Paris Travel Guide

Paris is a city to discover, seeing the sights, visiting the museums, they're part of the experience. But then jump on the metro or a bus and get off at a place you've never heard of, wander through a quartier where French mixes with Arabic or Vietnamese,have lunch in a local restaurant, poke your head into mysterious shops, or just perch on a cafe terrace with a vin blanc and let yourself fall in love with the city.

Paris is the essence of all things French. From romance along the Seine to landscapes on bus-sized canvases to the pick-an-ism types in cafes monologuing on the use of garlic or the finer points of Jerry Lewis, this city assaults the senses. Savour its gourmet pastiche of cheese, chocolate, wine and seafood. Feel the wind in your face as you rollerblade through Bastille, or a frisson of fear and pleasure atop the Eiffel Tower.


Facts at a glance

Area: 105 sq km
Population: 2.12 million
Country: France
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (Central European Time)
Telephone Area Code: 01; area code is integrated with number and must be dialled at all times.


3rd century BC: Paris was founded on what is now the Île de la Cité by a tribe of Celtic Gauls known as the Parisii.

52 BC: Julius Caesar's legions took control of the territory. Christianity was introduced in the 2nd century AD, and the Roman party was finally crashed in the 5th century by the arrival of the Franks.

508 AD: Frankish king Clovis I united Gaul as a kingdom and made Paris his capital, naming it after the original Parisii tribe.

12th century: construction began on the cathedral of Notre Dame, while the Marais area north of the Seine was drained and settled to become what's known today as the Right Bank, the beautiful Sainte Chapelle was consecrated in 1248 and the Louvre got its start as a riverside fortress around 1200.

1253: The Sorbonne opened its doors.

Scandinavian Vikings (also known as Norsemen, or Normans) began raiding France's western coast in the 9th century; after three centuries of conflict, they started to push toward Paris. These conflicts gave birth to the Hundred Years War between Norman England and Paris' Capetian dynasty, eventually resulting in the French defeat at Agincourt in 1415 and English control of Paris in 1420.

1429: A 17-year-old stripling called Jeanne d'Arc re-rallied the French troops to defeat the English at Orléans, and, with the exception of Calais, the English were expelled from France in 1453.

Renaissance helped Paris get back on its feet at the end of the 1400s, and many of the city's signature buildings and monuments sprang up during the period.

16th century: In the name of religion, Paris was again up in arms. Clashes between the Huguenot Protestants and Catholic groups sank to their darkest levels in 1572 with the St Bartholomew's Day massacre of 3000 Huguenots in town to celebrate the wedding of the later, King Henri IV Henri of Navarre.

1643: Louis XIV, known as le Roi Soleil (the Sun King), ascended to the throne at the tender age of five and held the crown until 1715. During his reign, he nearly bankrupted the national treasury with battling and building. His most tangible legacy is the palace at Versailles, 23km south-west of Paris.

1789: On 14 July, the excesses of Louis XVI and his capricious queen, Marie-Antoinette, led to an uprising of Parisians and the storming of the Bastille prison - kick-starting the French Revolution. The populist ideals of the revolution's early stages quickly gave way to a Reign of Terror, where even a few of the original 'patriots' got uncomfortably cosy with Madame la Guillotine.

1799: The unstable post-revolution government was consolidated under a young Corsican general, Napoleon Bonaparte, who adopted the title First Consul.

1804: The Pope crowned him Emperor of the French (Napoleon took the crown from the Pope´s hands and put himself in his head), and Napoleon proceeded to sweep most of Europe under his wing. Napoleon's hunger for conquest led to his defeat, first in Russia in 1812 and later at Belgium's Waterloo in 1815.

Napoleon's legacy in modern France includes the national legal code, which bears his name, and monuments such as the massive neoclassical Arc de Triomphe.

1851: Following Napoleon's exile and death, France faltered under a string of mostly inept rulers until a coup d'état in brought a new emperor, Napoleon III, to power. In 17 years, he oversaw the construction of a flashy new Paris, with wide boulevards, sculptured parks and a modern sewer system. Like his namesake uncle, however, this Napoleon and his penchant for pugnacity led to a costly and eventually unsuccessful war, this time with the Prussians in 1870. When news of their emperor's capture by the enemy reached Paris the masses took to the streets, demanding that a republic be created.

The Third Republic ushered in the glittering halcyon years of the belle époque.The belle époque was famed for its Art Nouveau architecture and a barrage of advances in the arts and sciences.

1930: The city had become a worldwide centre for the artistic avant-garde and had entrenched its reputation among freethinking intellectuals.

1940: The flowering of that era was cut short by the Nazi occupation, and Paris remained under Germany's thumb until 25 August 1944.

1968: After the war, Paris regained its position as a creative hotbed and nurtured a revitalised liberalism that reached a crescendo in the student-led 'Spring Uprising'. The Sorbonne was occupied, barricades were erected in the Latin Quarter, and some 9 million people nationwide were inspired to join in a paralysing general strike, drawing attention to their increasing dissatisfaction with the rigidity of French institutions.

1980: President François Mitterand initiated the futuristic grands projets, a series of costly building projects that garnered widespread approval even when the results were popular failures. Responses to the flashier examples, like the Centre Pompidou and the glass pyramids in the Louvre, have ranged from appalled 'mon Dieux' to absolute doting rapture; the projets invigorated dialogue about the Parisian aesthetic.

1998: France's first-ever World Cup victory in July.

1997: The political party behind Jacques Chirac (France's president since mid-1995) lost the parliamentary elections to a coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens headed by current Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

2002: Presidential elections, far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was highly successful in the first round of the elections due to a low voter turnout. A subsequent strong show of support for Chirac - and a powerful slap in the face for Le Pen - gave Chirac a landslide victory, knocking Jospin out of the race in the process.

In 2001 Paris elected its first openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë. He was stabbed in a hate crime in October 2002, but recovered successfully. He continues to enjoy widespread popularity, particularly for his efforts to create a more approachable and responsible city administration and to make Paris more liveable by promoting bicycles and buses.

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