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A short break in
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Of course, Paris has some of the most impressive sights and monuments, greatest architecture and art galleries, the most luxurious hotels and the finest restaurants in the entire world. You'd think that would be enough for one city.
 
But the French capital is much, much more than that. There's something else about Paris, an intoxicating je ne sais quoi, something in the air, in the light, in the moody, muted colours, that
quickens the heart and lightens the step.
  No wonder this is the world's favourite city. Forget Paris in the spring. Paris all year round is a joy - perhaps especially out of season, when tourists are scarcer, prices are lower, and Parisians have
the place to themselves.
  How does Paris manage always to keep its magic? Rain or shine, in shabby areas and in the most chic, the French capital is thrilling. Whether for a honeymoon, a celebration or a birthday treat, for high-brow culture or wild fun, Paris won’t ever let you down. 


 Get the feel

Paris is today known everywhere as probably the most sophisticated and cultured of the world's capital cities, synonymous with fine living, good food and high fashion.
  There seem to be 101 reasons to go at any time. Paris can be enjoyed simply as a shopping trip, an indulgent celebration, or a cultural feast. It's the most popular leisure travel destination city in the world.
  More Britons than any other nationality visit Paris, well over a million a year. The Eurostar high-speed rail journey time from London makes a short break – even a day trip – very feasible, especially for those living within reach of the Eurostar stations at London St Pancras and Ebbsfleet in Kent.

Paris has been in the news lately, and for the worst possible reason. 2015 brought savage attacks by Islamists, who in January gunned down the cartoonists of anti-religious satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and shoppers in a Jewish supermarket, and in November slaughtered scores of the audience at rock venue Bataclan, as well as people sitting at nearby outdoor cafe tables and also attempted to set off a bomb in a crowded football stadium. France has been in an official State of Emergency ever since. But the response from Parisians showed the best side of their city, passionate solidarity with the victims, angry repudiation of the killers' bloodthirsty ideology, swift action in response, and not least, determination to continue a normal life, a good life. For a short time, hotel and restaurant bookings dipped, but they have since recovered as visitors and locals alike realised - Paris is still Paris.

 What, why, where

The Gaul of Roman times was a patchwork of tribal territories. One such tribe, the Parisii, occupied sites along the Seine, especially what was later to be the Ile de la Cité. Tribes formed alliances to prevent Roman rule, or revolt against it, but all were finally crushed in 52BC. Roman Paris - called Lutetia - was built mainly on the left bank of the Seine, today's Latin Quarter.
  The collapse of Roman rule led to invasions by German tribes, especially the Franks, who in the 6th century made Paris their capital. Hugh Capet was the first King of the Franks, but his kingdom was little more than today's Ile de France, which nevertheless became a centre of commerce and learning. The Sorbonne opened in 1150.
  The Middle Ages was a period of war, turbulence and shifting alliances - for 16 years Paris was an English city (Henry VI of England was crowned King of France here). Through marriage and inheritance, conquests and alliances, the French monarchy - and Paris - gradually expanded its dominion over France.
  From the 17th century onwards, Paris's authority was complete. The city grew in every direction, many of its great buildings were constructed, it became Europe's centre for ideas and philosophy, arts and sciences, and was at the heart of the Enlightenment. 
  A unexpected result was the outbreak of Revolution  in 1789. After a period of violence and destruction, Napoleon recreated Paris as a fitting capital for his brief European 'empire'. His nephew, Napoleon III asked Baron Haussmann to further modernise the city, which involved demolishing much of the centre to lay out the grand avenues and squares which typify Paris today.

 Before you go

Paris can be exhilarating – but also confusing, so it's wise to plan carefully in advance if you are new to the city. There are hundreds of hotels, some much better located than others. If you want to see the sights, be sure of a decent dinner and take in some entertainment as well, it can be best to book a short break package: these often give a choice of excursions, shows and dinners. It's worth knowing in advance that Paris hotel rooms – like those in many big cities – tend to be small.

 Getting started

Paris tourist office has a comprehensive, easy to use website with booking facility for hotels, shows, etc.
  The main tourist office is at 25 rue des Pyramides (near the Louvre). There are five other 'welcome centers' around the city.

 Compass points

Gare du Nord – Eurostar arrives at this big railway station on the northern edge of the city centre. If you arrive by air at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, direct trains into the city also terminate at Gare du Nord, while RER trains continue into the centre of Paris, stopping at Gare du Nord on the way. 
Châtelet-les-Halles – This interchange of 6 Métro  and  3 RER lines is the city centre's central station, in a busy area of shops and restaurants patronised as much by locals as tourists, and within easy walking distance of the Louvre in one direction and Pompidou Centre in the other.
Place de la Concorde – This vast square beside the River Seine is the heart of the city. It's close to the Louvre, while in the other direction the Champs Elysées leads grandly away from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.
The Seine – the river flows through the middle of Paris; the Rive Droite (Right Bank) being the more 'Establishment' side, the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) the more bohemian. In midstream are the Iles (Islands) where Paris originated.
The districts – Just as France is a nation of régions, so Paris is a city of quartiers, or districts. Hop from Montmartre in the north to Montparnasse in the south, from Arc de Triomphe in the west to Place de la Bastille in the east. The Métro travels from one area to another in minutes.

 Getting around

RATP - Paris public transport website: www.ratp.fr
(click Union Jack for English)

Walking is a great pleasure in Paris. Each district in central Paris is small enough to be covered on foot, and perhaps this is the best way to absorb its flavour and atmosphere. However, the city as a whole is too big to be explored on foot.

The Paris Visite pass gives unlimited travel on public transport for up to 5 days, covering either just the 3 central zones or the whole city and suburbs. It costs from under €12.85 (for one day in zones 1-3) up to €70.30 (for 5 days in all zones), and can be bought online before leaving home (in which case you can use it to get from the airport into the city) or on arrival at the Métro station beneath the Gare du Nord. As a bonus, the Paris Visite pass gives discounts or offers at many Paris attractions.

Metro & RER
To travel from one district to another, there's an excellent, punctual, clean, efficient public transport system, especially the Métro (5.30am-12.30am), and the RER rail lines which run from the city centre to the suburbs.
A carnet of 10 Métro tickets is useful for single journeys taken from time to time. The tickets remain valid indefinitely and can be kept for your next visit.
The trains are densely crowded during the morning and evening rush hours.

Bus & Taxi
Paris also has a good bus service, including a night service. The "Métro" tickets are also bus tickets. Taxis are reasonably priced and there’s no need to tip.

Public bike hire
The sturdy white bikes called Velib are whizzing all over the city now, ridden by everyone from businessmen to students to ladies in twin-set and pearls. At any Velib’ stand (you’ll see them every two or three blocks), swipe your credit card to pick up a bike. Ride it to any other stand and simply leave it there. The first 30 minutes are free. In that time you can get almost anywhere in the French capital’s compact centre.

 Eat and drink in Paris

There are hundreds of restaurants in all price brackets, as well as simpler brasseries and inexpensive eating places, including fast-food outlets. To eat well at a good price  - chose a set fixed-price menu, choose what the restaurant is best at, and don't ask to vary the dishes.

For gastronomic dining, consult one of the many food guides such as the Michelin Red Guide Paris 2017 - 10 Paris restaurants currently have Michelin's maximum 3-rosette rating, while many more have the hard-to-get 2 and 1-star grading.

Splash out to savour the cultural and historic pleasure of the city's grandest old brasseries. Have a drink (or, for the rich, a snack) at the greatest, the grandest, of all Paris brasseries, Brasserie Lipp on Boulevard St Germain by the church of St Germain des Près. If you can’t get in, or can’t afford to, try one of its almost equally renowned and much cheaper neighbours, the Deux Magots or Café de Flore.

 Paris hotels and accommodation

Paris hotels are numerous and very varied. The tourist office website has searchable pages on the city's hotels, and you can reserve rooms online. A few personal recommendations for where to stay in Paris...

Hôtel de Crillon – CLOSED SINCE 2013 - reopening expected 2017 (date to be announced)
Hôtel Terminus Nord So convenient! Directly opposite the Eurostar terminal, with friendly, efficient 24-hour service and quiet, comfortable rooms. (A Mercure hotel)
Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais – Step back in time at this remarkable theme hotel with candlelit public rooms and gorgeous antique décor and furnishings.
Hôtel du Nord – Incredibly good value at this simple, charming place a few minutes walk from the Gare du Nord. Bikes available free of charge.

 After Dark

The city’s passion for life continues unabated after dark, with numerous clubs (for all tastes), music venues, cabarets and shows. The big-name cabarets offer highly choreographed entertainment and chorus lines. The glamorous night out at the Lido, on the Champs Elysées, has a glitzy new show, 'Paris Merveilles'. Similar cabaret revues are the Paradis Latin and the Moulin Rouge (inventor of the can-can).
  The Crazy Horse revue, called 'Désirs', is too risqué for most tour operators, even though it’s slick, good-humoured, and the audience mainly couples.
  All Paris cabaret spectaculars offer a choice of either just seeing the show, with a glass of champagne, or combining the show with a meal.

 Getting to Paris

By rail – Eurostar trains from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord take about 2h15m. The 20-minute automatic check-in, and arrival in the city centre, make this faster than travelling by plane from the London area. About 90% of Eurostar services arrive within 15 minutes of schedule, against only about 70% for air travel. Up to 18 departures daily.
www.eurostar.co.uk

By air – There are frequent flights (several daily in most cases) from London Heathrow, Luton and other UK and Irish airports to Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG), 22km north of Paris, with good connections into the city. A small number of flights land at Paris Orly, 15km south of the capital, most from London City. (Beware that Ryanair’s services to ‘Paris’ land at Beauvais and Vatry airports, some 80km and 150km from Paris.) Several flights daily depart from a dozen US cities, most European capitals and many other cities throughout Europe. Airlines include BA, Air France, and all budget operators.

By bus – Eurolines London-Paris takes about 8½hrs (9¾ hrs at night). The terminus is near end-of-the-line Métro station Gallieni, leaving about 35 mins onward journey into Paris. Look out for cheap special offers on fares.
www.eurolines.co.uk

By car – Paris is about 1½ hours drive from the Calais ferry docks or the Eurotunnel terminal near Calais (take either A16, or A26+A1).
Google map - road approaches to central Paris.

 Events and Festivals

What's on in Paris - There's always a huge variety of exhibitions and shows, concerts, musicals, plays and other entertainment, trade fairs and consumer events large and small taking place. In addition, the big art museums usually have one or two major exhibitions of rarely seen works every year.
Click here to find current and forthcoming events in Paris

Among regular annual events...

Montmartre Grape Harvest Festival
October 2017 (dates tbc)
Join the locals in a celebration of the new vintage from the only vineyard in Paris.
www.fetedesvendangesdemontmartre.com


Foire de Paris
27 April - 8 May 2017
Massive annual shopping extravaganza at Porte de Versailles.
www.foiredeparis.fr


Fête Nationale ("Bastille Day")
14 July every year
Commemorates the start of the Revolution, so has a special importance in Paris. Celebrations begin on the previous day.

 Must-see

 The Eiffel Tower 

South of the Seine, and west of the city centre's other sights, this Paris sights is the most familiar
symbol of the city and ultimate tourist cliché. Which doesn't mean you should give it a miss - going up the lifts inside the astonishing iron framework of Tour Eiffel is one of the great Paris experiences.
 
The 3rd (top) floor gives almost an aerial view of Paris. From the 2nd étage you can identify landmarks and get a thrilling overview of a beautiful city centre. The newly reconstructed 1st floor, 57m above the ground, has a discovery circuit and spectacular glass floor.
  The Tower is covered with 20,000 lights that blink on and off during the first ten minutes of each hour after nightfall until 2 am in the summer and 1 am in the winter.
  The Eiffel Tower is also the setting for two good restaurants, buffet counters and a champagne bar.
Métro: Bir-Hakeim, Trocadéro.
www.tour-eiffel.fr

 Musée du Louvre (The Louvre)

Though it today contains the world’s greatest art collection, the Louvre – formerly the palace of the king of France – is more than a museum. It’s an experience, and to do it justice would take weeks. The art collections cover the world's art over the last 3000 years.
  Plan ahead! There's far too much to see, so you have to be selective – if you gave every item just 1 minute of your time and it would take over 3 months to see everything in this extraordinary treasure house. Instead, set a reasonable goal: decide in advance what type of art, of which period, you wish to see. But even a quick visit is rewarding. The Louvre's most famous works are, among paintings, the Mona Lisa, and Radeau de la Meduse; among sculptures, the Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus  de Milo; among historic artworks, the Ancient Eygptian collection.
  The entrance is through a monumental glass pyramid  designed by American architect I.M.Pei. On one side of the Louvre are the Tuileries Gardens, a handsome park beside the Seine.
Address: Place du Louvre.
Métro: Musée du Louvre.
www.louvre.fr/

 Musée d’Orsay 

On the south (Left) bank of the Seine stands the bright, spacious Musée d’Orsay, a former railway station, now housing a huge collection of art, notably several of the world’s finest Impressionist paintings in a special upstairs gallery. For many, the d’Orsay building and collections are more enjoyable than the venerated Louvre treasures.
Address: 62 rue de Lille.
Métro: Solférino.
www.musee-orsay.fr

 Les Invalides (Musée de l'Armée)

The huge structure of Les Invalides was Napoleon’s grandiose hospice for wounded soldiers. Its Dome church contains Napoleon's tomb. The building is now an impressive Musée de l'Armée, or Army Museum.
Address: 129, rue de Grenelle.
Métro: Invalides.
www.invalides.org/

 Champs-Elysées    

One of the city's most compelling qualities is its inspiring vistas and majestic avenues. The Avenue des Champs-Elysées is one of the best examples.
  The Tuileries Gardens run as far as the gigantic Place de la Concorde, beyond which opens the immense avenue.
  Stroll between its shops and cafes towards the massive Arc de Triomphe, a memorial to France's fallen soldiers (fine view from the top). 
  Before you stop for a drink at one of the thousands of Champs-Elysées pavement tables, reflect that their prices, like the architecture, are on a grand scale.
  The boulevard has a special place in the heart not only of Paris, but of France - here the people come en masse to mark great moments in the nation's history and celebrate at times of national rejoicing. On ordinary days, though, it is crowded, with a lot of traffic. And for the most part, the Champs-Elysées doesn’t offer real luxe. For that, turn off to parallel Rue du Faubourg St Honoré.
Métro: Concorde, Champs-Elysées, Roosevelt, George V, Etoile.
www.champselysees-paris.com

 Latin Quarter 

The lively Latin Quarter, or Quartier Latin, on the Left Bank is the low-budget student area around the Sorbonne University.
  In narrow streets and lanes to either side of the vivacious main thoroughfare, Boulevard St Michel (or Boul’ St Mich’), an abundance of cheap eateries, jazz venues, piano bars, café theatres, bookshops and street-fashion stores keep the place buzzing day and night.
Métro: St Michel, Cluny.

 Notre Dame and the islands 

Cross the water onto the Ile de la Cité – there are five bridges to choose from. Paris – home of the Parisii tribe conquered by the Romans – was born 2000 years ago on this island in the middle of the river. Now it’s an island of peace in the midst of the capital. It's covered with dignified historic buildings. Chief among them the gloomily majestic Notre Dame cathedral and the much more appealing Ste-Chapelle church. Daily flower markets brighten the river quays.
  Cross directly from Ile de la Cité to smaller and quieter, Ile St Louis, which – surprisingly – is mainly residential and has almost a village feel, albeit with some very wealthy residents.
Address: Place du Parvis de Notre Dame.
Métro: Cité.
www.cathedraledeparis.com

 Marais 

This former Jewish quarter on the Right Bank close to Ile de la Cité is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable parts of the city and one of the few keeping some of the appearance of Paris before the Revolution.
  With an intriguing mix of narrow lanes and fine squares, shabby terraces and splendid mansions, it has changed from being one of the least desirable places in the city to one of the most fashionable. There are many listed buildings and historic 'hotels', one of which houses the Picasso Museum (see below).
  The area has an abundance of good restaurants, bars and nightlife, and a lively gay scene, while around the old main street Rue des Rosiers there are a few Jewish eateries ranging from falafel take-aways to popular restaurants.
Métro: St Paul.

 Picasso Museum 

In payment of inheritance tax, Pablo Picasso's estate gave the French nation this extraordinary collection of 200 paintings, some 160 sculptures and more than 3000 drawings, the comprehensive collection spanning all of Picasso's 'periods'.
  Also on display is
Picasso's own personal collection of works by other modern artists. The museum is located in a handsome 17th-century mansion, Hotel Salé.
Address: 5 rue Thorigny.
Métro: Saint-Sébastien Froissart, Saint-Paul.
www.museepicassoparis.fr

 Pompidou Centre (Centre Beaubourg)  

The weirdly inside-out Pompidou Centre (also known as the Beaubourg; its full name is Musée National d'Art Moderne Centre Beaubourg-Georges Pompidou), although itself arguably a ridiculous, dated-looking monstrosity, houses the city's leading collection of late 20th/21st-century art and has many imaginative exhibitions and events. Named for the president who created it, the museum's aim is not to be a "temple of culture" but an open, free, accessible place bringing contemporary art to all.
Address: Plateau Beaubourg,  19 rue Beaubourg.
Métro: Hôtel-de-Ville, Rambuteau, Châtelet.
www.centrepompidou.fr/en

 Montmartre 

If sleaze can be atmospheric, there’s plenty of atmosphere at the foot of Montmartre hill, the “Butte” as Parisians call it, north of the city centre. The once-risqué Moulin Rouge, with its landmark windmill, is a respectable evening out compared with the newer offerings alongside. 
  Montmartre itself, on the higher ground, is a popular, crowded, intoxicating mix of elegant and bohemian, with charming squares and lanes, cafés and cabarets. It lives on the memory of its heyday, a century ago, when it was home to many young painters later to become the great names of modern art – among them Pissarro, Sisley, Degas, Manet, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Van Gogh. Several houses and cafes look familiar from their paintings.
  The district is full of surprises. For example, it has a vineyard, in a side street, producing a drinkable wine. Above it all rises the vast, Byzantine white shape of the Sacré-Coeur basilica, reached up a multitude of steps (or, by funicular!), to give the best view in all Paris. 
Métro: Lamarck-Caulancourt (on N. side), Anvers (foot of Sacre-Coeur steps), Abbesses (SW side), Blanche (outside Moulin Rouge).

 Buy it

Smart Paris
Narrow, picturesque Rue du Faubourg St Honoré has masses of charm and some of the classiest shopping in Europe, with Gucci, Versace, Hermès, and Karl Lagerfeld and several other top fashion names almost next door to each other. Dripping jewels and perfume, it deserves a lingering window-shop if nothing else.
  Rue du Faubourg St Honoré culminates in Rue Royale and Place de la Madeleine, where the greatest of Parisian food stores – and that’s saying something – surround the square. There are specialists in truffles, in handmade chocolates, in caviar, and the queen of all food halls, Fauchon, where gastronomic luxuries are stacked high.

Grand Magasins
Head a few minutes up Rue Tronchet to Boulevard Haussman, location of the city’s famous department store, Galeries Lafayette. Unaccountably this seems to have become almost more of a tourist attraction than a shop, and is jam-packed with foreign visitors admiring its Belle Epoque architecture.

Classy Left Bank
Nip across the Seine, by Métro or on foot, to the St Germain des Près district. This is the posh end of the Left Bank, haunt of Paris society’s most successful, intellectual or creative elite. There are bookshops, art galleries, bistrots with white-aproned waiters. Another local highlight is the city’s oldest department store, Le Bon Marché, at 22 Rue des Sèvres. It’s a cornucopia of quality foods, fashions, gifts and souvenirs.

Markets
Most Paris districts have their weekly or daily markets selling fresh food. These may be either in the street or in "halles" – covered market places.
  A couple of personal favourites: the little gathering of stalls at Rue Buci is in the Latin Quarter, a few minutes walk from the Ile de la Cité; and the much bigger, busier market arranged along the cobbles of ‘La Mouffe’, as locals call narrow Rue Mouffetard, where a sophisticated range of edible delectables is on offer, while among the shops behind the stalls you’ll see Boulay, the master cheesemaker, and chocolatiers Jeff de Bruges and Nicolsen.
  Dozens of specialist markets focus on flowers, birds, books, antiques and more.
  The postage stamp market is off the Champs-Elysees, there's a flower market in Place de la Madeleine (daily except Mon), and a curious Bird Market at Place Louis Lepine on Ile de la Cité.
  For hidden treasure buried under mountains of junk, rummage in the flea markets Puces de Clignancourt (Metro Porte de Clignancourt) and Puces de Montreuil (Métro Porte de Montreuil), both open all day every day except Sun.

Malls and Galeries
The old Les Halles marketplace was recreated as the city centre's principal indoor shopping and leisure area. In the Sentier and Opéra districts just north of it, explore the more historic version in attractive covered galeries.

 In the Know

When to go: All year is wonderful except maybe January (too cold – and many things are closed). August is hot, but has its own appeal, as most Parisians are away on vacation, there's less traffic, and parking is free even in the city centre. Autumn is the conference season – so book well ahead at that time. Best of all is spring and early summer.

Best add-on: A Museum Pass allows unlimited visits, without queuing, at the city’s greatest art museums including the Louvre, d’Orsay, Beaubourg (Pompidou) and the Picasso.

What’s on: Pariscope or L’Officiel des Spectacles, from newsstands, are the main guides to the coming week in Paris.

 Paris Basics

Where is it?
  In northern France
.
International phone dialling code:
 
00 33 (+ drop initial 0 from local number)
Time zone:
 
GMT/BST + 1 hour.
Money:
 
Euro
(€).




 


 

 

 

 

 

 


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Paris
Updated and revised January 2017.
All rights reserved worldwide.
Text © Focus Guides and Andrew Sanger.
Photos top left
© Eurostar, others © Paris Tourist Office.
Permission to use: This guide may be freely PRINTED ONLY for personal non-commercial use. Unless a LICENCE has been obtained it may not, in whole or in part, be COPIED nor used for any COMMERCIAL purpose.
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