Paris is the capital of France and the country’s largest city. It is situated on the River Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region (also known as the “Paris Region”.
An important settlement for more than two millennia, Paris is today one of the world’s leading business and cultural centers, and its influence in politics, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world’s major global cities.
Paris is also the most popular tourist destination in the world, with over 30 million foreign visitors per year. There are numerous iconic landmarks among its many attractions, along with world-famous institutions and popular parks.
Paris has warm summers with average high temperatures of 25 °C (77 °F) and lows of 15 °C (59 °F). Winters are chilly, but rarely below freezing with temperatures around 3 °C (37 °F) – 8 °C (46 °F). Spring and fall have mild days and cool evenings. Rainfall could occur at any time of the year, and although not a very rainy city, Paris is known for its sudden showers. The yearly annual precipation is 650 mm (26 in) with light rainfall fairly distributed throughout the year. Snowfall is a rare occurrence, but the city could see light snow or flurries without accumulation in some winters.
Paris has always been a destination for traders, students and those on religious pilgrimages, but its ‘tourist industry’ began on a large scale only with the appearance of rail travel, namely from state organisation of France’s rail network from 1848. Among Paris’ first mass attractions drawing international interest were, from 1855, the above-mentioned Expositions Universelles that would bring Paris many new monuments, namely the Eiffel Tower from 1889. These, in addition to the capital’s Second Empire embellishments, did much to make the city itself the attraction it is today.
Paris’ museums and monuments are among its highest-esteemed attractions; tourism has motivated both the city and national governments to create new ones. The city’s most prized museum, the Louvre, welcomes over 8 million visitors a year, being by far the world’s most visited art museum. The city’s cathedrals are another main attraction: its Notre Dame de Paris and the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur receive 12 million and eight million visitors respectively. The Eiffel Tower, by far Paris’ most famous monument, averages over six million visitors per year and more than 200 millions since its construction. Disneyland Resort Paris is a major tourist attraction not only for visitors to Paris, but to Europe as well, with 14.5 million visitors in 2007.
The Louvre is one of the largest and most famous museums, housing many works of art, including the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) and the Venus de Milo statue. Works by Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin are found in Musée Picasso and Musée Rodin respectively, while the artistic community of Montparnasse is chronicled at the Musée du Montparnasse. Starkly apparent with its service-pipe exterior, the Centre Georges Pompidou, also known as Beaubourg, houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Art and artifacts from the Middle Ages and Impressionist eras are kept in Musée Cluny and Musée d’Orsay respectively, the former with the prized tapestry cycle The Lady and the Unicorn. Paris’ newest (and third largest) museum, the Musée du quai Branly, opened its doors in June 2006 and houses art from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.
Many of Paris’ once-popular local establishments have come to cater to the tastes and expectations of tourists, rather than local patrons. Le Lido, The Moulin Rouge cabaret-dancehall, for example, are a staged dinner theatre spectacle, a dance display that was once but one aspect of the cabaret’s former atmosphere. All of the establishment’s former social or cultural elements, such as its ballrooms and gardens, are gone today. Much of Paris’ hotel, restaurant and night entertainment trades have become heavily dependent on tourism, with results not always positive for Parisian culture.
The Métro is Paris’ most important transportation system. The system, with 300 stations (384 stops) connected by 214 km (133.0 mi) of rails, comprises 16 lines, identified by numbers from 1 to 14, with two minor lines, 3bis and 7bis, so numbered because they used to be branches of their respective original lines, and only later became independent. Because of the short distance between stations on the Métro network, lines were too slow to be extended further into the suburbs as is the case in most other cities. As such, an additional express network, the RER, has been created since the 1960s to connect more distant parts of the urban area. The RER consists in the integration of modern city-centre subway and pre-existing suburban rail. Nowadays, the RER network comprises 5 lines, 257 stops and 587 km (365 mi) of rails.
Additionally, Paris is served by a light rail network of 4 lines, the tramway: Line T1 runs from Saint-Denis to Noisy-le-Sec, line T2 runs from La Défense to Issy, line T3 runs from Pont de Garigliano to Porte d’Ivry, line T4 runs from Bondy to Aulnay-sous-Bois.
Paris is a central hub of the national rail network. The six major railway stations, Gare du Nord, Gare Montparnasse, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare d’Austerlitz, and Gare Saint-Lazare, are connected to three networks: the TGV serving 4 High-speed rail lines, the normal speed Corail trains, and the suburban rails (Transilien).
Paris offers a bike sharing system called Vélib’ with more than 10,000 public bicycles distributed at 750 parking stations which can be rented for short and medium distances including one way trips.