A city rich in treasures from it's historic past, Paris boasts many modern attractions as well. Paris is known for its famous buildings and works of art, its chic fashion scene and its modern literary, artistic, and intellectual ideals, and is a must for anyone wishing to experience the best of both contemporary and age old European culture. Paris is family friendly and is a city that welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds with open arms.
The capital of the nation and of the historic Île de France region, Paris is located in northern central France, across the English channel from Britain; 165mi southwest of Brussels; and 315mi west of Stuttgart. The city center, known as Intra-Muros, (within the walls), is bisected by the River Seine. Paris is divided into twenty zones or arrondissements that fan out in a circular pattern with the Louvre as the center point. The last two digits of the postal zip code of each zone indicate its location.
The area north of the river, the Rive Droite (Right Bank), includes the tree-lined Avenue des Champs Élysées, running west to the Arc de Triomphe. East of the avenue is the Musée du Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou and a lively district of museums, shops, markets and restaurants. Immediately south of the Pompidou Centre on the Île de la Cité is Notre Dame Cathedral. South of the river, in the area known as the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), can be found the city's trademark, the Eiffel Tower. To the east, are the Saint Germain de Prés and Montparnasse districts, in which can be found Paris's famous academic, artistic and intellectual enclave.
The history of Paris has been both turbulent and exhilarating. From a shaky start, the kings of France gradually extended their control over their feudal rivals, centralizing administrative, legal, financial and political power in Paris as they did so. The autocratic Louis XIV made Paris into a glorious symbol of the preeminence of the State.
Napoleon I added to the Louvre and built the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon III had Baron Haussmann tear down the extensive slums in the early 19th century and completely redesign the city center. Recent presidents have updated the skyline to include skyscrapers at La Défense, and have initiated projects such as the Tour Montparnasse, Les Halles shopping precinct, the space-age Parc de la Villette complex, the glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre, the Bastille opera house, the new National Library, and the conversion of the once closed railway station to the superb Musée d'Orsay.
Few cities can compare with the eclectic mix of cafés, bars and restaurants that line every street and boulevard of Paris. The city's compactness makes it possible to explore on foot and experience the individual feel of the different quartier Paris is a real cinema capital, and the best Parisian music encompasses jazz, avant-garde, salsa and, currently, Europe's most vibrant African music scene.
Parts of Paris don't fit easily in any "category". In fact, Parisians say that their city is just a collection of one hundred villages. Montmartre, rising up to the north of the center, has managed to retain an almost rural atmosphere with its colorful mixture of locals and artists despite the daily influx of tourists. Undisturbed by tourism, the dilapidated working-class quarters of eastern Paris offer a rich ethnic slice of Parisian street life and in direct contrast, technological wonder is paraded at the ground-breaking science museum constructed in the recently renovated Parc de La Villette.
Like most Parisians, you may find there's enough in Paris to keep you from ever thinking about the world beyond. When you find you need a rest from the bustle of the city, however, there is the whole of the Ile de France to explore.