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France being a highly centralized nation, its no wonder that so many of its best attractions are packed into its capital. If you have only a few days here, you'll need to prioritise your sightseeing. Notre Dame cathedral, standing on an island in the Seine in the plumb centre of the city, is the place to get your bearings; The Eiffel Tower, soaring above the rooftops from which ever direction you look, gives the best view; a stroll along the Champs-Elysees (avenue) to see the Arc de Triomphe (monument) is another must; and the Louvre museum needs at least half a day set aside to see its treasures. With time to do more you won't run out of choice as the city has endless interesting museums, churches, streets and squares, and curious monuments and architecture to explore. If you just want to hop from pavement cafe to pavement cafe along picturesque streets - and walking is the best way to get around most parts of Paris - you'll want to plunge straight into the Latin Quarter (district) or the village-within-a-city of Montmartre.
Read more on this destination in the AA Spiral Guide to Paris.
The history of Paris
Paris began on the Ile de la Cite, as island in the middle of the river Seine, when a peaceful Celtic tribe known as the Parisii set up camp there in around 250BC. The Romans began travelling up from Southern France in about 52BC, after making what is now Provence into a colony in 118BC. They sometimes met tough resistance from Celtic tribes, who united under Vercingetorix to confront them. But the Celts were crushed and all the lands from Belgium to the Mediterranean, and from the Atlantic to the Alps, were renamed Gaul by the Romans. The principal Gallic city was Lyon, while Paris, known as Lutetia, remained a northern backwater. With the collapse of the Roman rule in the fifth century, ferrocious Germanic Warrior tribes invaded Gaul from across the Rhine. Chief among those who settled in northern Gaul were the Franks, who based themselves at Paris. They grew immensely powerful and extended the Frankish empire, until under Charlemagne in the eighth century, the Franks controlled all of Roman Gaul. In 987, Hugues Capet, the count of Paris, was crowned king of France and made Paris his capital.
Paris is one of the world's most-loved cities, welcoming more than 35 million foreign visitors each year. The capital has a resident population of just over 2.2 million people, including students and temporary workers from elsewhere in France or other countries. The city is split in two by the curving river Seine, with the northern section called the Right Bank and the smaller southern part called the Left Bank. Thirty-seven bridges connect two sides. Northeast of the Latin Quarter (district), two islands sit in the middle of the Seine: the historic Ile de la Cite and the tiny Ile St-Louis.