Why we call Paris the city of love and romance… but is it really?

Paris and romance, they go together like champagne and oysters, café and croissants, jambon and beurre, which is why loved up couples make a pilgrimage to the French capital every year on Valentine's Day. But why exactly is Paris the "city of love" and does it really deserve the title?

Why we call Paris the city of love and romance... but is it really?
Photo: ryanking999/Depositphotos

Paris boasts two spots on the list of the top 10 places in the world to propose according to one study (admittedly, one of them is Disneyland Paris) and the city has long been a top spot for Valentine's getaways and newlyweds. 

What is it about the French capital, more than any other city in the world that makes people go weak at the knees? And is the reputation well deserved?

The beauty

With the grand, Georges Haussman-designed central Paris, as well as the charming cobbled streets of Montmartre and the Marais, it’s no wonder Paris is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The city preserves its famous skylines under Unesco heritage protection which limits buildings to six stories and the carefully preserved buildings may go some way to explaining the romantic appeal of Paris.

“Because they’ve capped the stories, you have the old buildings that aren’t towering, they don’t create canyons of obscurity”, Paris-based writer Debra Healy told The Local. “I think people come because it’s beautiful”.

A stroll through a city hand-in-hand is certainly more romantic than a bus or Metro ride, and Paris’s small size and wide streets mean it’s ideal for walking and taking in the scenery.

“You can’t get lost, and there’s always something beautiful around the next corner,” says Healy.

The big screen

Numerous films over the years like French Kiss, Amélie and Midnight in Paris have embedded a certain rosy idea of the French capital that’s hard to shake.

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, Photo: Paramount Pictures/ Wikimedia 

According to Hollywood, Paris is all chic hotels and strolls by the (very clean) Seine.

Hollywood movies idealised Paris, like Funny Face or An American in Paris because they were “echoing the constant fascination with art, fashion and jewellery” which of course were all centred in the then style capital of the world, Healy told The Local.

Even in modern films set in Paris, the city is given a golden glow – the Paris of “The Devil Wears Prada” is a whirl of glamour and beauty (in contrast to the bustling New York where the film begins). 

The food

What is any romantic occasion without good food and drink? Paris’s 40,000 restaurants and illustrious gastronomic history make it a top destination for romance-seekers.

Photo: dia4/Depositphotos

“For the British especially, the pull is very much food and wine and champagne” says Larry Davis, owner of romantic Paris tours company Experience Paris told The Local.

Combining traditionally elegant or cosy restaurants with the backdrop of romantic architecture, you can see why dinner for two in Paris is an appealing thought for many couples.  

After all, “where else can you do a dinner cruise at night that’s as beautiful as Paris?” says Davis.

The people

“It’s the beauty of the city, but it’s also the people”, blogger Lily Heise of Je t’aime, me neither told The Local.

Photo: duha127/Depositphotos

The French may mock the classically snobbish capital-dwellers, but for those seeking a romantic experience, Parisians may actually be part of the attraction.

 “The French are definitely more passionate, more flirtatious,” Heise told The Local. “They do have this seductive quality, they’re not afraid to follow their passions, which I think is key”.

Add this typical French “passion” to an aesthetically charming city, then you’ve got a recipe for a romance.

'Je t'aime'

And it’s not just the personality of the French that makes people swoon, it’s the language itself, which was voted the sexiest in the world in 2013.

A Google translate survey found that 34 of the top 1,000 translated into French were about love, more than the other 5 most popular languages on the translation service. 

Indeed the phrase “Je t'aime” was the most requested translation from French. Not conclusive of course, but the French language certainly adds to romantic flavour of the capital.

The history

Historically, France was the centre of ideas, art, poetry and revolutionary politics in the Western world. And the Left Bank “intellectuals quarter” retains a sense of romanticism for couples.

1920's French flappers, Photo: Vintage Lulu/Flickr

Writers (a typically romantic bunch) flocked to Paris from the 19th Century through to the jazz age of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemmingway, and wrote adoringly about life in the City of Light.

Books such as Hemmingway’s “A moveable feast”, paint a picture of the city as a profound and romantic experience, which may go some way to explaining why people all over the world fall in love with Paris (even if they’ve never been there).

… And does it live up to the hype?

“Paris absolutely lives up to expectation,” says Lily Heise, but others hoping to be wooed by the city have been disappointed.

Photo: clicsouris/Wikimedia

The much-discussed, and perhaps overblown, “Paris syndrome” supposedly afflicts Japanese tourists who come to Paris expecting Le Vie en Rose, only to discover that The City of Light has all the pitfalls of any other modern city, like traffic, noise, pick-pockets, high prices, litter, dirty and decrepit public transport and pavement dog poo.

Then there's the recent heightened terror alert. The sight of armed soldiers walking down the street and frequent bag checks not really conducive to a romantic stroll by the Seine. 

And those who live in the city might be seeing the irony in its reputation for romance too, as Paris is apparently the capital of single people, infidelity and divorce in France.

Some 43% of Parisians are single, which is 10% higher than the rest of the country, and of those in relationships 46% admit to cheating, compared to 40% in the rest of the country. 

Paris may not be the place to find your happily ever after either, as only 25% of marriages last over 20 years, drastically lower than the national average of 41%.

So there's no doubt you can have a wonderfully romantic time in Paris, enjoying the unique combination of beautiful architecture, unspoiled history, fine cuisine and fine wine, surrounded by passionate locals but perhaps don't come expecting to swan through the city like Audrey Hepburn, and maybe think carefully about falling for a local. It could end in tears.

By Rose Trigg

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.