- Paris experienced one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. Now, its café terraces and museums are open again, but the many overseas visitors have not yet returned.
- Living in the centre of Paris for the past six years, I had learned to avoid the popular spots, but I’m now enjoying the city again.
- While many businesses have suffered from the lack of visitors, the silver lining is that residents can enjoy having their city to themselves for the moment.
- These photos show what Paris is like without the tourists.
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I’ve called Paris home for nearly six years, but I understand that even people who don’t live here love Paris as much as I do.
Paris Tourism reports that Greater Paris attracted 38 million tourists in 2019, a shocking visitor-to-resident ratio when you consider the fact that central Paris has only 2.1 million dwellers.
As a travel writer, I regularly visit exhibitions, popular streets, and attractions, but over time I’ve learned to avoid certain areas like Montmartre and the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es because of the crowds.
After the COVID-19 lockdown hit and we were eventually allowed out and about again, it was amazing to see the city with at most a handful of European tourists â€” as beautiful as ever, but blissfully empty.
On my first day out, I walked down the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es and booked a ticket to the Louvre. This was my chance to enjoy Paris at its best: with everything it has to offer, but just for residents.
Of course, it’s not all positive â€” many businesses are probably closed forever due to their reliance on tourists. Still, there’s an undeniable pleasure in being able to sit on a cafÃ© terrace without having to queue for a space, or visiting the big museums and being able to linger in front of a picture without the guilt of delaying the people waiting behind you.
Here’s what Paris is like without the tourists.
You can visit the Louvre without the line-ups.
Normally there is a queue snaking along outside the famous glass pyramid, which acts as the main entrance to the Louvre. When I went, there was not a single person in front of me, and with my pre-booked ticket and mask firmly in place, I sailed through the entrance and spent hours looking at every corner of the vast museum without even once feeling irritated by other visitors.
Montmartre is back to being a village.
Most visitors will mention Montmartre as their favourite area of Paris, and it has suffered for its popularity. The hill-top district that pre-COVID was so overrun that you could barely see the cobbles on the streets has now gone back to its village atmosphere, and I even managed to take a photo of Sacre Coeur without any people in the shot.
Restaurants and cafés have additional outdoor spaces.
To make business easier for the hard-hit cafés and restaurants, the mayor of Paris allowed them to spread onto the street-side parking outside their venues. This made for nice little oases in the middle of the city, and the ruling will be in place until next year at the very least.
Café terraces excel at social distancing.
Many cafés have taken on the craze of the Nounours des Gobelins, the teddy bears of the Gobelins quarter, as a means of social distancing. Gigantic, cuddly teddy bears are popping up across the city to keep guests separated on terraces.
You can find a picnic spot in the parks.
In the Marais, the lovely Place des Vosges is now a perfect spot for an impromptu lunchtime picnic on the normally crowded lawn.
The quays along the Seine are now a perfect spot for a stroll.
A walk is only a walk if you can step out without dodging too many people. With the pleasure boats mostly moored and few sightseers, the quays of the Seine are a perfect spot for a weekend walk with some scenic stops.
Streets have been turned into bicycle lanes.
Many busy thoroughfares in the centre of Paris, such as the Rue de Rivoli running past the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens, have now been closed to traffic and made into cycle lanes. The change to the noise and pollution levels in the centre is already noticeable.
The Tuileries are filled with birdsong.
Because of the fewer crowds and the traffic reductions, you can now visit the Tuileries Gardens, find one of those iconic green chairs, sit back, read a book, and hear the birds sing – previously unheard of.
You can snap better pictures of the sights.
As a resident and as a travel writer, I enjoy taking pictures of Paris, and they have been vastly improved without tourists wearing shorts and sandals with socks in every picture.
Even the forever popular Arc de Triomphe has been turned into a pigeon parking lot. Now, I can capture the important sights without someone’s selfie stick waving in my face.
There’s no line to get up the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower is on everybody’s to-do list, and as such always attracts long queues – even with pre-booked tickets.
Not now. You can sail through to the top for views without having to push others out of the way.
The Metro has never smelled better.
There are so many beautiful metro stations in the city, but you historically have been able to tell when you’ve arrived in Paris by the utter stench of the public transport.
Now, the metro carriages, entrances, and every corner of the stations are disinfected every day, and the metro never has smelled sweeter.
There’s free hand sanitizer everywhere.
With residents being constantly reminded to wear a mask, wash and sanitize hands, and keep others at a distance, it saves a lot of time and effort to have hand sanitizer dispensers located at most bus stops and larger metro stations, and at every shop entrance. The machines at the bus stop are especially great, as the sanitizer is not sticky.
Finally, masks are trés chic — this is Paris, after all.
When in Paris, even during a pandemic, fashion is important. Mask-wearing is obligatory throughout the entire city, and shopping for masks has become the new hobby.
Most boutiques offer masks, and you can get patterns to go with every outfit and mood, making masking up so much more fun and painless.
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