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Paris - France
With its incomparable historic sites and the rich art collections, Paris is often thought of as the largest museum in the world. But Paris' culture is not just about the past; the City of Lights also celebrates cinema and music, and the nightlife is as exciting as that of London or New York.
Paris has 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 a 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 popular museum (with 2.5 million visitors each year) is the Musée d'Orsay, which is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of Impressionism masterpieces. The Centre Georges Pompidou, also known as Beaubourg, has always divided Parisian opinion: its avant-garde architecture has been compared to a multicolored 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 the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle and take a stroll afterward 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 Musée Picasso Paris and the Musée de la Mode et du Textile, which pays tribute to the city's biggest fashion houses. 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 a plaice where visitors can learn more about Middle-Eastern cultures. Many lectures and seminars are organized here as well.
Admission to galleries is free. Opening hours vary from one neighborhood 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 neighborhood, notably around Rue Keller and Rue de Charonne.
Those set on classical music will be thrilled by the opulent Opéra Garnier, home to Paris' 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 the Paris Symphonic Orchestra and Salle Gaveau, dedicated to chamber music.
Paris is home to more than 140 theaters featuring various types of shows, from classic plays to avant-garde live performances, dance, comedies, and musicals. Unfortunately, almost all of them are in French, which can hinder your enjoyment if you don't speak the language. Nonetheless, certain theaters are worth a visit. The eminent Comédie-Française features classic comedies written by the likes of 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 performed here. The program also includes a great selection of world music concerts, with artists coming from Asia and the Middle 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 Truffaut 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 15 films at once, mostly in their original languages. The MK2 chain, which not only screens blockbusters, but also independent French movies, has a faithful clientele. MK2 Parnasse and MK2 Beaubourg have a more avant-garde selection than the other theaters of the chain. In the Latin Quarter, art and experimental cinemas carry on the French cinematic tradition of showing classic films. The Studio Galande often puts on high quality film series and retrospectives.
For the jazz lover, many clubs are located in the St-Michel and St-Germain-des-Prés districts; be sure to check out great sounds at the Caveau de la Huchette. The legendary Olympia Hall still welcomes the great names of French pop, just as it did when Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf pulled in the crowds. World-renowned bands and singers fill up the Zénith or Bercy. Palais des Congrès plays host to musicals and multimillion dollar productions.
Many international tournaments take place in Paris. For such major events, usually the Stade de France is the venue, as it can accommodate up to 80,000 people. Home games of Paris' professional soccer team (Paris Saint-Germain F.C.) are hosted at Parc des Princes, not far from another major venue, tennis' Roland Garros Stadium where the French Open takes place in June.
Paris has numerous bars and clubs, all open later than those of other European cities. Bars close either at 2a or 4a, whereas clubs close at 6a. Some are open extra late on the weekend. 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 neighborhoods 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, by far the most popular spot.
Rue d'Oberkampf with Café Charbon is full of energy, brought by both locals and tourists. Alongside the Saint-Martin Canal, 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, many 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 English 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 at Queen on the Champs-Élysées. Disco nights at Queen are very popular, where house music fans bestow their patronage on the weekends. A less glamorous but more hip techno temple is the underground Rex Club. After hours 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 Favela Chic near République metro. In the Pigalle neighborhood, you can hear great world music coming from Brazil, Mexico or the Middle East at the Divan du Monde, or dance the night away to the sound of rock music in the Elysée Montmartre. 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 & 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. 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 New York's Central Park) is great for families as it contains numerous children's playgrounds. The young crowd living in the neighborhood 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' entertainment scene would not be complete without mention of the epitome of family fun, Disneyland Paris. This remains the main attraction on Paris' doorstep, and visitors flock here from all over Europe. Family fun is also guaranteed at Parc Astérix and the wildlife park, Thoiry.