I was lucky enough to spend my birthday one Eurostar journey away – in Paris! I have had a soft spot for Paris ever since I visited with my high school theatre troupe. And as I begin my 3rd year in London, it’s time for a Capital Clash!
The City of Light vs. The Square Mile: who wins ans why?
Cost of living.
Transport in Paris is cheaper. A LOT cheaper. For those without a Navigo pass (the equivalent of an Oyster card in London), a one way journey costs 1.85€, no matter the zones, no matter the length, no matter the transport (tube, bus, tram all count). Comparatively, the price for a one-way tube ticket in London varies according to the zones, the time –peak and off-peak, the kind of transport. For those with travelcards : a monthly Navigo pass costs around 60€ zones 1-5 (that includes a trip to CDG airport & Orly). A monthly Oyster travelcard zones 1-3 costs £144.8.
Shops and restaurants.
Paris has individual shopkeepers and individually-run restaurants with their own character and quirkiness : butchers, cheese sellers, bakers, brasseries, patisseries, etc. seem to rule the streets whereas London has an infinite amount of chain shops and cafés offering the same kind of food and the same kind of cheddar cheese. Aren’t Londoners sick of Prêt à manger, Gregg’s, Nando’s, Paul, Costa, Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s Local…?
Ever taken the 53 London bus at night? Or walked down Charring Cross Rd at 1am? If you have, you know what I’m talking about. Loud, drunk, inappropriate behaviour all around. Rude, youngsters with absolutely no respect for the others on the bus and altogether an unpleasant experience. Paris may not have the quiet Zurich evenings, nor the peaceful, sober streets, but the population seems calmer, night buses are just like day buses and young people seem (and sound) sensible enough to keep to themselves in a public environment.
I have a penchant for Versailles’s jardins à la française with its musical fountains and am head over heels for Place du Tertre at Montmartre with its impressionist painters and caricaturists but objectively, this one will have to be a tie. London has its wonderful Thames path – you can start at Westminster and see the Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, the Southbank arts centre, Gabriel’s Wharf, the OXO tower, the Tate Modern, The Millennium Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Borough Market and the Shard all within an hour (provided you don’t walk in the Tate and forget there is an outside world.)
London wins this one. Thames bridges are iconic. You can all picture Horace Jone’s Tower Bridge and the more modern Millennium Bridge by the inevitable Norman Foster. Other bridges have their own characteristics like Blackfriars Railway Bridge: the biggest photovoltaic bridge in the world (there is only one other bridge of the kind in the whole world, in Brisbane, Australia).
Still, let’s not forget some of Paris’ beauties : the Pont de la Tournelle doesn’t get enough attention. The Pont au Double with its one arch cast-iron look, the Pont des Arts footbridge (mainly for the romantic view it has to offer and of course, the “love locks” which have now been taken down – love carries weight…)
The secret spots.
A city is not well-explored until you have discovered more than just the Eiffel Tower and Westminster. London is filled with lesser-known yet just as beautiful places to visit. The Hindu Temple in Neasden is worth a trip at the edge of zone 3, the Thames Barrier Park is also a great place to spend a sunny Sunday.
Paris too has more than the Louvres and Notre-Dame. I recently discovered the Viaduct des Arts, a disused viaduct reconverted in a strip of art galleries in the vaults while the railway itself has been metamorphosed into a landscaped pathway – La Promenade Plantée – overlooking Blv. Daumesnil and offering a fantastic getaway from the city’s traffic.
London has skyscrapers but does that make it a pro or a con? Hard to say. The Gherkin and The Shard have become the new Tower Bridge and the glass architecture mania is nowhere near about to stop.
But what about Paris? There is of course La Défense – the modern business district with its famous Grande Arche but Paris is home to a lot more. The Cité de la Mode et du Design is quite something, the Islamic Arts Wing in the Louvres should not go amiss, Parc André Citroën with its dancing fountains, the Musée du quai Branly and its living wall, let’s not forget Rogers’ “inside-out” Centre Pompidou..
Maybe a city can be modern without an array of skyscrapers?
Sure, London has five major airports and railway connections to Wales and Scotland (not that any Englishman seems keen on visiting The Highlands… big mistake!) but the prices are not always jolly. Britain has the most expensive train journeys in Europe – I mean, it costs more to go to Edinburgh than to take the Eurostar to Paris!
How’s Paris doing by comparison? Its location (not on a desolate island…) is a lot more favourable than London’s. You can go on a long weekend to Brussels, Munich, Amsterdam, Geneva, Lausanne, Turin, Barcelona and guess what? These are DIRECT trains. I won’t even get into destinations accessible in one day, with just one change.
Ever heard of British gastronomy? Didn’t think so. Yes, London has some of the best burger places in Europe and perhaps the world (this statement is bound to anger a few Americans) but beyond that, what is a traditional English meal? Fish & chips, ale pies and the famous Sunday Roasts and All Day Breakfasts. All very tasty and moreish but if we get down to business, the cause is lost. Foie Gras, Magret de Canard, Coq au Vin, Ratatouille, Quiche Lorraine, Fondue, Raclette, and don’t make me think about desserts – mille-feuilles, éclairs, macarons, crème brûlée, mousse au chocolat…
Okay, there are three varieties of cheddar. Mild, mature and extra-mature. Isn’t that impressive already? Okay, the English also have Red Leicester, Stilton and a few other obscure names nobody knows… But France. Ah France. Go stand in front of the cheese section in a shop and prepare to be the most indecisive you have ever been. There is of course Brie, then Camembert de Normandie (they are different!), Boursin (mmm…), Comté, Gruyère, Roquefort, Reblochon and I can keep going but my mouth is watering so I shall stop.
This one might be a little subjective, hence why it comes last. I grew up with such an eclectic mix of French music but as a bonus, the French also get good international music. This means you can discover French talents and still be listening to what’s trending in the UK and U.S. Can you say the same, the other way around? Does the UK know anything more than Edith Piaf and, with a stretch, Jacques Brel? Doubt it.
So drum-roll please… who wins?
8 out of 11 are in favour of Paris with 2 being a tie and one win for London. What have I missed? Do you agree or disagree? Don’t be afraid to state your preferences even if they go against my clear winner!