“We’ll always have Paris,” says Bogie in Casablanca, because Paris is at once a film set (Grace Jones on the Eiffel Tower, Audrey Tautou in Montmartre, Audrey Hepburn in a St-Germain jazz cellar), one of the world’s most beautiful cities (with its golden stone facades and famous monuments), and a vibrant, densely packed collection of villages.
But however well you think you know Paris, there’s always something new to discover. Districts change, old ones get restored, whole new areas like Seine Rive Gauche around the new Bibliothèque Nationale go up, there’s always a new bar or restaurant to check out, a new star baker, the latest gallery, no time more so than in the autumn when the city reawakes reinvigorated for la rentrée.
Behind the grandiose palaces and boulevards, you can discover intimate courtyards and gardens; behind historic façades are craft workshops and eminent research institutions. Perhaps the true clue to Paris’s appeal is that despite being one of the most visited cities in the world it is also intensely lived-in. With its flats, playgrounds, food markets and cafés, there is no empty heart in the centre; and you, too, can play at being a Parisian.
When to go
You can come to Paris any time but the atmosphere is quite different at different times of year. The autumn rentrée starts with a burst of energy for the new cultural season; winter is a time for festivals and feasting; May and June see Paris lazing into summer; while in August the capital slows down, a beach takes over the quays and you may be hard-pushed to find a Parisian around.
Know before you go
Essential contacts (All numbers should be prefixed by 0033 unless otherwise stated)
Ambulance (samu): Dial 15.
Police: Dial 17.
Fire (pompiers): Dial 18.
Emergency services from mobile phone: Dial 112
Telephone code: From abroad, dial 00 33, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number. Most Paris numbers start with 01; mobile phone numbers start with 06; numbers beginning 08 are special-rate numbers, ranging from 0800 freephone to premium-rate calls.
Local laws and etiquette
When greeting people, formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
The laws of vouvoiement (which version of “you” to use) take years to master. If in doubt – except when talking to children or animals – always use the formal vous form (second person plural) rather than the more casual tu.
When driving, it’s compulsory to keep fluorescent bibs and a hazard triangle in the car in case of breakdown.