Sightseeing For Introverts: Paris
Paris. With over 30 million visitors each year, it is one of the busiest cities in the world. You might be wondering how an introvert could possibly handle such panic-inducing numbers. As an easily overwhelmed introvert currently living in Paris for a month, I'm happy to report that, with a little planning and some quiet corners up your sleeve, you can get along famously.
The planning part is simple: make sure to have a safe and comfortable place to return to each night. If you're staying for more than a week, there is a whole selection of little apartments for rent on Airbnb for little more than a loud, chaotic hostel would set you back for. You'll quickly find that the quiet and peace of mind it allows you are invaluable.
As for quiet corners to retreat to whenever you need them...
Cimetière de Montmartre
Tucked in the hollow of an old gypsum quarry with a single entrance, Cimetiere de Montmartre was founded in 1825 on the site of a mass grave from the French Revolution. Once outside the city limits, and now in the center of Montmartre, it is still in use with new monuments and fresh flowers sprinkled among old sepulchers. Walled in with stone, trees, and layers of moss, it is a pool of quiet in the shadow of some of the busiest tourist attractions in the world.
Head over and spend a quiet moment with the painter Edgar Degas or the composer Hector Berlioz. The paths are winding, but you don't have to worry about getting lost. Just follow the wall back to the exit. Picnics aren't permitted, but feel free to take a book if you're looking to spend a few hours or simply enjoy the mental break.
If you find yourself far from Montmartre but would enjoy the peace and quiet of an old cemetery, both the 14th and 20th arrondissements have similar enclaves with great names such as Oscar Wilde, Samuel Becket, and Jean-Paul Sartre resting in them.
The Latin Quarter
Founded in the middle ages but still bustling with life, the Latin Quarter has a history of unrest and revolution. Once the center of the Paris commune and later a gathering place for student uprisings, it is small enough to be comfortable but large enough to happily get lost in, making it the perfect place for an introvert who still wants a little adventure.
A maze of tiny streets filled with little knickknack shops, foods from all over the world, and plenty of odd corners to explore, it's easy to feel like you have the place to yourself. Start at Place Saint-Michel (the physical center of the commune). Cross the street and wander towards Shakespeare and Company to sit and soak in the lingering memories of Joyce, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound...the list goes on. If you want a break from the tour groups filling the sidewalk, duck into a nearby side street and get happily lost, always assured that you can find yourself whenever you need to. If you grow peckish or simply want to eat lunch as the Parisians do, make your way past the Pantheon, find a little grocery, gather a simple picnic, and step into the Jardins du Luxembourg. Sitting on a sunny bench munching away, you can watch everyone else get kicked off the grass.
Square Rene Viviani
Hidden in the middle of the Latin Quarter, this little park was built at the same time as the church next to it -- The Church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. Towering above the square, it's the oldest church building in Paris and took longer to complete than Notre Dame. What Parisians believe to be the oldest living tree in the city is also there (planted in 1601) and many of the oddly shaped stones scattered about are original pieces of Notre Dame itself, removed and replaced during an external restoration.
Pack a picnic, brave the crowds on the side walk outside, slip through the gate, and escape for a breather and one of the best views of Notre Dame around.
Lac Inferieur in Bois de Boulogne
A large park just to the west of Paris, Bois de Boulogne was established before the Franco-Prussian War by Emperor Louis Napoleon. It takes up over 2,000 acres of land and contains the tennis courts used every year for the French Open, two horse racing tracks, multiple English-style landscaped gardens, a zoo, an amusement park, and 29 kilometers (18 miles) of winding dirt walking paths through thick woods and over small streams.
The crowning glory, however, is Lac Inferieur with its islands and ferry. You can rent a rowboat and enjoy your own private island or set yourself on a bench anywhere around it and feed the ducks. Beware: the greedy crows may try to steal your mallard's dinner. People-watching abounds on beautiful days as locals leave the city to avoid the tourists. Follow their lead and leave the tourists behind you at the Arc de Triomphe.
Le Musée de Montmartre & Le Jardins de Renoir
Set back in a quiet street just steps from the Place du Tertre, this museum is filled with rooms of doors you can close and a garden made for artists. Standing among the trees with the light bouncing off of the surrounding buildings and back again, your fingers will itch for paint and pencil no matter what your artistic leanings are. Wander upstairs into Suzanne Valadon's studio, still furnished with her paint box, reference pictures, and supplies. Close the door behind you and enjoy the light filtering down through the tall windows and skylight.
Focused on the history of Montmartre itself, the museum is housed in an old lodging used by generations of artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Suzzane Valadon, and Maurice Utrillo. There are installations on the Franco-Prussian War, Le Chat Noir, and Montmartre on Film (think The French Cancan, Moulin Rouge, and Amélie). The cafe in the gardens will save you if you forget your lunch or just can't pry yourself away from the sunny garden where Renoir painted classic works like "The Swing" and others. (The actual swing is still there. You can even sit on it, if you like.)
Get a day pass for 11€ and go once or snag an annual one for just 5€ more and always have somewhere quiet to slip away to...somewhere filled with history, trees, and thoughtful spaces...somewhere that isn't your hotel room or tiny apartment. It's an especially useful place for going home and telling your friends: oh yes, I was at museums non-stop.
Notre Dame de Paris
While tour buses dump crowds all over this gorgeous cathedral, filling its courtyard and tower much of the day, it is still possible to find moments when you can have it almost to yourself. Go early in the morning, before 9am, to beat the biggest crowds, or arrive at 5:30pm as the evening settles and the masses of people go hunting for dinner.
Walk through a calm courtyard doused in evening light and slip through the massive doors. Find a seat and watch as the vespers service begins, filling the great hall with the same songs and chants that have filled it for centuries. Discover the real life of the building beyond the fantasies of hunchbacks and violent history. Breathe in the air of a living, active church and let the day melt into the music.