Moving to a city is quite a different experience from visiting. You start by just being overwhelmed by everything, but then as time goes on your routines and habits start to take shape. After a few months you kind of stop feeling like a tourist and the clue is that when you see actual tourists, your natural reaction is to think “them”. By that point, you’ll have had more time and mental space to reflect on everything that’s been around you since your arrival. Here are my 5 favourite things about living in Paris, 9 months into my move on a Working Holiday Visa.

1. Getting around town

Despite its status as a global metropolis, Paris is geographically not very big. The city spans only about 100 square kilometers (compare that to New York City’s 790 sq km or Toronto’s 630 sq km). Impressively, it still boasts a network of 14 metro lines, 10 tramways, 13 trains (RER + Transilien), and countless bus lines. And that’s just at time of writing – they are in the process of further expanding service. According to most global rankings, Parisian public transportation can go toe to toe with that of almost any other major city, even those in Asia with 10 times the population. Occasionally there are disturbances caused by strikes or forgotten bags, but generally it is very easy to go anywhere in the city.

As you might have guessed, stations are therefore distributed quite densely throughout the compact city and its periphery. Practically, what this means is that you usually won’t have to walk more than 10 minutes to reach the nearest station. If you do, it’s to take a more efficient route with fewer transfers.

Additionally, because Paris is so compact, it is also very walkable. The city is shaped basically like a potato chip, and believe it or not, it only takes 2 hours to walk from east to west from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Nation. When I first moved here, I would spend hours at a time just wandering the streets or following the Seine without a plan. Oftentimes I ended up on the other side of the city without even realizing it. Maybe walkability is part of what gives Paris its romantic reputation?

paris east to west

2. Accessibility to other cities

This point is slightly related to the first but on a much larger scale. If you look at a map, France is situated in the middle of Europe’s major countries: Spain, Germany, the UK, and Italy. This means that other cities and countries are all very accessible. I especially try to take advantage of the extensive train network whenever possible. For train journeys under 2 hours, I can reach London, Brussels, Lille, Strasbourg, Lyon, just to name a few major cities. For train journeys under or around 5 hours, I can go almost anywhere in France, plus the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg.

Having lived in North America for most of my life, traveling by train is a much welcome change that I plan to maximize use of. But for destinations that require longer than 5 hours of train travel, I prefer to take a flight, and thanks to Paris’ central location, most of Europe is quite literally within a 2 hour flight radius. These short haul flights are about the same price as trains, often even cheaper thanks to regional budget airlines.

3. Appreciation for art and culture

This is a cliché that you have certainly already heard many times. Paris is indeed a capital of art and culture, but what does that actually look like in practice? Well for me, it starts in the metro (fun fact: métro is short for métropolitain).

The walls within every station are plastered with huge posters (I hesitate to call them ads) not for products, but for comedy shows, museum exhibitions, independent films, concerts, festivals, and more. These posters are also replaced seemingly every few days, so while taking the metro is not a fun activity in and of itself, it is probably the best way of learning about all the art and culture that this incredible city has to offer. Comparatively, only a small percentage of the wall space is occupied by ads for physical products. In a world that often feels materialistic, it is refreshing to live somewhere that seems less bent on trying to sell me more stuff.

Speaking of accessibility, many museums and attractions in Paris also offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month. Among the most famous to do so are the Centre Pompidou (the permanent collection), Musée national de l’Orangerie, and Musée d’Orsay. But they usually still require visitors to reserve a free ticket online in advance, and you’ll want to do so right when they’re released ~30 days in advance because they often get taken quickly!

4. French sweets and boulangeries

I was always the first to proclaim that I’m not a sweets person. I would never order desserts at a restaurant and confections were never a part of my grocery list. But since moving to Paris, I’ve started to develop a sweet tooth. There are boulangeries everywhere so you can be sure there will be pretty cakes or flaky pastries tempting you on every corner. Craving chocolate? Consider an opera cake, éclair au chocolat, or Nutella crêpe. Something fruity? Try a tarte aux framboises (raspberry tart) or a passion fruit macaron. For a more classic sweet, get a flan or some chouquettes (kind of like Canadian Timbits, but lighter and crispier). There is truly something for every craving. My personal favourite is the unpretentious coffee éclair.

tarte aux framboises

And some of you might already be thinking “those sound nice but I don’t like things that are too sweet”. That was my exact thought when I first got here, but now having tried more French desserts than I can count, I can confirm that French “sweets” tend to taste much less sugary than sweets in Canada or the US, even familiar foods like brownies . And so that must mean they’re… healthier right? Never mind, I don’t want to know.

And when you finish your main course in a restaurant, it is almost ritualistic for the waiter to present you with a dessert menu. While you are in no way obligated to order one, it’s harder to resist when your friends at the table all do so…

petit gateau

5. Prices don’t lie

This is more an observation of Europe than of just Paris, but the price you see is the price you pay. There is no additional tax, service tip, or random hope-you-don’t-notice-this-fee fee. This applies pretty much across the board, at restaurants, hair salons, clothing stores, groceries, taxis etc, and I have yet to see an exception to the rule. That said, at some places like bars, you have the option of leaving a couple of coins if the service is great, but in general there is no culture of tipping.

This makes mental calculations and splitting bills that much easier. In comparison, back home I have seen friends disagree about how much to charge one another because of tax and tip, and let’s just say it didn’t look like a fun conversation. The sticker shock was especially apparent for bigger purchases like electronics and furniture, where the final receipt could end up being hundreds more than the actual price tag. Even if money is no object to you, we can probably agree that paying the same price that you initially see is just a better customer experience.

Comment below if you know why Canada, the US, and some other countries exclude taxes from price tags!

A bonus thing

If you’ve read this far, I’ll thank you by sharing a bonus sixth thing that I love about living in Paris, and that is fashion. To explain myself, no I am not talking about haute couture or Emily in Paris (outfits very chic, but not realistic). I am rather talking about the effort that ordinary people put into the way they present themselves.

A few observations I’ve had so far: men rarely wear shorts even during the summer, women pretty much never wear leggings, and both men and women love scarves and long coats. Having last lived in Vancouver and San Francisco, two very casually dressed cities, I rarely bothered trying to dress nicely because I would easily feel out of place when everyone around me is dressed in athleisure or startup merch.

In Paris, you can be sure that no one will bat an eye if you go out in your nice new jacket or shiny leather shoes. By no means am I fashion-forward, but it is nice to have the option of dressing up when I feel like it without feeling like an alien. I think this city has taught me to take more pride in the way that I present myself, but importantly it has done so in a way that doesn’t feel judgemental or superficial. I don’t get the sense that people are dressing up to impress others, but rather just to just feel good about putting forward the best version of themselves as they go about their day. And if that can bring you even just a little bit of extra confidence, then pourquoi pas?

Final thoughts

Living abroad will allow you to learn countless things about a new environment and culture, but it will also allow you to see your own hometown from a fresh new perspective. Every place has its own unique characteristics. By noticing them, you can begin to realize what you appreciate most, and then mix and match pieces of different places to create your own life’s mosaic. Paris, like any other city in the world, is not perfect. But for now I am loving all that it has to offer and teach me.


In February 2023 I moved from Vancouver to Paris. Adventures await.
En février 2023 j’ai déménagé de Vancouver à Paris. Des aventures m’attendent.

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(2) Comments

Ludivine I |

Sooo true! Paris may appear as a cliché but it is! Plenty of possibilities and « gourmandises ».

Jackson I |

Thanks Ludivine!