Before setting foot in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle-Roissy Airport, most of us probably already have a vision of Paris inspired by the movies, embracing the city as a muse in all matter of topics. Paris is cast as a place of old-time whimsy (Amélie), of dreamers and starving artists (An American in Paris), of love lost and recovered (Before Sunset), and of eternal magic (Midnight in Paris).
But how does real-life Paris match up to its romanticized portrayal in the movies? After living in the city for some time (and frequenting some of the famous locations captured on film), I can finally attempt to answer the question. Come with me on a tour of five Paris spots that I’ve experienced first in the movies, then in real life, to find out if they live up to their cinematic claim to fame.
Café des 2 Moulins From “Amélie”
This café shot to fame in the film Amélie as the place where the titular character worked and enacted her elaborate matchmaking schemes.
Surprisingly, it has retained much of the charm I suspect already existed before the movie. On the weekends, the café often hosts jovial live music performances as locals sip their reds and wisecracking waiters flit between tables. As magical as the movie? A oui for both the café and the rest of Montmartre.
Faubourg Saint-Denis From “Paris je t’aime”
A collection of 18 short films set throughout the city’s arrondissements (neighborhoods), one vignette in particular featuring a blind Frenchman and his relationship with an American student (played by Natalie Portman), resonated with me.
Indeed, the diverse neighborhood around the Canal Saint-Martin depicted in the short has become one of my most-frequented quartiers. And the artistic ambiance certainly succeeds in measuring up to the movie – even in ways I wish it didn’t (i.e. heartbreak; but that’s a story for another time).
Rue de la Bûcherie From “The Devil Wears Prada”
In this movie about a college grad thrown into the cutthroat fashion industry, the main character, played by Anne Hathaway, entertains a Parisian romance. The couple’s first kiss takes place on a quiet square along Rue de la Bûcherie, with Notre Dame Cathedral in the background.
Walking around the quiet neighborhood after dark, with the streetlights lit up and the Seine to your side, feels as intimate as depicted in the film – like you have a small piece of the city all to yourself.
The Banks of the River Seine from “Funny Face”
In this 1950s musical starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, their characters are swept off to Paris to shoot a fashion spread. In one scene, Hepburn ventures out to the banks of the Seine, greeting Parisians with unbridled enthusiasm. While such zeal would be met with perplexity by real pedestrians, the Seine, whether for a picnic or a stroll, easily inspires this kind of ardor. Overrated? Hardly.
Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont From “Midnight in Paris”
Last but not least, the steps of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, a church in the Latin Quarter, is where Owen Wilson’s character Gil, waits to be whisked back into time in Midnight in Paris. In real life the entire church, both its facade and its interior, is an architectural wonder, and I’ve had the opportunity to attend classical music concerts and even pray with the congregation. An evening stroll through the neighborhood evokes an intimate, almost small-town ambiance.
So does Paris in real life match up to Paris in the movies? My answer is that Paris in real life – provided that you give yourself the time to wander and truly soak in the city – far exceeds Hollywood reproductions of the city’s charm. Worth a visit to see for yourself? Always.
- While you’re around Notre-Dame, find out where to eat.
- Rue Rodier gives you 13 films to inspire your next trip to Paris.
- For more movie scene locations, head to The Local.
Written and photographed by Diana Liu for HiP Paris. All photos by Diana Liu excluding movie posters. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.