Can't Visit Paris Now? 6 Ways to Experience the City Without Traveling

Dreaming of Paris? We're with you on that one.
Symphonie Ltd/Getty Images

Chances are, like many others, you're probably dreaming of visiting Paris sometime in the future.

If you're on the lucky end of the spectrum, you might have a trip planned in the not-too-distant-future, but need a little inspiration to get you through the next few months of hard work before your vacation.

But with airfares remaining on the steep side (especially from overseas) and local hotel rates that are simply out of range for many people, your idyllic getaway to the French capital may be on hold while you save up.

Or perhaps finances aren't an issue, but you have young children and now simply isn't the ideal time to go.

Whatever your circumstances, why not get a good dose of Paris now, without leaving the comfort of your home? It'll put a little je ne sais quoi in your step and in your heart- I all but guarantee it. Read on for 6 fantastic ways to transport yourself to the beloved city without traveling. These virtual escape routes are all budget-friendly or totally free, too.

01 of 06

#1: Escape to Paris With a Good Book

Books at Shakespeare and Company in Paris
Courtney Traub

I live between the UK and Paris, and my own preferred way to mentally shuttle myself back to my favorite city when I'm suddenly pining for it is to plunge into a great book. One that helps me to relive, and imagine afresh, its streets, sounds, cafes, and distinctive smells. Even if you've never been, spending some time with a great book set in or telling the story of Paris can carry you away in ways you never imagined possible. 

My Picks:

Some of my personal favorites include Guy de Maupassant's short stories (many of which are set in the French capital, and are all online for free at Project Gutenberg), Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", David Sedaris' hilarious essay collection Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Edmund White's Le Flaneur, which couples memoir with a riveting set of social, political, and historical facts about the city.

I also have a huge soft spot for the so-called "children's" book Eloise in Paris, and for Walter Benjamin's fascinating account of Parisian covered passageways, The Arcades Project.

More classic and beloved Paris-themed volumes are Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

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02 of 06

#2: Escape to Paris Through a Good Movie

A movie poster for Jean-Luc Godard's film "Breathless" (1960), set in Paris.
Public domain

I'm a movie geek (or cinephile, depending on how you look at it)--  so I'd be remiss to not include films about the French capital as another ideal way to virtually escape to Paris. It's certainly one of mine.

Some of My Personal Favorites?

Select films about the French capital that I've seen countless times include Julie Delpy's hilarious "2 Days in Paris", the classic musical "An American in Paris", Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" and "Une Femme est Une Femme", and François Truffaut's legendary series following the life and adventures of young delinquent-turned-dandy Antoine Doinel.

The series begins with"The 400 Blows" and the hero Antoine as a young petty criminal, and follows through with amusing and artful classics set in his adulthood, including "Domicile Conjugal".

Want more ideas for a Paris-themed movie night? I recommend this list (and will soon roll out a longer version of my own!) Also see my review of Paris Movie Walks by Michael Schurmann: even if you can't physically get to the city to take these self-guided walks, the book is a treasure-trove of facts about cinema history in the capital.

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03 of 06

#3: Escape to Paris Through Music

A portrait of French singer Edith Piaf.
Wikimedia Commons

A trick to make you think you've been beamed back in time to some legendary old version of Paris? Get your hands on a few albums from classic Parisian singers and musicians including Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, Dalida, Jacques Brel or Juliette Greco.

You may or may not know French-- but listening to the haunting, poetic songs from these artists might inspire you to learn from scratch, or to beef up your existing Gallic skills so you can sing along.

On a tight budget? To get to know some of the classics of chanson (a particularly French style of composing and performing music) before adding albums to your permanent collection, I recommend this YouTube list-- and this one, too.

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04 of 06

#4: Escape to Paris With Free Online City Soundscapes

One soundscape available online transports you to the old neighborhood of Montmartre.
Thomas Claviole/Creative Commons

You may or may not have heard of a "soundscape": a form somewhere between music and journalism that aims to capture the everyday sounds of a city to impressionistic effect. It's a real way to transport yourself to the city of light with eyes closed and headphones in. The best part? Most are entirely free and readily available online for your listening pleasure.

One soundscape artist, Michael Begg, created two Paris-based pieces: one that brings you straight into the ambiance of the old, arty Montmartre neighborhood, and another that features the sounds of "Paris closing".

Talking about his creation, Begg commented "The exercise here was to assemble something that was plausible, yet impossible. In so doing, the effect would be, if successful, to trick time, and somehow thicken the sense of presence. This is why there is the unlikely combination of footsteps, street sounds, and metro trains...."

His soundscapes can be found here, at a website called Cities and Memory: all are entirely free. The site also features other Paris-themed audio creations.

Another site, Soundlandscapes, feature several soundscapes capturing the French metropolis, including a series of audio files that bring you into the noisy, vibrant hustle and bustle of traditional markets around the city.

That project is the brainchild of Des Coulam, a sound recordist who's currently compiling an archive of Parisian sounds for the British Library that will comprise some 3,000 audio files. A true repository of Parisian daily experience, to say the least...

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05 of 06

#5: Escape to Paris With a Theme Party or Dinner

Paris Cocktails by Doni Belau.
Courtesy of the author.

Another way to transport yourself to Paris without leaving your living room and kitchen is to throw a theme party or dinner with cuisine, costumes, music, decor or all of the above inspired by the French capital.

Visit the About French Food site for tons of recipes, and see this blog for some ideas on how to decorate your home like a Parisian might (hint-- mirrors, vintage French advertising posters, and a few inexpensive candelabras found at flea markets can make a big difference and bring tons of ambiance to your party.)

You may not be able to convince yourself that it's "as good as the real thing"-- but chances are, you'll have a great time anyway, and in the process of doing research for the party you're likely to learn a ton about French and Parisian culture.

Read related feature: Top 10 Myths and Stereotypes About Paris and Parisians

A Paris-themed Cocktail Party?

If you enjoy mixed drinks and elaborate garnishes, one option is to plan a party with cocktails inspired by the city of light. Longtime resident Doni Belau has a book devoted to the topic. Consider getting a copy for some great drink ideas.

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06 of 06

#6: Escape to Paris With These Historic and Culture-Centric Features

Public domain

Finally, while most of the features on this site cater to those lucky enough to physically visit the city, we've also got a wealth of others that can help virtually transport you here-- and soak up some of the local culture in the process. That way, when you do save up enough to make it over, or the kids get to an age where you can comfortably bring them along, you'll be a well-informed traveler, and get even more out of it.

History buff? Read my guide to the Top 10 Strangest Facts About Paris to learn about the less-than-savory, partially suppressed history of the French capital (hint: much bloodshed, mayhem and hair-raising details await). Then click through our visual guide to the 15 Most Breathtaking Monuments and Historic Spots in Paris.

Arts and literature fan? Take our self-guided tour to the Top 10 Literary Haunts in Paris, and learn where writers including Simone de Beauvoir, Voltaire, Ernest Hemingway (pictured above), Richard Wright and F. Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed lurking and penning their creations in the French capital. Then, see our Treasures from the Louvre gallery for a whirl through the mammoth museum's collections, and a focus on some of its masterpieces.

Enjoy thinking about delicious French food and wine? See my guided visual tour of the Aligre food market in Paris, bursting with elegant purple artichokes, gorgeous red strawberries and mouth-watering cheeses. Then learn all about how to navigate a typical Parisian bakery in our Boulangeries 101 guide, and beef up on your French food vocab!

Cat lover? I have a feature just for you: browse my gallery of cute Parisian cats to get a double-fix of Paris and some charming felines!

Last, but certainly not least, find inspiration in some of my seasonal, and highly visual, guides to the city of light, including sublime pictures of Paris in the fall and in the spring, and my gallery of festive scenes from traditional Christmas and holiday markets.

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