Translated from the French, the title means ‘City of Lights’. By now a commonplace description, there’s nothing commonplace about the place. Paris, for those who love… well, anything, is stellar.
With over 2 million inhabitants, 11 million in the Ile-de-France region overall, Paris is a metropolis second to none. A center of world culture for centuries, it hosts the most up-to-date museums alongside its ancient sites and sights.
Despite the enormous population and the ever present cars, there are nonetheless numerous oases scattered around the city. Even today, parts of the Seine can offer a quiet walk down the banks of one of Europe’s most famous rivers. Here the many bridges are both artistic and functional, in true Gallic style.
Other quiet nooks, such as the Marais district, home to Victor Hugo’s apartments, seem to have changed little since he wrote his masterpieces there. And on some days one can visit any number of excellent museums and be one of the few visitors, even during the summer.
But there’s also the bustling, exciting city that roars from morn to morn.
The Eiffel Tower continues to attract thousands daily more than 100 years after its difficult birth. Still one of the tallest structures in France, the three-leveled spire adorned with thousands of lights inspires awe decades after being surpassed in height.
The Louvre still overflows with art lovers from around the world who flock to see the collection of over 100,000 works. The Mona Lisa exhibit is perpetually crowded, but there are dozens of justly famous, and unjustly obscure, pieces besides. Vermeer’s Geographer adorns one wall, while the Lacemaker is on the other side of the portal.
Visit the Paris Opera House (site of the fictional Phantom of the Opera). Or see the Musée d’Orsay, home of many of the world’s finest 19th century works of art, housed in a renovated train station. Walk up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe or up the hill in Montmartre to the Byzantine-style Sacré Coeur Basilica.
Even take a trip not far out of the city to see 17th century Versailles or 21st century Disneyland Paris. Sit at a cafe just about anywhere along the way and enjoy some of the world’s finest coffee or wine.
Whatever your interests, Paris has something for everyone.
The climate year round is moderate, rarely moving outside the range of 4C (39F) in the winter to 22C (72F) in the summer. Rain very rarely lasts long enough or pours hard enough to put a damper on any plans.
Divided into 20 ‘arrondissements’ (districts), with the first at the center and the others running clockwise around the face, there is overlap of history, architecture and sights in all.
In every case, travel from one to the other is made easy and inexpensive by the safe and relatively clean Metro (subway). First opened in 1900, there are almost 400 stations transporting 6 million people per day.
But walking to and from many parts is also perfectly feasible. While not as simple as Manhattan’s rectangular grid, armed with a good map the hardy visitor can travel on foot over a good portion of the city.
That’s the best way to see this City of Lights – even when the illumination is the warm French sunlight.