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A CITY GUIDE TO PARIS
Arguably the European capital for going-on a thousand years, the City of Light acquired its nickname in the eighteenth century due to its reputation as a centre of education and ideas. In fact, everything you would typically associate with France can be found in its capital: the best restaurants, architecture, boutiques, bars and stylish nightclubs. And if you’re lucky enough to be around during fashion week you’ll also catch the world’s greatest designers showcasing their work. This cosmopolitan hub of culture has much more to offer, though. Paris as a city has managed to preserve its heritage and soul, even while growing into an emblem of modernity and contemporary innovation. Streets away from cool bars and clubs, art lovers can see some of the most famous paintings known to man. Beyond fashion and fine cuisine, Paris also has more than 500 parks and gardens plus thousands of quirky alleys to explore. Of course, let’s not forget a few old favourites: inimitable historic monuments such as the famous Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. The combination is hard to match.
The French capital has seen the two world wars first hand but was fortunate to be left relatively unscathed, offering visitors historical treasures scattered across the city. Haussmann’s renovation of Paris still shows in its architecture, alongside more contemporary buildings such as the George Pompidou centre, all in perfect harmony with the regimented layout of the city. Many artists including Cézanne, Picasso and Renoir have fallen in love with Paris and spent their lives here, giving weight to the artistic and cultural appeal of the city.
- It wouldn’t be a trip to Paris without a visit to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and the Eiffel Tower, although the 1665 steps to the top are optional!
- Other attractions you should try to see are Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, the Pantheon, the Louvre and Opera Garnier. To visit all of these Paris in a short time requires a little planning, and make sure you have good shoes for walking! But even with the best itinerary, don’t be afraid to get lost – you may well stumble across some unexpected treasures.
- To pay homage to some cultural titans, visit the Père Lachaise cemetery, the final resting place of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and Edith Piaf.
From trendy designer shops on the Champs Elysees to antique shops in the Marais district, the exciting mix of shopping opportunities remains one of Paris’s biggest draws. In the streets adjacent to the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries Garden are the finest fashion shops, including Versace and Yves Saint Laurent. Not too far away is the Boulevard Haussmann, where the well-known 'grand magasins', such as Printemps and Galleries Lafayette are located. The Saint-Ouen flea market is the city's most popular. There's also a flea market at Porte de Clignancourt and a food market on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, near the Oberkampf Metro.
Although Paris is known as the luxury capital of the world, visiting the city doesn’t have to be a miserable experience if you’re on a tight budget. The turn-of-the-century Chartier restaurant, in the 9th arrondissement, serves a classic menu at very reasonable prices in a friendly atmosphere. The Wall in the Latin Quarter, named after the Pink Floyd album, is a popular student bar and very reasonable. Eat at Chez Georges, in the 6th arrondissement, for a typical and affordable Parisian dining experience. Oberkampf is probably one of the most popular and mainstream areas for night life - the long street and surrounding area is full of little bars, restaurants and clubs. Look out for L'Alimentation, a cool bar in the area, with live bands and DJ sets several nights a week. The Pigalle Quarter (nicknamed 'Pig Alley') is traditionally known for sex shops and strip clubs and has recently become very trendy.
There’s no doubt that The Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are among the city’s most popular iconic museums and monuments.
Not all of these top attractions charge entry fees. For example, the Notre Dame Cathedral is free but you do have to pay to go up the towers.
Admire the artworks at the Outdoor Museum of Sculptures at Quai Saint-Bernard.
Explore The Latin Quarter, Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur on foot, or take a boat trip on the River Seine.
Visit the 18th century Catacombs or the Père Lachaise cemetery for a walk through history.
Take a lift to the top of the Grande Arche de la Défense for some great views.
- It's free to get into most Paris museums on the first Sunday of the month.
- Walk along an 'avenue verte' nature trail, formerly a railway line, from the Porte d’Auteuil metro station to the Boulevard de Beauséjour.
- See Paris at night from the Montparnasse Tower.
- Fill up with an enormous salad at Le Relais Gascon in Montmartre.
Off the Beaten Track
Despite the city's size and the volume of visitors at any one time, there are plenty of lesser-known corners waiting to be discovered. By simply exploring the city on foot away from the more popular attractions, you can stumble across hidden gems that aren’t on most tourists’ itineraries.
Beyond the Latin Quarter are the reconstructed remains of a Roman amphitheatre. Maybe nothing like the Colosseum in Rome, but a part of the city few people get to see. If the historical side of the city interests you, once done with the Notre Dame Cathedral, head underground in the archaeological crypt for the foundations of a Roman port.
Alternatively, why not get on the metro and visit one of the outer suburbs, some of which are very cosmopolitan, whilst still managing to retain a traditional feel of Paris that has long since disappeared in the inner city. Belleville is just one of these, and here you’ll find one of the more lively Chinatowns in Europe. Here small, modest kitchens serve excellent and reasonably priced Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai dishes. A vibrant nightlife makes this an attractive area for younger visitors to Paris.
Julie Falconer is a London-based travel writer and consultant. She writes an award-winning travel and lifestyle blog, A Lady in London, for which she has travelled to 97 countries. She is also an online strategy and social media consultant, public speaker, and freelance writer and photographer. Originally from San Francisco, Julie attended Brown University and came to the UK in 2007 after leaving a career in finance, during which time she worked for Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund.