So you can’t jet off to Paris just now, but you can savor the tastes, the sites, the sounds of France’s capital city through the lens of film, food, music, style, history and culture. So when the time comes you’ll be ready to plan your first or next trip to the City of Light– hopefully sooner rather than later.
We recommend spending the afternoon cooking a classic French dish, like buttery sole meunière or colorful, nutrient-packed ratatouille and choosing a romantic or maudlin Paris movie to screen.
Adorn your home with flowers that evoke Paris in the springtime. Or simply open a bottle of red or white wine from Burgundy and thumb through a transporting book of Paris photographs or dig into some classic literature.
However you decide to bring a bit of Paris into your home, think of this charming line spoken by Audrey Hepburn in Billy Wilder’s classic 1954 film, “Sabrina”: “Paris is for throwing open the windows and letting in la vie en rose.”
Watch and love
Movies inspire and transport the viewer into the screen, particularly ones that ignite intense emotion. Whether it’s to laugh or cry or brood or sing or remember, watching old films about or filmed in Paris will help you to feel as if you’re actually walking those famous cobblestone streets.
Since Paris is the setting for so many classic, memorable, miserable and joyous movies, no matter what your bent, there will definitely be one picture you’ll love. Here are 11 perfectly Parisian movies and where you can stream them. If we missed one of your favorites, let us know.
- “An American in Paris“(1951)
- “Funny Face” (1957)
- “Elevator to the Gallows” (1958)
- “Breathless” (1960)
- “Charade” (1963)
- “Amélie” (2001)
- “Before Sunset” (2004)
- “Paris, je t’aime” (2006)
- “Ratatouille” (2007)
- “Hugo” (2011)
- “Midnight in Paris” (2011)
Set the mood
Paris in the springtime means flowers, sprays of roses, ranunculus, peonies in shades of pink and purple. The most vibrant, jubilant and exquisite floral arrangements are on display at the Four Seasons Hotel George V. Paris, designed by Artistic Director Jeff Leatham.
You probably don’t need thousands of flowers to create a similar feeling in your home. You can either create a custom bouquet using a variety of colorful grocery store flowers, or you can order one from an online purveyor. In the US, UrbanStems will deliver one of its custom floral arrangements, such as The Bourdeaux, right to your door.
The magic of music
Edith Piaf, Louis Armstrong, Iggy Pop. There are multiple renditions of the Parisian classic, “La Vie en Rose.” Curate your own playlist with Apple Music, Spotify, or just ask Alexa to “play French music.” Whatever your taste, there’s a playlist or song perfect for preparing morning coffee, writing in your journal, or making a delicious coq au vin. For those in search of something unique and unusual, try Iggy Pop’s French album, “Apres.”
Learn the language
“Bonjour, madame. Ou est le bibliothèque?”
If you’ve ever taken a high school French class, this phrase is probably familiar. Learning a new language, or brushing up on one you once studied, is easier now than it has ever been. There are workbooks, apps, podcasts, YouTube videos and individual instruction via video chat.
Jessica Vollman, CEO of Fluent City, online learning platform with more than over 35,000 students says, “My love of travel and learning about new cultures was the first thing that drove me to pursue language learning. While we may not be able to sit in a Parisian cafe physically right now, we can practice French with real teachers online while we are all at home.”
Fluency may or may not be your goal, but spending a little time learning to speak French phrases will no doubt put a smile on your face. Mais oui!
Here are a few resources to begin your linguistic journey:
Rosetta Stone: Free three-day trial makes this old standby worth a try.
Duolingo and Babbel: Two of the most popular language apps. Download and start right away with their introductory offers.
Coffee Break French and Learn by French are two other highly-rated podcast and lessons options. Both have free lessons.
Fluent City offers a variety of subscription packages for online instruction.
Museums and landmarks
It’s impossible to replicate the emotion that comes from viewing art, architecture or picturesque views in real life. Stendhal syndrome (a psychosymatic illness that, according to Psychology Today, is triggered by “works of art that are perceived by the individual to be beautiful and all housed in one place”) doesn’t occur on a screen. But maybe with the right kind of digital immersion you may experience “Screendhal syndrome?”
Our favorite “virtual” views into Paris can be found on Google’s Arts and Culture website. Start with this online exhibition from the Musée D’Orsay, which is a fascinating and vibrant chronicle of the museum’s transformation from opulent railway station to modern museum. It’s both learn how close this indelible structure came to destruction.
Elsewhere on the site, you can find an in-depth study of the Eiffel Tower online, complete with sketches and schematics, old photographs and paintings. There are four separate exhibits, documenting the construction and early years of the Gustave Eiffel’s monument built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The final flourish: A 360-degree view from the top of the tower where you can take in the stunning expanse of the French capital.
Another favorite view is from The Basilica of the Sacré Cœur atop a hill in Montmarte (translation “Mount of Martyrs) the highest point in Paris. The basilica is breathtaking inside and out and a must-see when visiting Paris, though the staircase that leads to Sacré Cœur is commonly overcrowded with tourists. Instead, spend some time on their website to see panoramic views and learn the history of one of the most iconic churches in the world.
Paris on the page
Arguably the best way to provoke a vivid and satisfying imaginary trip to Paris is through reading one of the many classic tomes, set in or about Paris. This reading list is painfully condensed for space, but hopefully includes a fun mix for history buffs, literary obsessives and fiction aficionados. And if you feel like helping one of Paris’s most beloved bookstores, you can order one of these books from Shakespeare and Company, giving Jeff Bezos’s bank account a much-needed break.
“Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo (1862)
The story of an ex-convict, his adopted daughter, love, loss and revolution. Adapted into multiple series, films and an award-winning musical.
“The Ambassadors” by Henry James (1903)
An middle-aged American man’s life is rocked and transformed by visiting Paris.
“The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” by Gertrude Stein (1933) and “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway (1964)
Both books feature the bohemian, literary and artistic life in 1920s Paris.
“The Dud Avocado” by Elaine Dundy (1958)
A young woman moves to Paris in the late 1950s and has the time of her life.
“Paris to the Moon” by Adam Gopnick (2000)
A chronicle of The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent’s life in the French capitol
Photos from a trip not taken
Photography books are more than décor for your coffee table. They’re transporting time machines, a way to experience a place during a bygone era. We’ve selected three of the most seminal Paris photography books for your viewing pleasure (and yes, they up your home’s chic factor). If you want to go the extra mile, you can use an Xacto knife and frame a few of these famous photographs to hang on your walls.
“Elliott Erwitt’s Paris”
Erwitt, a Parisian-born, New York City-based photographer, captures Paris without the gloss. The people and places of Paris are in clear focus, black-and-white, arresting and moving, offering a sense of place that draws the viewer into the frame.
“The Best of Doisneau: Paris”
The unofficial documentarian of 20th-Century Paris, Robert Doisneau photographed the occupation and liberation of Paris then pivoted to a fashion photographer and chronicler of Parisian life and culture. His “Kiss by the Hotel De Ville, 1950” is probably his most iconic work, seen largely in poster form on the walls of university dorm rooms.
“Brassai: Paris by Night”
Another collection of black-and-white photographs, with a dreamy and surreal quality. Brassai, a pseudonym adopted by Gyula Halász, the Hungarian-born photographer, captured the grit and the glamor of Paris after dark, from the shining Eiffel Tower to the news agent hunkering in his newsstand. The contrast of light and dark creates a surreal quality that is at once haunting and beautiful.
The art of French cooking
When Julia Child finished her coursework at Le Cordon Bleu in 1951, she unknowingly embarked on a journey to become a culinary ambassador for French food in the US. Her book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was an instant success as was her PBS television program, “The French Chef,” and her famous vocalization of the words “bon appétit.”
For Americans and people the world over, French cuisine is an influence and chefs trained in the kitchens of Paris’ greatest restaurants are considered some of the best in the world. Nothing feels more French than baking croissants or standing by the stove tending to boeuf bourguignon. Cooking at home replicates the tastes, smells and delicacies of Paris.
Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon
Francois Payard’s chocolate soufflé
Baked Potato with Caviar from Caviar Kaspia
Croissants from Williams Sonoma
Keep it simple
A baguette, some cheese and a glass of red will also do the trick. Bon Appetit!