It’s little wonder that so many wistful songs have been penned over the years about France’s capital, Paris . Few cities leave the visitor with such vivid impressions, whether it’s the drifting cherry blossoms in the tranquil gardens of Notre-Dame, the riverside quais on a summer evening, the sound of blues in atmospheric cellar bars, or the ancient alleyways and cobbled lanes of the historic Latin Quarter and villagey Montmartre.
Paris has no problem living up to the painted images and movie myths with which we’re all familiar. Indeed, the whole city is something of a work of art. Two thousand years of shaping and reshaping have resulted in a monumental building, sweeping avenues, grand esplanades, and celebrated bridges. Many of its older buildings have survived intact, having been spared the ravages of flood and fire and saved from Hitler’s intended destruction. Moreover, they survive with a sense of continuity and homogeneity, as new sits comfortably against a backdrop of old – the glass Pyramid against the grand fortress of the Louvre, the Column of Liberty against the Opéra Bastille. Time has acted as judge, as buildings once surrounded in controversy – the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré-Coeur, the Pompidou Centre – have in their turn become well-known symbols of the city. Yet for all the tremendous pomp and magnificence of its monuments, the city operates on a very human scale, with exquisite, secretive little nooks tucked away off the Grands Boulevards and very definite little communities revolving around games of boules and the local boulangerie and café.
What’s the Allure?
Paris, known to many as the eternal “City of Lights” welcomes a remarkable 42 million visitors a year. This fact makes this capital city (the largest in France) the most visited destination in Europe. Paris is world-famous for its culture, fashion, and art scenes as well as its cuisine and architecture. It features no less than four UNESCO World Heritage sites and has been celebrated over the centuries thanks to notable historical figures. Today, visitors can enjoy all this town has to offer: high-end restaurants, iconic landmarks, top-rated museums, and active cultural experience.
Points of Interest
Paris is home to some of the most famous monuments in the world, many of which are found in and around the heart of the city. The Louvre, with its vast collection of over 3,000 works of art, offers evening hours on Wednesdays and Fridays for those with little time to spare. The iconic Eiffel Tower is a “must-see” experience, especially its dazzling evening lights display.
Eating and shopping are favored pastimes in Paris. There are restaurants and shops to suit all tastes and budgets. The St Germain district offers stylish boutiques and equally quaint eateries while the trendy Le Marais district features edgier designers and quirky flavors. On the historic Champs Elysees Avenue, visitors can shop in the popular name brands’ stores, grab a bite to eat and then dance the night away at neighboring hotspots.
If you go up the Eiffel Tower in the late afternoon, you get two views for the price of one and the queues aren’t as long. Paris looks fantastic all lit up at night.
Buy a museum card – after only about three museums it pays for itself and then you’ll feel free to visit many of the smaller, more bizarre museums and sights, such as the spooky catacombs. If you’re planning to visit a number of museums in a short time, it’s worth buying the Carte Musées et Monuments (1-day ?12.20, 3-day ?24.39, 5-day ?36.59), available from the tourist office, métro stations, museums, and the Eurostar terminal at London Waterloo. Valid for seventy museums and monuments in and around Paris, the pass allows you to bypass ticket queues (though it doesn’t provide entry to special exhibitions and you will still need to queue up for security checks). Reduced admission is often available for those over 60 and under 18, for which you’ll need your passport as proof of age, and for students under 26, for which you’ll need an ISIC (International Student Identity Card). Many museums and monuments are free for children under twelve, and nearly always for kids under four. Under-26s can also get a free Youth Card, Carte Jeune , available in France from youth travel agencies like USIT and from main tourist offices (?18.29, valid one year), which entitles you to reductions throughout Europe. Some museums have free or half-price admission on Sunday; many are closed on Monday and Tuesday.
The wonders of architecture in Paris are not confined to the past. There are plenty of contemporary landmarks, such as La Grande Arche – a 112-metre hollow cube – and the Louvre pyramid.
The square outside the Beaubourg (Pompidou Centre) is a fine place to stop and watch some street entertainment, and the colourful moving sculptures and fountains by Tinguely and Nicky de St-Phalle.
Check out Paris’s Internet café, the Web Bar, where you can do more than check your e-mail. There are films and videos, as well as story-telling and chess, on the menu.
Place des Vosges
Relax on the grass of the Place des Vosges in the Marais while classical musicians busk under the arcades of the imposing buildings that surround the square.
The focal point of a day-trip to Chartres is the magnificent rose window of the Cathédral Notre Dame.
The sculpture garden at the Rodin museum provides a wonderful environment for appreciating the sculptor’s larger masterpieces.
Walk across the Pont Marie to Île St Louis and buy the best ice cream in Paris from Berthillon. There are plenty of quirky little shops in Rue St Louis en Île to stroll by and window shop as you savor flavors like rhubarb and peach.
Climb or take the funicular up to the Sacré Coeur, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the whole of Paris.
Paris is most definitely a walking city. Aside from the many walking tours on offer, visitors are encouraged to “get lost” in a maze of small, winding streets around the city. Exercise enthusiasts will delight in the number of public parks available where locals make room for bikers, runners and rollerbladers. Befitting a large cosmopolitan city, those who prefer to stay indoors will find plenty to do; yoga, dance, cooking classes, and wine tasting are amongst the most popular activities.
Kids Activities in Paris
With its vibrant street atmosphere, buskers and lively pavement cafés, Paris holds an immediate appeal for many children. The most popular tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and boat trips on the Seine are also sure to delight the young. Don’t necessarily rule out museums – some, such as the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Pompidou Centre and Parc de la Villette, have interactive displays and hands-on activities, designed to appeal to all ages. When your children get fed up of trawling the streets you can recharge batteries in one of the city’s many parks and gardens. And if you really want to give the kiddies a treat, Disneyland Paris is just outside the city, and there’s also the home-grown theme park to the north, Parc Astérix.
The French are extremely welcoming to children on the whole. Many restaurants and cafés offer a special menu enfant or are willing to cook simpler food on request. Hotels tack on only a small supplement to the regular room rate for an additional bed or cot.
Parks and gardens
Children are well catered for by the parks and gardens within the city. There’s even a park designed especially for kids, the Jardin d’Acclimatation , in the Bois de Boulogne, with an impressive array of activities and attractions….
Three big funfairs ( fête foraines ) take place in Paris each year. The season kicks off in late March with the Fête du Trône in the Bois de Vincennes (running until late May), followed by the funfair in the Tuileries gardens in…
Circuses ( cirques ) are taken seriously in France and come under the heading of culture as performance art (and there are no qualms about performing animals). As circuses tend to travel, you’ll find details of the seasonal ones under…
One of the city’s best treats for children of every age from three upwards is the Cité des Sciences in the Parc de la Villette. A number of other museums may also appeal to children, for example, the under-touristed Musée des Arts…
The fact that Paris is filled with beautiful, enticing, delicious and expensive things all artfully displayed is not lost on most modern youngsters. Toys, gadgets, and clothing are all bright, colorful and very appealing, while the sheer amount of ice…
Disneyland Paris has put all Paris’s other theme parks in the shade and is one of the country’s top visitor attractions. The enchanted kingdom certainly works its magic on most children, though if you’re prepared to make the effort to…
Why We Love it
Paris truly is for lovers; lovers of food and wine, lovers of romance, lovers of art. The list goes on. You’ll find all the very best offerings here whether your goal is to walk the fashionable avenues hand in hand or spend some alone time reading in a local café whilst sipping on a strong espresso. Despite its many visitors and enduring popularity, Paris continues to retain its charming romantic appeal. It’s a city that offers all the modern conveniences whilst still paying tribute to its glorious past.
Sightseeing in Paris
Architecturally, the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and the Palais du Louvre, in the city’s center, provide a constant reminder of Paris’s religious and royal past. The backdrop of the streets is predominantly Neoclassical, the result of nineteenth-century development designed to reflect the power of the French state. Each period since, however, has added, more or less discreetly, novel examples of its own styles – with Auguste Perret, Le Corbusier, Mallet-Stevens and Eiffel among the early twentieth-century innovators. In recent decades, the architectural additions have been more dramatic in scale, producing new and major landmarks, and recasting down-at-heel districts into important centers of cultural and consumer life. New buildings such as La Villette, La Grande Arche de la Défense, the Opéra Bastille, the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Bibliothèque Nationale have expanded the dimensions of the city, pointing it determinedly towards the future.
Paris’s museums and galleries , not least the mighty Louvre, number among the world’s finest. The tradition of state cultural endowment is very much alive in the city and collections are exceedingly well displayed and cared for. Many are also housed in beautiful locations, such as old mansions and palaces, others in bold conversions, most famously the Musée d’Orsay , which occupies a former train station. The Impressionists here and at the Musée Marmottan, the moderns at the Palais de Tokyo , the smaller Picasso and Rodin museums – all repay a visit. In addition, the contemporary scene is well represented in the commercial galleries that fill the Marais, St-Germain, the Bastille and the area around the Champs-Élysées, and there’s an ever-expanding range of museums devoted to other areas of human endeavor – science, history, decoration, fashion, and performance art.
Few cities can compete with the thousand-and-one cafés, bars and restaurants that line every Parisian street and boulevard. The variety of style and décor, cuisine and price is hard to beat too. Traditional French food has become increasingly innovative and the many ethnic origins represented among the city’s millions have opened eateries providing a range of gastronomic options for every palate and pocket.
The city entertains best at night, with a deserved reputation for outstanding film and music . Paris’s cinematic prowess is marked by annual film festivals, with a refreshing emphasis on art, independent and international films. Music is equally revered, with nightly offerings of excellent jazz, top-quality classical, avant-garde experimental, international rock, West African soukous, and French-Caribbean zouk, Algerian raï, and traditional chansons.
If you’ve time, you should certainly venture out of the city. The region surrounding the capital – the Île de France – is dotted with cathedrals and châteaux as stunning and steeped in history as the city itself – Chartres, Versailles and Fontainebleau , for example. An equally accessible excursion from the capital is that most un-French of attractions, Disneyland Paris.