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The Classic Paris Guide

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Paris is overrun with culture-defining institutions, whether it’s its storied cafés, unparalleled art collections, our couture-based boutiques. Here are a handful of spots that epitomize classic Paris.

palais garnier

Palais Garnier

8 Rue Scribe, Place de l'Opera, 9th | +33.1.40.01.17.89

Though it's arguably most famous for being the backdrop to Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, its real acclaim comes from the fact that it's a stunningly opulent Second Empire masterpiece. While in its first life it was home to the Paris Opera, it now hosts the Ballet. It's absolutely worth making a night of it if only to see the Grand Foyer, plus The Palais harvests its own honey on the rooftop, which is served by two-starred chef Christophe Aribert in the recently opened restaurant, L’Opera.

musée d'orsay

Musée D’Orsay

5 Quai Anatole, 7th | +33.1.40.49.48.14

Sited in the former Gare d'Orsay, a soaring, glass-ceilinged Beaux-Arts railway station built in the late 19th-century, the permanent collection here spans from neoclassicism to art nouveau. The big draw, though, is the museum's deep collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art, which includes works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Seurat, and more.

jardin des tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

Place de la Concorde, 1st | +33.1.40.20.90.43

Erected by Catherine de Medici in 1564 as part of the Tuileries Palace, this public garden has a textured past (it was the hunting grounds of Louix XIII). Now, it's an excellent place to take a long-ish walk, alongside sculptures from Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, and even Roy Lichtenstein. It's also home to the Jeu de Paume and its collection of contemporary art, along with the Musée de l’Orangerie, which famously houses Monet's Water Lillies.

musée du louvre

Musée du Louvre

Musée du Louvre, 1st | +33.1.40.20.53.17

In its original 12th-century incarnation, the Louvre was a fortress (you can still see remnants of this down in the crypt); it morphed over the years into a larger and larger palace until Louis XIV decamped to Versailles and left it to house the royal collection (which already included Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, which was brought into the fold by Frances I in the mid 1500s). It didn't assume its museum status until after the French Revolution, at which point its acquisition pace quickened intensively: The museum has almost 400,000 pieces, of which about 35,000 are on display at any given time. And there's very little filler or fluff in the mix. While the crowds queue up around I.M. Pei's glass pyramid, you can buy advance tickets online. Though it's theoretically possible to marathon your way through the museum in one swoop, we strongly recommend scattering a few short(er) visits across the length of your stay. We haven't tried it, but we hear great things about THATLou—they organize treasure hunts through the museum.

versailles-EPV_Thomas Garnier

Château de Versailles

Place d'Armes, Versailles | +33.1.30.83.78.00

Located on the Western edge of Paris, which requires a brief train trip or drive, Louis XIV's over-the-top pleasure palace is so ridiculously ornate, you'll want to get dressed up for the occasion, if only because every surface is reflective, from the gilded mirrors to the glittery chandeliers. The gardens are just as impressive as the palace, and, in the summer, offers train rides, rowing, and biking. Don’t miss the Petit Trianon, which were Marie Antoinette’s private quarters. Photograph by Thomas Garnier