Paris is an inimitable city, its grand boulevards shooting off from the Seine like arteries, leading to iconic art galleries, boutique fashion stores, great literary quarters and innumerable fabulous cafes and bistros. If you’re infatuated with its many charms – the culture, the architecture, the food, the coffee, the shopping, the hotels, the views and the romance – then try these ten cultured cities for a shiver of the same pleasure as emanates from France’s fabled capital.
10. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Peaceful, tolerant Amsterdam is known for several of the same qualities as Paris. Its trio of world-class art galleries, while not as iconic as the Louvre, together contain a collection that is just as impressive. The Rijksmuseum hangs renowned Rembrandts alongside works by other Old Masters such as Jan Steen and Jan Vermeer; the Van Gogh Museum has more of the expressionist artist’s paintings than anywhere else in the world; and the Stedelijk Museum shelters a superb collection of modern and contemporary art. Once you’ve soaked up the city’s artistic offerings, you can stroll round the lamplit Canal Ring, then relax in one of the capital’s famous cafés – even if they are famous for rather different reasons than their elegant counterparts in Paris.
9. Prague, the Czech Republic
Nicknamed the crossroads of Europe, Prague has picked up influences from both east and west and blended them into a beautiful farrago of architecture that enchants people from all over the world. This fairy-tale skyline rises above the historic Charles Bridge, which was for centuries the only means of crossing the river Vltava, placing Prague at the heart of continental trade up until the 19th century. Crossing the bridge takes travelers from the ninth century Prague Castle into the Old Town, where the blackly gothic Tyn Church vies for attention with the baroque St.Nicholas Church, while both are overshadowed by the alethiometer-like Astronomical Clock. And the city is studded with cozy boutique hotels, such as the intimate Cerny Slon (Black Elephant), which make a great base for losing oneself in the historic, cosmopolitan and romantic atmosphere.
8. Florence, Italy
Europe’s preeminent city for 250 years and the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, you could say that Florence was Paris centuries before Paris became Paris. It was the home of artists such as Michelangelo, writers like Dante and political thinkers such as Machiavelli, and this lustrous history of culture, beauty and poise remains etched on its streets today, in statues, sculptures, palaces and churches. Like Paris, there’s no better way to experience Florence than on foot, pausing on bridges and street corners to enjoy the sublime views that suddenly open up. The city streets are packed with small cafés and restaurants, and travelers with fat wallets can find a plethora of fine boutiques and designer shops where the historic and commercial districts meet.
7. Melbourne, Australia
It’s pretty impossible to beat Paris for the pleasure of spending a day strolling between cafés, but Melbourne tops it on one front at least – the coffee. Australia is the acknowledged king of the current hipster coffee boom, and Melbourne has a sprinkling of fine places to get your fix: drop into Patricia Coffee Brewers on the corner of Little Bourke and Little William streets, or wander Prahran Market and just follow your twitching nose. As well as coffee, Melbourne hosts a fabled food scene, driven by waves of immigration from Greece, Turkey and Lebanon as well as (relatively) nearby Vietnam and Indonesia. And the same cultural diversity has helped make Queen Victoria Market a fabulously vibrant Melbourne institution, its vaulted halls and colorful stalls selling fish, cheese, secondhand books, vintage clothes and vast amounts more.
6. Vienna, Austria
If Melbourne is spearheading contemporary trends in coffee, then Austria’s cafés were doing the same back in 1683, when the first coffee shop opened in the city, using beans taken from defeated Ottoman invaders. Cake and coffee remains an integral part of life for many in Vienna today, and the center’s elegant cafés are a very pleasant way to break up strolls along the city’s stately boulevards, shadowed by baroque imperial palaces. Beyond sweet delicacies, Vienna has a cultural heritage to rival Paris: it was the cradle of much of the world’s greatest classical music, a creche for Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, and the waltz wizard Johann Strauss. And tourists can also explore the glorious MuseumsQuartier, among the world’s largest art complexes, with Old Masters exhibited in the Albertina and more contemporary work displayed in the MUMOK Museum of Modern Art.
5. Stockholm, Sweden
Coffee and cake continues in Stockholm with fika, a regular afternoon ritual which involves consuming coffee with something sweet while pondering the questions of this existential galaxy with friends. But Stockholm is a fine place to visit beyond the coffee shops, a city of broad skies and shimmering water spread across a chain of islands, connected by a web of elegant bridges. At its heart is Gamla Stan, the city’s old town with a traceable history back to the Vikings in 1252, although sword-forging blacksmiths have since been displaced by excellent bakeries and waffle shops. And the city has heaps of good restaurants, some with fabulous views over the city’s backdrop of woods and water – for a terrific all-you-can-eat feast, settle for a few hours by the steamed-up windows of Hermans Vegetarian Buffet.
4. Quebec City, Canada
The capital of French-speaking Quebec is often overshadowed by the effortless style of its neighbor to the south, but Quebec City is actually one of North America’s oldest and most elegant settlements. This is obvious to anyone who’s wandered the city’s beautiful Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that, with its cobblestone streets,17th century houses and gothic churches, feels disconcertingly like France’s Rouen. And with the biggest Francophone population of any city outside of the patrie, it’s not surprising to find the city’s squares and boulevards colored by the awnings of many quaint bistros and cafés. Beyond the Old Town stretch several neighborhoods with vibrant restaurant, shopping and nightlife scenes.
3. Seville, Spain
OK, so almost everything about Seville is different from Paris: the art, the architecture, the food, the streets, the trees, the music, the shops. But it has all of these, and showcases them with the same passion and sensuality that has made Paris the world capital of romance. Orange trees line every central street, scenting the dry Andalusian air with their acidic fruit. Flamenco music drifts from dim lit bars where locals and tourists sit side-by-side drinking good red wine at outrageously low prices. And best of all is the tapas, cooked in myriad bars and cafés, all crammed with customers ordering calamari and aioli or the local speciality of deep-fried eggplant drizzled in honey. It has all the same pleasures as Paris, just done with an invigorating difference.
2. Buenos Aires, Argentina
“The Paris of South America” is the epithet Argentina’s tourist industry has succeeded in attaching to their country’s vibrant capital. And however skeptical you might be of such a flagrant attempt to attract wealthy gringos, once you step out onto the grand Parisian boulevards criss-crossing its center, you’ll be forced to confess to a striking similarity. But from the tango dancers of La Boca to the underground nightlife of San Telmo, through the mouthwatering steakhouses found across the different barrios, Buenos Aires undoubtedly has its own very distinct ambience. If you’re hungering for a truly Parisian vibe, however, head to the chic residential district of Palermo, its streets lined with French fashion labels alongside a superb fine dining scene.
1. Montreal, Canada
Montreal may have lost its position as Canada’s preeminent city over the past few decades, but this has only accentuated its Parisian charm. It’s a wonderful city for the flaneur, who can watch the bilingual post-industrial life unfold while weaving through a warren of old town streets in the Vieux Port or strolling alongside the Lachine Canal. While doing so, this idler can pause to take in French-flavored sights like the neo-gothic Basilique Notre-Dame, or to grab a meal from a corner café or candlelit bistro. The city begins romantic and historically preserved by the harborfront and becomes younger, more colorful and trendy the further north you go, making for a superb and eye-opening walk. Montreal is also one of North America’s top gourmet destinations, filled with fabulous food markets, great patisseries, innovative delis and top-class restaurants. Its signature dishes differ quite dramatically from Parisian cuisine, though: feast on smoked meat, bagels and poutine.