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The graceful banks of the Seine and the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame. The historical galleries of the Louvre and the 704 steps of the Eiffel Tower. The cobbled streets of Montmartre, the magical sound of the accordion. City of love and romance, secrets and delight, Paris has occupied a unique and powerful space in the collective imagination for countless centuries.
Little wonder, then, that it is one of the most-visited cities in the world, drawing 45 million French and international tourists every year to gaze upon its wonders.
Paris, city of culture
Paris oozes culture – with an incredible 180 museums and 1,803 historical monuments, it stands head and shoulders above most European cities.
The iconic Tour Eiffel can be visited both day and night. Stretching to 279 metres in height, it offers a dazzling panorama over the City of Light. Lying not far away are the Palais de Tokyo, which will delight lovers of modern and contemporary art, and the Grand Palais , an architectural masterpiece that constitutes one of Paris’s greatest monuments. The Grand Palais is situated opposite the Pont Alexandre III, the largest and most elegant bridge in the capital, and hosts many prestigious exhibitions and shows.
While you’re here, take in the Obelisk of the Place de la Concorde, erected in 1836 and originally a gift from Egypt to the French nation. Stroll down the celebrated Champs-Elysées to the majestic Arc de Triomphe, symbol of the power of the Napoleonic era and of the might of the French army.
To the east, on the banks of the Seine and in the heart of Paris, lies the futuristic pyramid of the Louvre Museum, one of the biggest in the world. Nearly 460,000 works of classical art are exhibited over a space of more than 60,000m 2. And, of course, it is the home of the world-famous Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.
Also located nearby are the French state theatre, the Comédie Française (or 'House of Molière') and the Centre George-Pompidou, a multicultural complex that hosts contemporary creations, plastic arts, design, music and cinema. And then, of course, there’s the great cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, the setting of Victor Hugo’s ‘Hunchback of Notre-Dame’.
Unmissable too – the romantic Pont des Arts (Bridge of the Arts) and the Pont Neuf (New Bridge) which, despite its name, is one of the oldest in Paris. Also, the Ile de la Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine which is the birthplace of medieval Paris on the site of Gallic Lutetia.
If you want to discover the Paris of Amélie Poulain, Montmartre is your desired destination. Wander from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica to the Place des Abbesses, the Rue Lepic and the Café des Deux Moulins and you will be instantly transported into the universe of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s master film. Romance beckons!
We’ve all come across the image of the beret-wearing, moustachioed Frenchman clutching a baguette in one hand and a glass of red in the other. Yes, it’s a bit of a stereotype but it isn’t that far from reality, and French cuisine has featured on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list since 2010. Coq au vin, beef bourguignon, crepes, strawberry cream cakes, cassoulet, Norman Tart, foie gras... mouth watering yet?
Even if your budget doesn’t allow you to dine at Michelin star restaurants such as the Meurice d’Alain Ducasse or the Atelier of Joël Robuchon, there is still a plethora of other options that will delight your taste buds.
Those with a sweet tooth should seek out purveyors of fine chocolate Jean-Paul Hévin, Patrick Roger, Pierre Hermé and Lenôtre. Another must is a visit to Ladurée to try the famous macaroons featuring in Sofia Coppola’s film, ‘Marie Antoinette’!
Shop till you drop
Passionate lover of design, elegance and style? Then you’ve probably already dreamed of walking the Champs Elysée, home of French haute-couture. Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Givenchy, Burberry, Chloé, Armani, Burberry and other illustrious fashion houses all stand shoulder to shoulder along its noble length.
If that's too much for your budget, don’t worry, there are plenty of affordable alternatives that will still make your wardrobe proud. On the right bank of the Seine (in the south of Paris) the posh neighbourhood of St. Germain-des-Prés offers an eclectic selection of haute couture and ready-to-wear designs, attracting a mixed crowd of shoppers. Many well-known high street stores are clustered together along the Rue de Rennes, among them H&M, Zara, Etam, Kookaï and Gap. On the right bank, the trendy Marais neighbourhood is full of design shops and independent boutiques. Eleven Paris, The Kooples, Sandro, Claudie Pierlot and Stella Cadente all beckon the hipsters and fashionistas of the world.
A few kilometres away, the Boulevard Haussman in the 19th arrondissement houses the shopping mecca of the capital, the Galeries Lafayette. Locals and tourists swarm its three magnificent floors at all times of the year, browsing the finest ready-to-wear fashions. Since 2009, the department store has prided itself in having the largest shoe section in the world. More than 165 brands, from the most prestigious to the most affordable, are on show over a whopping 3,200m2 area.
Also situated on the Boulevard Haussmann is Lafayette’s great rival, Printemps, which mixes luxury and ready-to-wear items in a more understated decor. On the other hand, if you like hunting down bargains, get yourself to the southern part of Pigalle in the 18th arrondissement. The Rue des Martyrs has numerous vintage boutiques where you can uncover some genuine treasures.
Getting around Paris
The public transport system is superb, making it pretty easy to get from one part of the city to another. The website of RATP allows you to work out the best route for your journey as well as consult an interactive map of the system. It also provides timetables for each line, and even better, gives real-time status updates.
Avoid the very hectic Parisian rush hour (07.00–10.00 and 16.00–19.00) if you can. Otherwise, prepare yourself to be squeezed into a sardine can!
To use public transport, you can buy the ‘Ticket T’ at €1.80 per trip (or €14.10 for a booklet of 10) from the ticket machines in each metro station.You can also purchase single tickets (but not booklets) on board buses. You’ll also need to have exact change, as the bus drivers don’t usually carry much on them. Under 10s benefit from a reduced fare. The Ticket T includes all connections for 1 hour 30 mins between the first and last validation.
Be warned: these fares are only valid for trips taken within inner Paris.
Another alternative is to buy a Visit Paris pass for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days in Zones 1–3 or 1–5. The passes are valid from midnight on the day of purchase to 23.59 on the last day selected. The price of the pass varies depending on the number of zones and days you choose. Children under 10 get a discount.
Click here for more information.
Paris at night
“Paris is a moveable feast,” said Ernest Hemingway. He didn’t lie.
Cosmopolitan, trendy, cool and diverse, Paris is brimming with life. From first light, the terraces of its numerous bars are often black with people – whether the sun is around or not. Parisians love going for a drink to relax after work, chilling out with friends and dancing until the early hours of the morning.
In the north of Paris, on the side of Montmartre and Pigalle in the 8th and 9th arrondissements, lies the infamous Moulin Rouge. You might not find Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidmann playing out their tumultuous love story on stage, but ‘spectacular, spectacular’ is still the name of the game.
The surrounding area has now lost its seedy character, with only a few remaining sex shops and hostess bars recalling its perfidious past. It is an increasingly hip spot, with ever more bars, cafés and restaurants opening up. There are numerous concert venues, such as La Cigale, Le Divan du Monde, La Boule Noire, Le Trianon or Elysée Montmartre. You’ll also find cosy bars (Marlusse et Lapin, La Fourmi), trendy spots (Le Sans Souci) and chic locales (Le Carmen). La Machine du Moulin Rouge, Chez Moune and Le Rouge, are popular clubs that close late. Very late.
In the 19th arrondissement, nearly everything takes place inside the Parc de la Villette. Zénith hosts the big names of the international musical scene, while the more intimate Trabendo and Cabaret Sauvage provide a stage for less well-known acts, many of them independent and underground.
At Glazart, bass is king, and drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, tech house and related genres all predominate. One of the best things about it is the smoker’s area, which turns into a sandy ‘beach’ in the summer. Many large events (mostly electro) are also organised at Grande Halle de la Villette. A recent addition to the 19th, Rosa Bonheur, is an extremely popular, open-air café and dance spot at the top of the Buttes Chaumont. A pastoral, idyllic escape from the city.
In the north-east of Paris, the neighbourhoods of Belleville and Ménilmontant in the 20th, Oberkampf and Bastille in the 19th and République in the 10th form the beating heart of Parisian nightlife. Think live music venues, original bars and alternative cultural centres that attract a predominantly youthful crowd. In Ménilmontant, you can enjoy a panoramic 360° view over Paris from the 400 m2 rooftop of Perchoir, while at Gossima, you can challenge your friends to ‘beer-pong’ tournaments. Nouveau Casino, Maroquinerie and Point Ephémère, all host gigs by select independent artists.
Other great spots in the eastern part of Paris: Bellevilloise, Féline, Java, Mécanique Ondulatoire, Comptoir Général, Les Disquaires, Gibus, Alimentation Générale and International.
The Bercy neighbourhood has been enjoying increased popularity over the past few years. And with good reason. Along the quays of Bercy and Austerlitz there are a number of clubs with specialist programming. Batofar is a lightship anchored in front of the French National Library, providing eclectic music to suit all tastes, whether rock, electro, techno, or drum ‘n’ bass.
At Petit Bain, a multicultural and multidisciplinary oddity, you can dance to mixed beats in an urban–nature backdrop. Concrete hosts big names from the deep house, techno, tech house and minimal techno scenes.
If you want a student vibe, then Place Monge (15th), Rue Mouffetard (5th), the Latin Quarter, the quay of Saint-Michel (6th) and Jussieu (19th) are where it's at. Low prices and good times guaranteed.
The more bling among you will want to shake your booty on the dance floors of the capital’s most select clubs, such as Le Montant in Saint-Germain-desPrés, Silencio on Grand Boulevard, Le Baron on the Champs-Elysée, or Faust and Showcase beneath the majestic Pont Alexandre III. If you manage to get in, that is…
Several guides list cultural and musical events in Paris and Ile-de-France:
• Lylo (concerts in Paris and the surrounding area)
• ParisBouge (clubbing, concerts, shows)
• L’officiel des spectacles (theatre, exhibitions, concerts, cabarets)