The City of Light had a rough year in 2015, culminating with the terrorist attacks of Nov. 13. Tourism took a hit, at least in the short term, with airline and hotel bookings down, along with museum attendance. But none of that deterred me from going forward with my Paris vacation in early February (and a discounted fare of $900 offered by AirFrance during a two-day flash sale helped seal the deal). I found that this most magical of European capitals, long a tourist favorite, has lost none of its luster, and I enjoyed a vacation I will remember for years to come. We’ll always have Paris, and here are some reasons why.
Because Paris is resilient
One day early in my trip I traveled by Métro to Place de la République, where a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks -- photos, flowers, artwork, flags -- has sprung up around the majestic bronze statue of Marianne, symbol of the Revolution. Tourists snapped selfies, and others stooped to read handwritten poems and remembrances. (In December, Madonna gave a short impromptu performance here.) But if Paris hasn't forgotten, the city is most definitely moving on: People were strolling the boulevards, flocking to the cafes and, since I was there in early February, taking advantage of the sales. Though security measures were evident -- metal detectors and bag checks at all museums, armed guards at Notre-Dame -- the mood wasn't tense or gloomy. La vie continue.
Because Airbnb lets you live like a Parisian
With good past experiences at Airbnb apartments in Rome and Barcelona, I decided to forgo a hotel and booked an apartment online at airbnb.com. I found a simple but charming apartment in the Marais -- a hip neighborhood of shops, galleries, museums and cafes -- that would cost me $1,000 for seven nights. Given the prime location, a short walk from the Saint-Paul Métro, this felt like a bargain. Kirby Lucero, an American painter who's been living in Paris for three years, met me there and showed me the amenities -- washer-dryer, dishwasher, espresso maker -- and explained why the toilet was in a separate room from the sink and shower. (It's a French thing.) Though I didn't have the luxuries of a hotel -- no room service or gym -- I loved coming home to my own comfortable space and indulging the fantasy that I actually lived in Paris.
Because Paris is made for walking
The city is so walkable that the French even have a word -- flaneur -- for an idle saunterer of the city streets. One day during my trip, Richard Nahem took me on a walking tour of the Rue des Martyrs, a nontouristy strip of chocolate shops, flower shops, patisseries and restaurants, with historical buildings and churches along the way. Nahem, an American who moved to Paris 10 years ago, leads regular walking tours of the Marais, St. Germain-des-Pres and other neighborhoods (a three-hour tour for 1-3 people is about $255; eyepreferparistours.com). Many others, such as walkmysteps.com, offer specialized tours with local guides.
And because the Metro isn't bad, either
For a New Yorker accustomed to long waits in dingy stations with garbled loudspeaker announcements, the Paris subway is a revelation. I rarely waited longer than two minutes for a train, and the system will take you just about anywhere in central Paris quickly and efficiently. A carnet, or book, of 10 tickets can be purchased for about $16 from an automated machine or a Métro attendant, and you needn't worry about zones, as in London -- just hold onto your ticket until your ride is through. Paris also boasts an accessible bike-share program called Vélib' with more than 20,000 bikes and 1,800 stations. (A one-day ticket is less than $2; a week pass is about $9; en.velib.paris.fr).
Because Paris overflows with great museums
Yes, you really must spend a day at the Louvre, home of the "Mona Lisa," the "Venus de Milo" and so much more (admission about $17, closed Tuesdays, louvre.fr/en). I'd seen both those crowd-pleasers on a previous visit, so I wandered gallery after gallery of sublime 18th and 19th century French paintings (Watteau, Chardin, Corot) in relative peace and quiet. The Musée d'Orsay has a top-notch collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists (Cézanne, Monet, Pissaro) housed in a grand former railway station (admission about $13.50, closed Mondays, musee-orsay.fr/en/home.html). The Musée Rodin lets you stroll the gardens of a stately mansion, where the sculptor's greatest works -- including "The Thinker" (1903) -- reside (admission about $11, closed Mondays, musee-rodin.fr/en/home). And the recently renovated Musée Picasso offers an intimate look at the life and work of this artistic giant (admission about $14, closed Mondays, museepicassoparis.fr/en). There are many, many more museums to choose from.
Because you'll eat (and drink) really, really well in Paris
My daily Paris routine started religiously with a pain au chocolat -- what we call a chocolate croissant -- from the little patisserie on the corner. I've never tasted better. The Parisians love their cafes, and it's easy to stop on any block on any street for coffee, a beer, a glass of wine, a snack or more. The Marais, where I was staying, was formerly a Jewish quarter, and L'as du Fallafel (34, rue des Rosiers) offered an irresistible rendition of these classic chickpea fritters. Dinners didn't disappoint, either. From a Moroccan establishment, Wally le Saharien (36, rue Rodier), I devoured a fluffy couscous with lamb confit and merguez sausage, and more traditional French fare at Café des Musées (49, rue de Turenne), where they greeted an American visitor warmly (tourism is down, my waitress said) and generously poured a second glass of wine on the house. And need I mention the city's many, many sweets?
Because Paris is a city of parks and public squares
My Airbnb apartment was around the corner from one of Paris' most elegant public spaces, Place des Vosges, where you can circumambulate the arcade surrounding the park and stop in boutiques, cafes and the home of author Victor Hugo ("Les Misérables"), now a museum (permanent collection is free, closed Mondays, maisonsvictorhugo.paris.fr/en). The 18th century garden of the Palais-Royal is equally refined, with its symmetrical hedgerows and black-and-white striped columns by sculptor Daniel Buren. But my favorite of all may be the Luxembourg Garden, where on a winter Sunday with mild temperatures and hints of sunshine, Parisians were out en masse to stroll, gossip and let their children play.
Because the churches of Paris will fill you with awe
The most famous of Paris' places of worship is Notre-Dame Cathedral, presiding majestically over the Seine on the Île de la Cité. You're apt to encounter a line, but it moves quickly and a tour of this Gothic landmark, begun in 1163, is a must for every visitor. But Paris has a host of other, smaller churches that offer moments of reflection as you traverse the city: The baroque façade of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis (99, rue Saint Antoine) helped orient me when I came out of the Métro at my stop, and the neoclassical Notre-Dame-de-Lorette (1, 1 rue Flechier), was a meditative stop during my stroll through the 9th arrondissement.
Because Paris has the coolest bookstore in the world
No, I really don't need any more books, but a visit to the atmospheric Shakespeare & Co. (shakespeareandcompany.com) in the Latin Quarter is mandatory for literature lovers. It's intriguing to browse the aisles, with special shelves dedicated to Lost Generation authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and others who caroused Paris in the 1920s. Upstairs you might find, as I did, young people lolling on beds reading or plinking out a tune on the battered upright piano. (Thousands of young readers and writers, called "Tumbleweeds," have stayed at the bookshop since it opened in 1951, working during the day in return for their board.)
Because there's always another neighborhood to explore
I'd never even heard of Canal Saint-Martin, but friends assured me that this neighborhood in eastern Paris, lining the eponymous canal, is now one of the city's trendiest. Be warned that the 2.7-mile canal -- constructed by Napoleon in 1802 -- has been drained for repairs until April, so it's not exactly scenic, and boat rides are on hold. But the surrounding area of restaurants, shops and galleries -- sometimes likened to Brooklyn's Williamsburg -- is as vital as ever, especially on Sunday afternoons, when the Quai de Valmy, which runs along one bank, is closed to traffic.