The River Seine flows through Paris, separating the central area into the Right Bank and Left Bank. The Right Bank starts with the Louvre Museum and Renaissance-era Marais district, with the tree-lined Avenue Champs-Élysées and major department stores further north. On the Left Bank, south of the River Seine, the Latin Quarter borders the Luxembourg Gardens. The Eiffel Tower dominates the skyline further west. Sitting in the middle of the Seine are two islands: the Île de la Cité, crowned by Notre Dame Cathedral, and Île St-Louis, a quiet enclave of 17th-century houses.
A day at the Louvre Museum gives just a hint of the treasures collected over the centuries – da Vinci’s enigmatic Mona Lisa is just one of 35,000 works of art on display. Spend the afternoon with Degas, Renoir and other French Impressionists at the Orsay Museum, and discover new angles on art at the Pompidou Centre in the Marais quarter. Dress up for an evening of opera or ballet at the opulent Palais Garnier or glossily modern Opéra Bastille. Alternatively, come as you are to hear traditional French songs by candlelight in Belleville, the multicultural district Edith Piaf called home.
Sipping an aperitif or coffee at an open-air café is an essential Paris city break experience, from hill-top Montmartre to the Latin Quarter. Order champagne and burgundy by the glass at mirror-lined wine bars in the Marais backstreets, then travel back to the 19th century at ornate brasseries in Montparnasse. Every neighborhood has its local bistro serving fluffy omelettes and rich game dishes like rabbit and duck. The Belleville district specialises in Middle Eastern, Vietnamese and other ethnic cuisines.
Central Paris feels untouched by the centuries, from the Gothic gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral to the medieval turrets of the Conciergerie on the Île de la Cité. Renaissance town planning is on show in the Marais quarter at Place des Vosges, an elegant square symmetrically lined with identical houses. To see how aristocrats lived before the Revolution, the nearby Carnavalet Museum is housed in an exquisite Paris hôtel particulier or grand private residence.
Paris is dotted with parks and gardens for stretching little legs. Sailing toy boats in the Luxembourg Gardens and visiting the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes botanical gardens have been favourite pastimes for centuries. There are themed gardens and play areas to explore at immense Parc de la Villette, and the hands-on Cité des Enfants exhibits make science active and fun. Knights in shining armour excite young imaginations at the Museum of the Middle Ages in the Latin Quarter. Spend the day at ‘Paris beach’ in summer, when the riverbanks are transformed with sand, deckchairs and parasols.