Travelling to Paris, France

Paris is the City of Love, but it doesn't mean you cannot enjoy it solo.

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Travelling to Paris, France: It’s a city built for the solitary wanderer and ponderer.

How to enjoy travelling solo in Paris, the City of Love.

My first visit to Paris was a disaster, one of those trips with friends that starts unravelling almost immediately and ends with everyone avoiding each other for months afterward. But there was benefit to the discord: I ended up discovering my own version of the place. It’s the City of Love, according to cliché, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it solo and discover that there’s more to the place than reheated Left Bank tropes and copping a feel on the Pont Neuf.

In fact, for most of its 2,500-odd years of existence, Paris wasn’t much known for amour at all. It was the City of Blood, a disease-ridden warren famed for its tendency to produce rampaging mobs, giant sewer rats and intermittent sectarian massacres. The French Revolution was just one of the more successful periodic eruptions of Parisian civil disobedience. And it certainly wasn’t the last. Every prominent corner and public square in Paris has been soaked in blood one way or another. 

True, the great medieval romance of Abelard and Heloise took place here, but Heloise ended up a nun while Abelard finished his days sans testicles thanks to irate relatives. Consider that as you wander around Notre Dame, where they met and fell in love. If you’re in a certain mood, be sure to visit the Paris Catacombs (1 Place Denfert-Rochereau), a subterranean collection of artfully arranged human remains that underlines the fact that no matter how cuddly your wuddly may be, he or she will soon enough be food for worms.

But even if you aren’t a morbid history buff, the city has plenty to offer the single traveller: it’s a great place to eat solo, for one (see sidebar): Parisians don’t segregate themselves as much as North Americans, and most restaurants and cafés are home to a diverse cross-section of types, from young hipsters to bobo families to retirees. A diner on his or her own raises no eyebrows. 

It’s a city built for the solitary wanderer and ponderer – this is, after all, where the flâneur and boulevardier were invented – full of great perches for people-watching (one of my favourites is anywhere along the fashionable Right Bank market street of Rue Montorgueil). If you’re looking for the illusion of human interaction, Paris is also home to the world’s greatest collection of cinemas, from tiny rep theatres along the Rue des Ecoles showing nothing but Antonioni to multi-screen complexes showing the latest Yankee rom-com. Want real, live talk? Check out Paris’s equally extensive collection of new and used Anglo bookstores. Shakespeare and Co. (37 Rue Bûcherie) is justly famous and collegial, but the cranky, quirky fellows behind the counter at San Francisco Book Company (17 Rue Monsieur le Prince) or Village Voice (6 Rue Princesse) might engage with you, depending on their level of dyspepsia that day. 

Above all else, realize that the Parisian reputation for rudeness and snobbishness is greatly exaggerated. Snotty shop assistants and haughty waiters do exist, but most Parisians are actually quite chatty once the ice is broken, especially off the tourist trail. Since that first calamitous visit, I’ve moved here – this past summer, in fact, I got married here – and I’m slowly starting to think there’s something to this whole City of Love thing after all.

Best Solo Dining

La Cave de L’os a Moelle
COmmunak table dining at this informal wine bar offers simple but top-notch French family food (terrines and crudites, a huge tureen of the soup du jour, great hunks of rustic bread, daube de boeuf, roast chicken, served all-you-can-eat) Conviviality in encouraged. Across the street, the sister bisro offers equally excellet fare in a slightly more frmal setting. 181 Rue de Lourmel

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
It’s bar seating only in this dramatic temple to fine dining. Small plates mean you can sample Robuchon-inspired cuisine – a mackerel and olive tart, or canneloni stuffed with foie gras and Bresse chicken – without too much financial strain. 5 Rue de Montalembert

Rosa Bonheur
Charcuterie and a glass of wine in Paris’s most dramatic park, full of swooping hills and verdant vistas. 2 Avenue des Cascades, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont