Known as the City of Love, Paris is a simply magical place. Each year, millions of visitors choose Paris as their holiday destination. Some do it for the cheese, others for the wine. Some propose to their partners there, wanting the story of their engagement to be as romantic as possible, while others simply wish to wander the old streets and marvel at the history.
It’s easy to see what makes Paris so special. From iconic landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, to the ambiance which makes you feel as though you’re in the middle of a classic movie scene, you’ll fall in love with this special place.
Located in the northern region of France, it’s the country’s capital city and most populated too. Over 12.5 million people call it home, with 2.1 million of those living in the city centre. It’s densely packed as the city is only 105 km2.
Are you ready to join millions of visitors who wander through this historic city each year? Lace up your walking shoes, put on your best hat, and make sure you pack an extra memory card for your camera; we are off to Paris!
Here are a few must-know facts about Paris:
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Official language: French
Civilisation in Paris dates back to the third century BCE, when the Celtic Senones tribes occupied the region. Their occupation lasted until they were conquered by the Roman Empire in 52 BCE. The Romans converted Paris into a luxurious city with baths, temples, and theatres, which were exceptionally popular in elite Roman culture at the time.
By the 12th century, Paris was a hub for the political and cultural elite of France, where the ambitious rubbed shoulders with the royal family. Among those royals were the residents of Palais de la Cité, the constructors of the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Paris continued to grow in popularity and by 1328, it had over 200,000 residents. By comparison, London at the time had just roughly 80,000 inhabitants. One of the most well-known of these French citizens living in Paris at the time was Joan of Arc who, in 1429, led the armies who conquered the British occupation.
In the 18th century, conflict arose and changed the course of history for the city and country forever. Following years of oppression and poverty, starving citizens who had historically looked to the royal family for help turned on their rulers and started a revolution, known today as the French Revolution. The point where frustrations came to a head was at the Storming of the Bastille on July 14th in 1789, a fortress and prison controlled by the French authorities. Napoleon Bonaparte was a notable figure during the French Revolution. He became the French statesman and military general in 1799 and made history for his military victories and strategies.
Today, Paris has overcome its dark past to become a global capital city where the historical and the modern mix to create one of the world's most beloved cities.
The Eiffel Tower is the first and most important landmark to see for many visitors. Also known for being an Instagram selfie hotspot, this amazing lattice tower was constructed in 1887.
The Louvre Museum houses the Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, arguably the most popular painting in history. It's the world's largest art museum and is located in the heart of Paris.
Notre-Dame Cathedral was built between 1163 and 1345. This amazing cathedral is the most popular in all of France and perhaps the world. Unfortunately, a recent fire caused major damage to the roof and exterior of the structure. Work is currently underway to restore this landmark.
The Arc de Triomphe is beautiful to behold. Built as a memorial to fallen soldiers, a flame is lit every day at 6:30 PM to honour the life of the Unknown Soldier, an unnamed man who sacrificed his life during WW1. It's also at the centre of one of the craziest traffic circles in Europe, with cars zooming in and out without any traffic lights or road signs to guide them.
The Palace of Versailles is ideal if you'd like to learn what life was like for the upper-class and old French royals. This palace of gold and marble was constructed in 1631 by King Louis XVI for himself and other royal family members to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Lush gardens spanning 8.2 km2 take hours to walk through and years to forget.
There is no shortage of options when it comes to booking accommodation in Paris; you'll find a wide variety of hotels and Airbnbs catering for all budgets. As is typical of most European cities, prices differ depending on where you stay – the closer to the city centre, the more you'll need to fork out.
Tip: If you're planning to travel to Paris, book your accommodation as early as possible. Paris is a highly popular holiday destination and accommodation can be booked up extremely quickly, especially during the summer months.
Book a bicycle tour and venture into the heart of Paris. You can ride an electric bicycle which will allow you to zoom past landmarks and take in as much as you can, or hire a traditional bicycle and go at a slower pace.
For an even more leisurely tour, explore the canals with a canoe experience. These are quite limited, so booking in advance is essential if you don't want to miss out.
See Paris from the sky on the Big Wheel located near the Louvre. Make sure to have your camera charged and ready, because you can take photos of many landmarks from this view, including the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame.
Want to feel like a kid again? Book a ticket to Disneyland Paris, one of three Disney-themed parks in the world. The others are both located in the United States of America, with the original one found in Florida, USA.
Paris shares a similar climate to many other European capitals, meaning it's mild and wet for a good portion of the year. The summer is warm and sunny, with cool breezes to help you feel refreshed on hot days.
The average temperature ranges between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius, with snowfall expected during winter, which can reduce temperatures to well below 0 degrees Celsius. Summer occurs between April and September and winter occurs between October and May.
French cuisine is well-known around the world for being delicate, dainty, and delectable. France is home to the Michelin Restaurant Guide, an internationally renowned eatery guide that rates the best restaurants in the world.
Paris is home to 10 Michelin three-star restaurants. For any restaurant to achieve a one-star rating is hard enough; having three is near impossible. No South African restaurant has yet to be awarded a Michelin star rating.
It's not just the luxurious food for which Paris is popular. You'll also find some of the most awarded and respected wines in the world there. Travel a few hours outside of Paris to the town of Champagne where the beloved drink gets its name. In fact, only bottles made in this region can carry the label of 'champagne'; any other bubbly must be referred to as sparkling wine or MCC (method cap du classic).
Paris also proudly boasts a long-standing tradition of cheese-making and bread-baking. Walk the streets and you won't be able to resist a nibble of the freshly baked baguettes and croissants.
If the local cuisine isn't your thing, you can always count on the numerous fast-food chains found around the city.
The crime in Paris, like many other European cities, is mainly petty, with pick-pocketing and purse theft being the most common. Always keep as few valuables on your person as possible, and keep items like your passport and other important documentation safely locked away in your hotel room.
Tip: Try to travel in groups to avoid becoming a target for criminals and avoid communicating with people who constantly hassle you for cash.
South Africans who travel to Paris will need a Schengen visa, as France is located in the European Union (EU). This visa will allow you to stay in the country for up to 90 days, with travel to other European countries within the EU allowed depending on whether or not you specified this in your visa application.
South Africans will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Paris. If you have a South African driver's licence, you can obtain an IDP from your local licencing department.
Visitors arriving via cruise ship can enter France but not via Paris, as the city isn't located near a docking area.
Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is the largest in France and the second busiest airport in Europe, just behind Heathrow in London, United Kingdom. International visitors will most likely book flights to enter the country via this airport.
Paris residents are known for being proud of their country and language. Learn as much as you can about the culture before visiting so you can remain respectful.
Table service is charged separately at restaurants, so if you stop at a café to get a quick coffee, rather stand to drink it or ask for it takeaway, otherwise you'll be charged for sitting down.
Due to the large number of people visiting Paris each year, most of the landmarks will likely have long queues of people waiting to see them. Book your ticket to see these landmarks in advance if you don't want to miss out. If you can afford it, opt for a 'skip-the-queue' option, which many tour guides offer. However, these tickets do cost more than standard-entry tickets.