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It is impossible not to fall in love with Paris. The city is a unique blend of iconic architecture, stylish fashion, hedonistic cuisine and illustrious art, all beautifully laid out on the banks of the river Seine.
Paris has nurtured the artistic talents of Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso. Victor Hugo's inspired the renovation of the famous Gothic cathedral after which the tale was named. The concert halls have hosted the premiere of Bizet's opera, and the impressionist melodies of Claude Debussy. Cabaret found its home in the bohemian neighbourhood of Montmartre, where the notorious Moulin Rouge saw the invention of the Cancan dance.
Paris owes much of its beauty and elegance to the vision of Baron Haussmann, who renovated and modernised the city in the late 19th century. The city has contrived to remain untouched by conflict or catastrophe over the years, so all of its history is preserved in the new layout. Wide boulevards lead to squares lined with facades built from the distinctive pale cream 'Paris stone'. Haussman even designed new parks for the city. The Bois de Bologne was inspired by Hyde Park in London.
Paris is a city for all seasons. Summer sees visitors and locals alike relaxing on the banks of the Seine and sipping coffee on sidewalk cafes. On autumn afternoons the brisk walk from the Eiffel Tower through the Parc du Champ de Mars and up the glittering Champs Elysees is carpeted with colourful fallen leaves. Visitors in winter can take to the ice rink outside the Hotel de Ville, while spring sees the city gardens burst into colour and the street performers emerge to practice their trade.
Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) could never have guessed that it would become Paris' signature sightseeing attraction and attract more than six million visitors a year. It was built as a temporary structure to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution and was opened by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England. The Eiffel Tower was considered an eyesore by many and there were petitions to have it pulled down. It was saved only because it had become an important antenna for telegraphy. It towers 984 feet (300m) above the Champ de Mars and until 1930 was the world's tallest building. The highest of its three levels offers a wonderful panoramic view over Paris.
The Eiffel Tower itself has several restaurants, including the popular Le Jules Verne, with panoramic views of the city, and a champagne bar at the very top. There are also several souvenir shops and a carousel at the base. This is a great way to keep children entertained if you plan to go to the top of the Tower, as the queues can be several hours long. A slightly different (and cheaper) way to enjoy the Eiffel Tower is with a picnic on the lawns with the famous structure providing a picturesque backdrop.
Notre-Dame looms large over the Place de Paris, on the Isle de la Cité, and as the most enduring symbol of Paris is an alluring tourist attraction. Built between 1163 and 1345 the cathedral is considered one of the world's Gothic masterpieces. The massive interior can seat 6,000 people and it is dominated by three spectacular and enormous rose windows and a vast 7,800-pipe organ. The 387-step climb to the top of the towers is worth the effort for the panoramic view of the city and the close-up views of the famous gargoyles. The tower also holds the great bell that was rung by Quasimodo, the fictional hunchback in the novel by Victor Hugo.
Opposite the north door is a museum that displays the cathedral's history, while under the square in front of the cathedral is the crypt that houses Notre-Dame's archaeological museum. The church has no real gift shop, but votive candles are available at points in the cathedral in return for a donation.
For a special experience, visit Notre-Dame on a Sunday morning when many of Paris's museums are closed and services are being held, but be respectful of worshippers, especially when taking photos. Another really special time to visit Notre Dame is on summer evenings for the Night Show, an operatic performance projected on a 100-metre tulle screen hanging in the nave. The performances are held nightly in July and August.
One of the world's great art museums, this vast edifice houses an extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures and antiquities from all over the world. The permanent collections are divided into Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Asian antiquities, painting, drawings, sculptures and objects d'art.
The Louvre was opened to the public in 1793, soon after the Revolution, to display the spectacular treasures looted from the royal palaces. The best-known attractions in the Louvre are Leonardo da Vinci's enigmatic Mona Lisa, which is protected by bullet-proof glass within its own room; and the ancient Venus de Milo. While the Venus de Milo is one of the highlights of a visit to the Louvre, the Mona Lisa can be a disappointment because people usually imagine it is much bigger than it is - and it is usually surrounded by a crowd. With more than 35,000 works on display, don't even attempt to see it all in one day. The building itself is a work of art and the ceilings, floors and staircases will enthral visitors.
Built in the 1970s and named after former French president Georges Pompidou, the futuristic Pompidou Centre is now considered part of the Parisian landscape. The outrageous design, complete with its glass elevators, was the inspiration for the Lloyds Building in London and attracts visitors by the million; it is the city's most popular attraction by far. The building houses the Musée National d'Art Modern (MNAM), which displays a vast collection of 20th-century art, from Fauvism and Cubism to Abstract and Absurd, and its numerous cinemas and theatres have regular musical and dance performances. The square to the west of the building attracts a varied assortment of street performers. While there, visitors should be sure to check out the whimsical Stravinsky Fountain with its 16 water-spraying sculptures.
This great museum is fairly new by Paris standards. It is situated in a railway station by the Seine and houses a vast collection of works from the significant 1848 to 1914 period. There are important works from the Art-Nouveau movement but the Orsay is best known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The collection is arranged chronologically and contains highly regarded works by Monet, Manet and Courbet. Also on permanent display is the famous painting by Gustave Doré entitled and Henri Chapu's marble statue of . The Musee d'Orsay is one of the most famous art museums in the world and one of France's premier attractions. Even the uninitiated will appreciate this world-class museum, and art fanatics will be in heaven. There is a restaurant and a book shop at the museum.
The Rodin Museum is situated near the Musée d'Orsay and is housed in what was formerly the Hôtel Biron, the beautiful hotel where Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) once lived and worked. Inside are many of Rodin's great marble sculptures including while outside, in the garden, are famous bronzes including The museum also includes many works by Camille Claudel (Rodin's pupil and mistress) and paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet and Rodin himself. The museum has a gift shop, with reproductions of some of the most famous works.
The Picasso Museum is situated in a 17th century mansion in the heart of Paris. The collection was started in 1973, after the French government accepted Picasso's own collection in lieu of death duties, and was added to after his widow's death in 1990. All the phases of work from the Paris-based artist are represented here including his paintings, drawings, ceramics, sculptures and even poetry. Memorable works include the self-portrait and Nude in an Armchair. Most of Picasso's great paintings, however, are owned by and housed in foreign museums or are in the hands of private collectors. It is an unusual museum - mainly because of the unusual artist - and a must for Picasso enthusiasts and anybody who appreciates art. The mansion which houses the museum is gorgeous and creates just the right atmosphere for the diverse collection.
The Château de Versailles stands 15 miles (24km) southwest of Paris and is one of France's most noted attractions. Most of the palace was built between 1664 and 1715 by Louis XIV (known as the Sun King), who turned his father's hunting lodge into the grandest palace ever built. The 'Old Château' still exists but is enveloped by the vast white stone façade of the New Château. This lavish statement of monarchical power was to become a symbol of the excess that would lead to the revolution of 1789. Perhaps the most famous room in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, signifying the end of the Great War. Within the palace visitors can also see the former royal bedchambers, the grand staircase and other staterooms, and within the vast landscaped park and gardens are many wonderfully ornate fountains and ponds. There is a small train that ferries visitors from the palace to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, former love nests where both the Sun King and Napoleon enjoyed the company of their mistresses.
In the 16th century, Henry II and Catherine de Medici commissioned architects Philibert Delorme and Jean Bullant to build a new palace within the Fontainebleau forest, 40 miles (64km) south of Paris. Italian Mannerist artists Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio came to assist in the interior decoration, helping to found the School of Fontainebleau. Visitors will see the long Gallery of François I, which the artists adorned with scenes like and the monarch holding a pomegranate, a symbol of unity, as well as the richly adorned Louis XV Staircase and the monumental fireplace and frescoes in the ballroom. The palace was a refuge for French monarchs from the days of the Renaissance. They valued it because of its distance from the slums of Paris and for the rich hunting grounds that surrounded it. Many important events have occurred here, perhaps none more memorable than when Napoleon stood on the grand steps in front of the palace and bade farewell to his shattered army before departing for Elba. The chateau boasts four museums, beautiful and vast grounds and many treasures. Compared to the glories of Versailles, however, Fontainebleau can be a bit of an anti-climax; it is best to see it before Versailles.
The world's largest triumphal arch, the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile is set at the centre of a star-shaped configuration of 12 radiating avenues in the heart of the Champs Elysées. It stands 165 feet (51m) tall and the names of major victories won during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods are engraved around the top of the Arch. The names of less important victories, as well as those of 558 generals, can be found on the inside walls. Since 1920, the tomb of France's Unknown Soldier has been sheltered underneath the arch. Its eternal flame commemorates the dead of the two world wars, and is rekindled every evening at 6pm. On July 14, the French National Day, also known as Bastille Day, a military parade starts at the arch and proceeds down the Champs Elysées. Visitors can climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (or take the elevator) and the views over Paris are spectacular. It is a humbling monument which can't fail to inspire respect and awe and a trip to Paris is not complete without a visit.
Les Invalides was built by Louis XIV in 1670 as a military hospital to take care of wounded soldiers and now comprises the largest single collection of monuments and museums in Paris, all relating to the military history of France. It is the burial site of some of France's war heroes, and a number of France's famous dead, including the ashes of the greatest French military commander, Napoleon Bonaparte, which rest under the dome of Les Invalides and attract many visitors to Paris. Its large grounds and church with a golden dome make Les Invalides a classical French architectural masterpiece. There are also impressive collections of weaponry from all periods of French history. Numerous suits of armour, including those made in children's sizes for boy kings, are part of this collection. Military history buffs will be in heaven at Les Invalides and even the less clued-up will be moved by the place.
The Jardin des Plantes is France's main botanical garden. Covering 28 hectares (280,000sq m), the garden was originally planted by Louis XIII's doctor in 1626 as a medicinal herb garden. In 1640 it became Paris's first public garden. In 1739, after a long period of decline, the gardens were greatly expanded and a maze called the Labyrinth was added. It still exists today. Currently, in addition to being a lovely green lung in the city, the Jardin des Plantes maintains a botanical school which constructs demonstration gardens and trains botanists. The massive grounds house the Natural History Museum which is one of the main attractions for visitors. There is also a small zoo, founded in 1795 to house part of the royal menagerie from Versailles, and now containing small animals in simulated natural habitats. The gardens boast tropical hothouses that are home to a variety of unusual plants, native mostly to Mexico and Australia, and there is also an Alpine Garden, a beautiful Rose Garden, and an Art Deco-style Winter Garden. There is lots to see in the garden and visitors can wander for hours.
The blueprints for the holiday destination of Disneyland may have been developed in the United States, but the world's favourite theme park concept has transported exceedingly successfully to Europe. Situated 20 miles (32km) east of Paris, Disneyland Paris (also known as EuroDisney) is a vast complex of hotels, restaurants and shops together with the exciting theme park. Those in the know have it that Europe's Disneyland is actually better than its US counterparts, boasting more modern technology and existing in the ambit of less control and different safety regulations. EuroDisney has also unavoidably picked up a European flavour which adds charm and intimacy to the entire experience.
EuroDisney actually consists of two theme parks. The Disneyland Park, based on California's iconic Magic Kingdom, boasts 53 awesome attractions, drawing thousands of holidaymakers every year. The Walt Disney Studios were built more recently and follows the trend of the Disney MGM Studios in Florida, USA, using movie-like settings for thrill rides and experiences. Adults and children alike become enchanted and enthralled as they explore fantasy neighbourhoods bristling with Disney characters, and stop to take in the spectacle of the day and night parades.
Most visitors come to EuroDisney on a package deal that includes onsite hotel accommodation and passes to enjoy the shows and attractions. At least two days are required to make the most of the Disney magic, and there will still be plenty left for a second visit.
Located in the Jardin des Plantes, the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) greets visitors with two gigantic whale skeletons at the entrance. With wonderful exhibitions and fascinating displays on botany, archaeology and palaeontology, the museum will captivate kids' imaginations and educate them as well. The dinosaur exhibit is hugely popular with the younger visitors, but this museum is a must for children of all ages. The museum is large and actually combines three museums into one (sometimes they are listed independently), including a four-story taxonomy wing called the Hall of Evolution, a gallery dedicated to palaeontology - the study of fossils, including the beloved dinosaur exhibit - and a separate building devoted entirely to mineralogy. You can choose to visit only one of these three museums. There is plenty to enthral little ones (and grown up ones) and the fact that the museum feels a little old-fashioned actually adds to its charm.
This children's amusement park attracts thousands of tourists every year. It features a menagerie and the Exploradome Museum, with fantastic optical illusions and amazing structures. The park's attractions include zip-lines, swings, deforming mirrors, paddling pools, radio-controlled boats, a theatre, a small farm, pony and camel rides, an aviary, a butterfly garden and amusement rides. Apart from being loads of fun this wonderland of games and activities is frequently educational. The park offers workshops for children over three that aim not only to amuse but to teach skills and cultivate talents; workshops revolve around things like cooking, gardening, magic and theatre. There are also joint workshops for parents and young children and a few classes for adults only. There are a number of restaurants and cafes on the premises for refuelling. This is a great place for kids to blow off steam at the same time as learning some useful skills, and the activities are wonderful for parent/child bonding too.
Based on the famous comics by Uderzo and Goscinny about cheeky Gauls who annoy the Roman Empire, the Parc Asterix is a theme park located just outside of Paris. Kids will love meeting their favourite characters, including, of course, Asterix himself, and his giant friend Obelix. The park is well known for its large variety of roller-coasters and has begun incorporating rides and themes from historic cultures such as the Romans and the ancient Greeks. There are now six different worlds at the park: Gaul, Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Vikings, and Travel through Time. Apart from the epic rollercoasters, popular rides include the Menhir Express, a log flume ride, the Goudurix, the Grand Splatch and the Oxygénarium. There are lots of shows at the park and entrance to these performances is included in admission tickets. One of the more popular shows is the dolphin and sea lion show. The Parc Asterix will delight children but it is also wonderful for adults and there are plenty of thrilling rides for adrenalin seekers.
Located in Flancourt, France Miniature features more than 130 models of famous French attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower, Lourdes, St Tropez, Le Mont-Saint-Michel and Versailles, for visitors to enjoy. Everything has been created with a 1:30 scale and some for the models are even animated. The detail of the models is remarkable and a joy for those interested in architecture as well as kids. The miniature world includes mechanised trains, cars and boats and there are tiny people visiting the attractions. Children will love spending a day out at this miniature country which feels like a massive doll's house. There are also some fun games and a small amusement park with several rides on offer. There is a restaurant and a souvenir shop on site but a lovely way to enjoy the park, and save money, is to bring along your own picnic.
The largest water park in Europe, located in the heart of the city of Paris, Aquaboulevard is a great treat for kids (and adults!). One of the big advantages of this attraction is the fact that most of it is indoors, making it fun on sunny or rainy days in Paris; if you are travelling with kids it's a good activity to keep up your sleeve for a rainy day. The park itself includes various waterslides, a spa area with hot baths and Jacuzzis, indoor and outdoor wave pools, a beach area for relaxing, and a wave machine which allows you to try surfing or wakeboarding on a standing wave, among other things. The attractions are not limited to water either: the complex also offers cinemas, a mini-golf course, tennis courts, a fitness centre, play areas, and other indoor attractions. Children under three are not allowed into Aquaboulevard and proof of age should be taken for young kids.
Paris might be the most romantic city in the world but it's also very well geared towards children. Parents will find there are endless activities and attractions to enjoy as a family.
Take a walk to the top of the Eiffel Tower and marvel at the views over this glorious city, or head down the Champs Elysées for a spot of shopping, but beware the tourist traps. Kids will love the miles of beach along the shores of the Seine River. Playing in the sun and splashing in the river has become a popular activity for families and children during the summer months. The Jardin des Tuileries is a great place to take the kids for a stroll and to let out some of their pent-up energy.
Paris is a haven for carousels, which can be found in various parks around the city, including the Parc du Champ de Mars, the Jardin Des Tuileries, and Luxembourg Gardens.
When the weather turns bad and outdoor activities are not an option, visit some of the exciting museums and indoor playgrounds dotted throughout this exciting city, such as the Ludimax, a giant indoor playground situated near St Germain-en Laye and Versailles, and the Aquaboulevard indoor waterpark.
Of course, kids won't let their parents forget the proximity of the magical Disneyland Paris and there are other famous amusement parks to visit, like the Parc Asterix and France Miniature.
Paris has a temperate oceanic climate, but the city is known for its unexpected rain showers which can occur at any time of year. Spring, from March to May, is the driest season in Paris but rainfall is distributed fairly evenly throughout the other seasons. It is best to have an umbrella with you in Paris no matter what the season, but the rain showers are usually as brief as they are sudden. Snow is rare but the city does usually get a smattering in the winter months (December to February). Summer (June to August) temperatures are mild to warm, with average highs of 77°F (25°C) and occasional heat waves, while winters are very chilly with temperatures hovering around freezing point.
For many travellers Paris is synonymous with gastronomy. The French, always appreciative of the finer things in life, have a unique tradition of famous restaurants and great chefs. Anyone with a love of good food and deep pockets will find true happiness in this city. The style of cooking known as 'la Grande Cuisine' comes from Paris and it's hard to walk the streets without being tempted into every restaurant by its formidable aroma.
Paris is home to more than 5,000 restaurants, with traditional French bistros being the best value for money for those on a budget. Cafés and dive bars are an almost obligatory stop on the way to or from work for most Parisians, where an ordinary lunch can be enjoyed at a reasonable price. Grab a newspaper, order a glass of fine French wine and, while soaking up the picturesque surroundings, observe the city passing by.
From classic French cooking to Nouvelle Cuisine and French regional cooking styles, as well as many other international cuisines, there is something to satisfy every palate in Paris.
This tiny bistro is simply decorated with a plain white facade and a rustic interior, and is always buzzing with locals. A blackboard menu offers classic French dishes such as calf's liver cooked in sherry vinegar, or scallops cooked in basil oil. There is also a selection of venison on offer, and the puddings are equally enticing. The bill is outrageously inexpensive for the quality of the food. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, dinner only on Sunday. Reservations essential.
La Tour d'Argent (The Silver Tower) not only serves up mouth-watering dishes, but also has wonderful views over the Seine and Notre-Dame. A restaurant has stood on this site since 1582 and dining here is still an unsurpassed event. A good section of the menu is devoted to duck, and diners who order the house speciality - caneton (pressed duckling) - are issued with a certificate. The practice started in 1890 and they are now at well over a million. Book well in advance, a jacket and tie is required in the evening. Closed Monday, and lunch on Tuesdays.
Guy Savoy's creations are audacious and inventive; the steam-baked Bresse chicken with lemongras and the roasted rib of veal are testament to this. Half-portions allow patrons to sample various dishes on the menu, and the wine list reveals a treasure trove of exceptional vintages. Although the décor is formal, the atmosphere is relaxed and ambient. Book well in advance. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, and for dinner on Saturday; closed Sundays.
The exotic Buddha Bar remains trendy with Parisians and foreigners in the know. A massive gilt Buddha dominates the spacious interior of the restaurant, which offers a variety of Japanese-Californian cuisine; tuna tataki sashimi and pork ribs with hoisin sauce are just two of the menu's many delights. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, and dinner only on weekends. Book well in advance.
Founded in 1872, the restaurant Goumard has all the charm of a century-old establishment with original oak woodwork, an engraved 1930s glass facade and designer chandeliers. One of the finest seafood restaurants in Paris, the food at Goumard is influenced by Mediterranean and Asian cuisines, served with subtle and delicate sauces - the emphasis is on enhancing the natural flavours of the catch. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, reservations required.
Housed within the arcades of the Palais-Royal, Le Grand Véfour has been entertaining diners since the reign of Louis XV and has welcomed everyone from Napoleon to Danton. The menu is influenced by the cuisine Savoie - a blend of sophisticated and rustic dishes. Favourites include the sole meunière and the wild duck in laurel leaves. Desserts include the signature artichoke crème brûlée. Booking is essential, closed Friday night and weekends.
Opened in 1947, this Paris restaurant is a traditional all-day Brasserie serving authentic French fare like stuffed pig's trotters, veal kidney flambéed in Cognac, and Provençal-style pan stuffed mussels. The long benches and brass fittings echo the authenticity of the food for a truly Parisian experience. Open 24 hours a day, the restaurant is popular with tourists just come from browsing the Louvre.
L'Alcazar attracts fashionable Parisians looking to dine on seafood or Modern British fare. The huge ground floor restaurant is of course designed more for style than comfort and patrons can see the chefs in action in the open-plan kitchens; the octopus salad and steak tartare are excellent. L'Az bar has regular theme nights with celebrity artists and jazz musicians. Open for lunch and dinner daily, and brunch on Sundays. Reservations recommended.
The prestigious Jules Verne Restaurant is located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and has an atmosphere that is reminiscent of an airship moored high above Paris, with spectacular views of the city. The poached lobster and stuffed chicken are just two of the great dishes on the menu, and the wild strawberry and coconut cake dessert is fantastic. Open for lunch and dinner daily, reservations recommended.
Le Bouillon Racine features a sophisticated Belgian menu and an enormous selection of Belgian beer. The food here is hearty and filling, even without the help of several thirst-quenching ales. The menu changes monthly and includes popular dishes like the casserole of mussels, shrimp and baby clams, suckling pig roasted with bitter Orval beer, and rack of lamb roasted in a pale biere blonde. The décor is festive and the service efficient. Reservations essential, open daily for lunch and dinner.
Set in an Art Deco building on the banks of the Seine, Kong has beautiful views of the city and is full of surprises - from its stint to the dining area's interesting Japanese Manga décor. The exotic menu offers cuisine such as the Kong Plate (a mixed fish platter), Chilean bass and Japanese beef carpaccio. Open daily for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sundays. Reservations essential.
The historic Cafe de Flore has been immortalised by more than one French painter. A popular meeting place for post-war intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and celebrated artists Camus, Picasso, and Apollinaire, the restaurant has now been overrun with tourists from all over the world. The menu offers salads, sandwiches, pastries and other cafe fare. Cafe de Flore is open daily from 7:30am to 1:30am.
Every year on the summer solstice, Paris hosts amateur and professional musicians who perform in a variety of venues around the city, from public squares, streets and parks to opera houses and castles. The festival aims to celebrate music in all forms and is open to anyone. A large free concert is traditionally held featuring some big names in the music world, but on every corner, in doorways, in restaurants and hospitals, museums and courtyards, there are the sounds of music, from jazz, salsa and techno, to choirs, orchestras and steel bands, accompanied by people dancing, eating and drinking. All musicians are encouraged to perform for free. This is a vibrant and exciting time to visit France and visitors will be delighted by the festive atmosphere and the variety of talent on display. The festival started in France but has now spread to at least 100 other countries which is a testament to its popularity and success.
France's most important national holiday, Bastille Day commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with ceremonies, dancing, parties and balls all over the city. In the morning there is a grand military parade along the Champs Elysees - the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe - accompanied overhead by jet formations, and after the day-long festivities, a fireworks display takes place near the Eiffel Tower. The day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison on the 16 July 1789. Although the French Revolution was a bloody and tragic period of history the revolutionary ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity are proudly celebrated and for France this is a kind of independence day and a celebration of the development of a modern, democratic nation. It is a special day to be in France, particularly Paris, and visitors will be overwhelmed by the patriotism, ceremony and festive atmosphere.
Together with Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the US Open, the French Open is one of the four events that together are known as the tennis 'Grand Slam'. The tournament has become the most highly prized clay court title in the world and one of the biggest sporting events in France. Besides the best tennis players in the world, the stadium is also the place to be seen for the fashion conscious. The big matches are packed with celebrities and the vibe in Paris is thrilling. Even those who are not big tennis fans shouldn't miss the chance to attend a match and soak up the atmosphere if in Paris during the tournament.
A dream for chocoholics, the large convention centre beneath the Louvre hosts an annual festival in celebration of chocolate. There are tastings and chef demonstrations at a huge variety of international chocolatier stands, with special offerings galore.
There are opportunities to sample and buy products such as truffles, chocolate-dipped fruit kebabs, hot chocolate, and cakes. Its annual hit fashion show features chocolate-inspired creations, alongside chocolate sculptures and art.
Past exhibitions have included the history of chocolate, books on chocolate and desserts, and an antique collection of teapots used exclusively for hot chocolate. Chocoland for children entertains with chocolate makeup and other delicious activities, meaning it's a great day out for the whole family.
The Arc de Triomphe, often referred to as just the 'Arc', is France's premier horse race and attracts thoroughbreds and racing enthusiasts from all over the world. Since its inaugural race in 1920, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe has become established as the all-aged middle-distance championship of Europe, and today the main event alone offers prize money of more than €4 million. The race was first run in 1920 and many of the winners have gone on to be champions of the sport. The Arc is more than just a horse race though, it is a society event and a great day out for visitors and locals alike. Even those who are not racing fanatics will enjoy the palpable excitement in the atmosphere and the fun of picking a horse to bet on. Food and drink flows freely at the race and some people take the opportunity to dress up.
Held every autumn and continuing for months, this arts festival is a showcase for contemporary art in all forms from around the world. It includes theatre, film, music, dance, sculpture, and literature.
Considered to be the largest festival of its kind in the world, it is becoming a mainstay in the Parisian cultural calendar. Foreign culture gets special attention, as well as experimental work and the development of new talents.
Those who are in Paris between September and December will find it worthwhile to check out the festival programme. The incredible variety of talent and genre ensures that there is something to cater to all tastes.
What started off as a far-fetched, unimaginable idea dreamed up by two gentlemen in a Parisian brasserie in 1902, has a century later grown into the world's greatest bicycle race, indeed considered by many to be the greatest annual sporting event on earth. The unique spectacle is ingrained in France's heritage, traditionally ending in Paris, and draws the very best riders in the world in a battle for dominance over 2,175 gruelling miles (3,500km) every year. The race is split into 21 daily stages and completes a loop around the country, including treacherous mountain roads in the Pyrenees and the Alps. The famous yellow jersey is worn by the overall General Classification leader who maintains the lowest overall time. Every year the first stage of the race starts somewhere different, either in France or in another country. The race is a joy for spectators and there are many popular parts of the race to watch. Spectators gather in numerous villages and cities to cheer on the cyclists and the race is enthusiastically supported.
For one night a year in Paris the idea is to stay awake and partake in the observance of night. Many public services, entertainment facilities and tourist attractions, cafes, bars and restaurants stay open throughout the night to help keep people awake. The White Night is a celebration of human culture and communication and encourages people to enjoy one another's company. The point is to appreciate all the things one doesn't find time to do during the daytime rat race, like have long conversations, enjoy drawn out dinners, and play games. It is a wonderful tradition, widely celebrated, and a really special night to find oneself in Paris. Visitors can stroll the famous streets, eat out and even visit certain attractions and it is a good night to socialise and perhaps meet some locals. The Nuit Blanche is primarily an arts festival so the galleries and museums often remain open and let people in free of charge; the city becomes a sort of delightful all-night art exhibition.
Two thousand tons of sand and some palm trees is all that is needed to annually transform the right bank of the Seine into a manmade beach worthy of the French capital. The Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) is a highly popular, free 'event' instituted by the City Fathers in 2002, that attracts millions of visitors to its shores. Between July and August, land-locked city dwellers can enjoy sun, fun and themed activities, without the usual Parisian price tag. A recent addition is a large swimming pool - good news for those seeking some relief from the summer sun, especially as the dirty water of the Seine itself is not a welcome thought. Other activities on offer include beach volleyball, kayaking, aerobic classes in the pool and free concerts. There are deck chairs strewn about for public use, ice-cream vendors ply the crowds and one can even borrow a book to read while lounging, free of charge. The Paris beach is usually concentrated around three main areas on the river bank: the Louvre/Pont de Sully, Port de la Gare, and Bassin de la Villette.
Paris's nightlife has a reputation extending back for hundreds of years, and it shows no sign of slowing down. While most tourists won't venture beyond the crowded and overpriced bars of the Champs Elysées, there are many bustling nightlife districts in Paris worth exploring.
Bastille has a mixture of noisy nightclubs and bars best suited to twenty-somethings. Oberkampf was the place to be in the 1990s, and still buzzes with hipster-filled cafes. The area around the Louvre is home to some of the most upmarket, and expensive, bars in Paris, including the Ritz's Hemingway Bar in Place Vendome, a piano bar frequented by the writer in the 1940s.
Montmartre is the home of the famous (or infamous) Moulin Rouge cabaret, which still presents glittering extravaganzas on a nightly basis, though the price tag is a bit higher than when it started in 1889. Nearby Pigalle is a bit seedy, but offers some good rock music venues. Marais also boasts a good selection of bars and cafes, with a thriving gay and lesbian scene.
There is no end to the live music possibilities in Paris. Nouveau Casino hosts a variety of bands on most nights, and La Flèche d'Or is known as an indie-rock venue. Belleville's La Java hosts an eclectic mix of artists in the venue where Edith Piaf debuted.
For a more sedate music experience, the Cité de la Musique hosts classical, jazz and traditional concerts in a network of concert halls. Paris is of course an opera paradise. You'll find symphonies and operas at the Opéra Bastille, lighter opera at the Opéra Comique, and you might even spot the phantom of the opera at the grand Opéra Garnier, the home of the Ballet de l'Opera National de Paris.
Cafes and bars are generally open from late afternoon to 1am with some variation, and clubs don't open until 11pm on the weekends, staying open until 5 or 6am. It's not fashionable to arrive at a Paris club until well after midnight. The drinking age in France is 16 for wine and beer, and 18 for spirits.
Pick up a copy of the weekly Pariscope, or go online and find the English-language Boulevard for up-to-date entertainment listings.
Paris is a shopper's paradise. Jet-setters will feel at home with the famous names of the haute couture boutiques found on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré such as Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Trend-setting fashions can be found in Rue Etienne Marcel shops. Sadly, the Champs-Elysées is not what it used to be, with banks, fast-food chains and malls strategically placed to trap tourists. However, some good stores remain - perfume from Guerlain Parfumerie is a classic Paris souvenir.
Galeries Lafayette is a famous French department store. The flagship store is located on Boulevard Haussmann and has been a Paris icon since its creation in 1894. Beneath the decorative Art Nouveau dome lies 65,000 square metres of floor space hosting more than 3,500 brands from around the world. The energy, architecture, layout, restaurants and views over the city have turned Galeries Lafayette into a prime tourist attraction for shoppers and browsers alike.
Les Halles is a subterranean shopping mall with more than 150 stores where bargain hunters will be able to find cheap knockoffs and other trendy clothes. Mainstream department stores offer some great finds, such as La Samaritaine, which prides itself as being the one where on trouve tout (one finds everything). Just outside the city, La Vallée Village offers designer goods at steep discounts.
Bargains closer to town can be sniffed out in abundance at the three main flea markets situated around the old gates of the city. They are, however, teeming with pickpockets and shoppers should be on their guard. Les Bouquinistes, which consists of rows of bookstalls perched against the walls of the Seine River, is a great place for bookworms to browse and barter.
Those determined to buy a plastic Eiffel Tower or other kitschy souvenir, will find tourist tat plentiful along rue de Rivoli. Those looking for something a bit different to take home should visit the La Plaque Emaillées in Filles-du-Calvaire for a taste of turn-of-the-century Parisian Art Nouveau.
Parisians buy most of their food from specialty stores such as bakeries and butcheries, which stock pastries, cheeses or pâtés to die for. The open-air markets are a fantastic place to find flowers, produce and clothing. These are frequented by most of the locals. Paris also offers a wealth of window-shopping opportunities, making it the ultimate destination for the discerning consumer.
Most shops open between 9 and 10am, and close at 7 or 8pm. France levies a sales tax of between 5.5 percent and 33 percent, depending on the merchandise. There is a VAT refund scheme for non-EU visitors, but conditions apply.
Paris has an excellent public transport system, divided into five zones radiating out from the centre; ticket prices vary according to the number of zones required. Public transport consists of buses, an underground metro, and express trains (RER). Taxis are also available. The easiest way to get around is on the metro and the subways are generally safe at all times. It is possible to transfer between the metro and the RER trains at no extra cost. The bus system is also extensive, but is slower, less frequent and best used for getting to destinations the metro does not cover. A nightbus service, Noctilien, covers the city between 1am and 5.30am. Taxis are readily available and can be hailed or caught at taxi ranks. Vélib' bicycle rentals are also popular for getting round town: pick up a bike at one of over 1,200 stations and return it at any other.
The Eurostar connection from London has made Paris more popular than ever as a convenient weekend destination. Paris is fairly compact and easy to navigate and many tourists opt to walk or bicycle around to soak up the flavour of the city and take in the numerous iconic landmarks and parks, or stop at one of the many pavement cafés. A cruise down the Seine is also a popular option as many of the city's greatest sights are on the river, including Notre-Dame, the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower.
Other things to see in Paris include the Basilique du Sacre-Cœur, which offers great views over Paris. The Pompidou Centre houses the Musée National d'Art Modern, while the square to the west of the building attracts a varied assortment of street performers. Stroll around the cobblestone streets of the Marais district with its mansions and museums, or visit the courtyards and antique shops of Ile St-Louis, which also boasts the former homes of Marie Curie, Baudelaire, and Voltaire.
South of the river, the Musée d'Orsay, the Rodin Museum and the Hotel des Invalides (the burial place of many great French soldiers, including Napoleon Bonaparte) can be found. When they've finished sightseeing, visitors can idle away an afternoon in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Further along visitors can stroll through the Jardin des Plantes, Paris' first public garden, created by Louis XIII's doctor for the cultivation of medicinal plants, or visit the National History Museum. The St-Germain-des-Pres neighbourhood, the former residence of existentialists Sartre and Camus, has retained much of its bohemian atmosphere with bookshops, art galleries and coffeehouses.
For free or discounted admission to many attractions in Paris, and the chance to bypass the queues, visitors can buy the Paris Museum Pass at many tourist offices, museums, or metro stations.
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