Paris is the capital of France, located on the river Seine in the north of the country. The city and its surrounding suburbs are one of the most populated metropolitan areas in Europe, and Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world. It has over 30 million visitors come each year. Paris has been known as the “city of light” (la ville lumière) since the 19th century, and it has a reputation for being one of the most romantic cities in the world. It is both an ancient city with a tangible history as well as a vibrantly modern one, and is fascinating on many levels. Paris is the centre of French cultural and economic life, and has worldwide influence in the arts, fashion and cuisine. It is known for unsurpassed museums and art galleries, beautiful architecture and an active nightlife.
Paris usually enjoys a fairly warm spring from April-June, and July is also very pleasant. August tends to be rather hot and sticky, and is when most of the native Parisians escape on holiday. Summer temperatures typically range from 16-28º C (60-83º F). Winters are mild, with average temperatures between 3-10º C (37-50º F). Snow is not uncommon in the winter, but the temperature is rarely below freezing and it usually does not stick. Rainfall is consistent throughout the year, though a bit more rain falls in the spring.
The currency used in France is the Euro. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, € 0.50, € 0.20, € 0.10, € 0.05, € 0.02 and € 0.01.
Parisians speak French in a distinctive manner, very fast and with an accent particular to the city and its environs. Many people in the city speak English, though are not always enthusiastic about doing so.
Catholics make up the largest percentage of France’s religious population, though in Paris there is a greater variety of faiths represented than elsewhere in the country. About 75% of the religious people are Roman Catholic, though Paris is an increasingly secular city and many people do not belong to any religion. There is a significant Muslim population in Paris, and the city is home to the greatest concentration of Jews in France. There is also a fair number of Protestants.
Service charges are included on all restaurant bills at a cost of 10-15%, and these percentages are included in the menu prices. However, it is standard to add a little more if the meal and service have been exceptional. Extra tips typically range from less than a euro for a coffee or snack to 1-5 euros for a meal. Tipping for taxis is not compulsory but it is nice to tip drivers about 5-10% of the fare. It is also common practice to give a small tip to Parisian porters, doormen, room service staff and ushers in cinemas and theatres. These tips range from 50 cents to a euro or two.
Sales tax in Paris is quite high at 18.6%, and is included in the shop prices. This tax can be refunded to tourists from outside of the EU whenever €175 or more is spent in the same shop. Most retailers will present you with a form to fill out in these cases, to give to customs officials at the airport. In other situations, however, tourists have to pay special taxes. As of 2004, Paris has had a “tourist tax,” which is added onto bills at hotels and other accomodations at rates ranging from €0.20 - €1.50 per day. The money goes to promoting tourism in the city and maintaining tourist attractions.
Public telephone boxes are widely available in France, but it is a good idea to buy a France Telecom telécarte at Métro or RER stations, post offices or newsagents rather than relying on cash. These phone cards are available in 50-unit and 120-unit versions. Many phone boxes don't take coins, but some now accept credit cards. It is possible to rent a mobile phone during a stay in Paris from a variety of companies, a few of which have offices in the airport.
There are many internet cafés throughout Paris, many of which serve refreshments. Rates are not cheap, and €2 per half hour is typical. Most internet shops are open late, closing around 11 pm or midnight.
Typical opening times for shops and other businesses are Mon-Sat from 9 am – 7 pm. Some shops, usually the smaller ones, close for an hour or two during lunchtime. It is also not uncommon for some shops to be closed on Monday as well as Sunday. Department stores and other large stores have one night a week when they are open late, usually until 9 pm. During busy shopping seasons, such as the month before Christmas, many shops open up on Sundays. Museums are usually open six days a week from 9 or 10 am until 5 or 6 pm. They are open on Sundays, but usually close on either Monday or Tuesday. Office hours are typically 9 am – 6 pm. Banks can be found on almost every corner in Paris and normal business hours are 9 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday.
On the following days, most shops, banks and musuems will be closed, and public transport is likely to be more limited.
1st January, New Year’s Day
Easter Sunday and Monday
30th April, Great Prayer Day
8th May, VE Day
14th July, Bastille Day
15th August, Feast of the Assumption
1st November, All Saints’ Day
11th November, Armistice Day
25th December, Christmas
For police call 17 and for an ambulance call 15.
For SOS Medecins (doctors) call 01 470 77777.
The American Hospital in Paris is at 63 Boulevard Victor Hugo, Neuilly, Tel. 01 46412525.
The Hertford British Hospital/Hopital Franco-Brittanique is at 3 Rue Barbes, Tel. 01 46392222
www.english-doctor-paris.com or www.british-hospital.org
Paris is basically a safe city, though taking some precautions are sensible. Some areas are safer than others, especially late at night. The centre and popular tourist areas tend to be very safe, while other neighbourhoods such as Les Halles and La goutte d’Or are better to avoid when it’s late. These areas are known for being gang and drug hangouts, though better police control is beginning to cut down on this. Pickpockets are not uncommon in Paris, especially in crowded areas and on the metro, so it is important to keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t keep a wallet in a back pocket or another place where it is visible. It’s also a good idea not to carry more money around than necessary, and not to count your money in public after using an ATM machine.
The Luxembourg palace was completed in 1627 and is a beautiful building surrounded by gardens. The gardens are extensive and contain a wide variety of flowers, shrubs, trees and other plants artistically landscaped. There are also ponds and it is possible to rent a boat when the weather is good. Parisians gather here on the weekends to play tennis and relax, and there are merry-go-rounds and pony rides for the children.
This is one of Paris’s most famous monuments, and was built in 1889 for the International Exhibition of Paris. 700 design proposals were submitted for the building, but the one by Gustave Eiffel was unanimously chosen. The tower is 300 meters tall and was the tallest building in the world until 1930. The structure was very controversial when it was built, and even now some people consider it an eyesore. This doesn’t stop it from being one of the most popular sights of Paris, however, and over 6 million people climb the tower every year. The view of the city from the top of the tower is unsurpassed.
There are three levels that you can ascend to, with different prices for each level. To get to the very top, it is necessary to take the cable car. It is possible to take the cable car all the way up, but walking up right through the structure makes for a much more impressive experience. At the top of each level is a café where you can have drinks and snacks.
1. Jan - 15. June and 3. Sept - 31. Dec, 9.30 am - 11.45 pm (no entrances after 11 pm)
16. June - 2. Sept, 9 am - 12.45 am (no entrances after midnight)
With elevator: 1st floor €4.20 (children €2.30), 2nd floor €7.70 (children €4.20), top €11.00 (children €6)
With stairs: 1st and 2nd floors €3.80, children and students €3
Arc de Triomphe
This monument is built on Place Charles de Gaulle, one of the busiest squares in Paris, at the west end of the Champs Elysées. It is one of the biggest arches in the world, reaching 54 metres, and is wide enough to fly an airplane through. The construction of the arch began in 1806 in honour of Napolean’s victory in Austerlitz and was completed in 1936. It is possible to climb to the top of the arch, which offers a lovely panoramic view of the city. There is also a museum about the monument’s history. On November 11, 1920 the arch was turned into a war memorial, when the tomb of an unknown soldier was inaugurated here to commemorate all of the soldiers killed in World War I.
1. Oct - 31. Mar 10 am - 10.30 pm, 1. Apr - 30 Sept 10 am - 11 pm
Entrance price: €7
Avenue des Champs-Elysées
One of the most famous streets in the world, the tree-lined Champs-Elysées is a centre of chic shopping, festivities and a magnet for tourists. It now includes everything from designer boutiques to fast food restaurants and is very lively at night. The street has been around since 1667 and was created by André le Notre, a gardener of Louis XIV. Its original purpose was to improve the view from the Tuileries garden. It was expanded to its current length at the end of the 18th century, extending from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.
The Centre Pompidou, also known as the Beaubourg, is one of the most popular and unusual buildings in Paris. It was designed by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rodgers as an art and cultural centre which aimed to bring art and culture to everyone, not just the art world elite. It has been incredibly successful, and after a recent overhaul, has some impressive galleries inside. There is a permanent collection including some famous names (Klee, Kandinsky, Braque, Picasso, etc.) but the temporary exhibitions are always excellent, often introducing some up-and-coming artists to the Parisian scene. Its 1970s industrial style of architecture is in striking contrast to the surrounding houses in one of Paris’ oldest districts. The building is also unusual because of its “inside out” architecture, built with the escalators, lifts and airconditioning on the outside. The centre also includes the Musée National d’Art Moderne and the Bibliotheque Publique d’Information as well as a couple of cinemas. There is also a café inside the building.
Wed-Mon 11 am - 10 pm, but individual exhibits may have different hours
€10 for Adults over 18, €8 for reduced ticket
Bois de Vincennes
Located on the edge of the southeast corner of Paris, the Bois de Vincennes doesn’t quite have the upmarket charm of Paris’ other main park, the Bois de Boulogne, but this is a friendlier and less pretentious place to wander round. The Bois de Vincennes has an eclectic, informal atmosphere and includes a 14th-Century château with some gorgeous stained glass. There’s also a racetrack where you can see horse-driven carriage racing, one of the main passions of Parisian gamblers. You may also be enticed by canoeing on the peaceful lake or visiting the nearby zoo or the Tibetan-influenced Buddhist Institute.
Institut du Monde Arabe
This remarkable building was opened in 1987 to great acclaim. It is a large cultural centre and offers talks, films and concerts every month, often focusing on a specific theme. There are also some exciting exhibitions, ranging from ancient North African artifacts to contemporary crafts. Architecturally, it is fascinating because the window frames are based on an intricate Islamic design with metal diaphragms that automatically open and close depending on the amount of sunlight. The rooftop café offers some stunning views of Paris and the spacious bookshop has a huge collection of world music, including Algerian Rai dance tunes.
Bibliotheque Nationale de Fran
This is one of the best libraries in the world and has an extensive collection including every French book ever published as well as music scores, oriental collections, and many other categories. There are also a variety of interesting exhibitions and talks held at the library. The building was built in 1997, and like most modern libraries stirred up some controversy. Some criticize its design as a grim, underground bunker, while others appreciate the sleek functionalism of the architecture.
Exhibition opening times:
Tues - Sat 10 am - 7 pm and Sun 1 pm - 7 pm
Opening times for the reading rooms vary depending on the collection. Check the library website for details.
La Mosque de Paris
The Mosque de Paris was built in the 1920''s, just after the First World War. The Mosque is a place of study for Islamic scholars and there is a tranquil courtyard with a fountain outside. The Café de La Mosque next door is a lively, busy place serving sweet mint tea and Middle Eastern pastries and cakes. People from all corners of the world congregate here. They sit under the trees at night or visit the hamman for a steam bath and back scrub. This North African café not only has fig trees and delightful mosaic tables but also a restaurant inside where the tables are like large copper plates. It is worth a visit, if only to view the beautiful painted ceiling and taste the strong coffee.
Sat - Thurs 9 am - 12 pm and 2 pm - 6 pm
€ 3 for adults, € 2 for students and children
Paris is famous for its distinctive buildings, churches, and its variety of historical monuments, some of the most famous being the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Paris is on the small side compared to other capital cities, and most of the main attractions are in the centre and within walking distance of each other. The metro also makes it very easy to get around to sights that are farther away. The city has a unique mix of cultures and atmospheres, with each neighbourhood and area having its own charms to offer. The river Seine splits the city into the “right bank” and “left bank,” and it is further subdivided into 20 arrondissements or districts, laid out in a spiral from the centre. Paris has an ancient history, having been originally settled over two thousand years ago. The Roman ruins are among the oldest attractions the city has to offer, while it is also known for its impressive Gothic, Baroque and 19th and 20th century architecture.
This palace was built in 1629 for Cardinal de Richelieu, and was originally called Palais Cardinal. He left it to the royal family when he died, but it was never a royal palace for long. In the 18th century it became a centre of the Enlightenment and many of Europe’s greatest thinkers gathered here to exchange ideas. The palace was also important during the French revolution, as it was the place where Camille Desmoulins called the assembled crowd to arms and the storming of the Bastille. The buildings of the palace are now closed to the public, but the gardens are open and are a beautiful and peaceful place to visit. The modern landscaping preserves the same lay-out of clipped trees, central lawn and fountain that the gardens had in the 18th and 19th centuries. The palace is located a bit north of the Louve, in the 1st arrondissement.
Notre Dame Cathedral
This was one of the first Gothic cathedrals to be built, with its construction spanning the 12th-14th centuries. It is located on the eastern half of the Ile de la Cité, and built on the site of the first Christian church in Paris, which was previously the Roman temple of Jupiter. A grand and magnificently beautiful structure, Notre Dame is one of Paris’most popular tourist destinations. It is also still used for Roman Catholic masses. The cathedral is known for its exquisite stained-glass windows built between 1250 and 1260 in the high Gothic style. The two rose windows are the only medieval stained glass windows in Europe to still have their original glasswork. It is possible to climb to the top of the cathedral, which provides breathtaking views of the city as well as bringing you up close to the many interesting gargoyals on the façade.
Mon - Sat 9.30 am - 11.30 am and 1 pm - 5.30 pm, Sun 2 pm - 6.30 pm. No visits allowed during services.
This is a Gothic-style medieval church that was consecrated in 1248, shortly after Notre Dame was completed. The church was built at the request of the religious Louis IX as a chapel for the royal palace, and was also intended to house relics. It has two levels, the lower of which used to be the parish church for the palace, while the upper was for the royal family only and also contained the relics. The upper level has 15 remarkable stained glass windows, portraying thousands of intricate scenes and covering 618 square metres. Sainte Chapelle was damaged during the French Revolution, but most of the statues and two-thirds of the windows survived. The church was restored in the late 19th century and today looks much like it did when it was first built.
Daily 9.30 am - 6 pm, last entry at 5.30 pm
Entrance price: € 6.10
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
This church was built between 1875 and 1914 and overlooks Montmartre, a very picturesque area of Paris. It was built to commemorate the 58,000 dead from the French-German war in 1870. The church has a distinctive dome and a famous clock tower which contains the biggest chiming clock in the world. The view from the top of the basilica is stunning. The interior also contains an interesting crypt and a large mosaic depicting Christ’s life.
Basilica: Daily 7 am - 10.15 pm, Dome and crypt: Daily 9 am - 5.30 pm
Bois du Boulogne
This is an extensive park stretching over 863 hectacres. It was named during the reign of Philippe IV (Philippe le Bel) and was turned into a royal hunting ground. It was redesigned into a park soon after, with wide lanes to walk down and more cultivated plants. It now has sports grounds and a swimming pool as well as some cafés and restaurants. The park has a wide variety of beautiful trees and plants and during the day, it is alive with people enjoying the outdoors and children playing. At night, however, it becomes one of the more infamous areas of Paris, frequented by many prostitutes.
Jardin des Tuileries
This garden is a nice place to come for a walk and for a bit of quiet in the middle of the city. It is located right in the centre of Paris, spanning the area from the Louve to the Place de la Concorde. It was created in 1564 at the request of Queen Catherine de Médicis, and redesigned a hundred years later by André le Nôtre. He was the one who put in the many paths, the symetrically designed flower beds, and the terrace overlooking the river Seine. Within the garden is an Orangerie and the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume. In the summer, from June 21st to August 25th, there is a fair in the park with a big ferris wheel that provides exciting views of the city from above.