Lonely Planet has produced this article for Visa. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.
Sweeping, landmark-studded boulevards, lamp-lit stone bridges, art nouveau cafes and graceful gardens...France's photogenic capital is the world's most visited city for a reason. Paris’ 20 arrondissements (neighbourhood districts) span just 105 sq km, so even a couple of days is long enough to get a taste of the city, though a week is better (and longer better still).
When to go
As the songs attest, Paris is enchanting in the springtime (from April), and also in autumn (especially September and early October), with temperate weather and a wealth of cultural activities. Winter can be chilly and dark but less crowded and less expensive too. Summer is Paris' peak tourist season but be aware that Parisians take annual holidays in August in particular, meaning many restaurants and shops shut.
Where to go and what to see
Mouthwatering food, magnificent museums and stylish shopping are all Parisian highlights...not to mention those views!
Ascending the Eiffel Tower is an ideal way to get your bearings (and to toast being in Paris at its sparkling-new top-floor champagne bar). From the top of the Arc de Triomphe, views swoop down Paris’ most glamorous avenue, the Champs-Élysées. Stunning views also extend from the towers of Notre Dame cathedral; from Sacré-Coeur basilica (especially from up inside its main dome) above the artists' quarter of Montmartre; and from the rooftop of Paris' 'inside-out'-designed cultural centre, the Centre Pompidou in the hip Marais neighbourhood.
The Centre Pompidou houses France’s national modern and contemporary art museum, the Musée National d’Art Moderne. The world's largest museum, the Louvre is another must (its thematic trails are a great way to streamline your visit), as is the Musée d’Orsay, housing France’s national collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in magnificently renovated surrounds. The little-known Musée Marmottan Monet houses the world’s largest collection of Monet paintings and sketches, while two oval rooms in the Musée de l’Orangerie, in the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries gardens, showcase eight enormous Waterlilies canvases that Monet conceived especially for this former greenhouse. For romantics, the Musée Rodin's sculpture-filled gardens are magical.
Fabulous food (and wine too)
In a city (and country) that is obsessed with eating well, restaurants – from cosy neighbourhood bistros through to triple-Michelin-starred temples to gastronomy – pride themselves on exquisite preparation and presentation of quality produce, invariably served with wine. Enticing patisseries, boulangeries (bakeries), fromageries (cheese shops) and street markets are filled with picnic pickings. And culinary schools (such as La Cuisine Paris) and wine-tasting courses (like O Chateau) offer instruction for all schedules, abilities and budgets.
Browsing the city's shops is a quintessential part of any Parisian visit. Prime places to start are famous grands magasins (department stores) like Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps; the Triangle d'Or (golden triangle), bordered by avs Georges V, Champs-Élysées and Montaigne; storied St-Germain; and the burgeoning Haut Marais (upper/northern Marais), with its emerging designers. Dating from the 19th century, Paris’ glass-roofed passages, such as the passage des Panoramas, are treasure chests of small boutiques.
Nothing beats strolling Paris' boulevards and backstreets but the city also has an ultra-efficient public transport system encompassing the metro, RER commuter trains and buses, as well as the hugely successful Vélib' bike-share scheme and world's first electric-car-share scheme, Autolib'. To combine a river cruise with land transport, hop on and off the Batobus (www.batobus.com), with eight key stops along the Seine between the Eiffel Tower and Paris' botanic gardens, the Jardin des Plantes.
Beyond central Paris
Good transport links make it easy to take day trips around Paris. Options include the opulent Château de Versailles; Fontainebleau, with its own lavish château and surrounding forest offering outdoor pursuits such as rock-climbing; and the hypnotic stained-glass cathedral at Chartres.
Costs & money
Paris may be home to haute couture, haute cuisine and historic luxury hotels but it's also surprisingly affordable for budget travellers, who can get by on under €80 per day staying in hostels and self-catering. Midrange travellers spending €80 to €200 daily will find good-value accommodation and restaurants where a two-course dinner with glass of wine averages €20 to €40. High-end travellers should expect to pay at least €200, but in the City of Lights, the sky is the limit!
Check out the video below for tips on saving money in Paris.