Is Paris Overrated? - Why the City of Love isn't As Beautiful As You Think
Each time I write articles like this, I know it reeks of privilege. Not everybody has the opportunity to leave their hometown, let alone set foot in Paris. Shouldn’t I just be grateful for what I have instead of debating whether the place is overrated or not?
Then again, it’s precisely because of that that I feel the need to write this. Not everybody has the luxury to visit every travel destination in the world. Sometimes, they can only pick one. And it’s by reading articles like this that they get to decide which one might suit them best.
So, if you happen to have to decide between Paris and other places, I hope this will help.
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Table of Contents
Paris: The Good
There’s a reason why millions of people visit Paris each year and millions more dream of visiting. That’s because Paris is beautiful.
I haven’t explored all of the city, but the few places that I saw were indeed quite remarkable. The view from the top of the hill in Montmartre mesmerized me. The intricate designs of the old buildings and cathedrals made me want to study them for hours. And there’s nothing quite like seeing the Eiffel Tower in front of your eyes for the first time.
Regardless of the time of the year you visit, Paris is sure to captivate you with its beautiful landscapes.
City of Art
In the 19th and early 20th century, Paris was in its artistic prime and had a colony of some of the finest artists of the times. As a result, Paris earned a reputation as the “City of Art” — a title it has kept ever since.
Today, Paris remains home to a thriving community of artists, as well as the world’s most famous art museums and galleries, including the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.
In addition to fine arts, Paris also has notable examples of architecture of every period, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. It was the birthplace of the Gothic style, as portrayed by the Notre-Dame Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle.
Fashion Capital of the World
Paris’ reputation as the fashion capital of the world needs no introduction. Many legendary names in the fashion industry, such as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton, are French.
The French prominence in the industry can be traced as far back as the 17th century, and has only strengthened as time went by. Every year, the world’s biggest celebrities, fashionistas, and designers congregate to outdo each other at the Paris Fashion Week.
To top it off, you don’t even have to attend fashion shows to admire the Parisians’ sense of style. Just go out on the streets and be prepared to feel frumpy next to the Parisians’ understated, effortless elegance.
Paris had its first cafe in 1672, and since then, there has been no turning back. In 2018, according to The Local France, there was a total of 14,530 cafes in the city. What started out as a meeting spot for intellectuals, artists, and writers to exchange ideas and display their works, has now become a place where Parisians sit undisturbed for hours to watch the world go by.
If you’re a caffeine junkie, you’d be in heaven in Paris. But even if you’re not, it’s never a bad idea to spend the entire morning sitting at an alfresco cafe, sipping on your preferred beverage.
Paris: The Bad
In 2019, Paris was the second most visited city in the world, racking up a total of 19.1 million visitors. Whether it is the summer holiday or the middle of winter, Paris is loved no matter the weather. In fact, there was one time when there were too many tourists that the Louvre had to be closed for a whole day after workers walked out in protest of overcrowding in the museum.
So, if you plan to make Paris your travel destination, be sure to pack along your sense of humor, because you’re going to need it to stay sane. Expect long lines at major tourist spots. Expect things to be overpriced. And whatever you do, do not be surprised if you find that the city is not as pristine as the Paris of your dreams.
As does any other populous megalopolis, Paris also struggles with trash, odors, traffic, crimes, and vandalism.
People living in big cities are generally more hurried and less friendly toward strangers. That is understandable and to be expected.
These days, no matter where you go in the world, you will likely find someone who speaks English, especially in places that deal with a lot of tourists. It’s quite the opposite in France.
There’s a stereotype for snooty French waiters who would not smile or entertain you if you don’t speak their language. Some will pointedly answer you in French, even when they can speak English perfectly well.
Like any popular place, Paris is not free from scammers and petty criminals. The most common scam in Paris is the fake charity collector. Someone — usually a young person — will wave a clipboard in your face and ask you to sign a form.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were students collecting signatures for a survey or a petition. But once you sign, they will start demanding you for money.
Big cities can be cruel and unforgiving toward the less fortunate, and Paris is no exception. It is estimated that 29,000 Parisians are homeless, and up to 8,000 of them sleep rough on the streets. On top of that, Paris also has hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and refugees, many of whom are without homes.
It may not be written in travel brochures, but the homeless are everywhere in Paris. Some of them have no carton boxes to lie on, so they lie on sewer grates instead. The air that comes out of the sewers will keep them warm.
The Paris Syndrome
As beautiful as Paris is, not all who visit it leave happy. The overwhelming sense of disappointment when visiting the city is so real for some people that there’s a medical term for it: the Paris Syndrome.
Paris Syndrome is a psychological condition experienced by first-time visitors who are severely disappointed when the City of Lights does not live up to their romantic expectations. The syndrome, which is considered an extreme case of culture shock, can even manifest itself in physical symptoms, such as hallucinations, anxiety, dizziness, and vomiting.
However, this syndrome seems to be experienced almost exclusively by Japanese tourists. For some reason, the Japanese have a strange obsession with Paris, and often over-romanticize it as a city of love, beauty, and fashion. In Tokyo, French patisseries and luxury fashion brands line the streets.
When the harsh reality sets in, combined with exhaustion, homesickness, and cultural barriers, the shock can cause serious psychological distress. Every year, the Japanese embassy in Paris has to repatriate up to 20 tourists with an accompanying doctor. They also run a 24-hour helpline to help those suffering from the syndrome.
Paris Syndrome was first identified 25 years ago and doesn’t seem to be improving. Recently, there have been reports of Chinese tourists experiencing the same thing.
Is Paris the most beautiful place in the world?
Having visited 57 countries and countless cities across 4 continents, I’d have to say no. Paris is pretty in its own right, but there are other places that I think are more beautiful. New Zealand is prettier to me. So is Santorini. And Bali. As far as European cities go, I prefer Porto, Prague, Amsterdam, and Bruges, among many others.
Then again, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and this is just my personal impression.
Is Paris worth visiting?
If you have to pick one — only one — place to visit in your lifetime, and you want to see something that will knock you off your feet, something that is so impeccably beautiful you can’t believe it’s not a postcard, then no. I’d suggest you pick another place.
However, despite all the ugly sides of Paris, I still think it is worth visiting if you get the opportunity, provided that you don’t let your unrealistic expectations get the better of you. Paris has been named many things — the City of Lights, the City of Love, the City of Art, and the City of Food — but ultimately, let’s not forget that it is a big city. It deals with the same problems as other big cities do.
Have you visited Paris? Did you like it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Here is a video of my trip to Paris in 2013: