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From Paris Syndrome to sky high prices: Is the City of Lights all it's cracked up to be?

A tourist takes a photograph of the Arc de Triomphe which is currently featuring a Paralympic Games symbol ahead of the event
A tourist takes a photograph of the Arc de Triomphe which is currently featuring a Paralympic Games symbol ahead of the event Copyright Christophe Ena/The AP
Copyright Christophe Ena/The AP
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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As the Olympics draws ever closer, many of us are thinking more of Paris - here's everything you need to know before taking a trip.

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With the 2024 Olympics just weeks away, many of us are thinking a little more than usual about the host city, Paris.

Ahead of the ever-popular sporting event though, there have been many criticisms of authorities and business owners putting prices up for the period, and of the French capital itself.

Most first-timers in Paris arrive with an idealised view, expecting beauty at every turn, world class food and attractive people wearing perfect outfits.

As a major city, this is not often the case and some tourists get a nasty shock when expectations don’t live up to the reality.

There’s actually a name for that feeling - Paris Syndrome - and it can be very serious with some tourists suffering from an apparent state of severe culture shock.

Pont Alexandre III is one of the most popular tourist hotspots in Paris
Pont Alexandre III is one of the most popular tourist hotspots in ParisLéonard Cotte via UnSplash

What is Paris Syndrome and how does it manifest itself?

It’s a phrase coined by Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France in the 1980s.

It mostly applies to Japanese tourists - some 1.1 million visit Paris annually - but it can apply to people from any nation.

Tourism agents, anime and glossy magazines tend to sell Paris as the ‘perfect’ place - a beautiful metropolis, perfect for a romantic break or a culture-packed trip with friends.

On arriving, many people are disheartened by an often-hidden seedy underbelly, with crime, noise, prostitution and dirty streets.

While some may simply be underwhelmed, others can have a far more severe reaction.

In some cases, that feeling is so acute it can create visible symptoms, with people suffering from afflictions including nausea, dizziness, hallucinations and a rapid heart rate.

About 20 Japanese tourists are struck down by the condition every year, an administrator at the Japanese embassy in Paris told the UK newspaper the Guardian back in 2006.

People stroll through the iconic Tuileries Gardens in Paris
People stroll through the iconic Tuileries Gardens in ParisThomas Padilla/AP/File

Is Paris still worth visiting, despite the apparent downsides?

On Reddit’s r/Paris forum, commenters are very open about the reasons visitors might be put off the City of Lights.

In a thread, a user asked, “Parisians, why do you think first-time visitors will be disappointed in the city?”

Answers range from “so many cars and so many people” to visitors “not being treated by the 2 million Parisians like ‘the King of Great Britain’” to the “filth” on the streets.

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The most mentioned issue, though? Visitors to Paris watching the Netflix series ‘Emily in Paris’ before arriving. The Lily Collins-vehicle follows a 20-something American woman as she navigates romance, restaurants and couture in the French capital, seemingly through rose-tinted glasses.

At the other end of the scale, the subreddit is full to the brim with positive things about Paris. Users say that sipping a glass of Champagne - or a Kir royale - in a boulevard cafe, picking up a croissant or reading a book in a leafy park really can’t be beaten in any other city.

River police officers patrol past the Eiffel Tower on Tuesday ahead of the Olympics coming to town
River police officers patrol past the Eiffel Tower on Tuesday ahead of the Olympics coming to townLouise Delmotte/AP

Is it a myth that Paris is expensive?

In Euronews Travel HQ, we’re pretty mixed on our feelings towards Paris.

Harriet Reuter Hapgood is a particular fan.

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“I adore Paris; I think I’ve visited it more than any other city. It’s such an easily explored city both on foot and via the Metro,” she says.

“The variety of museums is incredible… and you can also eat cheaply: I think it’s a myth that Paris is expensive. Starters at Bouillon Chartier from €1. An €8 sandwich from L'As du Fallafel in the Marais is enough food for lunch and dinner; every flavour of ice cream from Berthillon, a skip over the river from Shakespeare & Co bookshop, is worth the €2.50.”

Rosie Frost is less convinced.

“It was an interesting experience but I can see why some people are disappointed when they visit if they have a fairytale view of the city. Paris can be really expensive and I’ve found hotels a bit hit-and-miss,” she says, “Finding food with dietary restrictions also wasn’t always easy. It was fun to go and see such a famous destination but I don’t know if I would go back.”

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‘People who don’t like Paris aren't doing it right’

Looking beyond Paris’s headline attractions could be the key to enjoying your trip.

“The whole city is so beautiful and well-planned, you don’t actually need to go up the Eiffel tower or inside the Louvre: skip the queues, crowds and ticket cost and just walk around the arrondissements, living off cheap food from the bouillons,” suggests Harriet.

Ian Smith says despite the museum queues and sometimes packed restaurants, Paris is still worth a visit.

“People who don’t like Paris aren't doing it right. Sure, go and visit the big attractions like the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe, but the true fun in Paris is, well, just being in Paris. I lived in a Parisian suburb for a year and every weekend I would go into the city. Not once was I disappointed,” he says.

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If you don’t overplan your visit and go with the flow, it could well be an excellent trip.

“You can walk around so many parts and just stumble upon the most beautiful buildings and churches that don’t even get a mention in any guides because the list would become too long. Grab a glass of wine, people watch, stop off at an exhibition or market and just soak up the city,” Ian says.

“It’s teeming with things to do without having to plan, and please consider ditching the usual tourist haunts (or at least some of them).”

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