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Things to Do in France

Chic. Sophisticated. Iconic. France’s cultural identity is prominent across the globe. Paris, known affectionately as the City of Lights, tops every list of romantic destinations yet offers something for every type of traveler, from dinner shows at the Moulin Rouge to world-renowned art at the Louvre Museum and Gothic architecture at Notre Dame Cathedral. In Versailles, the colossal palace exudes grandeur; fine wines beg to be quaffed in Bordeaux and Champagne; and war history enshrouds the battlefields of Normandy and the Somme. Gastronomes will find nirvana in France, where freshly baked baguettes, cheese, casseroles, and delicacies such as snails and frogs’ legs are staples on most menus.
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Eiffel Tower
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Built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World Fair, held to commemorate the centennial of the Revolution, the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) made headlines at the time as the world's tallest structure at 1,050 feet (320 meters). Initially opposed by Paris' artistic and literary elite, the tower was almost torn down in 1909, but its salvation came when it proved an ideal platform for the antennas needed for the new science of radiotelegraphy.

Today, the highlight of a visit is the supreme view over Paris. When you're done peering upward through the girders from the ground, head up to the three levels open to the public, one of which features the famed 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant. Just southeast of the Eiffel Tower is a grassy expanse that served as the site of the world's first balloon flights. Today, the area is frequented by skateboarding teens and activists stating their views on the current state of France.

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River Seine
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Paris lies 277 miles (445 km) from the river mouth and the slow-moving river is navigable up to 348 miles (560 km) inland from Le Havre, to Paris and beyond. This made it a lucrative trading route and Paris a prosperous city even back in the days of the Roman Empire.

In Paris, many bridges cross the Seine, the oldest being the Pont Neuf dating from 1607 and the newest the Pont Charles de Gaulle completed in 1996. The river forks in central Paris creating two islands: the Ile de la Cité which is one of the most expensive districts to live, and the Ile Saint-Louis. Many of Paris's famous landmarks are beside the Seine: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d'Orsay.

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Louvre
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The Louvre may be the world's greatest art museum. Don't be daunted by its size and overwhelming richness; if you have even the merest interest in the fruits of human civilization from antiquity to the 19th century, then visit you must.

The former fortress began its career as a public museum in 1793 with 2,500 paintings; now some 30,000 are on display. The most famous works from antiquity include the Seated Scribe, the Jewels of Rameses II, and the armless duo - the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo. From the Renaissance, don't miss Michelangelo's Slaves, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and works by Raphael, Botticelli, and Titian. French masterpieces of the 19th century include Ingres' La Grande Odalisque, Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa, and the work of David and Delacroix. The Grand Louvre project has rejuvenated the museum with many new and renovated galleries now open to the public. To avoid queues at the pyramid, buy your ticket in advance.

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Lido de Paris
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Le Lido, the infamous cabaret and burlesque venue in Paris, is located on the Champs-Elysees. Night after night, beautiful women in sumptuous costumes sing and dance while surrounded by extraordinary scenery, magical lighting and captivating music. The current exotic show running at Le Lido is Bonheur, meaning "happiness".
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Paris Catacombs (Catacombes de Paris)
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In 1785, Paris decided to solve the problem of its overflowing cemeteries by exhuming the bones of the buried and relocating them to the tunnels of several disused quarries, leading to the creation of the Catacombs, basically corridors stacked with bones. They are 65 ft (20 m) underground and contain the remains of six million Parisians. During WWII, the tunnels were used as a headquarters by the Resistance.

The route through the Catacombs begins at a small, dark green Belle Époque-style building in the centre of a grassy area of av Colonel Henri Roi-Tanguy, the new name of place Denfert Rochereau. The exit is at the end of 83 steps on rue Remy Dumoncel, southwest where a guard will check your bag for 'borrowed' bones.

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Pont de l'Alma (Alma Bridge)
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Pont de l’Alma is a Parisian bridge built in 1854 in commemoration of the Franco-British alliance’s victory over the Russian army during the Crimean War. The bridge underwent complete rebuilding in the 1970s in order to accommodate the rapidly increasing road and river traffic – only the statues were retained from the original structure. The arch bridge is now 42 meters large and 153 meters long, and links the right and left banks of the Seine River.

Pont de l’Alma offers splendid views of the Eiffel Tower and is often the go-to location for photographers wanting to capture Paris. What made the bridge a household name worldwide, however, is the role it played in Lady Diana’s death; indeed, she perished in a car crash at the entrance of the bridge’s tunnel in 1997. The Flame of Liberty at the bridge's north end has become an unofficial memorial to her memory.

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Latin Quarter (Quartier Latin)
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The Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) in Paris is commonly thought to be synonymous with the fifth arrondissement, but it actually stretches to the sixth as well. It's also known as the epicenter of Parisian academic life, as it is home to no less than six universities and technical schools. In fact, it's how the Latin Quarter got its name; back in the Middle Ages, area students commonly spoke Latin, - conversationally!

The Roman ruins make the Latin Quarter, also known as Quartier Latin in French, one of the oldest parts of Paris, while the Sorbonne University gives it an intellectual and existential air. The district is tailor made for walking, its legendary cafes, historic jazz clubs, boulevards and narrow lanes capturing the essence of Paris. Today, the Latin Quarter welcomes students from all over the world, and the shops, restaurants and bars reflect this international vibe.

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Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes)
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The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) is one of the largest Gothic buildings in all of Europe and was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. Avignon became the residence of the Popes in 1309 during the period of the Avignon Papacy. It was then expanded and grew to occupy an area of 11,000 m² (2.6 acres). The papacy spent a large amount of money on the building during construction. The interiors are no less grand than the exteriors; the rooms were luxuriously decorated with expensive frescos, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and wooden ceilings.

The palais deteriorated for the next couple of hundred years despite restoration efforts and was then sacked during the Revolutionary period. The Palais was eventually taken over by the Napoleonic government for military use during which time it further deteriorated. It finally became a national museum in 1906, and most of the Palais is now open to the public.

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St. Benezet Bridge (Pont d'Avignon)
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The St. Benezet Bridge - known as the Pont d’Avignon - is a famous bridge located in Avignon. The 12th century bridge originally spanned 900 m (2,950ft) across the Rhône River. The bridge collapsed frequently and was reconstructed multiple times. Today, only 4 of the original 22 arches remain complete.
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Notre Dame Cathedral
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If Paris has a heart, then this is it. The cathedral of Notre Dame (Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is not only a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, but has also been Catholic Paris' ceremonial focus for seven centuries. The cathedral's immense interior, a marvel of medieval engineering, holds over 6,000 people and has spectacular rose windows.

Although Notre Dame is regarded as a sublime architectural achievement, there are all sorts of minor anomalies, the result of centuries of aesthetic intervention. These include a trio of main entrances that are each shaped differently, and are accompanied by statues that were once coloured to make them more effective as Bible lessons for the masses. The interior is dominated by a 7,800-pipe organ that was restored but has not worked properly since.

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More Things to Do in France

Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay)

Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay)

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The museum displays France's national collection of paintings, sculptures, objets d'art produced between 1848 and 1914, including the fruits of the Impressionist, Post Impressionist, and Art Nouveau movements.

The Museum fills the chronological gap between the Louvre and the Musée National d'Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou. Austerely housed along the Seine in a former railway station built in 1900, it was re-inaugurated in its present form in 1986. Upstairs the grand salon still dazzles and there is an elegant tearoom and restaurant with a good view over the river.

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Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

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Opened in 1889 by Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler, the Moulin Rouge was created in a time when creativity was blooming, and people were filled with the joys of life. With a huge dance floor, mirrors, beautiful showgirls and an atmosphere of total euphoria, the Cabaret was a huge Success. Then Toulouse-Lautrec was a frequent visitor, today over 1000 people visit a night.
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Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III

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Arguably the most beautiful bridge in Paris, Pont Alexandre III was inaugurated in 1900 and crosses the Seine from Le Grand Palais to Invalides. If it looks familiar to you, that's because its elegant design and Art Nouveau elements have been featured in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, Adele's iconic video for her smash hit “Someone Like You” and even James Bond's film A View to a Kill.

The theme of the bridge's coats of arms celebrates the alliance between France and Russia, with the Nymphs of the Seine and Neva Rivers. The four gilt statues symbolize Science, Art, Contemporary France and the “France of Charlemagne.”

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Montmartre

Montmartre

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Montmartre is the hilly part of Paris. There are stairs galore and the crowning glory is, of course, the famous Sacré Coeur Cathedral perched at the top, looming over Paris. There is another church on the hill, the older Saint Pierre de Montmartre, which is the founding place of the Jesuits.

The area is also famous for its nightlife and artists. The Moulin Rouge is here and Pigalle is known both for being the red-light district and for its rock music venues. Artists including Picasso, van Gogh, Monet, Modigliani, Renoir and Dali all lived and/or worked in the area. The Dali Espace museum is also worth a visit.

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Port of Cannes (Port de Cannes)

Port of Cannes (Port de Cannes)

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Cruise ships dock in the bay and tenders take you to Le Vieux Port (the Old Port) from where you turn right and it is an easy walk to the main promenade along the beachfront and into town, or you can catch a taxi. The train station is also an easy walk. Local buses along the coast are also a good option for day trips as many destinations are reached for only 1 euro.

Cannes is a lovely place to spend the day if you like to stroll the beachfront promenade, shop or eat in lovely surroundings. French bakeries are famous so pop in there for a light lunch. If you fancy more sumptuous surrounds, head to the hotels along the front, such as the Sofitel Mediterranee with its top floor restaurant with lovely views. Or have a cocktail at the famous domed Hotel Le Carlton.

Up the hill in the old quarter of La Suquet is the Gothic church Notre Dame d’Esperance and 12th century Saint Anne’s Chapel plus panoramic view of Cannes Port.

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Promenade des Anglais

Promenade des Anglais

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The Promenade des Anglais (Walk of the English) stretches along the seafront between the beach and the road. It is constantly busy with promenaders, dog-walkers, joggers, cyclists, skaters and sight-seers sitting on the iconic blue chairs to enjoy the deep azure of the sea in the Baie des Anges. In the late 18th century, the English adopted Nice, then a sleepy town, as a place to escape the harsh English winter. One particularly nasty winter, many beggars from northern France drifted south to Nice so the wealthy English put them to work building a beachfront walkway. The City of Nice stepped in to increase the scale of the project. These days the locals just call it The Promenade.
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Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf

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The white stone spans of Paris' oldest bridge, ironically called 'New Bridge', have linked the Île de la Cité with both banks of the Seine since 1607. That's when Henri IV inaugurated the bridge by riding across on a white stallion.

The Pont Neuf and the nearby place Dauphine were used for public exhibitions in the 18th century. In the last century the bridge itself became an objet d'art on at least three occasions: in 1963, when School of Paris artist Nonda built, exhibited and lived in a huge Trojan horse of steel and wood on the bridge; in 1984 when the Japanese designer Kenzo covered it in flowers; and in 1985 when the Bulgarian-born 'environmental sculptor' Christo famously wrapped it in beige fabric.

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Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier

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It may not be the first iconic structure that comes to mind when you think of Paris, but to Parisians the Palais Garnier - Opera National is a beloved symbol of the importance placed on the arts in the City of Light. Completed in 1875 per architect Charles Garnier's specifications, it has been home to the Opéra de Paris and ballet performances since then – as well as the setting for the novel, film and musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

Today, visitors climb up the Grand Staircase, see the Phantom's famous chandelier hanging from the Chagall-painted ceiling and learn the interesting history of one of Paris's major sites.

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Grand Palais

Grand Palais

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You'll probably notice the Grand Palais before you go there; its spectacular glass roof can be seen from several points in the city, and at certain times of the day the sunlight makes it seem like a steam-punk spaceship has landed near the Seine. But if you don't go inside you would be missing out on a spectacular space.

Like many structures in the area, it was inaugurated in 1900 and since then, has hosted a wide variety of events, exhibitions and collections. From equestrian shows to Chanel fashion shows, from military hospital to a point of the WWII liberation of Paris, Parisians have always known to check out what's happening at the Grand Palais. There are also permanent exhibits, such as the science museum, National Society of Fine Arts and the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais.

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Saint Germain des Prés

Saint Germain des Prés

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As is common in Europe, the St Germain des Prés neighborhood is named after its church, in this case the sixth-century Benedictine Église de St-Germain-des-Prés, named after St Germain, in honor of the Bishop of Paris. We have this church to thank for the student-led vibe of the area; they donated the land from the church to the Seine and to the University of Paris, thus creating the Latin Quarter that we know and love today.

The main street in the neighborhood, in the sixth arrondissement, is the Haussmann-designed Boulevard St Germain. It has chic stores and plenty of cafes for people watching. In fact, the romance of whiling away the hours at a cafe was practically born in St Germain des Prés, at historic Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore.

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Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles)

Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles)

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The most acclaimed example of formal French garden design, Versailles’ vast chateau gardens are famed for their geometrically aligned terraces, tree-lined paths, ponds and canals. Spreading west of the palace, the Versailles Chateau Gardens cover 800 hectares (1,976 acres) in the style of garden landscape artist, Andre Le Notre.

One of the most special aspects of the gardens is the 50 fountains which act as focal points, enhancing the geometrical design. From late spring to early autumn, the fountains come to life as part of the annual Grandes Eaux water spectacles. Garden highlights include the horses and chariot of the Apollo Fountain, the Grand Canal stretching off to the horizon, and the detailed parterres of the Orangerie.

Wherever you stroll, you’re bound to come across a grove, colonnade, fountain or sculpture that will surprise, delight and take your breath away.

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Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde

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The Place de la Concorde is between the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs Elysées on Paris's famous axis. It was laid out between 1755 and 1775. The 3,300-year-old pink granite obelisk with the gilded top in the square's centre was given to France in 1831 by Muhammad Ali, viceroy and pasha of Egypt. Towering 75 ft (23m) over the cobblestones, it once stood in the Temple of Ramses at Thebes (modern-day Luxor).

The 8 female statues adorning the 4 corners of the square represent France's largest cities. In 1793, after the French Revolution, Louis XVI's head was lopped off by a guillotine set up near the statue representing the city of Brest. During the next two years, another guillotine was used to behead 1343 more people, including Marie-Antoinette and the Revolutionary leader Danton. The square was given its present name after the Reign of Terror ended in the hope that it would be a place of peace and harmony.

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French National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

French National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

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The French National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France) is a major research and conservation library that dates back to the Middle Ages. The library’s collections contain 14 million books and printed documents, and nearly 150,000 documents are added to the collections every year. The library is comprised of four main buildings: Site François-Mitterrand, the center for digital projects and collections; Site Richelieu-Louvois, which houses the departments of manuscripts, prints, cartography, music, theater, coins and medals; Site de L’Arsenal, containing the library of the French arsenal (more than a million books are in this building alone); and the Bibliothèque – Musée de l’Opéra, with collections related to the National Opera of Paris and the Comic Opera Theater.

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Nice Old Town (Vieux Nice)

Nice Old Town (Vieux Nice)

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Nice Old Town (known locally as Le Vieux Nice) is a lovely honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with beautiful Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Thronging with tourists eating the famous ice-cream during the day, at night it becomes one big party with bars and nightclubs spilling out onto the streets.

The key things to see are the Cours Saleya (the open air market), Chapelle de la Miséricorde (a wonderfully ornate Baroque church dating from 1740), Chapelle de l'Annonciation (known locally as Sainte-Rita), Eglise Saint-Jacques (dating from 1612 and built by the Jesuits, it has some excellent frescoes), the Cathedral Sainte Réparate (1699), and the Palais Lascaris (paintings and statues).

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