With its incomparable historic sites and the rich art collections, Paris is often thought of as the largest museum in the world. But Paris's culture is not just about the past; the City of Light also celebrates cinema and music, and the nightlife is as exciting as that of London or New York.
Museums and Galleries
Paris counts more than 60 museums, so chances are you will find one to accommodate your tastes and interests. They are usually open from 10a to 6p and most of them have a weekly late day, staying open until 9p (generally on Wednesdays or Thursdays). Public museums are usually closed on Tuesdays and private museums often close on Mondays. Let's begin with the king of them all, the Louvre
with its magnificent glass pyramid. It houses without doubt one of the most remarkable collections of paintings and sculptures in the world, including two legendary works: the Venus de Milo
and the Mona Lisa
by Leonardo da Vinci. Another major and highly popular museum–with 2.5 million visitors each year, the Musée d'Orsay
is home to one of the most comprehensive collection of Impressionism masterpieces. The Georges Pompidou Centre
, also known as Beaubourg, has always divided Parisian opinion: its avant-garde architecture has been compared to a multicoloured steamboat launched in the belly of Paris. If you are with kids or interested in science, the Cité des Sciences et de l'industrie
in La Villette is not to be missed. Learn about human evolution at Museum of Natural History and take a stroll afterwards in the beautiful Jardin des Plantes
. Besides these essential landmarks, there are a number of small, themed museums that are worth a look, including the Picasso Museum in the charming Marais district. Less academic but still representative of an important part of Parisian culture, the Museum of Fashion and Textiles pays tribute to the Capital's biggest fashion houses. Finally, for those interested in anthropology and culture, the Musée du Quai Branly, with its prodigious collection of objects (300,000) coming from Australasia, Africa, and the Middle-East, will enable you to see from the perspective of a non-Western culture. The Institut du Monde Arabe is also of great interest to learn more about Middle-Eastern cultures. Many lectures and seminars are organized–at its café notably, to initiate neophytes to its amazing collection.
Admission to galleries is free. Opening hours vary from one neighbourhood to another, some open at night until 11p. Many of the city's most prestigious galleries are located in Saint Germain des Prés, either in Rue de Seine or Rue des Beaux-Arts like Galerie Claude Bernard. Most of them promote various styles of contemporary art, from Cubism to Abstractionism. Check out Galerie Maeght to dig into some of Miro's work and Galerie Arcturus for Selinger statues. Famous antiques galleries are gathered around Haussman Boulevard and Matignon Avenue, down the road from famous auction house Christie's
. More avant-garde galleries can be found around Beauboug and others have turned Bastille into an arty and trendy neighbourhood, notably around rue Keller and rue de Charonne.
Classical Music and theatres
Those set on classical music will be thrilled by the opulent Opéra Garnier
, home to Paris's ballet company, also known as les petits rats de l'opéra
. The performances include the greatest operas and ballets, like Berlioz's Romeo & Juliet
or Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake
. Its ultra-modern counterpart, the Opéra Bastille concentrates more on music than dance performances and hosts great operas as well as symphonic concerts. Two other concert halls will enchant classical music connoisseurs, like Salle Pleyel which is home to Paris Symphonic Orchestra and Salle Gaveau, dedicated to chamber music.
Paris is home to more than 140 theatres featuring various types of shows, from classic plays to avant-garde live performances, dance, comedies, musicals, etc. Unfortunately, almost all of them are in French, which can hinder your enjoyment if you don't speak the language. Nonetheless, certain theatres are worth a visit. The eminent Comédie-Française for example features classic comedies written by Molière that are accessible to a large audience. The Odéon Théâtre de l'Europe is a great alternative, as it hosts classic plays in their original languages. Théâtre de la Ville, once home to famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt, is an open door to performers of the world. From famous international dance companies like Merce Cunningham or Ann Theresa de Keersmeaker, many world renowned artists have come here. The programme also includes a great selection of world music concerts, with artists coming from Asia–notably India–and the Middle or Far-East. Finally, the Théâtre du Châtelet, with its tradition of education and innovation, plays host to young talents and dance companies coming from all over Europe, and organizes many festivals drawing visitors from far and wide.
The famous film director, François Truffault, said that every French citizen is a cinema critic. No surprise then that Paris is a film-lover's paradise, with many cinemas in every district. The big complexes like the UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles or UGC Ciné Cité Bercy show more than fifteen films at once, mostly in their original languages. The MK2 chain, which not only screens blockbusters, but also independent French movies, has a faithful clientèle. MK2 Parnasse and MK2 Beaubourg have a more avant-garde selection than the other theatres of the chain. In the Latin Quarter, normally frequented by students, art and experimental cinemas carry on the French cinematic tradition of showing old films. The Studio Galande often puts on high quality film series and retrospectives.
For the jazz lover, Paris recreates the atmosphere of New York with its many clubs in the St-Michel and St-Germain-des-Prés districts; check out great sounds at the Caveau de la Huchette. The legendary Olympia Hall still welcomes the great names of French pop, but it's faded slightly since the days when Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf pulled in the crowds. World-renowned bands and singers are more likely to fill up the Zénith
. Palais des Congrès plays host to musicals and multi-million dollars productions.
Many international tournaments take or have taken place in Paris. For such major events, usually the Stade de France
is the best stadium, as it can accommodate up to 80,000 people. Home games of Paris's soccer team (PSG) are hosted at Parc des Princes, not far from another major sport venue, Roland Garros Stadium
, where the French Tennis Open takes place in June.
Parisian nightlife in general no longer lags behind London or Berlin. Paris counts numerous bars and clubs, all open later than those of London or Berlin. Bars close either at 2a (the vast majority of them) or 4a, whereas clubs close at 6a. Some are opened extra-late–until noon–in the week-end. Aperitif starts at 7p-8p; dinner, at 9:30p-10p; bars fill up around Midnight until 2a; then, people head to the clubs at around 1:30-2a. The most vibrant neighbourhoods include Bastille, Rue de Lappe, Rue de Charonne, and Rue de la Roquette, where you will find countless bars. Some of them are fancy wine bars, others are smaller local cafés, but all of them have that sort of uniqueness that is distinctly Parisian. Another popular district is found between République and Oberkampf, from far the most popular spot at night. Rue d'Oberkampf with Café Charbon
is full of energy, brought by both locals and tourists. Alongside the canal Saint-Martin, Chez Prune
is practically a Parisian institution. The 5th arrondissement is also very lively: in the Latin Quarter itself between Métro Saint-Michel and Métro Cluny-La Sorbonne, girls head to the Latin Corner; students flock to pubs behind the Panthéon, between Place Descartes and Rue Mouffetard. The Hurling Pub
, with its infused vodkas and wooden counter is a great hang-out, as well as the Bombardier
, an authentic Irish pub. More upscale bars can be found in Saint Germain des Prés or alongside the Champs-Élysées
Paris has a flourishing club culture, with numerous places hopping and DJs in action all through the night. The hippest DJs play in Paris, like Bob Sinclar, Jeff Cortez and Dan Marciano at Queen on the Champs-Élysées. On Monday, disco nights at Queen are very popular, whereas House music fans and metrosexuals bestow their patronage on the weekends. Another legendary club, the Bains Douches
also host famous DJs like Tommy Marcus, Jef K and Jérôme Pacman to enchant the gay and gay-friendly clubbers. A less glamorous but more hip techno temple is the underground Rex Club
, where Laurent Garnier, Carl Cox and Daft Punk often perform. After clubbing hours–that is after 6a–the trendy crowd interested in experimental techno and French electronic music heads to the Batofar
, a red boat moored on the Seine. Another option is the Glaz'Art
, an arty spot, where all kinds of arts and music are intertwined for live performances and crazy nights. For Salsa and Hip Hop, head to Barrio Latino
in the Bastille district or to the Favela Chic
near République metro. In Pigalle neighbourhood, you can hear great world music coming from Brazil, Mexico or the Middle-East at the Divan du Monde
, or dance the night away on the sound of Rock music in the Elysée Montmartre
. Finally, if you're looking for the most upscale select clubs, stay in the 8th arrondissement. The Milliardaire and Régine's
are certainly the best bet to meet the classy crowd.
Visitors to the capital can take advantage of the cabaret culture and traditional French Cancan shows at the Moulin Rouge
or enjoy some high-class cabaret at the world-renowned Crazy Horse.
Parks, Zoos, and Theme Parks
For those wanting to explore the many parks of the city, there are many options on each corner. A stroll in the Tuileries Garden is welcome after visiting the Louvre and the fresh air will regenerate your brain cells. In the Latin Quarter, take a break at the Luxembourg Garden
where locals jog or play tennis throughout the day. If you are with kids, go to the Jardin des Plantes
, where you can take your children to the Zoo and to a Tropical Botanical Garden. The largest park in Paris, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont–seen by some as a replica of Central Park, is great for families as it contains numerous children's playgrounds. The young crowd living in the neighbourhood often organizes giant picnics and parties in the park. A beautiful view over the city can be caught on the top of the park's tower. A brief taste of Paris's entertainment scene would not be complete without mention of the epitome of family fun, Disneyland Paris
. This remains the main attraction on Paris's doorstep, and visitors flock here from all over Europe. Family fun is also guaranteed at Parc Astérix and the wildlife park, Thoiry. -Aurélie Pichard