfied a lot of the things I was hoping to see and feel in Paris.
To me, Paris is a city of extremes. You either have tiny, cobbled streets that, while charming, are impossible to enjoy walking down because you have to be constantly on your guard not to walk into people or walk into dog crap. Alternatively, Paris has her famous grands boulevards that are lively and noisy but somehow offer me none of the energy that I get from walking down a crowded street in NYC, like 5th avenue during December. London however had small, quiet, walkable streets where one could find a cute, pink cupcake spot by chance, or a cluster of designer boutiques on a street that reminded me a lot of Madison Avenue. In London I felt like there was enough space to retreat from the masses of people while in Paris it’s difficult to find sidewalks that aren’t crowded with people during the daytime.
I have mainly been exploring Paris by mouth. That is to say, most of my days are planned according to where I will have lunch. Everyday I try to pick a new place (but I’m not always successful. I’ve learned that, in Paris, you always need a backup plan because shops here tend to have “fermetures exceptionelles” (unexpected closure) or I just don’t like the menu or can’t find the place). Point being that food has been an integral part of my Paris-experience and that would have been the case in London had I had taken the chance to research and plan everything out. Instead, my friends and I just ate at places we happened and agreed upon, so I wound up eating at places that might not have been on any “Best of” lists but that I really enjoyed. The food I ate at pubs were mediocre (I opted for “traditional” pub food and ate a chicken pie and another time some fish and chips) but I loved the experience of coming in from the rainy cold and sitting in a Christmas-decorated pub that was full of people. Speaking of Christmas decorations, while both cities are decorated in lights, Paris usually decorates according to a “winter” theme with lights of white and blue (probably due to France’s position as being laique) while you’re more likely to see images of Santa, Christmas trees and lights of red and green in London.)
Maybe it was due to being comfortable in speaking the language and hearing exactly what was happening around me, but people in London seemed much more willing to strike up conversations with strangers, whether with me or with other people. Whether we were on on the eurostar, on the tube, in a pub or on the street, someone would inevitably make a comment or strike up a conversation with me or one of my friends. But then again, maybe this perception has nothing to do with how friendly people are in on city compared to the other but my experience as a native English speaker. In Paris, I have had brief encounters that dispel any desire to buy into the stereotype that French people are rude: from a stranger who took 20 minutes to help my friend find her lost earring on the sidewalk (with no success), to being saved by strangers who “swiped” me into the metro after a malfunction with my PasseNavigo. But this is different from the sort of sociability I noticed in London.
I definitely want to visit London again sometime soon so that I can explore more of the city and eat at restaurants and cafes that made it onto some blogger’s best of list. As for being in Paris, I definitely returned with a renewed sense of tourism- I want to use my last 20 days in Paris (before I leave for Christmas break and return in January) to explore parts of the city I’ve never been to and eat in new restaurants. I also have a new appreciation for my PasseNavigo which, after paying the reduced for-students price, gives me unlimited access to Paris so that I don’t have to think twice about taking a train to and from a cafe to buy a croissant that cost half the price of a one way tube ride in London.