Long considered the paragon of style, Paris is the most glamorous city in Europe. It is at once deeply traditional – a village-like metropolis whose inhabitants continue to be notorious for their hauteur – and famously cosmopolitan. While such contradictions and contrasts may be the reality of any city, they are the makings of Paris: consider the tiny lanes and alleyways of the Quartier Latin or Montmartre against the monumental vistas from the Louvre to La Défense; the multiplicity of street markets and old-fashioned pedestrian arcades against the giant underground commercial complexes of Montparnasse and Les Halles; or the aristocratic wealth of the grand quarters against the vibrant chaos of the poorer districts.
At times, Paris can feel inhumanly magnificent, the arrogance of its monuments encompassing the chilly pomp of the Panthéon, the industrial chic of the Eiffel Tower and the almost spiritual glass work of the Louvre pyramid. Yet it also operates on a very human scale, with exquisite, secretive little nooks tucked away from the Grands Boulevards and very definite little communities revolving around games of boules and the local boulangerie and café. And even as Paris’s culture is transformed by its large immigrant and gay populations, even as extravagant new buildings are commissioned and erected, many of the city’s streets, cafés and restaurants remain remarkably, defiantly unchanged.
In the great local tradition of the flâneur, or thoughtful boulevard-stroller, Paris is a wonderful city for aimless wandering. Grab some Paris Cabaret tickets and spend a night thoroughly entertained in this magnificent city. Journey through relaxed quarters such as the vibrant Marais, elegant St-Germain and romantic Montmartre are ideal for street-browsing, shopping and café-sitting, and the city’s lack of open space is redeemed by beautiful formal gardens, by the pathways and pavements that run beside the River Seine, and by endless hidden or unexpected havens.
The Eiffel Tower
The closer you get to its radical structure, the more exhilarating and less familiar the Eiffel Tower feels.
The Pompidou’s radical “inside-out” architecture still draws the crowds, but don’t miss its fine modern art museum inside, with significant holdings of works by Matisse, Kandinsky and Picasso.
The mighty Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame, with its exquisite rose windows and soaring nave, is an awe-inspiring sight.
Musée du Quai Branly
The newest and flashiest museum in town is worth seeing just for its cutting-edge architecture, never mind the eye-popping collection of folk art objects inside.
The glorious interior of the Sainte Chapelle, with its almost entirely stained-glass walls, ranks among the finest achievements of French High Gothic.
If the brilliance of the Louvre’s art collection doesn’t bring you to your knees, the sheer scale of the place will.
Place des Vosges
A superb architectural ensemble, the elegant Place des Vosges is lined with arcaded seventeenth-century buildings and has an attractive and popular garden at its centre.
This sumptuous Second Empire residence, built for the art-loving Jacquemart-André couple, is preserved more or less intact, complete with its fabulous collection of Italian, Dutch and French masters.
Pay homage to Chopin, Oscar Wilde or Jim Morrison – just some of the countless notables buried in what is arguably the world’s most famous cemetery.
Site de Création Contemporaine
If you’re tired of galleries that feel like mausoleums for the dead art of the past, make for this chic, bohemian gallery, which showcases the exciting work of contemporary artists.
Photo by stuckincustoms on Flickr