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Big city showdown: London or Paris?

by Andrea on November 9, 2009

London versus Paris: who wins?

Paris versus London: who wins?

The relative merits of Paris and London came up when I recently contributed a guest post to the Velvet Escape travel blog highlighting some of London’s more subtle pleasures.

My post elicited a throw-away comment from leading travel blogger Nomadic Matt claiming that “Paris is more exciting” than London.

The sharp gust of this comment initially threw me back.  But as a proud Londoner, did I have any choice other than to respond?

Rather than present my own biased perspective, I decided to ask a uniquely-qualified “judge” to deliver a more balanced view.

The perfect candidate is Andrea Kirkby, who blogs about London (where she spent 15 years) but lives near Paris, a city she also knows intimately.  Read her witty and insightful guest post below to discover the winner!

So will it be the stunning Tour Eiffel...

So will it be the stunning Tour Eiffel...

...or majestic Big Ben?

...or majestic Big Ben?

“Lots of ink has been spilt on the relative attractions of London and Paris.  I’m sure I won’t be able to claim the last word on this.

But since I know both cities well – I’ve spent fifteen years living in London, and the last five with a house just outside the French capital – I’m going to have a go at deciding which one wins.

For what the French call ‘des coins insolites’ – weird and wonderful corners – both cities have their claims.

London has ancient pubs like the Old Mitre and the Cheshire Cheese tucked away down back alleys; there’s Borough Market with its mix of modern foodie-ism and old market traders; as well as Cloth Fair and Smithfield, a Norman church and a meat market that works by night with a pub that opens for breakfast with a pint of Guinness!

Paris has tiny vineyards in Montmartre and Saint-Germain-des-Pres, a tropical jungle hidden in the depths of the Gare de Lyon metro station, and an alchemist’s house with strange symbols on the facade.

But on the whole, on this first criterion, I think London wins.  Paris does style, panache, and huge monuments like the Louvre or the Champs Elysees – it doesn’t really do strange or picturesque.

Will it be the fried egg...

Will it be the fried egg...

What about trees?  London has its mascot tree, the plane, with its characteristic patchy bark and light green leaves; all the London squares and many of its streets are lined with planes (there are mulberry trees in Throgmorton Avenue, too, which belong to the Drapers’ Company who used them for silkworm cultivation.)

Paris is full of lovely trees and parks, but none of them quite have the character of the London plane.  London wins again.

...or the croissant?

...or the croissant?

Now something that makes a big difference to your life in a city is breakfast.  In London, there are bagels of course, but the defining breakfast is the Full English – bacon (full marks!), fried egg (yuk), brown sauce (ugh), toast (depends on how it’s done).

In Paris, it’s a croissant or a tartine with a strong coffee to get you started.  I’ve done it both ways and for me, Paris wins.

Paris also wins for dogs.  You don’t see many in central London; those you do tend to be either labradors (silly, upper-class, a bit dozy) or staffies (lower-class and aggressive).

In Paris you get everything from the well-dressed chihuaha or clipped poodle to the great Dane.  All are well-behaved, well-groomed and amazingly, Parisians have learned to use the ‘WC à Toutou’ (dog loo).

I’m keen on industrial architecture.  London’s Regents Canal, from the grittiness of Limehouse Basin to the elegance of Little Venice, shades it marginally over the Canal de l’Ourcq – though a trip out to Pantin with its huge old flour mills is a must for lovers of industrial heritage.

Then again, London hasn’t got the Eiffel Tower, so this one’s a draw.

Bookshops – that’s tricky.  Even if you only read English, Paris has Shakespeare & Co, a lovely old shop on the Left Bank that was the heart of Bohemian Paris for years.

You’re as likely to meet a poet or artist there as you are to find a book.  And there are also the ‘bouquinistes’ with their stalls along the Seine.

But then London has the Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court bookshops – still surviving despite high rents and threats of redevelopment – and the little specialised shops near the British Museum.  And Daunt Books with its glass roofed Edwardian splendour.  So that’s a draw too, I think.

For flea markets, though, it has to be Paris.  London has Brick Lane on Sunday but I’ve never found anything really worthwhile there apart from (once) a 2CV headlight (and that before I actually had a 2CV!).  There’s Bermondsey for antiques but its best days are over.

Whereas Paris has the huge Saint-Ouen market, open on weekends and Mondays plus the ‘marchés aux puces’ at Porte de Vanves and Montreuil.  Looking for antiques?  Catch the Eurostar!

So Paris just nudges into first place on points.  But I still love London and its odd corners in a way that I can’t love Paris.  I respect Paris, I like Paris, I enjoy being in Paris – but somehow, London feels like home.”

So there you have it: for Andrea at least, Paris wins by a short head!  Do you agree with her?  Please leave your comment below.

The Sofitel St James combines British tradition with French style: it's about close as you can get to the glitz of Paris in London

The Sofitel St James is as close as you can get to "Paris glitz" in central London

“Qu’est-ce qu’on peut faire alors” if you’re stuck in London but pining for Paris?  Here are some top hotel tips with a distinctly French flavour:

Book direct with the Milestone Hotel at the best guaranteed rate

  • The Sofitel St James is run by the French with cheeky little reminders of Paris (such as artwork, roosters and live piano music!) all over the place.  It’s an immaculate hotel also currently in the top 5 on TripAdvisor.

    Check the best rate for the Sofitel St James from 30+ hotel booking sites

    • If you’re catching the Eurostar to Paris from St Pancras, you might enjoy the “urban chic” vibe of the Zetter Hotel, down the road in Clerkenwell.  It’s a reasonably-priced, modern boutique hotel with a nice restaurant.

    Check the best rate for the Zetter Hotel from 30+ hotel booking sites

    Finally, if there’s one area where I feel London beats Paris hands-down, it’s the sheer diversity of the city’s exotic eating options.  I’m hoping even Nomadic Matt might agree with me on that one!

    Get the best-value London hotel deal from 30+ booking sites in 1 click

    Photo credits: Sofitel St James.

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