Paris, the capital of France, is busting with activity, sites and museums. You can take to the streets on a bicycle, by foot, by metro or by bus. Or you can simply relax at one of the numerous parks, café’s or restaurants.
Some of the most famous highlights as not to be missed they include:
- Musée du Louvre - This enormous building, constructed around 1200 as a fortress and rebuilt in the mid-16th century for use as a royal palace, began its career as a public museum in 1793. As part of Mitterand's grands projets in the 1980s, the Louvre was revamped with the addition of a 21m (67ft) glass pyramid entrance. Initially deemed a failure, the new design has since won over those who regard consistency as inexcusably boring. There are vast rooms full of paintings, sculptures and antiquities, including the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory (which looks like it's been dropped and put back together). Along with a new wing devoted to islamic art. If the volume of art becomes unbearable, your best bet is to pick a period or section of the Louvre and pretend that the rest is somewhere across town.
- Catacombes - In the late 18th century, Paris decided it had a problem with its cemeteries, namely that they were full, if not overflowing. Faced with potential outbreaks of disease, not to mention aesthetic concerns, the city authorities decided to exhume the bones of the buried and relocate them in the tunnels of several disused quarries. The decision to do this was made in 1785 and led to the creation of the Catacombes. Visitors to this disturbing 'attraction' will find themselves 20m (65ft) underground, working their way along corridors stacked with bones. People over 60 can get in for free, which says a lot about the French sense of humour. The tunnels, which were used by the Résistance during WWII as a headquarters, are south of the Seine.
- Bois de Vincennes - Located at the eastern edge of Paris it is a wonderful location to visit with children. It is a landscaped forest that has a chateau, a medieval keep, ornamental boating lakes and a zoo. It will keep you and the children entertained all day. Or a little closer to the city center is the Jardin du Luxembourg a garden where people go to relax and sail toy boats in the fountain. There is also a large enclosed children’s play area with swings, slides and climbing apparatus’.
- Centre Georges Pompidou - The Centre Georges Pompidou, displays and promotes modern and contemporary art. Built between 1972 and 1977, the hi-tech though daffy design, where the building seems to be “turned inside out”, has recently begun to age, prompting face-lifts and closures of many parts of the centre. Woven into this mêlée of renovation are several good (though pricey) galleries plus a free, three-tiered library with over 2000 periodicals, including English-language newspapers and magazines from around the world.
- Notre Dame - The city's cathedral ranks as one of the greatest achievements of Gothic architecture. Notre Dame was begun in 1163 and completed around 1345; the massive interior can accommodate over 6000 worshippers. Although Notre Dame is regarded as a sublime architectural achievement, there are all sorts of minor anomalies. These include a trio of main entrances that are each shaped differently, and which are accompanied by statues that were once coloured to make them more effective as Bible lessons. The interior is dominated by the spectacular and enormous Rose Windows, and a 7800-pipe organ that was recently restored but has not been working properly since. From the base of the north tower, visitors can climb to the top of the west façade and decide how much aesthetic pleasure they derive from looking out at the cathedral's many gargoyles - alternatively they can just enjoy the view of a decent swathe of Paris. Under the square in front of the cathedral, an archaeological crypt displays in situ the remains of structures from the Gallo-Roman and later periods.
- Sainte Chapelle - Lying inside the Palais de Justice (law courts), Sainte Chapelle was consecrated in 1248 and built to house what was reputedly Jesus' crown of thorns and other relics purchased by King Louis IX earlier in the 13th century. The gem-like chapel, illuminated by a veritable curtain of 13th-century stained glass (the oldest and finest in Paris), is best viewed from the law courts' main entrance - a magnificently gilded, 18th-century gate. Once past the airport-like security, you can wander around the long hallways of the Palais de Justice and, if you can find a court in session, observe the proceedings. Civil cases are heard in the morning, while criminal trials - usually reserved for larceny or that French specialty crimes passionnel - begin after lunch.
- Musée d'Orsay - Spectacularly housed in a former railway station built in 1900, the Musée d'Orsay was re-inaugurated in its present form in 1986. Inside is a trove of artistic treasures produced between 1848 and 1914, including highly regarded Impressionist and Post-impressionist works. Most of their paintings and sculptures are found on the ground floor and the skylight-lit upper level, while the middle level has some magnificent rooms showcasing the Art-Nouveau movement.
- Musée Rodin - Located at the house where he lived and worked the museum displays the lively bronze and marble sculptures by Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, including casts of some of Rodin's most celebrated works. There's a shady sculpture garden out the back, one of Paris' treasured islands of calm.
- Eiffel Tower - This towering edifice was built for the World Fair of 1889, held to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution. Named after its designer, Gustave Eiffel, it stands 320m (1050ft) high and held the record as the world's tallest structure until 1930. 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. When you're done peering upwards through the girders, you can visit any of the three public levels, which can be accessed by lift or stairs. Just south-east of the tower is a grassy expanse that was once the site of the world's first balloon flights.
- Avenue des Champs-Élysées - A popular promenade for the ostentatious aristos of old, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées has long symbolised the style and joie de vivre of Paris. Encroaching fast-food joints, car showrooms and cinemas have somewhat dulled the sheen, but the 2km (1mi) long, 70m (235ft) wide stretch is still an ideal place for evening walks and relishing the food at overpriced restaurants.
- Cimetière du Père Lachaise - Established in 1805, this necropolis attracts more visitors than any similar structure in the world. Within the manicured, evergreen enclosure are the tombs of over one million people including such luminaries as the composer Chopin; the writers Molière, Apollinaire, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Marcel Proust and Gertrude Stein; the artists David, Delacroix, Pissarro, Seurat and Modigliani; the actors Sarah Bernhardt, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand; the singer Edith Piaf; and the dancer Isadora Duncan. The most visited tomb, however, is that of The Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison, who died in Paris in 1971. One hundred years earlier, the cemetery was the site of a fierce battle between Communard insurgents and government troops. The rebels were eventually rounded up against a wall and shot, and were buried where they fell in a mass grave.
- 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.
- Les Invalides - This large complex takes its name from the fact that it was commissioned by Louis XIV to house many of his wounded and homeless soldiers. At one time it was home to over 6,000 soldiers but now is better known for being the place of Napoleons tomb and the Musee de l’Armee. The Musee is one of the most comprehensive museums of military history in the world, with exhibits ranging from the Stone Age to the Modern Age with uniforms, weapons and models of battles and fortifications.
- Musee Picasso - Located in the Marsais District it is the largest of the Picasso Museums in the world. Housed in a 17th century building it holds many of the artists most inspired and seldom exhibited works from all of his periods, Blue, Pink and Cubist as well as over 3000 sketchbooks and sketchbooks.