Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
France’s fashion-conscious capital is continually evolving with everything from new galleries to hip bars to green spaces. But it will still seduce you every moment of the year — some things never change.
Scratching the surface, however, reveals that France's fashion-conscious capital continually evolves. Strict regulations have preserved its village-like layout and architectural treasures, and have ensured an almost total absence of high-rises. This gives rise instead to innovative conversions of existing structures into everything from galleries to hip bars to green spaces.
Paris' changes are most apparent in its regenerated areas particularly around Canal St-Martin, home to emerging artists and designers; the colourful multicultural districts in the north and northeast; and the reinvigorated southeast, particularly along the riverbanks. The Seine itself forms part of changes to the city's public transport system, with the 2008 debut of the Voguéo "metro boat" service. And low-cost-to-free bicycle rental is now available from pick-up/drop-off stations all over the city following the success of the Vélib' service.
Paris also takes on a different atmosphere depending on the season. But Cole Porter was spot on, meteorology and all: whether you are here in the springtime, the fall, the winter (when it drizzles) or the summer (when it sizzles!), the world's most romanticised city has a way of seducing you every moment of the year. Some things never change.
Here is Paris' top ten.
1. Eiffel Tower
The view of the "city of light" by night is mesmerizing from the tip of the city's iconic spire, with its 360-degree panoramas over Paris. More than 250 million people have ascended the tower to date. Most visit its three platforms (57m, 115m and 276m) in daytime hours, when, on a clear day, views from the top extend up to 60km. Far fewer visitors make the pilgrimage after sunset, when queues are significantly shorter. Night-time at the top can be breezy - bring a jacket.
2. Musee d'Orsay
The home of France's national collection from the Impressionist, Post-impressionist and Art Nouveau movements is, appropriately, the glorious former Gare d'Orsay Art Nouveau railway station. On the ground floor you will find earlier works of the era, while the middle level has some stunning Art Nouveau rooms and sculptures. On the skylit upper level, masterpieces include Manet's On The Beach; Renoir's Ball at the Moulin de la Galette; Degas' ballerinas and Van Gogh's scenes of Auvers-sur-Oise just outside Paris (where he died and is buried).
3. Jardin du Luxembourg
The merest ray of sunshine is enough to draw apartment-dwelling Parisians outdoors. You will see locals unwinding throughout the city: in parks, on bridges and on the banks of the Seine. But the Luxembourg Gardens have a special place in the hearts of Parisians.
Napoleon dedicated the gardens to the children of Paris, and many residents spent their childhood prodding little wooden sail boats with long sticks on the octagonal pond, watching marionettes perform Punch & Judy-type shows, and riding the carousel (merry-go-round) or ponies.
Nowhere encapsulates Paris' village atmosphere more than its street markets. Not simply places to shop, the markets are social gatherings for the entire neighbourhood, where residents toting quintessentially Parisian canvas shopping bags on wheels chat with stallholders and pick up culinary tips.
5. Mosquee de Paris
Built between 1922 and 1926 and topped by a 26m-high minaret, Paris' art deco-Moorish mosque is a treat off the beaten track. Provided you are modestly dressed, you can wander through the colonnaded courtyards - with incredible acoustics during the Call to Prayer - and leaf through ancient Arabic texts in the library.
6. Shakespeare & Co
A kind of spell descends as you enter this cluttered, charming bookshop opposite Notre Dame. Its enchanting nooks and crannies overflow with new and secondhand English-language books, while amid handpainted quotations and a wishing well, a miniature staircase leads to an attic-like reading library.
The bookshop is the stuff of legends. The original shop (12 rue l'Odeon; closed by the Nazis in 1941) was run by Sylvia Beach and became the meeting point for Gertrude Stein's "Lost Generation". Beach published James Joyce's Ulysses there in 1922, when no one else would.