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Last updated : Nov 2009
Paris & Ile-de-France
Paris & Ile-de-France - TravelPuppy.com

Paris is one of the world’s great cities with a practically endless amount of things to do, it rewards repeated and extended visits. Despite the massive size of the city, Paris is also an easily navigable destination as the city centre itself is relatively compact and all areas of Paris are connected by a highly efficient transport system, with the famous Paris Metro an attraction in itself. Paris boasts more than 80 museums and over 200 art galleries.

La Carte is a pass providing free admission to about 60 national and municipal museums in and around the Paris area. The périphérique and boulevard circulaire ring roads roughly follow the line of the 19th-century city walls and within them are most of the well-known sights, shops and entertainments.

Beyond the ring roads is an industrial and commercial belt, then a broad ring of suburbs, mostly of recent construction. Central Paris contains fine architecture from every period in a long and rich history, together with every amenity known to science and every entertainment yet devised. The oldest neighbourhood is the Île-de-la-Cité, an island on a bend in the Seine where the Parisii, a Celtic tribe, settled in about the 3rd century BC. The river was an effective defensive moat and the Parisii dominated the area for several centuries before being displaced by the Romans in about 52 BC. The island is today dominated by the newly renovated cathedral of Notre-Dame. Beneath it is the Crypte Archéologique, housing well-mounted displays of Paris’ early history. Having sacked the Celtic city, the Gallo-Romans abandoned the island and settled on the heights along the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), in the area now known as the Latin Quarter (Boulevards St Michel and St Germain). The naming of this district owes nothing to the Roman city: when the university was moved from the Cité to the left bank in the 13th century, Latin was the common language among the 10,000 students who gathered there from all over the known world. The Latin Quarter remains the focus of most student acivity,the Sorbonne is located here, and there are many fine bookshops and commercial art galleries.

The Cluny Museum houses some of the finest medieval European tapestries to be found anywhere, including ‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’. At the western end of the Boulevard St Germain is the Orsay Museum, a superb collection of 19th and early 20th century art located in a beautifully restored railway station. The other Left Bank attractions include the Panthéon, the Basilica of St Séverin, the Palais and Jardin du Luxembourg, the Hôtel des Invalides (containing Napoleon’s tomb), the Musée Rodin and St-Germain-des-Prés. Continuing westwards from the Quai d’Orsay past the Eiffel Tower and across the Seine onto the Right Bank, the visitor encounters collection of museums and galleries known as the Trocadéro, a popular meeting place for young Parisians. A short walk to the north is the Place Charles de Gaulle, known to Parisians as the Étoile and to tourists as the site of the Arc de Triomphe. It is also at the western end of that most elegant of avenues, the Champs-Élysées (Elysian Fields), which is once again famous for its cafes, commercial art galleries and sumptuous shops, rather than the dowdy airline offices and fast food joints that took it over for much of the 1980s and early 1990s. At the other end of the avenue, the powerful axis is continued by the Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries and finally the Louvre.

The Palais du Louvre has been extensively reorganised and reconstructed, the most controversial addition to the old palace being a pyramid with 673 panes of glass, which juxtaposes the ultra-modern with the classical façade of the palace. The best time to see the pyramid is after dark, when it is illuminated. The Richelieu Wing of the palace was inaugurated in 1993, marking the completion of the second stage of the redevelopment programme. In 1996, a labyrinth of subterranean galleries, providing display areas, a conference and exhibition centre, design shops and restaurants was opened.

North of the Louvre are the Palais Royal, the Madeleine and l’Opéra. To the east is Les Halles, a shopping and commercial complex built on the site of the old food market. It is at the intersection of several métro lines and is a good starting point for a tour of Paris. There are scores of restaurants in the maze of small streets around Les Halles. Every culinary style is available at prices to suit every pocket. Further east, beyond the Boulevard Sébastopol, is the postmodern Georges Pompidou Centre of Modern Art also known as the ‘Beaubourg’. It provides a steady stream of surprises in its temporary exhibition spaces (which, informally, include the pavement outside where lively and often bizarre street-performers gather) and houses a permanent collection of 20th-century art. In the Marais district, are the Carnavalet and Picasso Museums, housed in magnificent town houses dating from the 16th and 18th centuries respectively. Still further east, the magnificent Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, one of the world’s most spectacular libraries, can be reached via a new métro connection (ligne 14) whose beautiful high-tech trains alone (they are constructed mainly of glass) are worth the trip.

One of the best known districts in Paris, Montmartre, became almost unbearably popular and crowded after the success in 2001 of the Hollywood blockbuster Moulin Rouge. A funicular railway operates on the steepest part of the Montmartre hill, taking people to the outlandish Sacré-Coeur, a love it or hate it chocolate box architectural creation. Local entrepreneurs have long capitalised on Montmartre’s romantic reputation as an artist’s colony and if visitors today are disappointed to find it a well-run tourist attraction, they should bear in mind that it has been exactly that since it first climbed out of poverty in the 1890s. The legend of Montmartre as a dissolute cradle of talent was carefully stage-managed by Toulouse-Lautrec and others to fill their pockets and it rapidly transformed a notorious slum into an equally notorious circus. An earlier Montmartre legend concerns St Denis. After his martyrdom, he is said to have walked headless down the hill. The world’s first Gothic cathedral, St Denis, was constructed on the spot where he collapsed. Just north of Belleville (a working-class district that produced Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier) at La Villette, is one of Paris’ newer attractions, the City of Science and Technology. The most modern presentation techniques are used to illustrate both the history and the possible future of man’s inventiveness; season tickets are available.

One of the great pleasures of Paris is the great number of sidewalk cafes, now glass-enclosed in wintertime, which extends people-watching to a year-round sport in any part of the city. There are as many Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants as there are French cafes. North African eating places also abound, and dozens of American Tex-Mex eateries are scattered throughout the city.

Bric-a-brac or brocante is found in a number of flea markets (marché aux puces) on the outskirts of town, notably at the Porte de Clignancourt. There are several antique centres, Louvre des Antiquaires, Village Suisse, etc) where genuine antique furniture and other objects are on sale. Amongst the larger department stores are the Printemps and the Galeries Lafayette near the Opéra, the Bazar Hôtel de Ville (BHV) and the Samaritaine on the Right Bank and the Bon Marché on the Left Bank. The remains of the great forests of the Île-de-France (the area surrounding Paris) can still be seen at the magnificent châteaux of Versailles, Rambouillet and Fontainebleau on the outskirts of Paris.

The capital’s nightlife has never looked healthier. The ‘beautiful people’ may have moved on to Menilmontant, but the bustling streets of Bastille are still a nocturnal playground for far more than just the tourists. Menilmontant itself rewards visitors prepared to venture beyond the guidebooks to discover the vibrant, hip, twenty-something scene.

Disneyland Resort Paris

The Disneyland Resort Paris, open year-round, lies to the east of the capital, a complete vacation destination located at Marne-la-Vallée , 32km (20 miles) from Paris.

Disney’s European venture has become one of the continent’s most popular attractions. The site has an area of 1943 hectares (5000 acres), one-fifth the size of Paris, and includes hotels, a campsite, restaurants, shops and a golf course, and has as its star attractions the Disneyland Paris Theme Park and Walt Disney Studios. Inspired by previous theme parks, Euro Disneyland features all the famous Disney characters plus some new attractions especially produced to blend with its European home. The site is easily accessible by motorway, regional and high-speed rail services, and by air.