Paris is the capital of France and the country’s largest city. It is situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region (also known as the “Paris Region”; French: Région parisienne). The Paris aire urbaine (or metropolitan area) has a population of nearly 12 million, and is one of the most populated metropolitan areas in Europe.
An important settlement for more than two millennia, Paris is today one of the world’s leading business and cultural centres, and its influence in politics, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world’s major global cities. According to 2005 estimates, the Paris urban area is Europe’s biggest city economy and is fifth in the world’s list of cities by GDP.
Paris, the cosmopolitan capital of France, is – with 2.2 million people living in zone 1 (Central Paris) and another 9.9 million people in the suburbs (la banlieue) – one of the largest cities in Europe. Located in the north of the country on the river Seine, Paris has the reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historic associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design. Dubbed the City of Light (la Ville Lumière), it is the most popular tourist destination in the world.
The Paris Region, with US$731.3 billion, produced more than a quarter of the gross domestic product (GDP) of France in 2007. The Paris Region hosts 37 of the Fortune Global 500 companies in several business districts, notably La Défense, the largest purpose-built business district in Europe. Paris also hosts many international organizations such as UNESCO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the informal Paris Club.
Paris is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with over 30 million foreign visitors per year. There are numerous iconic landmarks among its many attractions, along with world-famous institutions and popular parks.
Paris is located in the north-bending arc of the river Seine and includes two islands, the Île Saint-Louis and the larger Île de la Cité, which form the oldest part of the city. Overall, the city is relatively flat, and the lowest elevation is 35 m (115 ft) above sea level. Paris has several prominent hills, of which the highest is Montmartre at 130 m (427 ft).
Paris, excluding the outlying parks of Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes, covers an oval measuring 86.928 km2 (34 sq mi) in area. The city’s last major annexation of outlying territories in 1860 not only gave it its modern form, but created the twenty clockwise-spiralling arrondissements (municipal boroughs). From the 1860 area of 78 km2 (30 sq mi), the city limits were expanded marginally to 86.9 km2 (34 sq mi) in the 1920s. In 1929 the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes forest parks were officially annexed to the city, bringing its area to the present 105.397 km2 (41 sq mi).
Paris has an oceanic climate and is affected by the North Atlantic Current, so the city rarely sees extremely high or low temperatures (such as heat wave of 2003 and the cold wave of 2006). Paris has warm summers with average high temperatures of 25 °C (77 °F) and lows of 15 °C (59 °F). Winters are chilly, but rarely below freezing point with temperatures around 3 °C (37 °F) – 8 °C (46 °F). Spring and fall have mild days and cool evenings. Rainfall could occur at any time of the year, and although not a very rainy city, Paris is known for its sudden showers.
The yearly annual precipation is 650 mm (26 in) with light rainfall fairly distributed throughout the year. Snowfall is a rare occurrence, but the city could see light snow or flurries without accumulation in some winters.
The highest record temperature ever in Paris was 40.4 °C (105 °F) on 28 July 1948, and the lowest was a ?23.9 °C (?11 °F) on 10 December 1879. Temperatures shown here are those of the Parc Montsouris, at the very southern end of the city. Due to a noticeable urban heat effet, Central Paris is known to have significantly milder night and morning temperatures, thus receiving less snowfall than outer suburbs.
Central Paris is officially divided into 20 districts called arrondissements, numbered from 1 to 20 in a clockwise spiral from the centre of the city (known as Kilometre Zero and is located at the front of Notre Dame). Arrondissements are named according to their number. You might, for example, stay in the “5th”, which would be written as 5e (SANK-ee-emm) in French. The 12th and 16th arrondissements include large suburban parks, the Bois de Vincennes, and the Bois de Boulogne respectively.
The very best map you can get for Paris is called “Paris Pratique par Arrondissement” which you can buy for about €2-4 at any news stand. It makes navigating the city easy- so much that one can imagine that the introduction of such map-books might be part of what made the arrondissement concept so popular in the first place. Each arrondissement has its own unique character and selection of attractions for the traveller:
- 1st (1er). The geographical centre of Paris and a great starting point for travellers. The Musée du Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, Place Vendôme, Les Halles, Palais Royal, Comédie-Française, and Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel are all to be found here.
- 2nd (2e). The central business district of the city – the Bourse (the Paris Stock Exchange), Opéra-Comique, Théâtre des Variétés, Passage des Panoramas, Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens and the Bibliothèque Nationale are located here.
- 3rd (3e). Archives Nationales, Musée Carnavalet, Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, Musée Carnavalet, Hôtel de Soubise, the Former Temple fortress, and the northern, quieter part of the Marais can be found here.
- 4th (4e). Notre-Dame de Paris, the Hôtel de Ville (Paris town hall), Hôtel de Sully, Rue des Rosiers and the Jewish Quartier, Beaubourg, Le Marais, Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, Centre Georges Pompidou, Place des Vosges, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Saint-Jacques Tower and Parisian island Île Saint-Louis can be found here.
- 5th (5e). Jardin des Plantes, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Musée de Cluny, The Panthéon, Quartier Latin, Universités, La Sorbonne, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Église Saint-Séverin, La Grande Mosquée, Le Musée de l’AP-HP can be located here.
- 6th (6e). Jardin du Luxembourg as well as its Sénat, Place Saint-Michel, Église Saint-Sulpice and Saint-Germain des Prés can be found here.
- 7th (7e). Tour Eiffel and its Parc du Champ de Mars, Les Invalides, Musée d’Orsay, Assemblée Nationale and its subset administrations, Ecole Militaire, and Parisian mega-store Le Bon Marché can be found here.
- 8th (8e). Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, le Palais de l’Elysée, Église de la Madeleine,Jacquemart-Andre Museum, Gare Saint-Lazare, Grand Palais and Petit Palais can be found here.
- 9th (9e). Opéra Garnier, Galeries Lafayette, Musée Grévin, and Folies Bergère can be found here.
- 10th (10e). Canal Saint-Martin, Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Port Saint-Denis, Port Saint-Martin, Passage Brady, Passage du Prado, and Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul can be found here.
- 11th (11e). The bars and restaurants of Rue Oberkampf, Bastille, Nation, New Jewish Quarter, Cirque d’Hiver, and Église Saint-Ambroise can be found here.
- 12th (12e). Opéra Bastille, Bercy Park and Village, Promenade Plantée, Quartier d’Aligre, Gare de Lyon, Cimetière de Picpus, Viaduc des arts the Bois de Vincennes, and the Zoo de Vincennes can be found here.
- 13th (13e). Quartier la Petite Asie, Place d’Italie, La Butte aux Cailles, Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), Gare d’Austerlitz, Manufacture des Gobelins, Butte-aux-Cailles and Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital can be found here.
- 14th (14e). Cimetière du Montparnasse, Gare Montparnasse, La Santé Prison, Denfert-Rochereau, Parc Montsouris, Stade Charléty, Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, and Paris Catacombs can be found here.
- 15th (15e). Tour Montparnasse, Porte de Versailles, Front de Seine, La Ruche and quartiers Saint-Lambert, Necker, Grenelle and Javel can be found here.
- 16th (16e). Palais de Chaillot, Musée de l’Homme, the Bois de Boulogne, Cimetière de Passy, Parc des Princes, Musée Marmottan-Monet, Trocadéro, and Avenue Foch can be found here.
- 17th (17e). Palais des Congrès, Place de Clichy, Parc Monceau, Marché Poncelet, and Square des Batignolles can be found here.
- 18th (18e). Montmartre, Pigalle, Barbès, Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, Église Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, and Goutte d’Or can be found here.
- 19th (19e). Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Parc de la Villette, Bassin de la Villette, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Cité de la Musique, Canal de l’Ourcq, and Canal Saint-Denis can be found here.
- 20th (20e). Cimetière de Père Lachaise, Parc de Belleville, and quartiers Belleville and Ménilmontant can be found here.
- La Défense. Although it is not officially part of the city, this skyscraper district on the western edge of town is on many visitors must-see lists for its modern architecture and public art.
Much of “Modern” Paris is the result of a vast mid-19th century urban remodelling. For centuries the city had been a labyrinth of narrow streets and half-timber houses, but beginning in 1852, the Baron Haussmann’s vast urbanisation levelled entire quarters to make way for wide avenues lined with neo-classical stone buildings of bourgeoise standing; most of this ‘new’ Paris is the Paris we see today.
These Second Empire plans are in many cases still applied today, as the city of Paris is still imposing the then-defined “alignement” law (building facades placed according to a pre-defined street width) on many new constructions. A building’s height was also defined according to the width of the street it lines, and Paris’ building code has seen few changes since the mid-19th century to allow for higher constructions. It is for this reason that Paris is mainly a “flat” city.
Paris’ unchanging borders, strict building codes and lack of developable land have together contributed in creating a phenomenon called muséification (or “museumification”) as, at the same time as they strive to preserve Paris’ historical past, existing laws make it difficult to build within the city limits the larger buildings and utilities needed for a growing population.
Many of Paris’ institutions and economic infrastructure are already located in, or are planning on moving to, the suburbs. The financial (La Défense) business district, the main food wholesale market (Rungis), major renowned schools (École Polytechnique, HEC, ESSEC, INSEAD, etc.), world famous research laboratories (in Saclay or Évry), the largest sport stadium (Stade de France), and some ministries (namely the Ministry of Transportation) are located outside of the city of Paris. The National Archives of France are due to relocate to the northern suburbs before 2010.
The need for a larger Paris is largely acknowledged by the French government. As of November 2007, discussions for such a larger Paris have begun, though which suburbs should be included in this larger Paris is unresolved. In any case, such an extension will not occur before the French city-hall elections, scheduled in the spring of 2008.
One of the best value and most convenient ways to see the sights of Paris is with the Paris Museum Pass (previously known as Carte Musées et Monuments), a pre-paid entry card that allows entry into over 70 museums and monuments around Paris and comes in 2-day (€30), 4-day (€45) and 6-day (€60) denominations (prices as of August 2008). The card allows you to jump otherwise sometimes lengthy queues and is available from participating museums, tourist offices, Fnac branches and all the main Métro and RER train stations. You will still need to pay to enter most special exhibitions.
Note that most museums and galleries are closed on either Monday or Tuesday – check ahead to avoid disappointment! – and most ticket counters close 30 – 45 minutes before final closing. Louvre museum is closed on Tuesdays while Orsay museum is closed on Mondays, good to know when setting visit plans.
Also consider the ParisPass also a pre paid entry card + queue jumping to 60 attractions including The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, as well as a river cruise and allows free metro & public transport travel. Also note a cheaper alternative with this new combined pass available since September 2008 in Paris, named Paris ComboPass®, comes in Lite/Premium versions.
All national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month; note, however, that this may mean long lines and crowded exhibits. Keep away from Paris during Easter week. It’s really crowded. People have to queue up at the Eiffel tower for several hours.
These listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Paris. A good listing of almost everything to do in Paris are the ‘Pariscope’, the ‘Officiel des spectacles’, and the much hipper ‘Zurban’, weekly magazines listing all concerts, stage plays and museums. Available from many kiosks. Unfortunately, their website is of no use at all. If you prefer a web version, you can visit Cityzeum, with maps of Paris, audio tours to download freely and more than 2000 visit and entertainment points.
Place de la Bastille (4th, 11th and 12th arrondissements, right bank) a district of great historical significance, not only for Paris, but for the whole of France. Because of its historical value the square is often used for political demonstrations, including the massive anti-CPE demonstration of March 2006.
Champs-Élysées (8th arrondissement, right bank) is a seventeenth century garden-promenade turned avenue connecting the Concorde and Arc de Triomphe.It is one of the many tourist attractions and a major shopping street of Paris. This avenue has been called la plus belle avenue du monde (“the most beautiful avenue in the world”).
Place de la Concorde (8th arrondissement, right bank) is at the foot of the Champs-Élysées, built as the “Place Louis XV”, site of the infamous guillotine. The Egyptian obelisk is Paris’ “oldest monument”. On this place, on either side of the Rue Royale there are two identical stone buildings: the eastern one houses the French Naval Ministry, the western the luxurious Hôtel de Crillon. Nearby Place Vendôme is famous for its fashionable and deluxe hotels (Hotel Ritz and Hôtel de Vendôme) and its jewellers. Many famous fashion designers have had their salons in the square.
Les Halles (1st arrondissement, right bank) was formerly Paris’ central meat and produce market, since the late 1970s a major shopping centre around an important metro connection station (Châtelet-Les Halles, the biggest in Europe). The past Les Halles was destroyed in 1971 and replaced by the Forum des Halles. The central market of Paris, the biggest wholesale food market in the world, was transferred to Rungis, in the southern suburbs.
Le Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) is a trendy Right Bank district. It is a very culturally open place. Avenue Montaigne (8th arrondissement), next to the Champs-Élysées, is home to luxury brand labels such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton (LVMH), Dior and Givenchy.
Montmartre (18th arrondissement, right bank) is a historic area on the Butte, home to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur. Montmartre has always had a history with artists and has many studios and cafés of many great artists in that area.
Montparnasse (14th arrondissement) is a historic Left Bank area famous for artists’ studios, music halls, and café life. The large Montparnasse – Bienvenüe métro station and the lone Tour Montparnasse skyscraper are located there.
L’Opéra (9th arrondissement, right bank) is the area around the Opéra Garnier is a home to the capital’s densest concentration of both department stores and offices. A few examples are the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette grands magasins (department stores), and the Paris headquarters of financial giants such as Crédit Lyonnais and American Express.
Quartier Latin (5th and 6th arrondissements, left bank) is a twelfth century scholastic centre formerly stretching between the Left Bank’s Place Maubert and the Sorbonne campus. It is known for its lively atmosphere and many bistros. With various higher education establishments, such as the École Normale Supérieure, ParisTech and the Jussieu university campus make it a major educational centre in Paris, which also contributes to its atmosphere. Faubourg Saint-Honoré (8th arrondissement, right bank) is one of Paris’ high-fashion districts, home to labels such as Hermès and Christian Lacroix.
La Défense (straddling the communes of Courbevoie, Puteaux, and Nanterre, 2.5 km (2 mi) west of the city proper) is a key suburb of Paris and is one of the largest business centres in the world. Built at the western end of a westward extension of Paris’ historical axis from the Champs-Élysées, La Défense consists mainly of business highrises. Initiated by the French government in 1958, the district hosts 3,500,000 m2 (37,673,686 sq ft) of offices, making it the largest district in Europe specifically developed for business. The Grande Arche (Great Arch) of la Défense, which houses a part of the French Transports Minister’s headquarters, ends the central Esplanade around which the district is organised.
Plaine Saint-Denis (straddling the communes of Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers, and Saint-Ouen, immediately north of the 18th arrondissement, across the Périphérique ring road) is a formerly derelict manufacturing area which has undergone large-scale urban renewal in the last 10 years. It now hosts the Stade de France around which is being built the new business district of LandyFrance, with two RER stations (on RER line B and D) and possibly some skyscrapers. In the Plaine Saint-Denis are also located most of France’s television studios as well as some major movie studios.
Val de Seine (straddling the 15th arrondissement and the communes of Issy-les-Moulineaux and Boulogne-Billancourt to the south-west of central Paris) is the new media hub of Paris and France, hosting the headquarters of most of France’s TV networks (TF1 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France 2 in the 15th arrondissement, Canal+ and the international channels France 24 and Eurosport in Issy-les-Moulineaux), as well as several telecommunication and IT companies such as Neuf Cegetel in Boulogne-Billancourt or Microsoft’s Europe, Africa & Middle East regional headquarters in Issy-les-Moulineaux.
Arc de Triomphe (8th). The grave of the unknown soldier is under the arch. Arènes de Lutece (5th). Built during the 1st and 2nd centuries, this amphitheater could seat up to 17,000 people, hosting gladiator fights as well as less bloody entertainment. Now a popular spot for playing boules, it is one of the only remaining ruins from the Gallo-Roman era in Paris, along with the Thermes (public baths) at Cluny.
Assemblée Nationale (7th). Seats the French Parliament, and was designed by Giardini and Gabriel in 1728. Catacombs (14th). Used to store the exhumed bones from the overflowing Paris cemetery. Chateau de Versailles (Versailles). On the outskirts of the city, the “must see” home of the Sun King Louis XIV. the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) (7th). One of the most famous landmarks in the world.
Grand Arche de la Defense (La Defense). A modern office-building variant of the Arc de Triomphe. Has a viewing platform. Notre Dame Cathedral (4th). Impressive Gothic cathedral that was the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Saved in the 19th century by the best-known French architect Viollet-le-Duc. Opera Garnier (9th). Masterpiece of theatre architecture of the 19th century built by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875 housing the Paris Opera since it was founded by Louis XIV. Pantheon (5th). Underneath, the final resting place for the great heroes of the French Republic; above, a marvellous view of the city. Père-Lachaise Cemetery (20th). See the grave of Jim Morrison amongst many others.
Sacré Coeur (18th). A church perched on top of the highest point in Paris. Behind the church is the artists’ area, in front are spectacular views of the whole city. Sainte Chapelle (1st). Far more beautiful than the famous, but gloomy, Notre Dame. Make sure you go on a sunny day, as the highlight of this small chapel in Rayonnante Gothic style are the large stained-glass windows which soar up to near the vaulted ceiling. Also of interest is the extremely ornate lower level. If it happens to be rainy or cloudy, give Sainte Chappelle a miss, as the play of colored lights on the floor are well worth the wait for a sunnier day.
Three of the most famous Parisian landmarks are the twelfth century cathedral Notre Dame de Paris on the Île de la Cité, the nineteenth century Eiffel Tower, and the Napoleonic Arc de Triomphe. The Eiffel Tower was a “temporary” construction by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Universal Exposition but the tower was never dismantled and is now an enduring symbol of Paris. The Historical axis is a line of monuments, buildings and thoroughfares that run in a roughly straight line from the city centre westwards: the line of monuments begins with the Louvre and continues through the Tuileries Gardens, the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe centred in the Place de l’Étoile circus. From the 1960s the line was prolonged even further west to the La Défense business district dominated by square-shaped triumphal Grande Arche of its own; this district hosts most of the tallest skyscrapers in the Paris urban area.
The Invalides museum is the burial place for many great French soldiers, including Napoleon, and the Panthéon church is where many of France’s illustrious men and women are buried. The former Conciergerie prison held some prominent Ancien Régime members before their deaths during the French Revolution. Another symbol of the Revolution are the two Statues of Liberty located on the Île des Cygnes on the Seine and in the Luxembourg Garden. A larger version of the statues was sent as a gift from France to America in 1886 and now stands in New York City’s harbour.
The Palais Garnier built in the later Second Empire period, houses the Paris Opera and the Paris Opera Ballet, while the former palace of the Louvre now houses one of the most famous museums in the world. The Sorbonne is the most famous part of the University of Paris and is based in the centre of the Latin Quarter. Apart from Notre Dame de Paris, there are several other ecclesiastical masterpieces including the Gothic thirteenth century Sainte-Chapelle palace chapel and the Église de la Madeleine.
Two of Paris’ oldest and famous gardens are the Tuileries Garden, created from the 16th century for a palace on the banks of the Seine near the Louvre, and the Left bank Luxembourg Garden, another formerly private garden belonging to a château built for the Marie de’ Medici in 1612. The Jardin des Plantes, created by Louis XIII’s doctor Guy de La Brosse for the cultivation of medicinal plants, was Paris’ first public garden.
A few of Paris’ other large gardens are Second Empire creations: the formerly suburban parks of Montsouris, Parc des Buttes Chaumont and Parc Monceau (formerly known as the “folie de Chartres”), were creations of Napoleon III’s engineer Jean-Charles Alphand and the landscape and are enjoyed by all ages. Another project executed under the orders of Baron Haussmann was the re-sculpting of Paris’ western Bois de Boulogne forest-parklands; the Bois de Vincennes, on the city’s opposite eastern end, received a similar treatment in years following.
Newer additions to Paris’ park landscape are the Parc de la Villette, built by the architect Bernard Tschumi on the location of Paris’ former slaughterhouses, the Parc André Citroën and gardens being lain to the periphery along the traces of its former circular “Petite Ceinture” railway line: Promenade Plantée.
Paris’ main cemetery was located to its outskirts on its Left Bank from the beginning of its history, but this changed with the rise of Catholicism and the construction of churches towards the city centre, many of them having adjoining burial grounds for use by their parishes. Generations of a growing city population soon filled these cemeteries to overflowing, creating sometimes very unsanitary conditions: condemned from 1786, the contents of all Paris’ parish cemeteries were transferred to a renovated section of Paris’ then suburban stone mines outside the Left Bank “Porte d’Enfer” city gate (today 14th arrondissement’s place Denfert-Rochereau). After a tentative creation of several smaller suburban cemeteries, Napoleon Bonaparte provided a more definitive solution in the creation of three massive Parisian cemeteries to the outside of the Fermiers-Généraux city tax walls; Open from 1804, these were the cemeteries of Père Lachaise, Montmartre, Montparnasse, and later Passy.
When Paris annexed all communes to the inside of its much larger ring of suburban fortifications in 1860, its cemeteries were once again within its city walls. New suburban cemeteries were created in the early 20th century: the largest of these are the Cimetière Parisien de Saint-Ouen, the Cimetière Parisien de Bobigny-Pantin, the Cimetière Parisien d’Ivry and the Cimetière Parisien de Bagneux.
The Cinémas of Paris are (or at least should be) the envy of the movie-going world. Of course, like anywhere else you can see big budget first-run films from France and elsewhere. That though, is just the start. During any given week there are at least half-a-dozen film festivals going on, at which you can see the entire works of a given actor or director. Meanwhile there are some older cult films like say, What’s new Pussycat or Casino Royal which you can enjoy pretty much any day you wish.
Many non-French movies are subtitled (called “version originale” or “v/o”). Still it’s probably a good idea to be sure of a movie having subtitles if your French is not adequate to follow fast conversations. There are any number of ways to find out what’s playing, but the most commonly used guide is Pariscope, which you can find at newstands for €0.40. Meanwhile there are innumerable online guides which have information on “every” cinema in Paris. Be aware that most of the movies shown in France are dubbed to French. Some shows may have French subtitles.
Parisians tend to share the same movie-going trends as many of the world’s global cities, that is to say with a dominance of Hollywood-generated film entertainment. French cinema comes a close second, with major directors (réalisateurs) such as Claude Lelouch, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Luc Besson, and the more slapstick/popular genre with director Claude Zidi as an example. European and Asian films are also widely shown and appreciated. A specialty of Paris is its very large network of small movie theatres: on a given week the movie fan has the choice between around 300 old or new movies from all over the world.
Many of Paris’ concert/dance halls were transformed into movie theatres when the media became popular from the 1930s. Later most of the largest cinemas were divided into multiple, smaller rooms: Paris’ largest cinema today is by far le Grand Rex theatre with 2,800 seats, while other cinemas all have fewer than 1,000 seats. There is now a trend toward modern multiplexes that contain more than 10 or 20 screens.
Paris has always been a destination for traders, students and those on religious pilgrimages, but its ‘tourist industry’ began on a large scale only with the appearance of rail travel, namely from state organisation of France’s rail network from 1848. Among Paris’ first mass attractions drawing international interest were, from 1855, the above-mentioned Expositions Universelles that would bring Paris many new monuments, namely the Eiffel Tower from 1889. These, in addition to the capital’s Second Empire embellishments, did much to make the city itself the attraction it is today.
Paris’ museums and monuments are among its highest-esteemed attractions; tourism has motivated both the city and national governments to create new ones. The city’s most prized museum, the Louvre, welcomes over 8 million visitors a year, being by far the world’s most visited art museum. The city’s cathedrals are another main attraction: its Notre Dame de Paris and the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur receive 12 million and eight million visitors respectively. The Eiffel Tower, by far Paris’ most famous monument, averages over six million visitors per year and more than 200 million since its construction. Disneyland Resort Paris is a major tourist attraction not only for visitors to Paris, but to Europe as well, with 14.5 million visitors in 2007.
The Louvre is one of the largest and most famous museums, housing many works of art, including the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) and the Venus de Milo statue. Works by Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin are found in Musée Picasso and Musée Rodin respectively, while the artistic community of Montparnasse is chronicled at the Musée du Montparnasse. Starkly apparent with its service-pipe exterior, the Centre Georges Pompidou, also known as Beaubourg, houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Art and artifacts from the Middle Ages and Impressionist eras are kept in Musée Cluny and Musée d’Orsay respectively, the former with the prized tapestry cycle The Lady and the Unicorn. Paris’ newest (and third largest) museum, the Musée du quai Branly, opened its doors in June 2006 and houses art from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.
Many of Paris’ once-popular local establishments have come to cater to the tastes and expectations of tourists, rather than local patrons. Le Lido, The Moulin Rouge cabaret-dancehall, for example, are a staged dinner theatre spectacle, a dance display that was once but one aspect of the cabaret’s former atmosphere. All of the establishment’s former social or cultural elements, such as its ballrooms and gardens, are gone today. Much of Paris’ hotel, restaurant and night entertainment trades have become heavily dependent on tourism, with results not always positive for Parisian culture.
The cathedral of Notre-Dame was the first centre of higher education before the creation of the University of Paris. The universitas was chartered by King Philip Augustus in 1200, as a corporation granting teachers (and their students) the right to rule themselves independently from crown law and taxes. At the time, many classes were held in open air. Non-Parisian students and teachers would stay in hostels, or “colleges”, created for the boursiers coming from afar. Already famous by the 13th century, the University of Paris had students from all of Europe. Paris’ Rive Gauche scholastic centre, dubbed “Latin Quarter” as classes were taught in Latin then, would eventually regroup around the college created by Robert de Sorbon from 1257, the Collège de Sorbonne. The University of Paris in the 19th century had six faculties: law, science, medicine, pharmaceutical studies, literature and theology.
Following the 1968 student riots, there was an extensive reform of the University of Paris, in an effort to disperse the centralised student body. The following year, the formerly unique University of Paris was split between thirteen autonomous universities (“Paris I” to “Paris XIII”) located throughout the City of Paris and its suburbs.
Each of these universities inherited only some of the departments of the old University of Paris, and are not generalist universities. Paris I, II, V and X, inherited the Law School; Paris V inherited the School of Medicine as well; Paris VI and VII inherited the scientific departments; etc.
In 1991, four more universities were created in the suburbs of Paris, reaching a total of seventeen public universities for the Paris (Île-de-France) région. These new universities were given names (based on the name of the suburb in which they are located) and not numbers like the previous thirteen: University of Cergy-Pontoise, University of Évry Val d’Essonne, University of Marne-la-Vallée and University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Other institutions include the University of Westminster’s Centre for International Studies, the American University of Paris, and the American Business School of Paris. There is also a University of London Institute in Paris(ULIP) which offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in French Studies ratified by the University of London.
The role of Paris as an international trade centre has caused its transportation system to develop considerably throughout history, and it continues its growth at a fast pace today. The public transit networks of the Paris region are coordinated by the Syndicat des transports d’Île-de-France (STIF), formerly Syndicat des transports parisiens (STP). The members of this syndicate are the Ile-de-France region and the eight departments of this region. The syndicate coordinates public transport and contracts it out to the RATP (operating 654 bus lines, the Métro, three tramway lines, and sections of the RER), the SNCF (operating suburban rails, a tramway line and the other sections of the RER) and the Optile consortium of private operators managing 1,070 minor bus lines.
The Métro is Paris’ most important transportation system. The system, with 300 stations (384 stops) connected by 214 km (133.0 mi) of rails, comprises 16 lines, identified by numbers from 1 to 14, with two minor lines, 3bis and 7bis, so numbered because they used to be branches of their respective original lines, and only later became independent. In October 1998, the new line 14 was inaugurated after a 70-year hiatus in inaugurating fully new métro lines. Because of the short distance between stations on the Métro network, lines were too slow to be extended further into the suburbs as is the case in most other cities. As such, an additional express network, the RER, has been created since the 1960s to connect more distant parts of the urban area. The RER consists in the integration of modern city-centre subway and pre-existing suburban rail. Nowadays, the RER network comprises 5 lines, 257 stops and 587 km (365 mi) of rails.
Additionally, Paris is served by a light rail network of 4 lines, the tramway: Line T1 runs from Saint-Denis to Noisy-le-Sec, line T2 runs from La Défense to Issy, line T3 runs from Pont de Garigliano to Porte d’Ivry, line T4 runs from Bondy to Aulnay-sous-Bois.
Paris is a central hub of the national rail network. The six major railway stations, Gare du Nord, Gare Montparnasse, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare d’Austerlitz, and Gare Saint-Lazare, are connected to three networks: the TGV serving 4 High-speed rail lines, the normal speed Corail trains, and the suburban rails (Transilien).
Furthermore, Paris is served by two major airports: Orly Airport, which is south of Paris, and the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, nearby Roissy-en-France, which is one of the busiest in the world. A third and much smaller airport, Beauvais Tillé Airport, located in the town of Beauvais, 70 km (43 mi) to the north of the city, is used by charter and low-cost airlines. The fourth airport, Le Bourget nowadays only hosts business jets, air trade shows and the aerospace museum.
The city is also the most important hub of France’s motorway network, and is surrounded by three orbital freeways: the Périphérique which follows the approximate path of 19th century fortifications around Paris, the A86 motorway in the inner suburbs, and finally the Francilienne motorway in the outer suburbs. Paris has an extensive road network with over 2,000 km (1,243 mi) of highways and motorways. By road Brussels can be reached in three hours, Frankfurt in 6 hours and Barcelona in 12 hours. By train London is now just 2h 15min away, Brussels can be reached in more or less 1h30min, and the south of France with cities like Marseilles or Bordeaux in 3 hours.
Work in Paris, especially from non-EU citizens entails a very long and arduous process. If you opt for unreported work, such as babysitting, you need not fret about going through the Green Card process. However, if you do choose a change in location, it is advisable to obtain the Green Card prior to finding any job whatsoever, as the process can be longer than expected.
Before entering the city, one must obtain a visa from their local French Consulate French Embassy. The guidelines for particular visas can be found on their website, and each differ depending on length of stay in France, and what exactly you will be doing while there. When applying for the visa make sure you have ALL your documents prior to your appointment at the French Consulate, otherwise the process, and inevitably, obtaining your visa will be delayed. Always make 2 copies of all the forms, and to have plenty of passport photos ready as the copies will be utilized in each step of the process. If you are going to work in France and are bringing a child along, also bring your child’s information for obtaining a visa.
After obtaining a visa (usually a single-entry), you must go to your Local Parisian Prefecture as your single-entry visa will expire within 3 months of arrival, and the process in the country is just as long and arduous as the one at the Consulate. Expect to go there multiple times, and always have copies and copies of those copies. The French governmental system is notorious for losing papers, so always have the copies handy when you go for your follow up. When you finally do receive your Carte de Séjour, or the equivalent of a French green card, you are free to scope out jobs.
Job listings, as anywhere, can be found in local magazines and newspapers. Another great place to look for jobs is online, whether using a Job Search Engine such as Monster or Wiki search pages such as Craigslist. Remember, the city of Paris has a huge network of immigrants coming and going, and it is always great to tap into that network. The city holds a great abundance of work ready to be found, even if it feels nerve wracking at first.
Paris is one of Europe’s culinary centers. The restaurant trade began here just over 220 years ago and continues to thrive. It may however come as a surprise that Paris isn’t considered the culinary capital of France, rather some people prefer the French cooking found in small rural restaurants, outside of the city, closer to the farms and with their focus on freshness and regional specialties. Even amongst French cities, Paris has long been considered by some people as second to Lyon for fine dining.
When you are looking for a restaurant in Paris, be a little careful of those where the staff readily speak English. These restaurants are usually – but not always – geared towards tourists. It does make a difference in the staff’s service and behaviour whether they expect you to return or not. Sometimes the advertised fixed price tourist menus (€10-€15) are a good deal. If you’re interested in the really good and more authentic stuff (and if you have learned some words of French) try one of the small bistro where the French go to during lunch time.
Crime in Paris is similar to most large cities, but violent crime is uncommon, especially in the heart of the city where most tourist spots are located (and where there is a high police presence). As elsewhere, common sense applies and you should check your surroundings before flashing out expensive cameras and so on. Since 2007, it is strictly forbidden to smoke in enclosed areas (train stations, subway stations, buildings), and since 1 Jan 2008, smoking is not permitted in restaurants and bars, except for outside seating areas.
Generally one should be aware that Paris hotels, almost without regard to category or price, observe high and low seasons. These differ slightly from one hotel to another, but usually the high season roughly corresponds to late spring and summer, and possibly a couple of weeks around the Christmas season. Be aware that when a hotel is listed in any guide or website this will eventually make it a bit harder to get a room at that hotel. That means that you will probably need to book ahead, especially in the high season. However, if they don’t have a room they sometimes know another place close by that does have a room available. When with two it can be a much better deal to find a hotel room than to get 2 hostel beds. More privacy for less money.