Travel

The London Experiment: Paris vs London

by Bryan Pirolli

Paris or London? We love London, a city laid out along the River Thames with Tower Bridge in the foreground.

I have a thing for George Orwell, and with the Paris portion of my own Down and Out story written, I felt like I needed to try London next. In 2016, after 8 years in Paris, I embarked on what became an 18-month stint across the Channel.

Many have explored the cultural peculiarities of the two cities. I get it, they’re different. But now that I’m back in Paris, I never thought I’d miss so many things about London, things that make it different from Paris beyond the clichés. The great London experiment has left me seeing Paris in a whole new way.

Paris vs London? The Union Jack flag flies high on Regent's Street with London cabs and red double-decker buses zipping passed (left). Rush-hour on the London Underground escalators (right).

Paris vs London? HiP Paris loves London's old pubs sprinkled across the city.Top: Sabrina Mazzeo / Tom Parsons. Bottom: Montse Monmo

Food

First things first: food. In London, there’s just so much of it that it’s impossible to make sweeping generalizations. It’s a vast buffet of choice. You can eat anything anywhere, and even the supermarkets have fresh produce and choices unheard of in Paris. I could really go for some spaghetti squash noodles right about now.

Paris or London? Like Paris, London has tons of great restaurants and coffee shops to try for their market-fresh food.

 

When in London, one must try fish and chips, one of the national dishes of England.Top: Samuel Zeller. Bottom: Erica Berman

I won’t complain about the Paris dining scene, of course, but the buffet doesn’t stretch as far as it does in London. There is less of a chance that I’ll be surprised by some random Georgian BYOB bistro or a pop-up cookie dough counter while strolling Paris’ streets.

Kingdom of cool, Shoreditch is the place to go to see and be seen in its trendy restaurants like the Shoreditch Grind.

 

Paris or London for humor? We'd say London for its funny coffee shop street signs.Top: Toa Heftiba. Bottom: Erica Berman

It’s not a critique. It’s not an insult. It’s not even a plea for change. It’s a simple observation that in London, food is more playful, especially for those of us who don’t particularly care to count stars or Yelp reviews.

The top of the Big Ben in London (left). Charming cobblestone streets of London lined by terraced houses (right).Samuel Zeller / Bruno Martins

Geography

London. Is. Big. As I stroll and cycle my way through Paris now, I can’t help but be struck by how close everything is. From my apartment near République, I can be at Jardin du Luxembourg in what feels like minutes. It’s wonderful, mostly, but I get pangs for London’s vastness at times.

In East London, pubs have been converted into concept stores selling handmade goods like at Labour and Wait.

A London house with a blue door and pretty crawling plants in full bloom creeping up the brick walls (left). An old red telephone box with a black cab in the background in London (right).Top: Tomas Anton Escobar. Bottom: Ali Postma / Angela Compagnone

Before the London experiment, the Left Bank was more of an abstract concept than an actual place I’d visit. Now, it seems like a stone’s throw from anywhere in the city.  In London, everywhere is a trek. These London commutes were often deterrents for nights out or meeting friends, but part of me really appreciated them, because I felt like I was always discovering new places within the city.

Just like Paris, London is full of surprises at every turn, like these hidden cobblestone squares.Erica Berman

As a cyclist, I miss London’s long streets of bike lanes that I would cruise along, zipping along the Thames with the other helmet-clad enthusiasts. I miss being able to get lost in a new neighborhood or a vast stretch of green park or along a lazing canal. There are places to find these sorts of things, usually outside Paris, I know, but it’s just easier in London. There’s simply more to discover.

In summer, Londoners get around mostly on their bikes, like this girl wearing a summer dress.

 

Is the weather better in Paris than in London? No matter the weather, Londoners are on their bikes, like this young man in a vest in gray weather.Top: Blubel. Bottom: Simon Rae

People

Londoners are nicer — is that fair? Probably not. For every sweet-tempered person I met, there was another who would inexplicably knock my coffee from my hand in an ill-tempered (or perhaps alcohol-fueled) rage. True story. It depends where you are and what you are doing, but comparisons on the temperament between Parisians and Londoners prove futile.

Two girls walking along a street in the London sunshine, one of them wears a fluffy pink jacket.

A London souvenir stall with postcards of the Royal Family and red double-decker bus magnets.

The London Tube is more spacious and much cleaner than the Parisian metro.Erica Berman

That said, there is something to note in the openness of London that, whether happy or angry, people are generally very engaging. Talking to people in a train or in a pub is OK. People share knowing glances and laughs all the time. Workplace banter is du jour and you can even have a friendly conversation with most any cashier. “Oh, you’re American? I love Americans,” a man said to me once while handing me my black coffee and cinnamon roll at the Prêt a Manger near my work. I gushed. My baker in Paris never cared.

Big colorful streetart frescoes are scattered throughout London in a way that Paris still has to master.Ali Postma

Back in Paris, the silence is deafening. Of course there are people who will banter with me in French or English, but it’s less the rule and more the exception. Human connections are built, not assumed in Paris. London, however, seems to facilitate the opposite.

A stand of orange, pink, red and purple tulips in London.

 


London is greener than Paris as there are more parks but also more trees and plant life in gardens and on side walks like this beautiful wild trees of yellow flowers in someone's front garden.Erica Berman

Do I miss London? Yes. Am I happy in Paris? Of course. Do I want to live in both? Definitely. It’s a wonderful problem to have, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my conundrum.

Related Links

Written by Bryan Pirolli for HiP Paris. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, Tuscany, Umbria or Liguria? Check out Haven In.

Written By

Bryan Pirolli

Bryan Pirolli is a travel journalist whose byline has appeared in CNN Travel, Time Out Paris, and Travel+Leisure. He also teaches media studies at the university level. In his spare time, he managed to create The Gay Locals (www.thegaylocals.com), Paris' first LGBT tour guide provider, offering travel services for and by the LGBT community. View Bryan Pirolli's Website

One comment on “The London Experiment: Paris vs London

The one point that really struck home with me is the easy banter of the British. “Small talk” is a very anglophone thing. There is no common term for it in French. How many times have you actually heard someone talk about having a “conversation phatique?” Never, is suspect. I sometimes have to travel for work, and when I travel with French colleagues, I often find myself having a meal during which nary a word is spoken. These are people I’ve known and worked with for years, but since we’re not friends (in the French sense of the word–in other words people with whom I have a personal relationship), they have almost nothing to say outside of work. I’m happier eating alone. But all that being said, I definitely prefer Paris to London! Va savoir.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe without commenting

Vacation Rentals for Those Who Don’t just Travel, they Experience.

Boutique rentals from our trusted partner Haven In

Paris · Provence · Tuscany · London
ALL RENTALS

Vacation Rentals You'll Love