Long a hub of French culture, cuisine and architectural splendor, Paris is known as one of the most romantic destinations in the world. Walking along its tree-lined boulevards and along the banks of the Seine, it’s easy to see why this little corner of Europe is so admired and beloved.
The land that comprises Paris today has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Evidence of early settlements dates back nearly 11,000 years, when small bands of hunter-gatherers put down roots here to enjoy the bounty of the landscape.
During the Roman era, Emperor Julian the Philosopher wintered in Paris. His nickname was apt; he was a brilliant military strategist, but also an erudite man of letters. How fitting then, that he chose to make Paris his home.
A century after the fall of the Roman Empire, Clovis the Frank, a powerful and wise ruler, united the disparate Frankish tribes against invaders. Many outside forces laid siege to Paris, but the Franks were victorious and went on to create a center for learning and artistic expression.
From 1789 to 1799, the French Revolution brought catastrophic upheaval to the country, upsetting the societal and political norms that had long been in place. During this time, a tide of nationalism and desire for democracy surged in France, displacing the previous structures that once guided the country – namely the once-powerful monarchy and the church. And much of the movement was centered in and around Paris.
The victorious spirit in France has remained strong in Paris through the centuries and survives even today, despite wars and many political changes.
Paris Lifestyle and Culture
Over the centuries, Parisian culture has been built on the wings of inspiration. Music, film, architecture, literature, dance, and the visual arts are all well represented in the museums, theaters, bookstores and remarkably preserved buildings of this magnificent city.
Parisians have a true appreciation for life’s finer pleasures. As the capital of France, one of the viticulture centers of the world, the city is never in short supply of some of the best wines produced anywhere. And in Paris, where there’s wine, there is also fine food. French cuisine seems equal parts science and art, from the affordable fare found at small, intimate cafés to the haute cuisine of the finest eateries.
High culture certainly abounds in Paris, which has a long and storied literary past, in no small part due to the city’s unrivaled status as a source of inspiration for writers and artists alike. Native Parisians such as Marcel Proust and Moliere, as well as expatriates like Henry Miller, have called the city home through the years.
All the alluring elements of Paris combine to create the most romantic city on earth. Its streets are lined with endless rows of elegant buildings. Stunning monuments to its heroes and history oversee wide-open plazas. The city begs to be explored at a slow and leisurely pace, from the banks of the Seine to the Champs-Élysées.
Paris Sights and Landmarks
In Paris, an endless array of museums, monuments and masterpieces lines the Seine River. Perhaps none are so dramatic as the Eiffel Tower. When it was constructed in 1889, it was the tallest structure in the world, a title it held until New York’s Chrysler Building was erected in 1930. Even more awe-inspiring than the tower itself is the view from the top. From there, you can catch a grand panorama of the famed capital in all its splendor.
It’s an artistic splendor that graces the Louvre Museum, originally the private and ever-expanding art collection of King Francis I. The rulers who followed him all added their own objets d’art to the palace galleries. With the French Revolution, this previously exclusive collection became the property of the people. Here, you’ll find many of the most famous and inspired works of art in history, from the Venus de Milo to the Mona Lisa.
For more inspiration, turn to the Champs-Élysées, no ordinary thoroughfare. Painstakingly manicured chestnut trees frame its wide sidewalks, and it is the elite address of the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, the Presidential Élysées Palace and many of Paris’s finest retail and culinary establishments.
The small island occupied by Notre Dame Cathedral, the Ile de la Cité, has long been regarded as sacred ground. Paris was founded on this tiny island, so it is fitting that the city’s spiritual center is also here. Competed in 1345, Notre Dame stands as a breathtaking monument to the faith and dedication of its builders.
You’ll find more faith and dedication in Montmartre, one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Paris. The area has been a haunt of choice for bohemians and artists since the late 1700s. Perhaps its most famous landmark is the legendary Moulin Rouge, where Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec got his inspiration to paint his risqué showgirls.
Paris Entertainment and Activities
Paris has something for everyone, from art lovers to architecture buffs to music aficionados.
Though the Louvre is the city’s most famous art museum, the Musee d’Orsay is its rival across the Seine. Even travelers who claim to have little interest in art leave its galleries in awe of its dazzling Impressionist collection. In this sparkling former train station, you’ll find works by Cezanne, van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Rodin and many others. Shop the fashionable boutiques or explore more of the artists’ district of Montmartre.
Just outside Paris, Château de Versailles began as a modest stone-and-brick hunting lodge commissioned by King Louis XIII. As his wealth grew, so did the lodge. After his death, its expansion continued under Louis XIV, who hired famed architects, horticulturists, and artists to create a baroque palace truly fit for a king. It was the envy of visiting royalty from far and wide, and it became the blueprint for regal luxury that all others would try to match.
Southeast of the Champ de Mars is the École Militaire, a vast complex of military training facilities established in 1750 by Louis XV to provide an academic college for cadet officers from poor families. Or, take a leisurely stroll through the Latin Quarter, filled with bistros and restaurants. It’s situated on the left bank of the Seine around the University of Paris, known as the Sorbonne.
Paris Restaurants and Shopping
Paris is a paradise for food-lovers. At Epicure, diners savor the lovingly crafted cuisine of chef Eric Frechon. This elegant eatery has earned three Michelin stars and provides a special dining experience. Bistrotters delivers a memorable French Bistro experience, with crispy pork belly, salmon terrine, and foie gras on the menu. At Oka Paris, enjoy a creative fusion of French and Brazilian fare. This much-lauded Parisian restaurant is a unique culinary experience, with food that is light and inspired, flavors that are complex and nuanced, and an immaculate presentation.
Paris also stands proudly as one of the style capitals of the world. Shopping is pure pleasure here, whether along the Champs-Élysées or in any boutique you happen to stroll past. All of the top designers have flagship stores in the City of Light, and you can lose yourself for hours in places like Boulevard Haussmann, Louvre-Tulleries, and the Marais district.View Cruises to Paris