Paris is known as the “City of Lights” and widely dubbed the most beautiful and romantic city in the world. Not surprisingly, it is also the world’s most popular tourist destination. The city is an utter embarrassment of potpourri riches, filled with something for everyone – historic, cultural, bohemian-artsy, pretentious, bourgeois, thrifty, and fashionable. Every corner of the city lies a resonance-in-waiting and every neighborhood has its own personality ripe for discovery.
Foremost, however, Paris is at the heart of Europe – France’s economic, cultural, political, and artistic hub – and a city decorated with chic cafés, gourmet restaurants, trendy shops, and household-recognized landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Notre-Dame. Who can forget a romantic dinner atop the Eiffel Tower, an evening boat ride down the Seine River, a climb up to the top of the Cathedral of Notre Dame to visit the bell tower worked by Victor Hugo’s fictional hunchback, a shopping splurge through the prestigious Avenue des Champs Elysées, or a stroll around the tiny lanes and alleyways of the Latin Quarter? Truly, to experience Paris is to experience French culture, art, fashion, design, and food in all its glory and splendor!
Paris is a cosmopolitan haven of immigrants, students, artists, teachers, businessmen, and refugees of various ethnicities and national origins. The expatriate community is active; cinema, theater, arts and news publications abound in hundreds of different languages including English.
Parisians are notorious for their brusqueness, which comes across as rude. Whether it is the taxi drivers, restaurant waiters, or shopkeepers, their oft-crabby impertinence can be a major turn-off for visitors, but a little patience, sincerity, and hopefully a little French can do wonders to disarm them.
Surprisingly, Paris isn’t that big, but rather is tucked inside a 20-mile perimeter and divided into 20 arrondissements or districts. Paris is broken up into two sections by the Seine River, which cuts right through the heart of the city. The Right Bank (Rive Droite) section of the city lies north of the river whereas the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) section lies south of the river. There are two islands on the Seine River, Ile de la Cité and Ile St Louis, that are both situated at the midpoint of the Seine River’s passage through the city. Paris is also sandwiched by two forests: Bois de Boulogne in the west and Bois de Vincennes in the east.
The 20 arrondissements of Paris are arranged in a clockwise spiral with the 1st arrondissement in the middle of Paris. The lower-numbered arrondissements, one through four, are clustered in the inner central heart of the city. The mid-numbered arrondissements, five through eleven, encircle the 1st through 4th arrondissements. Finally, the higher-numbered arrondissements, twelve through twenty, form the outer perimeter of the city, wrapping around the 5th through 11th arrondissements.
Neighborhoods and Quarters
While the city is formally arranged by arrondissements, Parisians are more apt to refer to various sections of town by their neighborhood or district name. Some of the quarters of Paris include:
· Ile de la Cité (1st and 4th Arrondissements)
· Ile St Louis (4th Arrondissement)
· Quartier Latin (5th Arrondissement)
· Faubourg St Honoré (1st and 2nd Arrondissements)
· St Germain des Près (6th and 7th Arrondissements)
· Orsay (7th Arrondissement)
· Grands Boulevards (9th, 10th, 11th, and 20th Arrondissements)
· Marais (3rd, 4th, and 12th Arrondissements)
· Montmartre (18th Arrondissement)
· Belleville (10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th Arrondissements)
· Montparnasse (14th and 15th Arrondissements)
· Quartier Chinois (13th Arrondissement)
· La Défense (outside of the Arrondissements)
Eiffel Tower (7th Arrondissement)
There are several landmark attractions in Paris that are a must-see. The Eiffel Tower is chief among all of them. This 10,100 ton tower with its three levels dominates the Paris skyline and can be seen anywhere around town. Built in 1889 for the World’s Fair and to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower was initially considered an eyesore by Parisians, but not only have the people gradually warmed to it, but this marvel has become the iconic symbol of Paris. The city’s reputation as one of the most romantic in the world is due in part, if not largely, to this landmark, which illuminates at night with its 6,000 watts of light surrounded below by fountains and closer yet by boat tours streaming up and down along the glistening waters of the Seine River. Today, you can dine at the Jules Verne Restaurant on the second level, one of the best restaurants in Paris that is acclaimed not only for its views but for its food as well.
Cathedral of Notre Dame (4th Arrondissement on Ile de la Cité)
The Cathedral of Notre Dame at Place du Parvis is another enduring symbol of Paris, situated royally on Ile de la Cité. Construction for the church began in 1163 and the structure was completed by 1345. It was built on the site of a Roman temple and has witnessed several great events of French history including the crowning of Napoleon Bonaparte and the death and funeral of Charles de Gaulle. Although the Notre Dame was badly damaged during the French Revolution, it was restored in the 19th century. This cathedral is the largest and oldest of France’s churches and features magnificent sculptures surrounding the main doors and a façade that divides into three levels.
At the first level, you’ll find the Portal of the Virgin, Portal of the Last Judgment, and Portal of St. Anne, which are all surmounted by magnificent 19th century carvings of biblical scenes and restored statues of the kings of Israel.
The second level features the South Rose Window with its depiction of Christ, the West Rose Window with its depiction of the Virgin Mary, and flying buttresses at the back end that have a span of 50 feet.
The third level features the spire that soars to a height of 300 feet and the famous twin towers of the cathedral: the north and south towers. The south tower is where the famous bells tolled by Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo sit. If you climb the 387 steps up to the top of the tower, you’ll get a close-up view of the famous gargoyles perched around the high ledges as well as a panorama of the city. The interior of the church is just as spectacular with its soaring nave, vast proportions, and stained-glass windows, which welcome in multicolored light.
Louvre (1st Arrondissement along Axe Historique)
The Louvre is the world’s largest and greatest art museum. The Louvre begun as a 13th century fortress, but its construction was remodeled and renovated several times over the years by the likes of Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis IV, Napoléon I, and Napoléon III. The recent renovation in 1989 has yielded I.M. Pei’s metal and glass pyramid that we all recognize and love. The pyramid enables the surrounding buildings to be seen by visitors while also allowing light to shine through into the underground reception area.
The number one attraction of the Louvre’s rich collection is undoubtedly Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Painted somewhere in the early 1500s, the mystery behind her smug smiles continues to confound. The woman in the portrait is the wife of 15th century Florentine millionaire, Francesco del Giocondo. It is believed that Leonardo’s masterpiece was painted for the husband as a memorial to his wife’s death. Many have tried to deduce the motive behind her smile. Because the family name of Giocondo is derived from the latin word for “humor”, some believe the smile could well be Leonardo’s witty play on his patron’s name.
The Louvre, however, also has among its collection Leonardo’s Virgin and St. Anne, Raphael’s La Belle Jardinière, Veronese’s Marriage at Cana, Giorgione’s Concert Champêtre, Whistler’s Mother, Delacroix’s Liberty Guiding the People, Jan van Eyck’s Madonna and Chancellor Rolin, and Jan Vermeer’s The Lacemaker. Besides paintings, the museum features legendary collections of antiquities, including those of Asian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman origin. Numerous sculptures, paintings, artifacts, objects of art, furniture, and manuscripts from ancient times are on display. Moreover, priceless objects like the stunning 186-carat Regent diamond, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Michelangelo’s sculpture of the two Slaves, and the famous ancient Greek statue of Venus de Milo and her two lost arms.
The riches of the Louvre are truly mind-boggling, but getting in can require patience as the lineups are long. The museum is also closed on Tuesdays.
Arc de Triomphe (8th Arrondissement along Axe Historique)
The Arc de Triomphe is another famous landmark of Paris, set on Place Charles-de-Gaulle. This 164-foot arch of a monument was commissioned by Napoléon as a tribute to his victories as France’s emperor but was not completed until 1836, twenty years after his rule. The Arc is decorated with flamboyant sculptures, shields, and reliefs depicting military scenes from Napoleonic battles. To commemorate the soldiers who died in WWI, the body of an unknown soldier was buried beneath the arch on Armistice Day in 1921. The flame is rekindled every night as a way of eternally remembering the soldiers who sacrificed themselves. The Arc de Triomphe today not only serves as the focal point of celebrations and parades, but also houses a small museum dedicated to the arch and provides a nice view of the Champs Élysées.
Champs Elysées (8th Arrondissement along Axe Historique)
Champs Elysées is Paris’ most prestigious shopping boulevard, originally laid out in the 1660s and today lined with trees, refurbished Art Nouveau newsstands, and boutique storefronts. Tourists can stroll down this avenue, splurge on expensive brand name cosmetics and clothes, pig out on some pastries at the patisseries, or enjoy good food and company at a few of the district’s selective chic restaurants. The Champs Elysées happens to be the last leg of the Tour de France bicycle race as well as the site of various national ceremonies like Armistice Day or Bastille Day.
Centre George Pompidou (4th Arrondissement in Marais)
Centre George Pompidou is the famous cultural center of Paris with its vast exhibition area. It is home to the National Museum of Modern Art (“Musée National d’Art Moderne”) which features the works of Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, and Miró.
Opéra Garnier (9th Arrondissement in Grands Boulevards)
Opéra Garnier or Palais Garnier is the world’s most opulent theater and definitely a sight to see. The opera house was commissioned for construction in 1862 by Napoléon III and took 13 years to complete. Its architecture consists of a hodgepodge of styles. The grandeur of the auditorium and the Grand Foyer is simply spectacular with its chandeliers, marble columns, and famous ballet paintings of Degas. The Opéra Garnier is also the backdrop setting of Gaston Leroux’ famous novel, Phantom of the Opera.
Les Invalides (7th Arrondissement in Quai d’Orsay)
Les Invalides (or Hôtel des Invalides) is an impressive ensemble of Baroque buildings, considered one of the best architectural sights in Paris. It is most famous, however, for being the final resting place of Napoléon. The construction of Les Invalides was commissioned by Louis XIV to house wounded soldiers. Les Invalides’ buildings today are occupied by several museums and churches, including the Musée de l’Armée, Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération, Musée des Plans-Reliefs and the churches of St. Louis-des-Invalides and the Dôme church; the latter is considered a monument to Bourbon glory and is one of the best examples of grand siècle architecture in the world.  This crypt houses the tomb of Napoleon.
Place de la Concorde (8th Arrondissement along Axe Historique)
Place de la Concorde is one of the most historic and impressive squares in Europe. It was transformed from a swamp in the mid-1700s into a square in 1763 to serve as a suitable setting for an equestrian statue of King Louis XV. The statue did not last long and was quickly replaced by the guillotine and served as the square where many of the French monarchs were beheaded, including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, Charlotte Courday, and revolutionary leaders like Danton and Robespierre. A few decades after the French Revolution, a 3,200 year old Luxor obelisk that stands 107 feet was presented as a gift to King Louis-Philippe from the viceroy of Egypt and now dominates the Place de la Concorde. On the north side of the square are two of Gabriel’s Neoclassical mansions, the Hôtel de la Marine and the exclusive Hôtel Crillon – one of Paris’s oldest luxury hotels.
Sainte-Chapelle (1st Arrondissement on Ile de la Cité)
Sainte-Chapelle is definitely a must-see, though not as recognized as Paris’ other attractions. It is an architectural masterpiece. In the medieval days, locals touted it as a gateway to heaven. Built in 1248, the church houses many sacred relics, including the alleged Crown of Thorns worn by Christ. This relic was purchased by King Louis IX from the Byzantine emperor at a considerable cost. 
The Gothic Sainte-Chapelle has a lower and upper chapel. The lower chapel was the worship place of servants and minor officials while the upper chapel was exclusive to the royal family and courtiers. The exquisite upper chapel is reached by taking a narrow spiral staircase. It has numerous stained glass windows and boasts columns as thin as a pencil that rises 50 feet high, reaching the star-studded roof. Inside, more than 1,100 scenes from the bible are depicted.
The Seine is one of the beauties of Paris and plays a central role in the life of the city. Parisians and visitors alike enjoy quiet walks along its quays and embankments. There are also bouqinistes’ stalls lined along the Left Bank quays where old books and prints are hawked.
A trip on the river in a bateau mouche (sight-seeing boat) is a great way to view Paris in slow motion. The tour boats usually run an hour-long and stream under the city’s many bridges and past many of the great landmarks sitting on either side of the banks. There is no more romantic a scenario as a float at night down the calm waters of the Seine amid the glowing lights of the Eiffel Tower.
Musée Picasso (3rd Arrondissement in Marais)
This museum is dedicated to the famous Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, whose many works were inherited by the French state. The collection totals over 200 paintings, 160 sculptures, 3000 sketches, and 80 ceramic works – all housed in a 17th century mansion that was built for a tax collector. Picasso’s artistic genius is on full display, including his Cubist collages, somber Blues, and his Neoclassical works. The museum’s highlights include The Two Brothers and the Kiss. There is also a sculpture garden that displays some of Picasso’s private collections, including paintings by Matisse, Renoir, Rousseau, Cézanne, Miró, and Braque.
Musée d’Orsay (7th Arrondissement in St. Germain des Prés)
The Musée d’Orsay was originally built as a rail terminus in the heart of Paris in the early 1900s. It was scheduled for demolition until plans were drawn up to turn it into a museum. It opened in 1986 with its original architecture preserved. The bulk of the exhibit features paintings and sculptures from the 19th century, but there are also displays of furniture, cinema, and the decorative arts. The museum is known as having the world’s greatest collection of Impressionist and Postimpressionist paintings. You’ll find works such as Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette and Matisse’s Luxe and Calme et Volupté as well as various masterpieces from Sisley, Pissaro, Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, Manet, and Degas.
Musée Rodin (7th Arrondissement in Quai d’Orsay)
The Musée Rodin is a museum dedicated to France’s greatest sculptor, Auguste Rodin, who lived and worked at the Hôtel Biron, an elegant 18th century mansion that now serves as his museum. Some of Rodin’s most celebrated sculptures are on display in the attractive garden such as The Gates of Hell, Balzac, and The Burghers of Calais. The garden has a stunning variety of some 2,000 rose bushes. The indoor exhibits are chronologically arranged and include his major works such as The Kiss and Eve.
Musée de l’Orangerie (1st Arrondissement along Axe Historique)
The Musée de l’Orangerie’s claim to fame is its collection of the most beautiful of Claude Monet’s paintings, including the mural-sized Water Lilies. This famous piece accompanies the impressive works of the Walter-Guillaume collection of late Impressionist-era artists. You’ll find masterpieces and various paintings by Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Sisley, Derain, and Utrillo. The art works are all viewed with the aid of natural light coming from the museum’s windows.
Musée Delacroix (6th Arrondissement in St. Germain des Prés)
The Musée Delacroix is situated on Place Furstenberg, which is one of the most posh and romantic squares in Paris. This museum once served as the studio of France’s greatest Romantic painter, Eugène Delacroix, and contains a sample collection of his drawings and sketches.
Musée National du Moyen-Age (5th Arrondissement in Latin Quarter)
The Musée National du Moyen-Age, or National Museum of the Middle Ages is one of the greatest museum of medieval art in the world. Housed in the 15th century Hôtel de Cluny, it has a stunning collection of tapestries, medieval decorative arts, works of gold and ivory, antique furniture, illuminated manuscripts, and Gothic sculptures from the 7th and 8th centuries.
Musée Carnavalet (4th Arrondissement in Marais)
The Musée Carnavalet is a fascinating museum dedicated to Parisian artifacts. It features everything from prehistoric canoes used by Parisii Celtic tribes, to guillotines and objects associated with the French Revolution and the beheading of the Monarchs, to the furniture, jewelry, and bedroom sets of the baroque period.
Hôtel Carnavalet is the museum’s building, one that once hosted the most brilliant 17th century salon in Paris. Owned by Madame de Sévigné, the building is an enduring example of French high society in the 17th century.
Maison de Baccarat (16th Arrondissement near Place du Trocadéro)
The Maison de Baccarat recently opened in 2003 and exhibits many of the Baccarat crystal firm’s masterpieces. Among the crystal urns, chandeliers, and other jewels, you’ll find exquisite crystal pieces that were made for Louis XV as well as soaring candlesticks commissioned for Czar Nicholas II.
Musée Nissim de Camondo (8th Arrondissement in Grands Boulevards)
The Musée Nissim de Camondo is set in a grand hôtel built by the Comte Moïse de Camondo in 1911. The building is in the style of the Petit Trianon and furnished it with some of the world’s most exquisite furniture. The museum today features furniture such as boiseries (carved wood panels), bibelots of the 18th century, and the Count’s family treasures. The highlights include floors furnished with Savonnerie carpets woven in the 17th century, Beauvais tapestries, Orloff silver dinner service commissioned by Catherine II of Russia from silversmith Jacques-Nicolas Roettiers in 1770, and 18th century porcelain made at Sèvres. Among other treasures, you’ll find Chinese vases, crystal chandeliers, and bas-reliefs.
Unfortunately, Count Moïse’s family met a tragic fate during WWII. While the Count died in 1935, his descendants were captured by the Nazis and slaughtered in the concentration camps at Auschwitz.
Musée Jacquemart-André (8th Arrondissement in Grands Boulevards)
The Musée Jacquemart-André is one of the grandest private residences of 19th century Paris. It was built in the early 1870s and was used as Gaston Lachaille’s mansion in the 1958 Hollywood musical Gigi. The museum features works by Rembrandt, Canaletto, Alfred Boucher, Frans Hals, Giovanni Battista, Lorenzo Bernini, Andrea Mantegna, and Sandro Botticelli.
Sacré-Couer (18th Arrondissement in Montmartre)
The Sacred Heart Basilica sits atop Montmartre and was erected by France as a guilt offering for the blood shed during the Prussian War in the 1870s. The church consists of Romanesque and Byzantine elements and features a cavernous interior adorned with golden mosaics and a dome that can be climbed for a panoramic view of Paris.
St Séverin (5th Arrondissement in Latin Quarter)
The St Séverin Church is located in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Construction of this church began in the 13th century and took another three hundred years to complete. It is a fine example of the Flamboyant Gothic style and features a deviant column that spirals amid a host of pillars behind the altar.
Panthéon (5th Arrondissement in Latin Quarter)
The Panthéon is the final resting place of a host of France’s greatest citizens, including Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Rousseau, Voltaire,  Alexandre Dumas, and Pierre and Marie Curie. This magnificent church was built in the late 1700s to honor the patron saint of Paris, Sainte Geneviève. The pantheon was converted to store the tombs of the illustrious during the French Revolution.
Palaces and Mansions
Grand Palais (8th Arrondissement along Axe Historique)
The Grand Palais or Grand Palace is a curved glass roof palace that mixes Art Nouveau ironwork with a striking Neoclassical façade. The palace’s jewel is its glass roof, which is decorated with bronze statues of chariots and flying horses – one in each corner of the roof. Along with the Petis Palais facing across from the Grand Palais, the duo form a magnificent 20th century Beaux-Arts showpiece. While the Petit Palais exhibits a permanent collection of French painting and furniture, the Grand Palais hosts major temporary exhibitions.
Palais-Royal (1st Arrondissement in Faubourg St. Honoré)
The Palais-Royal or Royal Palace is another adored sight of Paris. This former palace served as the home of Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XIII. While the buildings of the royal palace are not open to the public, the courtyard, classical gardens, arcades and elegant shops are. The Royal Palace was also the site of Camille Desmoulins first speech calling for the French Revolution in 1789 and played an important scene in the Audrey Hepburn movie, Charade.
Bibliothèque Nationale Richelieu (1st Arrondissement in Faubourg St. Honoré)
The Bibliothèque Nationale Richelieu occupies a grand 17th century Parisian mansion. It is now used as France’s national library and is named after Cardinal Richelieu. On display are various original manuscripts, coins, prints, and engravings. The sight also features an 18th century courtyard and a reading room that was added in 19th century reading room.
Hôtel de Lauzun (4th Arrondissement on Ile St. Louis)
Hôtel de Lauzun is a 17th century baroque mansion on Ile St. Louis that used to host a hyper-opulent salon. In the 19th century, it became the visionary poet Charles Baudelaire’s apartment. Théophile Gautier moved into the residence in 1848 and founded a Hashish Eaters’ Club, of which the painter Eugène Delacroix and the novelist Alexandre Dumas were members.
Palais de Chaillot (16th Arrondissement by the Eiffel Tower)
The Palais de Chaillot is the art-deco palace that dominates the Place du Trocadéro, which itself is the pavilion square fronting the Eiffel Tower. Facing the Seine River, the palace and its curved colonnaded wings are perched atop tumbling gardens with sculptures, bas-reliefs, and fountains. There are three museums inside the palace: the Musée de l’Homme, which has a collection of prehistoric artifacts, the Musée de la Marine, which has a collection of model ships and marine-related items, and the Musée des Monuments Français, which has a rich collection of medieval architectural elements.
Place des Vosges (4th Arrondissement in Marais)
The Place des Vosges is Paris’ oldest monumental square. It is symmetrical-proportioned with a central fountain surrounded by 36 Renaissance homes with each side having nine. The square was commissioned by Henri IV in 1605 and used to be a place where aristocrats lived. The square has witnessed many historical French events including the marriage of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria in 1615. Today, it is considered among the most beautiful squares in the world. The houses are built of brick and stone and have survived for almost 400 years. While famous residents like Victor Hugo, Madame de Sévigné, and Cardinal Richelieu once lived in the homes, today they are no longer dwelling places but host antique shops and cafés.
Place de la Bastille (12th Arrondissement in Marais)
Place de la Bastille is the square and setting of the revolutionary mob on July 14, 1789 that sparked the French Revolution. Today, the infamous Bastille prison is no more. It was destroyed at the beginning of the revolution. All that is left is the bronze Colonne de Juillet or July Column that sits almost obstructively in the middle of the square, clogging traffic. On the south side, you’ll find the 2,700 seat Opéra Bastille, which was completed in 1989 to commemorate the bicentennial of the revolution.
Place du Trocadero (16th Arrondissement by the Eiffel Tower)
The Place du Trocadero is a vast pavilion square that was built for the 1937 Paris Exhibition. Its architects, Jacques Carlu, Azéma, and Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, molded it in the Neoclassical style. At the foot of the square is the Palais de Chaillot and it faces the Eiffel Tower further out. Trocadéro’s pavilion walls are inscribed in gold with words from the poet Paul Valéry. Between the two pavilions, there is a square that’s decorated ornately with shooting fountains, ornamental pools, bronze sculptures, and bas-reliefs. One of the ornamental pools is a long rectangular one that stands as the centerpiece of the Trocadéro and is bordered by bronze and stone statues. The Trocadéro gardens are designed perfectly with walkways, streams, trees, and bridges, which make for a perfect romantic evening stroll amid the towering Eiffel.
Parks and Gardens
Jardin des Tuileries (1st Arrondissement along Axe Historique)
The Jardin des Tuileries or the Tuileries Gardens is a beautiful long park that is a charming place to stroll and admire the city views. In 1871 during the Paris Commune, the Tuileries Palace was razed to the ground, leaving only the gardens. The gardens feature Neoclassical statues and urns as well as two royal tennis courts that were laid out in 1851 and referred to as the Jeu de Paume (“game of the palm”).
Jardin du Luxembourg (6th Arrondissement in St. Germain des Prés)
The Jardin du Luxembourg or Luxembourg Gardens offer a peaceful haven at the center of Paris. This historic and graceful refuge has been opened to the public since the 19th century. The gardens cover 60 acres of area surrounding the centerpiece, the Luxembourg Palace. Originally, the palace was built for the widow of Henri IV, Marie de Médicis. Today, it is the homeof the French Senate. An octagonal lake dominates the gardens. There are also formal terraces surrounding the lake that provide sunbathers a place to lie on hot summer days.
Bois de Boulogne (16th Arrondissement near Axe Historique)
Bois de Boulogne is a 2000-acre plus park located at the western edge of Paris. It offers a vast greenery for people to stroll, cycle, ride, boat, picnic, and cheer on a horse race. During the mid-1800s, the park was landscaped and redesigned by Napoleon III who wanted to transform it into Paris’ answer to London’s Hyde Park in London. There are several self-contained parks in Bois de Boulogne including the Bagatelle gardens which has an 18th century villa that is famous for its rose garden. The villa was allegedly built as a result of a bet between Marie-Antoinette and the Comte d’Artois and took only 64 days to complete.
Nightlife and Entertainment
The city offers great opera at its two main venues: Opéra Garnier and Opéra de la Bastille. So popular are these performances among locals and tourists that tickets are often difficult to buy without doing so in advance. Planning ahead at least two weeks beforehand is recommended. Most of the grandest opera productions today are performed at the Opéra de la Bastille, which has taken over the position as Paris’ main opera house from Opéra Garnier. The latter’s tiara-shaped theatre results in seats with limited sight lines. However, the spectacular interior design and adornment of the Opéra Garnier compensates.
The Grand Boulevards in Paris is lined with a number of theaters. Paris’ theatre productions, however, are not as reputed as its operas. Most of the performances are in French but you can find drama and dance productions at the Théatre National de Chaillot that are English-based.
Paris has a thriving dance scene at the Centre National de la Danse, which opened recently in 2004. The center teaches dance but also performs regular programs for the public. Many ballet performances from the world-class Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris can be enjoyed at the Opéra Garnier. Major modern dance troupes also perform more contemporary shows regularly at the Opéra de la Bastille and the Théatre de la Bastille.
Bars & Clubs
The hottest nightlife areas in town where you’ll find most of the bars and clubs are the Belleville and Oberkampft districts, the Bastille neighborhood in Marais, and the Canal St. Martin, which is an old working-class neighborhood just east of Gare de l’Est. The Champs-Élysées is also a happening place, but attracting mainly well-to-do foreigners to its stylish lounge bars.
The venues in Paris are extremely diverse. You’ll find laid-back theme bars, yuppy-bohemian lounges, en vogue options, ritzy jazz bars, nouveau-riche chic settings, and other cellars featuring everything from trance, techno, and hardcore to hip-hop and jungle music.
Floor Shows & Cabaret
Paris is famous for its cabaret shows, which involve Vegas-style dancers performing risqué routines called “teasing”. Barely clothed, they wear top hats, fishnets, and dark pink lipstick. The Moulin Rouge in Montmartre is a world-famous cabaret that is still around, offering an opportunity for visitors to mingle with the Doriss Girls and to check out Paris’ signature cancan.
The Caveau de la Huchette in the Latin Quarter is a classic swing and jazz venue in Paris that dates back to the 1940s. Le Petit Journal, also in the Latin Quarter, is another notable jazz club that has attracted some of the greatest names in jazz in the past to perform there.
Paris is a true paradise for shopaholics because you’ll find anything and everything – from luxury brand items to makeshift goods sold at flea markets.
For high-end shopping and designer extravagance, the best places to hit up are Avenue Montaigne, Champs Élysées, Place Furstenberg, and Faubourg St. Honoré. The Avenue Montaigne and its neighboring streets Avenue George-V and Rue François 1er offer a line of designer boutiques like Dior, Chanel, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Givenchy, and Fendi. Everybody, of course, knows about the Champs Élysées and its famous shopping arcades – Le Rond-Point, Le Claridge, Galerie du Lido, and Élysées 26. These malls are home to some big luxury stores like Louis Vuitton and Sephora. The Left Bank in the area around Place Furstenberg also offers high-end fashion houses like Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani, and Louis Vuitton. And the Faubourg St. Honoré is yet another chic shopping area that has both renowned antique galleries and designer boutiques like Gucci, Hermès, Lanvin, Christian Lacroix, and Chloé.
For jewelry, the Place Vendôme and Rue de la Paix area are home to the world’s most elegant jewelers: Bulgari, Boucheron, Cartier, and the exclusive and discreet Jar’s. At the 18th century arcade of the Palais-Royal in the Louvre area, you’ll also find elegant shops selling jewelry as well as antiques, cosmetics, and dresses.
For department stores where you can find a variety of different products, the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette at Boulevard Haussmann and Le Bon Marché at St. Germain des Prés are the city’s main choices.
Flea markets and open-air food markets are found in just about every neighborhood once a week. Many of the markets typically set up their stalls and stands on Sundays. The Latin Quarter’s Boulevard Raspail, St. Germain des Prés’s Rue de Buci and Montmartre’s Rue Lepic host some of the better-known authentic Parisian markets. Notable is the Marché aux Puces at the Porte de Clignancourt; this is a century-old labyrinth of alleyways that are lined with booths and stalls selling clothes, handbags, textiles, antiques, and other souvenir-like objects.
Paris’ subway is by far the most efficient and cheapest way of getting around town. The trains operate from 5:30AM until 1:00AM. The system consists of 15 metro lines and each line is referred to by the name of the last station on that line. The metro is generally safe except for the occasional mugging, pickpocketing, and petty crime. It is recommended that you don’t carry around your passport or other significant valuables.
For short distances, the buses are perhaps the fastest mode of transportation. The bus system is user-friendly. Buses are marked with the route number and destination in the vehicle’s front and with major stopping places on the sides.
At night, the buses are less frequent and the metro shuts down. So, taxis while expensive become the best way to get around.
When to Visit
Perhaps the best time to visit Paris is in mid-July for Bastille Day, when Parisians celebrate the beginnings of the French Revolution with fireworks and parades. The annual outdoor cinema and the Paris Plage, when an artificial beach is set up on the banks of the Seine, also take place in July.
Paris was first settled by a tribe of Gaulish fishermen around 250 BC. The Romans conquered the area and brought about the strange mixture of Latin and northern culture that is now responsible for France’s uniqueness. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, a number of kings, emperors, ambassadors, philosophers, adventurers, and rebels arrived and made the city a dominant religious and cultural center of Northern Europe.
In the mid-19th century, Paris experienced a “Belle Époque” rejuvenation in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. The railway brought a wave of migrants attracted by employment in the industrial suburbs. A massive renovation was implemented under Napoléon III, and many of Paris’ slums during this period were replaced with elegant boulevards and avenues. The highlight of the century came in 1889 when the Eiffel Tower, at the time the world’s tallest building, was built and the city hosted the World’s Fair and its exhibition of technology and trade.
During WWII, Paris fell to German occupation but emerged relatively unscathed. Many of the monuments and buildings were spared destruction because of a German General’s refusal to carry out orders to destroy the city before retreating.
After the war, the city experienced a transition from industrial manufacturing to more value-added services and technology industries. The shift has led to increasing rates of unemployment and a widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots. Today, social unrest and rioting continues to re-surface every now and again, especially in the suburban ghettos.
“Champs-Élysées.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Champs_Elysee>
DK Publishing. Europe (Eyewitness Travel Guides), Revised Edition. New York: DK Travel, 2004. ISBN: 0789497301.
Fisher, Robert I. C., and Fodor’s. Fodor’s France. New York: Fodor’s Travel Publications, 2007. ISBN: 1400016878.
“Les Bouquinistes (book stalls along the Seine), Paris.” < http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/France/Ile_de_France/Paris-99080/Local_Customs-Paris-Les_Bouquinistes_book_stalls_along_the_Seine-BR-1.html>
“Musée de Cluny.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus%C3%A9e_de_Cluny>
“Palais de Chaillot.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palais_de_Chaillot>
“Paris.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris>
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