With its golden stone houses and stunning perspectives, you could almost say that Paris was laid out with the visitor in mind, just made for sitting on a café terrace and admiring the views. Equally, with many of its star attractions in close quarters and the landmark Seine river at its heart, it’s perfect for exploring by foot

Sights and attractions

Sights and attractions in Paris

Many of Paris’s most famous sights stretch along the River Seine, a good insight into how the city works, divided between Rive Droite (Right Bank) and Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and the two islands in the middle: Ile de la Cité, where the city began, home to Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Sainte Chapelle, and the Ile St-Louis. Explore legends like the Eiffel Tower, sugary white Sacré Coeur that tops Montmartre hill, Napoleon in Les Invalides or discover France’s great men in the imposing domed Panthéon. In a city that’s also about people watching, do take time to relax on the green metal chairs in the Jardins du Luxembourg or beautiful Place des Vosges in the Marais.

Art and culture

Art and culture in Paris

The three big giants: the Louvre, in the former royal palace, goes from Antiquities and the Italian Renaissance, Rubens and Rembrandt to the great Romantic paintings of the 19th century; Musée d’Orsay, a former Belle Époque train station, is now home to the Impressionists; and architectural icon, the Centre Pompidou, houses modern and contemporary art, cinema and performing arts in architectural icon the Centre Pompidou. Check out major art exhibitions at the Grand Palais or experimental contemporary art in the concrete depths of the 1930s Palais de Tokyo on Chaillot hill, near to the fascinating Musée de l’Homme. Many museums are in beautiful period mansions, from medieval treasures in the Musée National du Moyen Âge to the Rodin and Picasso museums. Among lesser-known places, Musée Bourdelle and Musée Zadkine bring the personal touch of artists’ former homes and studios, capturing the golden age of artistic Montmartre. For a night at the opera or ballet, the must-dos are the grandiose Palais Garnier and its modern sibling Opéra Bastille, or the newer Philharmonie inside the Parc de la Villette. Taste French classic theatre at the Comédie Française, an international programme at Théâtre de l’Odéon, or popular theatre along the Grands Boulevards. France is the place where film was born and cinemas abound, from multiplexes to small arts cinemas with “meet the director” sessions.

Food and drink

Food and drink in Paris

Eating out in Paris involves an incredible variety of styles and moods. Grand Michelin starred gastronomic establishments include Le Bristol, Four Seasons George V, Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée and Guy Savoy, now in the Hôtel de la Monnaie. Since the 1990s, the real change has been the rise of “bistronomie”, where haute-cuisine-trained chefs have opened their own more casual places and modernised bistro cooking at affordable prices. Many are located in the 11th arrondissement or the rising SoPi (South Pigalle district). Paris is also currently seeing the comeback of the brasserie, associated with steaks, shellfish and long hours, with recent launches by top chefs including Eric Frechon’s Lazare at Gare St-Lazare and Alain Ducasse’s Champeaux, under the canopy of the revamped Forum des Halles. The classic Paris café transforms over the day, hosting breakfasts over papers and croissants, moving on to lunch, aperitif hour and finally to a late night drinking spot – whether it’s a historic literary legend like St-Germain neighbours Le Flore and Les Deux Magots or the younger haunts of the Latin Quarter. Lively night-time areas include Rue Oberkampf, Canal St-Martin and Faubourg St-Denis, while there’s a thriving cocktail scene in the Marais and St-Germain.

Shopping

Shopping in Paris

Paris maintains its place as fashion capital with the couture houses (Dior, Chanel, Armani et al) on avenue Montaigne (part of the “golden triangle” formed with the Champs-Elysées and Avenue George V), and the international designer labels of Faubourg St-Honoré and Rue St-Honoré, where original concept store Colette remains the place to catch up on the latest trends, from designer clothes and one-off trainers to high-tech gadgets. For more original and accessible clothes and accessories, try streets like Rue Vieille-du-Temple in the Marais, where fashion boutiques mingle with contemporary art galleries, or St-Germain-des-Prés, where fashion cohabits with modern designer furniture, galleries and tribal art. For one-stop shopping, evermore upmarket department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are destinations in their own right, while veteran Left Bank department store Le Bon Marché (meaning the good bargain) is appreciated as much for its Grande Epicerie food hall as its clothes and homewares.

Unique to Paris

Unique to Paris in Paris

With 80-odd food markets, going to the market is still an essential part of the Parisian lifestyle, tapping into the French passion for food, especially at weekends. Most are held two or three mornings a week. Markets like Place Monge, Bastille, Avenue de Suffren and Avenue du Président-Wilson feature fresh fish, high-end butchers, fabulous cheese stalls and a surprising number of market gardeners from Ile de France and nearby Picardy. Barbès and Aligre are more famed for bargains and banter.

In an hour…

In an hour in Paris

For a place so fiercely attached to its 1789 Revolution, France remains intriguingly proud of its royal past. It takes about 40 minutes by RER line A to Versailles Rive Gauche, a five-minute walk to the Château de Versailles, where the magnificent Hall of Mirrors and royal bedrooms still epitomise the glory of the Sun King Louis XIV. Outside, stroll around the formal gardens, where the elaborate fountains are turned on to music on Sunday afternoons in summer, and the huge park with lake, fields of sheep, the Grand and Petit Trianon sub-palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s fake rustic village Le Hameau.

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