Paris loves music!

Places in Paris have always inspired musicians and singers. Explanations and a selection of some essential songs.

An ode to Paris. So many songs have been written by artists who have taken their inspiration from the romantic charm of the capital and its timeless districts. Take a tour of this city which is eternal and always in tune…

A ticket for jazz

To enter Paris via Porte de Lilas in the past, you would take the metro. Before doing so you needed to have your ticket punched (i.e. validated) by the ticket puncher, the famous Poinçonneur des Lilas in the eponymous song by Serge Gainsbourg. ‘Celui qu’on croise et qu’on n’regarde pas’ (‘The person that you meet but don’t look at’). This ‘other’ Paris has inspired singers from Edith Piaf to Mano Solo. Go down the tiled corridors and take a metro to your first stop: Châtelet-les-Halles, a ‘station balnéaire où il n’y a pas la mer’ (‘a seaside resort without the sea’), as sung by Florent Pagny.

Vanessa Paradis © Benoît Derrier

Leaving the station, take the direction rue des Lombards, the ‘Swing Street’ of the capital. Guided by the trumpet sounds of Erik Truffaz or the piano of Herbie Hancock, you are at the heart of Paris’s jazz scene, where you might catch the sound of jazz sounds at the legendary Duc des Lombards.

It is with the same rhythms that Vanessa Paradis and -M- accompany you to the Seine, with their ode to romance from the film Un monstre à Paris. Enjoy watching the wake of the water as the bateaux parisiens glide past as you head to the Île de la Cité and cross one of the many bridges – the same ones to which  Melody Gardot and Juliette Gréco dedicated their duo Sous les ponts de Paris.

Between two banks

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, façace © Fotolia - miff32

Those bells that you hear in the distance are undoubtedly those of Notre-Dame. Dominating the Île de la Cité, the cathedral is one of the monuments that best embodies the romantic charm of Paris. A sentiment that is also perceived in the song Paris Bells, sung by Marianne Faithfull, about  a melancholy stroll along the banks of the Seine, evoking a lost love ... Paris will never cease to be the capital of love and the songs it inspires often reinforce the myth!

It  was in fact from the square in front of Notre-Dame that an old man tells of the love and beauty of the city to Joséphine Baker in Mon Paris (My Paris). This 'romantic village' which entranced the singer in J’ai deux amours (I have two loves) ...

Arrive on the Left bank

Django Reinhardt © DR

Continue in the direction of the Left Bank, the 'land of poetry and music’ sings Alain Souchon, with a slightly melancholic air. First of all take a stroll around the Latin Quarter and the Sorbonne, which should remind you of your student days, and then on to the Panthéon evoked in La Place des grands hommes by singer Patrick Bruel.

After passing through the Luxembourg Gardens, go down to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a district with a rich artistic, intellectual and musical history that inspired musical legends such as Django Reinhardt and Juliette Gréco.

From the Eiffel Tower to the Champs Élysées

Tour Eiffel

Following the course of the Seine, you approach Paris’s most famous monument: the Eiffel Tower. Glittering at nightfall, it is the symbol of the French capital but also the theatre of burgeoning or failed love stories. That is how Lana Del Rey sees it in her song Paris, in which the pop diva asks the man she loves to take her to Paris. Throughout the song, she fantasizes about a romantic getaway for the two of them in Paris, imagining them ‘climbing the Eiffel Tower, out all night dancing until death’ … What a programme!

For others, love is celebrated when they are in Paris, as in the upbeat lyrics of Champs-Elysées, sung by Joe Dassin. This song probably has the most innocently romantic lyrics in the Parisian repertoire and accompanies you along the most famous avenue in France. All of which may give you the idea of strolling along the avenue with an open heart ‘through the night’ until the early hours of the morning.

An evening in Montmartre

Paris, film

At the end of the day, the Paris nightlife scene hots up! So head towards the Arc de Triomphe and take metro line 2, in the direction of Pigalle. This corner of Paris is undoubtedly one of the most eclectic in the capital, which explains why it is the most popular Parisian subject in the history of music. From Petula Clark to Serge Lama and Madeleine Peyroux, Pigalle is a favorite among lyricists.

You are at the foot of the famous Butte Montmartre, the opportunity for you to take a look at the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret revues celebrated in song in the eponymous film with the hit Lady Marmalade. Alternatively, enjoy the lively atmosphere of this district with its many bars and concert halls and rub shoulders with partygoers described by Patachou in the song Entre Blanche et Pigalle.

Montmartre is also of course the theatre of Môme Piaf! Her lyrics have their origins here and evoke the Parisian life of an era, from the atmosphere of the neighbourhood to chances encounters, from its ‘cafés crèmes du matin’ (white coffee in the morning) to its ‘marchands de marrons’ (chestnut sellers). In the Paris of Piaf, love is never far away. The city has its sorrows and many delights, and the singer misses the city when she is far away from it.

On the way back…

As day breaks, your tour of Paris in songs comes to an end. Il est 5 heures, Paris s’éveille and images of the city still parade in your head. Follow the example of singer Jacques Dutronc. At the time of day when newspapers were being printed and striptease artists were getting dressed again, he would go to bed.

With your head full of Paris, you deserve some rest after this singular journey in song.

1 Métro Porte des Lilas

Logo du métro parisien © Thinkstock

19e arrondissement - Metro: 11, 3 bis

2 Métro Châtelet-Les-Halles

Enseigne art nouveau du métro parisien © OTCP - David Lefranc

Arrondissements : 1, 4. RER : A, B, D. Metro: 1, 4, 7, 11, 14.

3 Duc des Lombards

Duc des Lombards, club de jazz © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

The best of jazz in the most beautiful of clubs! Let's not be scared of words. The Duc des Lombards has now become a world reference on the jazz scene. The most famous international artists fight for a chance to perform in this cafe in the heart of Paris. With exceptional acoustics, the establishment is always packed, particularly after its recent renovation which made the venue even more convivial. In between two performances, you can also enjoy some of the many cocktails and home-made snacks on offer. After midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, you can come and listen to Jam Sessions for free! Concerts at 8pm and 10pm, food available every evening from 7pm. 42 Rue des Lombards, 75001 Paris

4 Pont au change

The Seine docks, Paris © Thinkstock

5 Notre-Dame de Paris

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris - Cerisiers en fleurs, Paris

The beginning of its long construction coincided with the choice of Paris as a capital and, on the square in front of the cathedral, a bronze star inscribed 'zero kilometre' indicates the centre of the country in terms of travelling distances. A symbol of Gothic art, its harmonious layout seems to be the work of just one architect, yet dozens followed on from the 12th to the 19th century, the date of its restoration by Viollet-le-Duc. The cathedral has witnessed Saint Louis, barefoot, wearing the Crown of Thorns in 1239, the coronation of Napoléon in 1804, the celebration of the Liberation of Paris in 1944… and you too, as you climb the 422 steps leading to the top. Like Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo, you will then find yourself face to face with some of its grimacing gargoyles. You will also be able to make the acquaintance of the thirteen-ton bell named Emmanuel, and enjoy a breathtaking view across the rooftops of Paris.

6 Pont au double

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris - Vue depuis le pont, Paris

7 Quartier Latin

Saint-Michel fountain, Paris © OTCP - Marc Verhille

On the Left Bank, in the vicinity of the University founded in the 12th century, Latin was the language most commonly spoken by professors and students. This tradition seems to have died out but the name remains. Around the Sorbonne, the Collège de France, prestigious schools and the Sainte-Geneviève library, there are still numerous bookshops, publishers, and cafes, where students revise for their exams, as well as tiny art-house cinemas. Of course, the Saint- Michel fountain is not only a meeting point for students: many businesses have now moved into the area, but the memory of Professor Abélard and the paving stones of May 1968 still remain here and there.

8 La Sorbonne

La Sorbonne - Cour d'honneur, Paris

In 1253, a college for 16 poor students who wanted to study theology was created at Louis IX's request. It became the Sorbonne as Robert de Sorbon, the king's confessor, gave his name to the school. After 1885, it became the most important university in France. Nowadays, it is still one of the most important universities in Paris.

9 Panthéon

Le Panthéon, Paris © Thinkstock

Its dome dominates the Latin Quarter and gives its name to the similarly solemn square, at the centre of which it stands. This colossal civic temple worthily upholds the motto inscribed on its pediment that honours the nations great men. An irony of history, this monument dedicated to Republican liturgies was commissioned by Louis XV in 1744 to honour Sainte-Geneviève. But with the Revolution underway, the scarcely finished basilica was transformed into a civic temple in 1791 and consecrated as the national Panthéon in 1885, at the funeral of Victor Hugo. A synthesis of neoclassical and Gothic-style architecture, it also houses the tombs of Pierre and Marie Curie, Alexandre Dumas, Jean Jaurès, André Malraux, Jean Moulin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire.

10 Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris © Thinkstock

Children love the Luxembourg gardens for their wooden horses, their model yachts to push along with a cane on the ornamental pond, for their refreshment kiosks, puppet theatre, ponies, etc. Others too, appreciate the setting: artists with their easels, chess players, daydreamers, students with their notepads or computers … The wrought-iron chairs are perfect for a delightful nap below the Dames de France which form a circle of statues. What would Marie de Médicis think of the success of the palace and garden commissioned by her? At the time, the widow of Henri IV had sought to recapture a little of her native Florence. The Fontaine Médicis with all its niches and nymphs is all that remains of the Italianate grotto that she had built in 1630. The palace has become the seat for the Sénat (the upper house of the French parliament). It oversees the running of the garden and the museum, which stages exhibitions on modern art and the Renaissance, of course, in memory of the Florentine queen.

11 Saint Germain des Prés

Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

The area is bound by the Seine, the Luxembourg gardens, the boulevard Saint-Michel and rue des Saints-Pères. Its name comes from the church, the first stones of which date from 557, and the oldest still visible remains from around the year 1000: an islet of eternity surrounded by the waves of flighty fashion! From the 1920s, the frenzied literary and art cliques gravitated towards the cafés of Saint-Germain. During the Liberation, existentialism took off, led by Camus and Sartre, while basement jazz shook the foundations with Sidney Bechet on the clarinet and the writer Boris Vian on the trumpet. This era is legendary but Saint-Germain remains an oasis of ancient streets full of wonderful places for art, books and the latest must-have little items .

12 Hôtel national des Invalides

Hôtel des Invalides, Paris © Thinkstock

In 1671, Louis XIV decided to build "a royal hostel that would be large and spacious enough to house all officers, crippled, old and retired alike". The ‘pensioners‘ began arriving in 1674. The Église Saint-Louis – or ‘Soldiers Church’ – and the Église du Dôme (transformed into a military pantheon) were built afterwards. This magnificent ensemble, with its wonderful green lawn, today houses canons with rather disturbing names such as ‘The Scourge’, the Ministry of Defence and the Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération, Musée des Plans et Reliefs and Musée de l’Armée. The Musée de l’Armée houses the tomb of Napoléon, the department of arms and ancient armoury and that of the two world wars.

13 Eiffel Tower

Tour Eiffel - Paris © OTCP - DR

Stop to gaze up at all of its 324 metres! The tower was saved from demolition after twenty years because of its scientific utility. A few more figures: 10,100 tons, 2,500,000 rivets, 1,665 steps, two years of relentless work for the 50 engineers and 132 workers directed by Gustave Eiffel, and approximately 230 million visitors since its construction. The tower is a special landmark symbolizing Paris and France throughout the world and it sparkles every evening until 1am (in winter) or 2am (in summer).

14 Avenue des Champs-Élysées (don't miss)

Christmas lights, avenue des Champs Elysées, Paris © OTCP - Angélique Clément

Between Concorde and Étoile, is the emblematic section of a perspective that extends from the Louvre Pyramid to La Défense. The first steps of this 'glorious way', an obligatory passage for patriotic parades, were however modest. Lined with undergrowth, the avenue reached the current site of place de l’Étoile in 1724. A fashionable place to walk, the gardens were devastated at the fall of the Empire. They regained their splendour around 1840: candelabras, fountains, creamy pavilions, landscaping with flowers and copses date from this period of balls and theatres. It was one hundred years later that rapid development occurred when affluence spread to the west of the capital. The avenue was then adorned with prestigious palaces, cafes, and restaurant terraces and cinemas – joined today by ready-to-wear fashion stores and high-tech showrooms. Everything can be found on the Champs Elysées: films, dresses, lunch, cotton and compresses, racing cars, yoghurts and fresh vegetables, books, CDs, perfume … from morning to midnight, sometimes 24 hours a day, often 7 days a week.

15 Pigalle

Station de métro Blanche, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

From place d’Anvers to place de Clichy, night revellers, neon lights and illuminated signs ensure that, almost for as long as Paris has existed, this area never sleeps. In the Paris of yesteryear, wine, taxed at the entry to the city, was more expensive. So, Montmartre was the lively out-of-town place to go with its mix of lower classes, artists, young women and free thinkers. Later, the village was absorbed into the capital but the rowdiness continued. Piano-bars, night clubs, private clubs, concert halls, café-theatres, music halls, dinner shows, pubs, cabarets lasted for three seasons or over one hundred years. In the 1960s, Serge Gainsbourg sang “les petits gars de Liverpool” causing a sensation at the Bus Palladium. Others followed. When the Paris of Jacques Dutronc “awakes” at 5am, place Blanche – at the end of turbulent rue Fontaine – often looks the worse for wear. But after a short rest, all is well again.

16 Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

Montmartre hill once bristled with windmills. They closed one after the other, while the Moulin de la Galette became a popular dance hall. In 1889, another opened with just the exterior decor of a windmill. Soon the French Cancan – black stockings, garters and petticoats – created an air of euphoria and stardom for La Goulue and her fellow dancers. The first revues were staged and, in 1907, a certain Mistinguett began her music-hall career. After the war, a new generation of artists arrived, including Edith Piaf, Montant, Trenet and Aznavour... Every evening, glitz, feathers and sequins continue to weave their magic at the Moulin Rouge.

17 Butte Montmartre

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, Paris © Thinkstock

Venice has its gondolas, Montmartre its steps – physically demanding but Romanesque in the extreme. Countless novels, legends and 'fabulous destinies' are set in the Butte, such as the Bateau-Lavoir in place Émile- Goudeau, where Picasso painted the Demoiselles d’Avignon, and the cafe made famous by Amélie Poulain in rue Lepic. The grocery from the film is higher up on rue des Trois-Frères. And there’s even more climbing to do – but Montmartre’s well worth it! Walk up rue Tholozé, for example, for a film or a drink in the winter garden of a tiny cinema run by Buñuel and Cocteau. Pause at the top of the street under the last remaining windmills, before continuing on up … keep going! At the top is the Sacré-Coeur, surrounded by a labyrinth of extraordinary little streets, and a vineyard, where the grape harvest is celebrated each year. There is also the flattering bust of Dalida in the square of the same name, breathtaking views over the rooftops of Paris, amazing crowds and hundreds of tranquil spots. From the square de la Turlure or the rue de la Chevalier-de-la- Barre, the Sacré-Coeur is just as wonderful from the side, the back or the front!