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Paris after dark

In the light of day and the dark of night, the French capital remains one of Europe’s most picturesque cities. Even the most mundane of streets come alive on a midnight walk in Paris

It’s hard to not fall in love with a city like Paris. Endlessly praised for its charms by poets, playwrights, artists and writers, France’s capital resonates with an allure that only a few places in the world share. Be it the rich history, gastronomy or dynamic vibe, a single visit to this European jewel is never enough. By day, there’s something interesting to discover at every turn. But when the sun sets and the tirelessly meandering tourists retreat for the night, Paris dons a whole new personality. Gone are the crowds and queues lining up before monuments; the city becomes your very own playground. Wherever you go, you’ll find ancient buildings, famous arches and fountains illuminated by thousands of flickering lights. And some of Paris’ best-kept secrets, known only to the locals, slowly start to come alive. 

During our recent visit – which wasn’t our first – we were keen to explore a side of Paris that the locals prefer to keep to themselves. One evening, we came across a group of friendly Parisians on the banks of the river Seine, who suggested taking a midnight stroll around the city for a delightfully different experience. While evening tours are quite popular, only a handful of visitors prefer to discover the city at their own pace at midnight. As you meander down the streets, Paris unveils itself to you in new and interesting ways. We began our midnight stroll at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Under Paris’ night sky, reflections from the eternal flame flickered on the cold stone walls, lighting up the names of French war heroes. A few steps away from the memorial lies the avenue of Champs Elysee, known to be one of the world’s most expensive strips of real estate.

As Paris’s famous upscale shopping street, the world’s best brands are present here. We walked past the closed stores and peered into the display windows of Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Dior, Valentino and Nina Ricci with not a single shopper in sight. On the western end of the avenue, the Arc de Triomphe stands tall as the star of the juncture from which 12 different avenues branch out. A major tourist draw, we found it impossible to get the best angle for a photograph without the crowds by day. But at this hour of the night, that perfect shot was guaranteed. A few blocks down, we turned right onto Winston Churchill avenue. Here we found Nef du Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, both of which were built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900. 

From this point, you can easily walk across to the nearest bank of the Seine, but our local friends told us that the left bank of the river had a lot more to offer. So we walked down the street and across the Pont de la Concorde to get to the other side. Once a hub for artists and writers, the bohemian vibe is palpable on the other side of the Seine. And although it’s the same city, we were told that the food here would be quite unlike anything we would find in all of Paris. It was surprising to discover that many restaurants were still open at this hour and shut only by 2am.

The street was dotted with jazz clubs, wine bars and cosy cafés but feeling the need to refuel after all those steps, we settled down for a hearty dinner with traditional French food at Chez Papa Jazz Club. The smooth jazz tunes added to that midnight magic vibe and we wanted to linger for longer after tucking into some deliciously tender veal and grilled prawns. But we continued strolling along the banks as we couldn’t get enough of the dreamy setting. The Garden of Versailles was on our list of places to visit at night as we were eager to catch the light show that takes place on Saturdays with illuminated installations, laser beams and fireworks. Instead, we opted to visit the lesser-explored Bois de Vincennes on the eastern border of the city that was recommended to us, although getting there required us to hop into a taxi for a 20-minute ride.

The park is open around the clock but mosts tourists prefer to visit during the day to get away from the chaos of the city. However, it is not commonly known that Bois de Vincennes is a great spot for stargazers. Ironically, the light can sometimes be overwhelming in the city of lights, so much so that it becomes impossible to spot a single star in the night sky. As much as we enjoyed every moment discovering an illuminated Paris without the crowds, nothing compared to the sense of escape we felt far away from the heart of the city, where the glare from all the lights faded. On this secluded eastern stretch of Paris, we found the perfect spot to draw our midnight walk to a close at the beautiful Bois de Vincennes, as we endlessly gazed into the night sky and lost all sense of time taking in the light of millions of twinkling stars.

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