Slow Travel in Paris: Time to Take It Easy
Embrace the City of Light's quieter side with this relaxed guide to Paris
Paris, otherwise known as the City of Light, is the subject of thousands of guide books and draws in crowds of tourists all year round. It's a great place to enjoy a short city break, but sometimes the best way to really enjoy a place is to practise the art of slow travel – and Paris is the ideal spot for this.
A city break doesn’t have to mean embarking on a breakneck tour with a strict itinerary clutched in your hand. (But no, that doesn’t mean you get to stay in your Plum Guide Paris apartment, watching Midnight in Paris and eating Brie.) If you head out and explore without an agenda, suddenly you’ll find that Paris opens up before you, and you’ll stumble across things you’d never have noticed before.
Remember, the slow travel philosophy is all about taking life at a more leisurely pace and focusing on the present. Choose walking over driving, wandering over scheduling, and suddenly you’ll discover all sorts of hidden treasures.
Here’s how to enjoy slow travel in Paris.
Choose a neighbourhood
Paris is made up of 20 different neighbourhoods – otherwise known as arrondissements – divided by the River Seine into the Right Bank (Rive Droite) and the Left Bank (Rive Gauche). They’re even referred to as the '20 small cities of Paris', and each has a distinct personality. As you can’t realistically explore them all in one trip (sorry), you’ve just got to choose which ones you’d like to focus on: no pressure. Consider the Marais, one of the most fashionable parts of Paris, filled with vintage boutiques, restaurants and bars as well as art galleries and museums. Perhaps you’re drawn to the romantic Montmartre, formally a rural hilltop village and now home of artists, musicians and the Moulin Rouge as well as that iconic white church, Sacré-Cœur. Or maybe Saint-Germain-des-Prés is more your thing: close to the city’s heart, it’s still peaceful, architecturally rich and filled with antique stores, designer boutiques and speciality food markets.
Select the neighbourhood that appeals the most and book a home there – you can rest assured that Plum Guide's collection of handpicked Paris homes will help you live like a local.
Discovering the historic neighbourhoods of Paris on foot has to be the best way of enjoying slow travel in Paris. Ignore your guide book (go on, you can do it) and instead, try pinpointing an appealing attraction and rather than frantically marching straight there, slowly enjoy the journey – take in the street art, stop for a café au lait, sample some local food during a family picnic as you watch the boats drift by on the river.
As well as museums and iconic sights, don’t overlook the pretty enclosed gardens and ancient churches, which lend themselves to unplanned visits and reveal the true charm of Paris. The city has plentiful quiet, hidden parks – seek out Le Jardin Alpin on the Left Bank, or Le Jardin Sauvage Saint-Vincent tucked behind the Sacré-Cœur – that won’t be inundated by tourists. Maybe, eventually, you’ll make it to your destination, but you’ll also enjoy getting there.
If your inner control freak thinks that sounds a little bit too disorganised, maybe a walking tour would work for you. You can still slowly explore, but with a little structure. Opt for areas such as the Latin Quarter and the Marais for this: the guide will share some local history and anecdotes that you may otherwise have missed.
Hire a bike
Let’s face it: you don’t get to see much of Paris when you’re whizzing along underground on the busy Métro. In fact, anything described as a 'rapid transit system' is likely to be far from relaxing – and this is a holiday for slow travel in Paris, not a commute. However, there is an alternative if you’re all walked out. Much like the 'Boris bikes' in London, Vélib bikes are available to hire throughout Paris – and if you’re not looking forward to tackling those steep Parisian hills, it’s worth noting that 30% of them are electric. One-day or seven-day passes are available for tourists, so book online and pick up a bike from your nearest docking station before exploring Paris on two wheels.
Cruise on the Seine
Lazily floating along in a boat has to be the definition of slow travel. Lucky you: the River Seine winds through the centre of Paris, so it offers an opportunity to explore the city from a unique perspective. Bateaux Mouches is the largest river-cruise company, with a pier just east of the Pont de l’Alma on the Right Bank. Hop on board for a commented tour, a champagne cruise or even a romantic dinner as you sail through the heart of this beautiful city. Slowly.