Getting to know Paris


Ah, Paris. There are few cities in the world that evoke the same level of sentiment. The iconography runs deep: baguettes, Breton shirts and berets, supercilious waiters in white aprons, chic Parisiennes with small dogs. This guide, however, seeks to cut through the cliches and steer you away from the tourist traps to discover the real Paris. We will share what we consider to be the most appealing of the city's innumerable charms. Bon voyage.
Getting under the skin of Paris isn't easy. To the untrained eye the city can be an impenetrable mix of grandiosity and high chic. Scratch the surface, however, and the idiosyncratic charm of this lively European capital becomes clear. There's always something new to see, do or taste - and we're here to help you find the best of it.
Some disparage Paris as a staid and stuffy "city of museums". It's true that it has more cultural institutions than any other - 468 cinemas, museums, opera houses and theatres at last count - so picking your way through can be a challenge.
Petit Palais, Champs-Elysees. Built in 1900 in the beaux arts style, this museum was architect Charles Girault's ode to the creativity of the early 20th century. Its mural-decorated lobbies, galleries and ornate cupolas now house a permanent collection of art, spanning sculptures from ancient Greece to photography of the 19th century. You'll find paintings and sculptures by Pissarro, Cezanne, Rodin and Delacroix overseen by a series of busts of Parisian art luminaries set into the walls. And unlike many of the city's other art institutions, you won't have to battle it out with crowds of tourists to get a look at them. It's the temporary exhibitions that really make this a must-visit. Recent displays have ranged from the fashion of Yves Saint Laurent to the macabre drawings and etchings of Goya and the wood-block prints of Japanese artist Kuniyoshi. There's also a lovely cafe in the mosaic-tiled courtyard where you can have a coffee once you're done perusing the collections.
Siège du Parti Communiste Français, Belleville. Almost floating above the Colonel Fabien traffic island is a rare chance to see the work of a titan of architecture outside his native Brazil; Oscar Niemeyer delivered his client a lyrical masterpiece while he was in exile after a military coup back home. The French Communist Party Headquarters was completed in 1971 at a time when the party and its ideology was still a force to be reckoned with in the country. A six-storey boomerang-shaped office block forms a glass curtain that opens up over the district.