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There are many famous sights and attractions in Paris and seeing all of them may not always be an option if you are on a short break. You could opt for a quick comfortable introduction, and take one of the many bus tours available from around the city. This should help you get your bearings. Alternatively, to really get under the skin of a quartier (quarter), walking is of course the best method. There are a number of wonderful attractions to see within Paris. The Arc de Triomphe (a beautiful historical monument) and the place de la Concorde (major public square), at either end of the broad, straight avenue des Champs-Elysees (famous avenue) are the twin traffic hubs of this vibrant capital. Through its heart curves the River Seine. The Left Bank, or Rive Gauche, is the southern sector and contains many of the best-known attractions, including the Musee d'Orsay (art gallery) and the Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower). East of here, the Latin Quarter is a bohemian student district. The mid-river Ile de la Cite (island on the river) was home to the earliest settlers, the Parisii tribe (hence the city's name), and here you'll find Notre Dame (a stunning cathedral). North of the Seine, the area around the Louvre, one of the worlds most famous art galleries, has elegant squares and fashion emporia. Head northwest for the Jardin des Tuileries (beautiful gardens), the Arc de Triomphe and La Defense (Paris's business district). East of this lies the Beaubourg district, with Les Halles shopping centre and the eccentric Centre Georges Pompidou (culture and leisure complex). Overlooking all is Montmartre, which retains its beautiful village identity.
Read more on this destination in the AA Spiral Guide to Paris.
Must-see attractions in Paris
Arc de Triomphe & Champs-Elysees: The colossal monument, which is the Arc de Triomphe, is an image of national pride. It rises majestically at the head of the city's most famous street, the Champs Elysees. The avenue des Champs-Elysees has always been associated with grand parades and parties. Today, with its brash shops, cinemas and fast food joints, the avenue that was once the "most beautiful street in the world" has lost much of its magic, glamour and prestige, yet it still retains an aloof grandeur and unique appeal.
Musee du Louvre: The centuries-old Musee du Louvre contains one of the largest most important art collections in the world - more than 35,000 works of art are displayed. The museum buildings were originally a 12th century hunting lodge, which later became a royal residence. A succession of rulers improved on and enlarged the complex. Francois I replaced the imposing keep with a Renaissance-style building and also started the Louvre's collections with 12 stolen Italian works of art, including the Mona Lisa.
Notre-Dame Cathedral: Despite the inevitable crowds of tourists, the grandeur of this cathedral, with its impressive sculpture-encrusted facade, its distinctive flying butresses and its soaring nave, never fails to inspire. Notre Dame is one of the world's most beautiful examples of early Gothic architechture. The facade seems perfectly proportioned, with its two towers narrower at the top than at the base, giving the illusion of great height.
Eiffel Tower: Slammed as a 'hollow chandelier' when it was built in 1889, the Eiffel Tower went onto become the emblem of Paris. Gustave Eiffel took only two years to complete the unconventional monument. The tower is a feat of engineering, weighing more than 10,000 tonnes and made up of 18,000 iron parts. No one knew it would become the symbol of Paris - it was due to be demolished after 20 years. By the time its allocated two decades were up it had as many fans as opponents, and was eventually saved simply for its broadcasting antennae.
Montmartre: Place du Tetre (a vibrant popular square) is tourist Montmartre at its peak, but only a few minutes' walk away are quieter streets, including rue de l'Abreuvoir, rue des Saules and rue Girardon. Make sure you save some time to wander through this less showy side of Montmartre village, where you'll find cobblestones, romantic tree-lined steps and even two windmills. At 22 rue des Saules is the tiny but legendary cabaret venue Au Lapin Agile, once
frequented by Picasso and still providing entertainment.
Sacre-Coeur: Shimmering on the top of the hill in Montmartre village is Paris's prominent landmark, the Sacre-Coeur. The dome, which was inspired by the east, is the second highest point in Paris. The views from the Sacre-Coeur are phenomenal, stretching up to 50km (30 miles) and are the main attraction for many tourists. Walk inside the hushed interior, away from the bustling visitors outside, and you will find an altogether more spiritual experience.
Musee d'Orsay: This fabulous museum contains a feast of 19th century art and design, including a hugely popular collection of Impressionist paintings. The originality of this museum lies in its presentation of a wider range of different art forms - painting, sculpture, decorative and graphic art - all under the lofty glass roof of a former Industrial Age railway sation. The building is an attraction in itself, with its vast main hall, lavish ballroom and wonderful station clocks.
Jardin des Tuileries: Paris's largest and oldest public garden is a delightful place to stroll around or relax in and is much visited for the views it gives of the surrounding monuments. It is dominated at one end by the place de la Concorde (busy square) and at the other by the mighty Louvre (art gallery) - there are also views of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe (historical monument) and Musee d'Orsay (Art gallery). The park runs alongside the Seine (river) and the grandest way to enter is though the gilded gates at the Concorde end.
Ile de la Cite: The history of this small, boat-shaped island in the Seine is the history of Paris. Here, in around 250ʙϲ, the Parisii tribe settled, and it was here two centuries later that the Romans built the town of Lutetia, meaning "settlement surrounded by water". This was to become the seat of the ancient kings of France, the centre of political power, and the home of the church and the law. There's lots to see, and you can easily spend a whole day here, enjoying attractive parks and the flower market (marche aux fleurs), which on Sundays becomes a bird market (Marche aux Oiseaux).
Centre Georges Pompidou: Known to Parisians as "le Beaubourg", the avant-garde Centre Georges Pompidou is one of the city's most distinctive landmarks and one of its most visited attractions. An X-ray-style extravaganza of steel and glass, striped by brightly coloured pipes and snake-like escalators, it looks as if someone has turned the whole building inside out. What's more, it contains one of the largest collections of modern art in the world. A loveable oddity, and far more popular as a gallery than anyone anticipated.