Paris probably boasts more familiar sights to the visitor than any city in the world. Travellers flood its magnificent churches, museums, art galleries, its grandest boulevard (Champs Élysées) and iconic Eiffel Tower. But my favourite city is much much more. The heart of Paris is built in its culture – lively parks, elegant cafés, superb cuisine, fascinating variety of neighbourhoods (arrondissements), eclectic backstreets, grand buildings, romantic Seine, the Metro and the proud fashionable Parisians (who are much friendlier in my experience than folklore would have you believe). Take time to people-watch in one of its parks or meander the streets and soak up this most enchanting city – the City of Light.
Paris has something for everyone but my top ten sights are as follows.
10. Sainte Chapelle
A staggering achievement for its time of 750 years ago with more stained glass than wall, the interior of this chapel is naturally lit in a dazzling array of colours, especially on bright sunny days. It is like walking into a kaleidoscope though security can be a bit exciting as the entrance is from the same courtyard as the French law courts (Palais de Justice).
9. Marais District (3rd/4th arrondissement)
The Marais district was built on marshland becoming the aristocratic district of Paris in the Middle Ages. Boasting the grandest square of all in the rose-pink Place des Vosges, many of its grand buildings now house superb and unusual collections and museums, including the excellent Picasso Museum (paintings and sculptures paid to the government as death taxes). Trendy cafés and expensive gift shops also line the main boulevards of these central Parisian suburbs.
8. Latin Quarter (5th arrondissement)
Home of Paris’s most famous university, the Sorbonne (one of the world’s oldest universities started around 750 years ago), this area was named because the educated conversation in past times all took place in Latin. Today, it is home to cafés, superb bookshops (including the extraordinary Shakespeare and Company with its wall to wall books and where you can stay for the night) and interesting eateries. Get off the main streets of Rue Mouffetard and Boulevarde St Michel and enjoy the quieter, more atmospheric back streets. The Panthéon, loosely modelled on its Roman namesake, hosts the tombs of the Curies, authors Voltaire, Dumas and Hugo, and Louis Braille (who died in his early 40s) among other French luminaries. The Jardin du Luxembourg is a favourite park to walk, relax and sunbake while the Cluny Museum holds a celebrated collection of medieval artworks and tapestries.
Part Two highlights the next four travel wonders of Paris.
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