Paris City Guide

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No matter how you look at it, Paris is exciting. It pulses with an art beat, but offers an intrigue like almost no other city. A visit here will surely put it on your top ten of the world's most interesting cities.

Paris is a city of the past. You'll find a reminder of its history around every corner. In its oldest parts, narrow medieval streets beckon you to explore the inner courtyards of the La Marais district on the Isle de la Cite, an island in the Seine. But beyond its inner heart lies a Paris of today — a city of skyscrapers and office blocks, of modern sculptures in a geometric cityscape.

Like other large cities in Europe, getting from one district in the city to the other can be expensive, except for the Paris Metro, that wonder of artistic wonders that runs silently under the city. Clean, bright, efficient, and beautiful, it's a great way to save time and money, and make your visit less frustrating, especially if you don't speak French.

Paris is also a city of landmarks. It's chief one is le Tour Eiffel. From its upper reaches, you'll discover the beauty of Paris as laid out by Baron von Haussmann, who created broad boulevards in the 19th century. So it makes sense to start your tour at the symbol of the city. From here, wander over to the Place du Trocadero to see some of the great buildings of the Art Deco era.

The city's second most famous landmark, the Arc de Triomphe, dedicated to the military glories of the first empire, stands in the middle of Le Etoile, the star, from which streets fan out in all directions. The most notable, the Champs Elysées, has seen its share of celebratory parades. The French believe it to be the most beautiful street in the world.

No place in Paris is as filled with history as the Place de la Concorde, site of the famous guillotine when it was known as the Place de la Revolution. In its center stands the Oblelisk of Luxor, a gift from Egypt. The Tuilleries gardens, flanked by the Jeu de Paume and L'Orangerie museums, open onto Paris' largest square. From there, it's a short walk past fountains and manicured shrubbery to the Louvre, former royal palace and the world's greatest art museum.

Not far away stands the Georges Pompidou Center, a wild look to the future in its steel and glass exterior. The center, now the centerpiece of Forum de Halles, replaced the once-bustling Les Halles Market, offering fresh produce and such to Parisians.

The area known as La Opéra, acts as a strategic crossroads for any visit to Paris. Nearby, Les Grands Boulevards fan out into the city. Sidewalk cafes have lined Rue de la Paix since the early 1860s and still welcome visitors today. Stop and have a café au lait and watch as the world strolls by.

For your next stop, Montmartre, you'll have to take the Metro. If you're up to it, climb the steps to Sacré Coeur. built to atone for the crimes of Le Commune. The stark white Byzantho-Roman structure is the perfect spot for a sweeping rooftop view of the city. Wander over to the Place du Tertre where you can get your portrait painted for a princely sum.

Long the red-light district of Paris, Place Pigalle offers a glimpse into the seedier side of Parisian nightlife. If you can afford the steep admission, take in a show at La Mouline Rouge, the red windmill. While it entertained artists like Toulouse Lautrec, it's considerably more bawdy today — perhaps too much for your tastes.

The center of medieval Paris is Le Marais. The focus here is Notre Dame Cathedral. You'll need binoculars to see the fabulous stonework of the medieval stone masons. For a truly inspiring experience, take in an afternoon organ concert and let the deep cords bring the cathedral to life. Not far away stands La Sainte Chapelle, the royal chapel. As you climb the stairs into the chapel, the beauty of continuous stained glass windows will overwhelm you. It's truly an awesome sight. La Conciergerie next door is where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette stayed while awaiting their fate during the French Revolution.

To top off your stay in Paris, take a cruise up the Seine on the Bateaux Mouches for either lunch or dinner. There's nothing like sipping champagne while the beauty of Paris glides by.