Paris is more than just the famous monuments that are known all over the world. Beyond the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe is a city crammed with more intimate delights: neighbourhood cafés, bistros on side streets, little galleries, tiny cinemas run by film lovers, bookshops and antique dealerships to spend hours in. Its scale is both monumental and personal.
The excellent Métro underground rail system is ideal for a rapid journey, but for the visitor, perhaps the best ways to discover Paris is by walking around. Most of the famous attractions in the centre of Paris are located roughly between the Arc de Triomphe, the great monument to the Napoleonic Wars, and the Place de la Bastille, which marks the spot where the French Revolution began.
It's possible to walk directly from the Arc to the Bastille in an hour and a half, but you won't want to. If you take a few days and plenty of diversions, here are some of the places you will want to stop on the way.
The Jardin des Tuileries is the extensive park in front of the Louvre, with a famous carousel, miles of paths and plenty of spots to sit and enjoy a coffee. The extraordinary scale of the Louvre museum makes it almost impossible to cover in a single visit. There are few better places to get lost.
Crossing to the Left Bank, the Eiffel Tower is the best way to get an overview of the city. Take the elevator to the top, or, if you’re in shape, save some money and take the corkscrew stairs - a very memorable experience. Further to the east is the Musée d’Orsay, located in a former railway station and housing an incomparable collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, including beautiful works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.
A little south of the river is the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of the largest public parks in Paris. The gardens enclose the Palais de Luxembourg, the seat of the French Senate. A short walk east is the Panthéon, an 18th century neoclassical gem honouring some of France’s national figures.
Returning north to the river, one passes through the Latin Quarter, a lively maze of small streets lined with bistros and cafés, which has been a favourite haunt of generations of artists and writers.
The island of Île de la Cité lies in the middle of the river, connected by short bridges to both banks. Its most famous building? Notre Dame de Paris, the stunning 12th-14th century Gothic cathedral, one of the architectural masterpieces of the middle ages. Crossing the Seine to the Right Bank, one comes to Paris’s City Hall, the Hôtel de Ville. Beyond that is the Centre Georges Pompidou, a great museum of modern art, and Les Halles, one of the city’s top shopping centres.
The RER regional train service provides very efficient transport to outlying spots. The palace of Versailles is a great choice for a day trip. Twenty kilometres outside the city, it was built by Louis XIV and became the centre of political power under the monarchy. The enormous scale of the palace and gardens are a vivid reminder of the power and corruption of the aristocracy. To the south east is the château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, which inspired Versailles and is open for group tours and individual visits for most of the year.
Disneyland Paris, to the east of the city, can also be reached by the RER, and provides the full entertainment experience for children and parents. For those who can’t leave, there are hotels and resorts on site.
Further afield, there are many rural areas around Paris from which one can take a day trip into the city. The attractive landscapes of Champagne are dotted with vineyards dedicated to the famous drink to which the region gave its name. The capital of the champagne industry is Épernay, where there are many caves or wine cellars to visit and sample the product. Nearby Reims has a famous Gothic cathedral.
North of the city at Giverny, one can visit the house and gardens of the great impressionist painter Claude Monet, who made a stunning series of paintings of the cathedral in the nearby medieval town of Rouen. West of Paris, Chartres has one of the finest cathedrals in France and many other attractions including a compact and attractive medieval town centre and interesting museums, and Orleans is a city intimately associated with French history: Joan of Arc is commemorated there with a statue and a restoration of the house where she lived.