Paris is a city synonymous with romance and the capital of a nation that has bestowed its mark on the world with Champagne and Camembert, de Beauvoir and Debussy, the Tour de France and the Eiffel Tower. Unlike London or Moscow, however, its people have mastered the art of slow living. To outsiders it can be astonishing that its citizens find so much time for leisure, but the city is built for it.
For centuries Parisian culture has been the envy of people across the world. It is a city that delights in people watching from parks to cafés, the slow savouring of exemplary cuisine, and an everyday immersion in the arts. As art galleries go, the obvious choice is the Louvre – the largest museum in the world. However, the Centre Pompidou and the Musée d'Orsay arguably offer a more refined and less overwhelming experience.
After touring the galleries, delight in Paris’ famous haute cuisine at a top restaurant like L'Abeille or Le Jules Verne. The latter, situated 122 metres up the Eiffel Tower, was long snubbed by foodies but now offers fine-dining as spectacular as the views. Once your hunger has been satisfied, you’ll find an abundance of evening entertainment options. Take in a cabaret at the famous Moulin Rouge or Lido de Paris, or else a play at one of the city’s many grand theatres. It helps if you speak French in most cases, but the new Theatre in Paris presents performances with English captions above the stage.
People and Traditions
Parisians can be very protective of their culture, which is often perceived as arrogance. However, an open mind will reveal them to be generally sociable and good-humoured, if often cynical. It pays to learn some French, if only the basic formalities, as a little effort will go a long way towards winning people round.
Parisians traditionally like to take time with their food and it is something of a cliché for them to stop mid-meal for a cigarette. By all means enjoy eating at your own pace, but you should nevertheless allow more time for meals than you might at home or in other cities. Note that many good restaurants have a dress code, even those that may not be considered haute cuisine. It always pays to check in advance.
The climate in Paris is typical of Western Europe, with cool winters averaging single-figure temperatures (ºC). The summer months from June to September tend towards the low to mid-20s, although the city is susceptible to prolonged heatwaves exceeding 30ºC.
On a sunny day there are few more enjoyable ways to see the city than with a good boat tour along the scenic Seine river or simply shopping along the Champs-Élysées. In the evenings, the Sacré-Cœur on Montmatre’s hill offers a breathtaking view of the city at sunset, even without ascending the basilica itself. An even higher view can be enjoyed from the observation deck at Montparnasse Tower, which is open late all year round.
For a picturesque day trip, head to the Palace of Versailles just outside of the Parisian city limits. Louis XIV’s famous château is a breathtaking display of regal opulence, with gardens so grand that you could spend the entire day there without even entering the palace itself. Of course, it’s well worth stepping inside to tour the royal apartments, chapel and the extravagant Hall of Mirrors. There are also several museums and galleries, and even an opera house.
Paris has no shortage of sights to see, from Cathédrale Notre Dame and the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur to the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais. Then there are the many beautiful open spaces like the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where many famous names from Oscar Wilde to Jim Morrison are buried.
One of the city’s most beloved, albeit macabre, landmarks is its catacombs. Les Catacombes are a network of disused quarry tunnels adapted in 1785 to store the exhumed skulls and bones from Paris’ overcrowded cemeteries. If that sounds scary, wait till you see the queues. It is strongly recommended that you book tickets in advance.