Even though it's no longer the global hotbed of creation it once was, Paris's allure has never waned, especially among writers, philosophers, artists and intellectuals. It's no wonder, then, that famous minds have often made witty, poignant, or melancholy observations on the city of light. Whether they lived here, were just passing through, or were themselves vital participants in Parisian culture, these great thinkers, writers, artists, and even politicians left behind quotes, observations and quips that in many cases still ring true when encountering the great Gallic metropolis.
Without further ado, here are some of the best-known (and most cited) quotations about a fascinating and enigmatic city. May they inspire you as you embark on your first, or twentieth, trip to the capital.
"When good Americans die, they go to Paris." --Oscar Wilde
"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." -―Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast
"Paris is always a good idea." --Audrey Hepburn
"A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life. --Thomas Jefferson
"I'd like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do." --Mae West
"The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners." --F. Scott Fitzgerald
"America is my country and Paris is my hometown." --Gertrude Stein
"An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris." -- Friedrich Nietzche
"I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it." --John F. Kennedy
"I cannot tell you what an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world!" --Charles Dickens, in a letter to the Count d'Orsay, 1844 (The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens)
"Paris is a hard place to leave, even when it rains incessantly and one coughs continually from the dampness." --Willa Cather
"One gets a good look at one’s country from this perspective and one learns to see one’s nation with double eyes, to feel what we have got and what we have not got. I’ve learned more about America in one month in Paris than I could in one year in New York. Looking at this country makes all the unimportant phases of the AMERICAN problem fade somewhat and renders the true problem more vivid." --American writer Richard Wright, in a letter to a friend, 1946 (a week after arriving in Paris.)
"To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them" --French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir
"Mine was the twilight and the morning. Mine was a world of rooftops and love songs" --Roman Payne, in Rooftop Soliloquy
"We'll always have Paris." --Howard Koch, screenwriter of the film "Casablanca"
"There is an atmosphere of spiritual effort here. No other city is quite like it. It is a racecourse tension. I wake early, often at 5 o’clock, and start writing at once." --James Joyce (Collected Letters)
"I love the night passionately. I love it as I love my country, or my mistress, with an instinctive, deep, and unshakeable love. I love it with all my senses: I love to see it, I love to breathe it in, I love to open my ears to its silence, I love my whole body to be caressed by its blackness. Skylarks sing in the sunshine, the blue sky, the warm air, in the fresh morning light. The owl flies by night, a dark shadow passing through the darkness; he hoots his sinister, quivering hoot, as though he delights in the intoxicating black immensity of space." --Guy de Maupassant
"In Paris, when entering a room, everyone pays attention, seeks to make you feel welcome, to enter into conversation, is curious, responsive. [In New York] it seems everyone is pretending not to see, hear, or look too intently. The faces reveal no interest, no responsiveness.Overtones are missing. Relationships seem impersonal and everyone conceals his secret life, whereas in Paris it was the exciting substance of our talks, intimate revelations and sharing of experience.
--Anaïs Nin, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume III: 1939-1944
"Paris is 'the city,' isn't it, and I am a lover of cities. It can be experienced much more pleasantly and conveniently than any other city I know. It's so easy to get around on the metro, and so interesting when you get there—each arrondissement is like a separate province, with its own capital and customs and even costumes." --Late American poet John Ashbery
"It is no accident that propels people like us to Paris. Paris is simply an artificial stage, a revolving stage that permits the spectator to glimpse all phases of the conflict. Of itself Paris initiates no dramas. They are begun elsewhere. Paris is simply an obstetrical instrument that tears the living embryo from the womb and puts it in the incubator." --Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
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If you enjoyed this feature, also make sure to check out our investigation into the top ten myths about Parisians. Do locals take two-hour lunches, read Albert Camus and Sartre on the metro, and hate Americans? We've decrypted all these stereotypes, and many more, giving you additional insight into some of the most common misunderstandings around French culture and behavior. Also read our gripelist on things we hate about Paris: these are ten things that really get under our skin, despite considering the city one of the world's greatest.
Finally, if you've been dreaming of coming to the French capital but can't make it here quite yet, read our 5 ways to virtuallly experience Paris without leaving home.