Blessed with unrivalled art and architecture, sublime cuisine and a heady dose of romance, the City of Love is hard to beat
For many first-time visitors, Paris means love at first sight. Despite being a large city, its heart is intimate and easy to walk. Some of its best sights are centred round the Seine and Île de la Cité. Be sure to tick off a visit to some artistic treasures, dine in one of its superb restaurants … or simply wander the streets, soaking up the atmosphere of this magical capital.
Gustave Eiffel only constructed his 320m, wrought-iron needle to serve as a temporary exhibit for the World Fair
of 1889. Fortunately, the Art Nouveau tower’s popularity assured its survival. Pre-book your ticket online and you will quite easily be able to bypass the long queues.
Just across the Seine lies a gracious arch commemorating Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz (1805). The Arc de Triomphe stands in the centre of the Étoile roundabout. From its lofty viewing platform, you can check out the dozen avenues radiating out in all directions.
Much-loved Notre Dame Cathedral is a true masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. It’s been the focal point of Catholic Paris for seven centuries and its vast interior can accommodate 6 000 worshippers. Keep your eyes open for the three spectacular rose windows and ensure you climb one of the bell towers.
The Parisian cityscape is constantly evolving. There are so many stunning modern icons, from the industrial-style Centre Pompidou to the Mur Végétal (Vertical Garden) gracing the Musée du quai Branly, as well as a mass of architectural craziness in the suburb of La Défense.
Paris is one of the planet’s great art repositories, housing treasures from antiquity to the present. There are so many excellent museums, you could easily lose a month exploring them.
But the two big guns are the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.
Tackling the Louvre can be a bit of a marathon, so wear running shoes, take water and plan your route. This is one of the world’s largest and most diverse museums, housing more than 35 000 artefacts – from Egyptian and Greek antiquities to masterpieces by artists such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt. If it’s your first visit, the star of the show is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
The Musée d’Orsay, home to France’s huge national collection of Art Nouveau, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, is housed in the Gare d’Orsay former railway station. The Impressionist rooms are bursting with renowned works such as Monet’s water-lilies, Cézanne’s card players, Degas’ ballerinas and Van Gogh’s haunting self-portraits.
France’s reputation for food (‘cuisine’ is also the French word for ‘kitchen’) is legendary. Whether you are looking to while away an evening at an intimate neighbourhood bistro or a Michelin-starred gastronomic extravaganza, you will find that every establishment takes the greatest care over the preparation and presentation of quality produce, invariably served with French wine.
At every turn, you’ll come across colourful street markets, patisseries, boulangeries (bakeries) and fromageries (cheese shops). Your meal could be as simple as buying a traditional baguette, a sizeable chunk of Brie and finding a comfortable park bench.
Walk of life
Paris is a city to be experienced on foot. Amble along the banks of the Seine or pack a picnic and head for one of the great parks. In the evening, gaze at the lamp-lit bridges spanning the Seine and wander the streets of the 5th and 6th arrondissements, where Art Nouveau cafes spill their wicker chairs out on to the pavements.
The Luxembourg Gardens is an oasis of terraced chestnut groves and lawns. Napoleon dedicated this picturesquely laid-out space to the children of Paris, and many modern locals spent their childhoods guiding wooden sailboats with long sticks on the Grand Bassin pond, watching a few puppet shows at the Théâtre du Luxembourg and riding the carousel.
Text: Justin Fox; Photography: Gallo/GettyImages