The new-look Paris: even better than before

The new-look Paris: even better than before

Cleaner, greener, and ready to welcome anyone – even Americans.

Words by Ute Junker

First appeared in Traveller

Close your eyes and think back to your last time in Paris. What is the first thing you remember? It might be the heady scent of the lilacs near Notre-Dame on a spring morning, or the smoke rising from roasting chestnuts on a crisp winter day. It might be the sight of a stately limestone townhouse, trimmed with lace-like wrought-iron balconies, glowing in the afternoon sun, or perhaps a pink-tinged twilight by the Seine.

Paris is a city that imprints itself on your senses, but that’s only part of its allure. One of the reasons so many of us keep returning to Paris is the fact that Paris always delivers. Paris is a city that resists change, which is why it rarely disappoints. In Paris, you get what you came for.

So when I visited Paris just before Christmas last year, I was struck by the fact that Paris is not quite what it used to be. I’m not talking about the ongoing repairs to Notre-Dame – which is looking somewhat forlorn, sitting behind a barricade of metal fencing, scaffolding and razor wire.

Nor am I talking about the much-vaunted plans for the 2024 Olympics, particularly the opening ceremony set to unfurl along the Seine. No, what really struck me was the sweeping measures being rolled out Paris’ polarising mayor, Anne Hidalgo, in her quest to turn Paris into a greener, more sustainable city.

Hidalgo, who has been mayor since 2014 and who will challenge Emmanuel Macron for the presidency in this year’s elections,  aims to make the centre of Paris completely car-free, and has already started rolling out what will ultimately be 180km of bicycle lanes across the city.

Central streets including the Rue St Antoine and Rue de Rivoli are already dedicated almost entirely to bikes and pedestrian, a move that has literally changed the atmosphere in the city.

“It’s so quiet now, and the air is cleaner,” says artist Laura Courtney, an Australian artist who lives in Paris. “You don’t realise how stressful traffic can make the city.”

Bikes may not yet rival baguettes as a quintessential Parisian accessory, but Courtney says that the locals have embraced cycling with typical Parisian flair.

“You see so many people on bicycles – there has been a 300 per cent increasing in bike sales in Paris since 2019,” she says. “You see even old ladies dressed to the nines, cycling along with their shiba inu dogs in their baskets.”

As well as the continued rollout of cycleways, there is the billion-euro clean-up of the Seine. By 2025, there will be no fewer than five places to take a dip in the river.

Some of the city’s major monuments are being reimagined too. The area around the Eiffel Tower is being converted into an urban park, while the jutting Montparnasse Tower, the city’s most famous eyesore, is being decked with out with hundreds of square metres of plants and gardens.

Other disused spaces that are being reinvented include an abandoned stretch of metro reconfigured as a dining destination packed with cafes, restaurant and bars.

The biggest change, however, is the planned greening of Paris. Hidalgo wants to see 50 per cent of Paris covered by planted areas by 2030. Urban forests will appear next to the Palais Garnier and the Gare de Lyon station, and major planting is planned for the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysees, which will also see traffic capacity reduced by half in order to prioritise pedestrians.

“Parisians are really excited about the new green spaces the comity has budgeted for,” says Riccardo Ortogni, the general manager of the J.K. Place Paris hotel, saying that in Parisians spend a lot of their time moving through their city. “In Paris, there is no better place than being outdoors to soak it all in.”

Another thing Parisians are excited about is the return of tourists. Yes, in this once-overtouristed city, absence really has made the heart grow fonder.

“We even miss the Americans,” laughs Courtney, “so now is the time to visit.”

Sarah Pank agrees. “Everyone is so excited to put the last two years behind us and move on,” says the Australian founder of rental company Apartments Actually.  She says many of the clients booking trips to Paris feel the same way.

“You never know how much something means to you until it is taken away and I feel like Paris is the thing missing in people’s lives. They have sat at home dreaming of another world and for many, that world is Paris.”

If you want some inspiration for your next Paris trip, grab a croissant to nibble on and peruse our round-up of the old favourites we can’t wait to get back to, as well as some places you may not yet have visited. Bon voyage.

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