London or Paris? Which is the better city to visit as a tourist?

The eternal question and rivalry on the European continent: which is better: London or Paris? France or England UK? I know you are tired of Covid, but let’s hope that 2021 will be better and we will be able to travel again.

Although Europe has many wonderful cities, few have the power, prestige, size or wealth of these two rival capitals. There is of course also Madrid, but it’s just not quite in the same league. Vienna and Amsterdam are very beautiful but quite small, Istanbul is huge but leaves much to be desired, and Berlin is …just Berlin I guess.

I had the pleasure of visiting both capitals over time. Paris in 2009 long before we moved to France, thanks to my sister, to whom I wish to thank once again, and London in 2018 before moving to England.

But let’s start with the beginning: after we landed we made our way to the hotels, both in somewhat peripheral areas and this was the first impression we had of the cities:

Paris Porte D’Orleans area
Paris Porte D’Orleans area

And London:

London Wembley Stadium Area

Ok, I have to admit that at first glance Paris looks better. And the weather was considerably better in France considering both holidays were around the same time of the year during the summer.

From here , we make our way to the subway and to the city center. Here we have our first surprise: it is very expensive in these cities! In Paris, a weekly pass card for all zones costs 22.8 EUR + 5 EUR the cost of the card that you get to keep, ie 27.8 EUR per person. That for 4 people, comes to EUR 111.2 for public transport. It seemed extremely expensive for us as Romanians on vacation in 2009 (back then, average net salary in Romania in 2009 was around 320 EUR ). But then I saw the prices in London: a weekly pass card just for areas 1-4, costs here 51.9 pounds per person + 5 pounds the cost of the card that you get to keep (ie about 73 EUR pp). Beautiful right?

Anyway, we’re on vacation, just pay and get on with it. Both cities have huge subway networks. In Paris I would say that the network is a bit more organized. The regular Metro has very frequent stations and is used for local trips, while the separated RER underground trains are used for longer trips to the suburbs. In London, due to the history of rival companies building lines all over the place, the network is a bit chaotic and is a mixture of surface and underground trains, which don’t always take you where you need to go. Sometimes you are forced to travel in a different direction towards a train station hub, where you will change the line.

London tube map
Paris Metro map

In general, I would say that the London Underground is cleaner and more tidy. In Paris, in some stations it can smell a bit like urine and you have the pleasure of seeing a rat on the occasional evening. However London has a major disadvantage: some of the old stations and lines are very cramped and feel claustrophobic. The trains are also very small and cramped, being built to fit in the small tunnels of the 1800’s. Bonus: in Paris, you get Romanians playing the accordion in between the stations :).

Paris Metro
London Underground UK
London Underground UK

We arrive in the central area: Paris is very neat, the architecture is superb and you have attractions at every step. You can easily spend here a week and not see everything. For us Romanians, it has a certain sense of familiarity with central Bucharest (aka the little Paris). Everywhere you look, there are cafes, small coquette bars, pastries with cakes and baguettes, beautifully lined Haussmannian buildings, palaces, street performers. And a walk on the banks of the Seine among the small book stalls is a pleasant experience. The initial impression is very good here. Unfortunately, hanging around the main attractions, there are certain ethnic groups that make their living by distracting tourists with different tricks, while their colleagues squeeze you in a crowd and work you out. But fortunately if you tell them off once, and show you are not interested, they will quickly leave you be .

Now let’s see the London central area. The city is also very clean and tidy (even cleaner than Paris). It feels significantly more crowded than Paris, the streets being much narrower than the French boulevards. But we have plenty space to breathe in the beautiful and massive English parks (e.g. Hide Park). Although we do not have the nice building alignment of buildings like in France, and the architecture is somewhat duller and repetitive, we still have a lot palaces, nice squares, terraces and we can spot everywhere the famous red double Decker buses. London is a city with a much greater ethnic diversity than Paris. You often see working and walking together on the same street Asians, Indians, Arabs, Africans and Europeans.

London also has many street performing artists, but unfortunately on the Thames riverfront you are more likely to find an East European scamming tourists on games like β€œthree-cup”. The River Thames is unfortunately disappointingly muddy and brown and doesn’t offer very nice views.

After a few days of visiting I can say that Paris is a paradise for lovers of architecture and photography. Everywhere you look there’s a beautiful building and a unique angle.

The Parisians are also much more styled and conscious of what they wear and the image they project. This is the fashion capital of the world after all. For those interested in the arts, they will also find Paris much more interesting than London, museums like the Louvre or Pompidou are worth a visit (I didn’t think so, but that’s just me).

Instead, I found in London’s museums more interesting and interactive, so to speak. I enjoyed the visit at the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Science. Bonus: They are free to visit in London, and you will inevitably visit them on one of the rainy days.

A big plus for Paris though: we have near the city, the huge Versailles Royal Palace , which is really impressive to visit. I know you can go to Buckingham too, but it just not comparable. Bonus: At Versailles you can rent an electric car and enjoy touring the huge domain and gardens.

Other main attractions: we have in Paris, the Eiffel Tower from the top of which the view at dusk is simply superb, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the old quarter of the island, the Sacre Coeur Basilica, a lot of beautiful parks, the Catacombs that I must return to the city to see them, many beautiful squares.

But London is no small competitor: we have Big Ben Tower, Parliament Palace, lots of beautiful parks, some beautiful squares, many museums, the view from the top of Shard Tower, Greenwich Observatory, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, London Tower and the Tower Bridge. Okay, I have to admit that London’s attractions aren’t nearly as impressive as Paris’s, but they are still worth seeing. Just hope you are lucky to catch good weather so you can enjoy them…

Interested in more modern skyscrapers and architecture? Well, in Paris we have a dedicated district that seems torn from a SF movie. It’s called La Defense, which for lovers of modern architecture will seem gorgeous. The Arch of La Defense is in alignment with the old Arc de Triomphe, and has inside a museum of technology and an observation platform on the top floor for visitors.

London also has such an area, but London skyscrapers are more scattered around the city through different areas such as the City of London and Canary Wharf.

Although London has the highest skyscraper in the European Union, sorry: used to have that is (Shard Tower), the modern area does not leave an impression as memorable as the one in Paris.

But still London has something special: nightlife and pubs! Paris is magical at night and deserves its name as the city of lights, but it kind of puts you to sleep. London, on the other hand, is the capital of entertainment. Any pub you enter after 5 pm when regular office hours ends, will be full of cheerful characters. In areas like Camden Town it’s even more special. You simply have an unlimited variety of bars, restaurants, clubs and beers to choose from. The food in these pubs is inferior to what you find in Paris (although you can find at select restaurants in London, dishes that are just as good), but small pub snacks only have the role of supplementing the alcohol. Youth gatherings on the streets, animate the city in unique ways in Europe.

Of course you’ll never have in London a romantic evening over a glass of wine on the banks of the Seine with a backdrop of lights, but I think it depends on what you’re looking for right?

And yet Paris has another ace up its sleeve to make up for the fun: Disneyland! The huge amusement park is the only one in Europe and it’s worth a visit to Paris just for that. You easily lose a whole day only in the main park, it would take another day to enjoy the newer Walt Disney Studios park next door (which is also awesome!). The park has fun rides for both children and those looking for great sensations. You simply have to go! If you have a choice between a day trip to Versailles or a day trip to Disneyland, I clearly recommend the second option.

So which is better London or Paris? Well, if you want to visit and see beautiful things: Paris. If you want to enjoy the night life, have a good time and seeing some attractions as a side activity, than it will be definitely London! If it’s only you and your girlfriend going to a special place: clearly Paris. If you go with children and family: well, that will probably be Paris as well.

What do you think, which is your favorite to visit, London or Paris? I am waiting for your opinions in the comments section or on the Fb page GarciaCalavera.com. You can also drop a like there to subscribe to future articles or even share this article to others. Thank you.

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