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Paris, France. The city of light, or the city of love, depending on the purpose of your visit. It's one that is on one side quintessentially French, on the other, completely foreign at the same time. It's the beating heart of France, whose influence extends far beyond the country's borders. Paris is a vibrant mix of old and new, and as a city break destination it has so much more to offer than croissants and coffee. Spend a few days in Paris and you'll be surprised at its diversity, yet you'll always be reminded that you're in the capital of one of Europe's most influential nations in history.

The city has long been a centre of European culture, playing a major role in the enlightenment and pioneering the modern secular republic. Paris was central in the development of many European styles of writing and art, and led the way in free thought. To this day, Paris remains one of the most influential cities in the world, and plays a major role in European politics, finance and culture. The city also attracts the most tourists on earth - a staggering 15 million people visit La Metropole every year, attracted by the fabulous architecture, excellent cultural activities and great food and nightlife.

The cultural importance of the city is emphasised by its museums - there are almost 80 of them within the city limits, many housing the very best of European art. Its nickname - the city of light - refers not to the bright lights that permeate the city of an evening, but to the cultural role Paris has played in the past. As a centre for art, literature and freedom of thought, Paris pioneered the modern culture of many European nations.

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The famous landmarks,that we have come to know and love as symbols of Paris, are the primary attractions. These include, of course, the world famous Eiffel Tower (originally built to last just 20 years) the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees. Anyone with even a small amount of time to spend in the capital will be sure to want to visit one of these, as well as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Sacre Coeur and the Louvre. There is also the palace of Versailles, a short train ride away, and plenty of other cultural and religious buildings spread throughout the city in proud fashion.

The districts of Paris - the arrondissements - are the best way to classify specific areas for the purposes of sightseeing. Each arrondissement has something unique to offer the visitor, with atmospheres ranging from quaint to grand, from seedy to posh. Situated within the outer ring road - the boulevard peripherique - you'll find most of what you want to see.

The 5 th arrondissement boasts the atmospheric Latin Quarter - originally a centre of learning and scholars, the area is now teeming with restaurants and bars stuck down its narrow streets. The 7 th contains the Eiffel Tower, the 8 th the Champs Elysees. The 9 th arrondissement is the place to head for upscale shopping and a hint of Parisian grandeur, whilst the 11 th is the haunt of choice for students and resident foreigners. And you'll definitely want to visit the 18 th arrondissement that is home to Montmartre with its charming cobbled streets, on street brasseries and fabulous views over Paris.

Speaking of views over the city, don't be fooled by thinking that the best photo you'll get is one taken from the Eiffel tower. Are the best views of Paris from a tourist's point of view not the ones with the famous landmark actually in the photo? In that regard, there are plenty of places to get an excellent panoramic view of the city, which include the Eiffel tower, without the high prices. These include views from rooftop hotels - such as the Terrass Hotel in Montmartre, the stunning panorama from the steps of the Sacre Coeur, and the Arc de Triomphe. Grab that camera and get snapping.

Aside from the world famous tourist landmarks mentioned above, one of the joys of Paris is the sheer 'parisien-ness' of it all. In order to get a feel for this unique atmosphere you don't need to queue for hours to get into the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower - you just need to know where to head for some atmosphere. Stay away from the Champs Elysees for this, and head into the streets of Paris to explore.

Some areas - such as Montmartre - provide a tourist friendly (read expensive) version of this up at the Place du Tertre, but heading down hill will yield some fabulous bars and brasseries teeming with locals. Here, check out the on street flower and fish shops, the crepe stalls and the Italian and Indonesian restaurants tucked down unassuming side streets. Or there are the streets surrounding the Gare Du Nord which are always a real reminder that you are in Paris. Whether you are looking for a 'formule' (set menu) at lunch or simply searching a boulangerie (bakery) to grab your morning croissant, you'll be partaking in something very Parisian.

Croissants and brasseries aside, you'll find another side to Paris that, whilst not as typically French as you might think, is actually an integral part of Parisian culture and a real addition to this city's vibrant nature. You'll notice a diverse and mixed population who are every bit as French as that guy with the moustache and the stripy t-shirt. You'll be able to dine on couscous or kebabs served up by second or third generation French North Africans, or dine on Indonesian or Chinese food in Chinatown. The waves of immigrants to Paris over the past decades have resulted in a brilliant mix of cultures that mostly emerge from the melting pot to the tune of La Marseillaise.

In short, when you're in Paris, don't forget that this is not just a tourist city of stunningly beautiful monuments, museums and art galleries. This is the home of 2.1 million people, and you'll be able to get right in with local life at the markets, bars and quaint little areas around the city whilst enjoying the best that Paris has to offer.

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