Paris Travel Guide


Eiffel Tower
This is one of the world's most recognizable monuments (and the best-known monument in all of Europe), and it is breathtaking to behold. Be sure to take the lift to the top for a spectacular view of the city. This attraction alone drew 6.2 million visitors in 2002, according to Paris Office of Tourism statistics. Built originally in 1899 as a temporary exhibition structure, the Eiffel Tower remained when Paris discovered its utility as a city-wide communications tower. Initially opposed by the city's artistic and literary elite - who were only affirming their right to disagree with everything - the tower was almost torn down in 1909. Salvation came when it proved an ideal platform for the antennas needed for the new science of radiotelegraphy. Just southeast of the tower is a grassy expanse that was once the site of the world's first balloon flights and is now used by teens as a skateboarding arena or by activists bad-mouthing Chirac.

Louvre Museum
Arguably the world's most famous art museum, the Louvre's most popular piece is Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." It was established in 1793, and is one of the oldest museums in Europe. Its collections spans from the birth of great civilizations up to the 19th century. A whopping 5.7 million tourists visited the museum in 2002.

Centre Pompidou
The funky and hip Centre Pompidou features a wonderful collection of modern art within its creatively designed building. It also features a cinema, concerts and children's activities. The Centre attracts 5.5 million visitors annually. Two floors are dedicated to exhibiting some of the 40,000-plus works of the Musée Nationale d'Art Moderne, France's national collection of 20th-century art. The top floors have a magnificent view of Paris, and place George Pompidou below attracts street performers, musicians and artists.

Cite des Sciences at de l'Industrie
This fun, hands-on science museum attracts 2.5 million visitors each year, with its cool exhibits on anatomy, biology, you name it.

Musee d'Orsay
This museum may not be the massive size of Louvre, but its Impressionist collection is among the best in the world. The museum is housed in a former rail station, and has the atmosphere and personality to match. The Musee d'Orsay attracts 2.1 million visitors annually. It thus fills the chronological gap between the Louvre and the Musée National d'Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou. The museum is austerely housed along the Seine in a former railway station built in 1900 and reinaugurated in its present form in 1986.

Arc de Triomphe
Climb to the top for one of the best views of Paris. No, it doesn't go as high as the Eiffel Tower. But since the city is relatively flat, the vantage point at this height is actually better. The arch brings in 1.4 million visitors each year. The Arc de Triomphe is the world's largest traffic roundabout and the meeting point of 12 avenues. It was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to commemorate his imperial victories, but remained unfinished until 1836. Since 1920, the body of an unknown soldier from WWI taken from Verdun in Lorraine has lain beneath the arch, his fate and that of countless others like him commemorated by a memorial flame rekindled each evening around 6:30pm. France's national remembrance service is held here annually on Nov 11th.

Bois de Boulogne
The modestly sized Bois de Boulogne, on the western edge of the city, is endowed with forested areas, meandering paths, belle époque cafes and little wells of naughtiness. Each night, pockets of the Bois de Boulogne are taken over by prostitutes and lurkers with predacious sexual tastes. In recent years, the police have cracked down on the area's sex trade, but locals still advise against walking through the area alone at night. The Bois de Boulogne was damaged in the storms of December 1999; its renovation is due to be completed in 2004.

An attraction with limited appeal, but nonetheless one of the world's wonders, the Catacombs of Paris consist of almost a mile of illuminated dirt tunnels filled with human bones and skulls transposed for public health reasons from over-filled 18th century cemeteries. Also used by the French Resistance in the forties, the Catacombs have developed a mystique of their own, and are worth seeing while you are here, however briefly.

Cathédrale Notre Dame
At the center of the Parisian arrondissements is the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, around which Paris was built. Since the 1100s, Notre Dame has played an integral role in Parisian history, and is one of the oldest remaining structures in the city.

Sacré Coeur
Above all, Montmartre is known for its many artists who have been omnipresent since 1880. The name Montmartre, an area around a hill in the 18th arrondissement, north of downtown Paris, is said to be derived from either Mount of Martyrs or from Mount of Mars. Until 1873, when the Sacré-Coeur was built on top of the hill, Montmartre was a small village, inhabited by a mostly farming community. The project to build the Sacré Coeur was initiated by a group of influential people who wanted to build the monument as moral condemnation of the sins of Paris, which, in their opinion, had caused the defeat of the French army against Prussia in 1870.

Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Founded in 1804, Père Lachaise's 70,000 ornate tombs form a verdant, open-air sculpture garden. Among its resting residents are famous composers, writers, artists, actors, singers, dancers and even the immortal 12th-century lovers Abélard and Héloïse. One of the most popular graves is that of rock star Jim Morrison of The Doors, who died in an apartment on Rue Beautreillis (4e) in the Marais in 1971.

Place des Vosges
The Marais district spent a long time as a swamp and then as agricultural land, until in 1605 King Henry IV decided to transform it into a residential area for Parisian aristocrats. He did this by building Place des Vosges and arraying 36 symmetrical houses around its square perimeter. The houses, each with arcades on the ground floor, large dormer windows, and the requisite creepers on the walls, were initially built of brick but were subsequently constructed using timber with a plaster covering, which was then painted to look like brick. Duels, fought with strictly observed formality, were once staged in the elegant park in the middle. From 1832-48 Victor Hugo lived at a house at No 6, which has now been turned into a municipal museum. Today, the arcades around the place are occupied by expensive galleries and shops, and cafés filled with people drinking little cups of coffee and air-kissing immaculate passersby.

Sainte Chapelle
The most exquisite of Paris' Gothic gems, Sainte Chapelle is tucked away within the walls of the Palais de Justice. The chapel is illuminated by a veritable curtain of luminous 13th-century stained glass (the oldest and finest in Paris). Consecrated in 1248, Sainte Chapelle was built to house what was believed to be Jesus' crown of thorns and other relics purchased by King Louis IX. The chapel's exterior can be viewed from across the street, from the law courts' magnificently gilded 18th-century gate, which faces Rue de Lutèce.

Île de France
The relatively small region surrounding Paris - known as the Île de France (Island of France) - was where the kingdom of France began its 12th-century expansion. Today, it's a popular day-trip destination for Parisians and Paris-based visitors. Among the region's many attractions are woodlands ideal for hiking, skyscrapered districts endowed with sleekly functional architecture, the much-maligned EuroDisney, elegant historical towns and Versailles, the country's former political capital and seat of the royal court. The latter is the site of the Château de Versailles, the grandest and most famous palace in France. Built in the mid-1600s during the reign of Louis XIV, the chateau is a keen reminder of just how much one massive ego and a nation's wealth could buy in days of old (eat your heart out, Bill Gates). Apart from grand halls, bedchambers, gardens, ponds and fountains too elaborate to discuss, there's also a 75m (250ft) Hall of Mirrors, where nobles could watch each other dancing.

Parc Zoologique de Paris
The best way to get to one of the great zoos of Europe is by Metro, which has its own stop here. This is a habitat-style zoo, no cages, and offers a great opportunity to see wild animals truly at home. Many activities, children's programs and refreshment alternatives in the area also augment the experience, well worth a day's investment.

The Avenue des Champs-Elysées is probably the most famous avenue in the world. This impressive promenade stretches from the Place the la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle, the site of the Arc de Triomphe.
At its western end it is bordered by cinemas, theaters, cafés and luxury shops. Near the Place de la Concorde, the street is bordered by the Jardins des Champs-Elysées, beautifully arranged gardens with fountains and some grand buildings including the Grand and Petit Palais at the southern side and the Elysée at its northern side. The latter has been the residence of the French Presidents since 1873.

Place de la Bastille
The large Bastille square or Place de la Bastille is named after the notorious Bastille stronghold. After the defeat of the French at Poitiers in 1356 during the 100 year war with England, there was need for a stronghold to protect Paris from invasion. Construction of the Bastille started in 1370 and was completed in 1382. It had 4 meter wide walls and eight 22m high towers. The stronghold was later converted into a prison by Richelieu. Most of the prisoners were enemies of the king, sent to prison by a simple order under the king's seal. Some of the most famous inmates were Voltaire , Fouquet and Sade. The Bastille had a terrible reputation, but in reality there were few prisoners and the treatment was better than in most prisons. Nonetheless, the Bastille became a symbol of the arbitrariness of the monarchy.

On July 14, 1789 the Bastille was stormed by a crowd reinforced with a rebellious detachment of the National Guard. The few guards soon surrendered, and the 7 prisoners were freed. The capture of the Bastille marks Colonne de Juilletthe start of the French Revolution. It is celebrated each year as the Bastille Day, which was also declared the French national holiday in 1860.

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