Paris

The cloud-piercing, wrought-iron Eiffel Tower, broad Arc de Triomphe guarding the glamorous avenue des Champs-Élysées, flying buttressed Notre Dame cathedral, lamplit bridges spanning the Seine and art nouveau cafes' wicker-chair-lined terraces are enduring Parisian emblems. Despite initial appearances, however, Paris’ cityscape isn’t static: there are some stunning modern and contemporary icons, too, from the inside-out, industrial-style Centre Pompidou to the mur végétal (vertical garden) gracing the Musée du Quai Branly, the glass sails of the Fondation Louis Vuitton contemporary-art centre, and the gleaming steel egg-shaped concert venue La Seine Musicale.

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The Louvre

It isn’t until you’re standing in the vast courtyard of the Louvre, with sunlight shimmering through the glass pyramid and crowds milling about beneath the museum’s ornate facade, that you can truly say you’ve been to Paris. Holding tens of thousands of works of art – from Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Greek antiquities to masterpieces by artists such as da Vinci (including his incomparable Mona Lisa), Michelangelo and Rembrandt – it’s no surprise that this is one of the world’s most visited museums.

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Jardin du Luxembourg

This inner-city oasis of formal terraces, chestnut groves and lush lawns has a special place in Parisians' hearts. Napoléon dedicated the 23 gracefully laid-out hectares of the Luxembourg Gardens to the children of Paris, and many residents spent their childhood prodding 1920s wooden sailboats with long sticks on the octagonal Grand Bassin pond, watching puppets perform puppet shows at the Théâtre du Luxembourg and riding the carrousel (merry-go-round) or ponies. All those activities are still here today, as are modern playgrounds and sporting and games venues. Dozens of apple varieties grow in the orchards in the gardens’ south, while bees have produced honey in the nearby Rucher du Luxembourg since the 19th century; the two-day Fête du Miel (Honey Festival) takes place in late September. The gardens are a backdrop to the Palais du Luxembourg, built in the 1620s for Marie de Médici, Henri IV’s consort, to assuage her longing for the Pitti Palace in Florence, where she had spent her childhood. Since 1958 the palace has housed the Sénat, the Upper House of French Parliament, which is occasionally visitable by guided tour. East of the palace is the Italianate, 1630-built Fontaine des Médici, an ornate fish pond. Prestigious temporary art exhibitions, such as ‘Cézanne et Paris’, take place in the Musée du Luxembourg. Around the back of the museum, lemon and orange trees, palms, grenadiers and oleanders shelter from the cold in the palace’s orangery. Nearby the heavily guarded Hôtel du Petit Luxembourg was the modest 16th-century pad where Marie de Médici lived while the Palais du Luxembourg was being built. The president of the Senate has called it home since 1825. If you’re planning on picnicking, forget bringing a blanket – the elegantly manicured lawns are off limits apart from a small wedge on the southern boundary. Instead, do as Parisians do, and corral one of the iconic 1923-designed green metal chairs and find your own favourite part of the park. Opening hours vary greatly throughout the year; seasonal entry times are posted at entrance gates.

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Centre Pompidou

Renowned for its radical architectural statement, the 1977-opened Centre Pompidou brings together galleries and cutting-edge exhibitions, hands-on workshops, dance performances, cinemas and other entertainment venues, with street performers and fanciful fountains outside. The Musée National d’Art Moderne, France’s national collection of art dating from 1905 onwards, is the main draw; a fraction of its 100,000-plus pieces – including Fauvist, cubist, surrealist, pop art and contemporary works – is on display. Don't miss the spectacular Parisian panorama from the rooftop.

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Musée Rodin

culptor, painter, sketcher, engraver and collector Auguste Rodin donated his entire collection to the French state in 1908 on the proviso that it dedicate his former workshop and showroom, the beautiful 1730 Hôtel Biron, to displaying his works. They’re now installed not only in the mansion itself, but also in its rose-filled garden – one of the most peaceful places in central Paris and a wonderful spot to contemplate his famous work The Thinker. N.B. Pre-purchase tickets online to avoid queuing.

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Cimetière du Père Lachaise

Opened in 1804, Père Lachaise is today the world's most visited cemetery. Its 70,000 ornate tombs of the rich and famous form a verdant, 44-hectare sculpture garden. The most visited are those of 1960s rock star Jim Morrison (division 6) and Oscar Wilde (division 89). Pick up cemetery maps at the conservation office near the main bvd de Ménilmontant entrance. Other notables buried here include composer Chopin, playwright Molière, poet Apollinaire, and writers Balzac, Proust, Stein and Colette.

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Eiffel Tower

No one could imagine Paris today without it. But Gustave Eiffel only constructed this elegant, 324m-tall signature spire as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 World's Fair. Luckily, the art nouveau tower’s popularity assured its survival. Prebook online to avoid painfully long ticket queues. Lifts ascend to the tower’s three floors; change lifts on the 2nd floor for the final ascent to the top. Energetic visitors can climb as far as the 2nd floor via the south pillar’s 720 stairs (no pre-booking).

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Basilique du Sacré-Cœur

Begun in 1875 in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War and the chaos of the Paris Commune, Sacré-Cœur is a symbol of the former struggle between the conservative Catholic old guard and the secular, republican radicals. It was finally consecrated in 1919, standing in contrast to the bohemian lifestyle that surrounded it. The view over Paris from its parvis is breathtaking. Avoid walking up the steep hill by using a regular metro ticket aboard the funicular to the upper station. Some 300 spiralling steps lead you to the basilica’s dome, which affords one of Paris’ most spectacular panoramas – it's said you can see up to 30km on a clear day. Weighing in at 19 tonnes, the bell called La Savoyarde in the tower above is the largest in France. The chapel-lined crypt is closed indefinitely to the public. On Sundays, you can catch the organ being played during Mass and Vespers. Visiting Sacré-Cœur is a veritable experience, from the musicians performing on the steps to the groups picnickers on the hillside park. Watch out for touts and pickpockets, however, who often work the crowds.

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Musée d’Orsay

The home of France’s national collection from the impressionist, post-impressionist and art nouveau movements spanning from 1848 to 1914 is the glorious former Gare d’Orsay train station – itself an art nouveau showpiece – where a roll-call of masters and their world-famous works are on display. Top of every visitor’s must-see list is the painting collection, centred on the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art. Allow ample time to swoon over masterpieces by Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro and Van Gogh. There are also some magnificent decorative arts, graphic arts and sculptures. Concerts, films, performances and cafe readings take place regularly.

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The Catacombes

Paris’ most macabre sight are these skull- and bone-lined underground tunnels. In 1785 it was decided to rectify the hygiene problems of Paris’ overflowing cemeteries by exhuming the bones and storing them in disused quarry tunnels, and the Catacombes were created in 1810. After descending 20m (via 131 narrow, dizzying spiral steps), you follow dark, subterranean passages to the ossuary (1.5km in all). Exit up 112 steps via a 'transition space' with gift shop onto 21bis av René Coty, 14e. The route through the Catacombes begins at the 2018-opened entrance on place Denfert-Rochereau. The surface is uneven and can be slippery – sturdy shoes are essential. In the tunnels the temperature is a cool 14°C. Flash photography isn't permitted. It's not suitable for young children or anyone faint-hearted.

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Arc de Triomphe

If anything rivals the Eiffel Tower as the symbol of Paris, it’s this magnificent 1836 monument to Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz (1805), which he commissioned the following year. The intricately sculpted triumphal arch stands sentinel in the centre of the Étoile (Star) roundabout. From the viewing platform on top of the arch (50m up via 284 steps and well worth the climb) you can see the dozen avenues.