You've probably heard people say how romantic Paris is. I wouldn't call myself a particularly romantic person but one can't help but feel moved by the beauty of Paris, especially if your visit is with your partner. This place just gets under your skin and makes you feel good and that's before you sample the wine!
Paris is divided in to 20 'quarters' called arrondissements which spiral out from the centre starting with arrondissement one. Here you will find the Louvre art museum which is almost 1km long and is the main attraction of this quarter. Although the 1st arrondissement is in the centre of Paris the heart of Paris is in the 4th arrondissement. This is where the city began on the largest of two islands called the Ile de la Cite. Here you will find the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame together with the civil buildings of Paris, the police headquarters, the law courts and the city's oldest working hospital. The second and smaller of the two islands is the Ile St Louis, an exclusive residential area. The 4th arrondissement is also home to the Marais district, a lively and entrancing area with a strong Jewish and gay community. Its narrow lanes are brimming with bars, restaurants and guest houses.
One of the worlds oldest universities, the Sorbonne, can be found in the 5th arrondissement, also know as the 'Latin quarter' after the language spoken by the first students and tutors at the university. The area has many bookshops, cafés and restaurants and is also the location of the Pantheon, once a cathedral but now a monument where many of France's national heroes are interred.
Relative peace and tranquility can be found next door in the 6th arrondissement in the Jardin du Luxembourg which is located behind the Petit Luxembourg art gallery. On warm sunny days you will find people of all ages enjoying games of chess, tennis and boules amongst stalls selling ice cream, candyfloss and art .
No guide to Paris could possibly leave out the Eiffel Tower which stands in the 7th arrondissement. It is well worth a visit so you can appreciate the sheer size and complexity of the structure. The views from the top are breathtaking, as is the wind when it is blowing. What may be a gentle breeze on the ground can seem like a howling gale at the top. Although the queues can be long to reach the first lift and kiosk they do go down quite quickly. If you can't be bothered to wait in the queues for the lifts at the various stages you can always make your way to the top via the stairs!!
In the 8th arrondissement you will find the Champs Elysees which runs from the Arc de Triomphe at one end to the Place de la Concorde at the other.
A shoppers paradise can be found in the 9th arrondissement. Boulevard Haussman is home to two of Paris' largest department stores, the galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Opposite the two stores is the world famous opera house the Opera Garnier. The square outside is lined with posh bars, great for watching the bourgeoisie arriving for the operas. To the north of the 9th arrondissement is the Moulin Rouge, strip clubs and sex shops, the more seedy part of Paris. Just north of here in the 18th arrondissement is the hill of Monmartre where the Sacre Coeur stands, a white stone cathedral that looks incredible as you approach it through the narrow surrounding lanes, particularly at night when it is floodlit. The view of the city from the top of the hill is breathtaking, which is probably why it was a favorite place for Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. I loved this part of Paris which we visited in the evening just as the street markets were ending. There is a huge selection of bars and restaurants to choose from and the area is really buzzing with excitement.
In the 10th arrondissement are the great railway stations the Gare du Nord and the Gare de l'Est. This area is busy, noisy and dusty as you would expect but if you head towards the Canal St Martin the area becomes chic and vibrant and is popular with the trendy youngsters of Paris who populate the many bars which line the sides of the canal.
We stayed at a hotel in the 17th arrondissement which doesn't have much to interest the tourist, it being a mainly residential area. Our hotel was only 2 minutes walk from an underground station and therefore we were only ten minutes from the centre of the city. The underground (Metro) in Paris is cheap, clean, efficient and safe. We were amazed at the number of times we were offered genuine help by total strangers as we stood there looking like a pair of lost tourists trying to work out how to get around. The first time a man approached us I thought we were about to be mugged, but people really were genuinely trying to help us. Once you work out the system, the Paris underground is logical and easy to use. We bought a Paris Sightseeing Pass which let us travel as much as we wanted on the underground and gets you free or discounted entry into loads of the attractions. Very good value.