This page is divided into to sections. The first section contains general information about France and the second part contains information about all the cities I have been to in France.
This article is mainly covering mainland France, and not the overseas territories.
General information about France
France is an European country which almost every traveler has a relationship with. Many dream of its joie de vivre shown by the countless restaurants, picturesque villages and world-famous gastronomy. Some come to follow the trail of France's great philosophers, writers and artists, or to immerse in the beautiful language it gave the world. And others still are drawn to the country's geographical diversity with its long coastlines, massive mountain ranges and breathtaking farmland vistas.
France is a country of rich emotions and turbulent politics but also a place of rational thinking and enlightenment treasures. Above all, it is renowned for its cuisine, culture and history.
When it comes to weather France has a lot of variety, but you may get anything from cold temperates during winters and mild summers, depending om when you travel. There are mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean and in the southwest. You may likely even see a few palm trees on the Mediterranean coast. You possibly get mild winters, with lots of rain, and cool summers in the northwest and cool to cold winters and hot summer along the German border. Along the Rhône Valley, there is an occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as the mistral. Cold winters with lots of the snow in the Mountainous regions: Alps, Pyrenees, Auvergne. Make sure to bring appropriate clothing to keep you warm while visiting.
If possible, try to avoid French school holidays and Easter, because hotels are very likely to be overbooked and traffic on the roads is simply awful.
France has been populated since the Neolithic period. The Dordogne region is especially rich in prehistoric caves, some used as habitation, others are temples with remarkable paintings of animals and hunters, like those found at Lascaux, while others are simply incredible geological formations, like the gondola-navigable Gouffre de Padirac.
Written History began in France with the invasion by the Romans, between 118 and 50 BC. Starting then, the territory which is today called France was part of the Roman Empire, and the Gauls (name given to local Celts by the Romans), who lived there before Roman invasions, became acculturated "Gallo-Romans".
With the fall of the Roman empire, what was left were areas inhabited by descendants of intermarriages between Gallo-Romans and "barbaric" easterners.
The legacy of the Roman presence is still visible, particularly in the southern part of the country where Roman circuses are still used for bullfights and rock and roll shows. Some of the main roads still follow the routes originally traced 2,000 years ago, and the urban organization of many old town centers still transcript the cardo and the decumanus of the former Roman camp (especially Paris). The other main legacy was the Catholic Church which can be, arguably, considered as the only remnant of the civilization of that time.
The beginning of the 16th century saw the end of the feudal system and the emergence of France as a "modern" state with it's border relatively close to the present ones (Alsace, Corsica, Savoy, the Nice region weren't yet French). Louis XIV who was king from 1643 to 1715 was probably the most powerful monarch of his time. French influence extended deep in western Europe, its language was used in the European courts and its culture was exported all over.
That era and the following century also saw the expansion of France on the other continents. This started a whole series of wars with the other colonial empires, mainly England (later Britain) and Spain over the control of North America, the Caribbean, South American, Africa and Southeast Asia.
The French Revolution started in 1789, leading to the overthrow of King Louis XVI of the House of Bourbon and the creation of the First French Republic. Although this period was also fertile in bloody excesses it was, and still is, a reference for many other liberation struggles. In 1791, the other monarchies of Europe looked with outrage at the revolution and it's upheavals, and considered whether they should intervene, either in support of the deposed King Louis XVI, or to prevent the spread of revolution, or to take advantage of the chaos in France. The French Revolutionary Wars were a series of major conflicts fought between the French Republic and several European Monarchies from 1792 to 1802.
Napoléon Bonaparte seized power in a coup d'état, reunited the country and declared himself Emperor of the French, he crowned by Pope Pius VII as Napoleon I of the French Empire, on 2 December 1804 at Notre Dame de Paris. His militaristic ambition which, at first, made him the ruler of most of western Europe were finally his downfall. In 1815 he was defeated in Waterloo in Belgium by the Seventh Coalition. He is still revered in some Eastern European countries as its armies and its government brought with them the ideas of the French philosophers.
1905 saw the separation of the Church from the State. This was a traumatic process, especially in rural areas. The French state carefully avoids any religious recognition. The Church was badly hurt and lost half its priests. In the long run, however, it gained autonomy—for the French State no longer had a voice in choosing bishops. In the early 21st century, the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) 2009 study, based on self declaration in a percentage of the total French population, 64.4% of the population identified as Catholic but with only 15.2% regularly attending or occasionally attending Mass, and 4.5% attending Mass weekly.
The First World War was a disaster for France, even though the country was ultimately a victor. At first many welcomed the war to avenge the humiliation of defeat and loss of territory to Germany following the Franco-Prussian War. However very high losses and almost no gain on the Western Front change opinions of the war. A significant part of the male workforce was killed or disabled and a large part of the country and industry destroyed. When the Second World War was declared there was little enthusiasm and much dread in France at the prospect of enduring another major war. In the spring of 1940 Hitler's army invaded France, the army and government of the Third French Republic collapse and France surrendered in June of 1940. With British troops fleeing France an atmosphere of humiliation and defeat swept over the country. On the other hand, the French Resistance conducted sabotage operations inside German-occupied France. To support the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, various groups increased their sabotage and guerilla attacks.
Since the end of WWII France went through a period of reconstruction and prosperity came back with the development of industry. The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the French Fourth Republic and replaced the prior parliamentary government with a semi-presidential system. It is France's third-longest-enduring political regime, after the pre-French Revolution Ancien Régime and the Third Republic.
France began the process of decolonization after a rise in nationalism following WWII.
In 1963 France and West Germany signed the Élysée Treaty, known as the Friendship Treaty, the treaty established a new foundation for relations that ended centuries of rivalry between them. France would play a role in what would eventually became the European Union. One of the most visible consequence being the introduction of the Euro (€) in 2002. Euro is now the common currency of eighteen of the twenty-eight EU members and also used by seven other European countries.
French is the official language of France, although there are regional variations in pronunciation and local words. For example, throughout France the word for yes, oui, said "we", but you will often hear the slang form "ouais", said "waay." It's similar to the English language usage of "Yeah" instead of "Yes".
In Alsace and part of Lorraine, a dialect of German called "Alsatian", which is almost incomprehensible to speakers of standard High German, is spoken. In the south, some still speak dialects of the Langue d'Oc: Languedocien, Limousin, Auvergnat, or Provençal. Langue d'Oc is a Romance language, a very close relative of Italian, Spanish, or Catalan. In the west part of Brittany, a few people, mainly old or scholars, speak Breton; this Celtic language is closer to Welsh than to French. In parts of Aquitaine, Basque is spoken, but not as much as on the Spanish side of the border. In Corsica a kind of Italian is spoken. In Provence, Provençal is most likely to be spoken, especially along the Riviera.
However, almost everyone speaks French and tourists are unlikely to ever come across regional languages, except in order to give a "folkloric" flair to things.
Hardly anybody understands imperial units such as gallons or Fahrenheit. Stick to metric units, after all, the French invented this system.
The French are generally attached to politeness and will react coolly to strangers that forget it. You might be surprised to see that you are greeted by other customers when you walk into a restaurant or shop. Return the courtesy and address your hellos and goodbyes to everyone when you enter or leave small shops and cafes. It is, for the French, very impolite to start a conversation with a stranger (even a shopkeeper or client) without at least a polite word like "bonjour". For this reason, starting the conversation with at least a few basic French phrases, or some equivalent polite form in English, goes a long way to convince them to try and help you.
Note that French spoken with a hard English accent or an American accent can be very difficult for the average French person to understand. In such circumstances, it may be best to write down what you are trying to say. But tales of waiters refusing to serve tourists because their pronunciation doesn't meet French standards are highly exaggerated. A good-faith effort will usually be appreciated, but don't be offended if a waiter responds to your fractured French, or even fluent but accented, in English (If you are a fluent French speaker and the waiter speaks to you in English when you'd prefer to speak French, continue to respond in French and the waiter will usually switch back - this is a common occurrence in the more tourist-orientated areas, especially in Paris).
Some parts of France are at times overrun by tourists. The locals there may have some blasé feelings about helping for the umpteenth time foreign tourists who speak in an unintelligible language and ask for directions to the other side of the city. Be courteous and understanding.
The French adhere to a strong set of values. They cherish their culture, history, language and cuisine, which is considered an art. Once gained acquaintance, the French become warm, sincere and welcoming. The French are often criticized by many visitors and tourists alike for being "rude" and/or "arrogant", but this is in fact a very common misunderstanding. Communication, like in many parts of Europe, tends to be direct, and small-talk is widely ignored unless there is an absolutely necessity for it. It's very uncommon for strangers to communicate with one another, especially on public transportation.
It's worth noting that France is one of very few countries in the world where offering assistance or a helping hand is almost non-existent, and the French in general have very little patience with those that do. For instance, it's common to be dismissed for asking someone on the streets to take a photograph of you. Do not try and take this personally as this is simply a cornerstone of French culture.
Electricity in France is supplied at 220 to 230V 50Hz. In June 2017 the European union enforced Roame like home, which states that "when you travel outside your home country (in the EU) to another EU country, you don't have to pay any additional charges to use your mobile phone. If you travel to France from somewhere else you could get an additional SIM-card to save yourself some money.
Travel to France
The main international airport, Roissy - Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is likely to be your port of entry if you fly into France from outside Europe.
Transfers to another flight in France: AF operates domestic flights from CDG too, but a lot of domestic flights, and also some internal European flights, use Orly, the second Paris airport. For transfers within CDG you can use the free bus shuttle linking all terminals, train station, parking lots and hotels on the platform. For transfers to Orly there is a bus link operated by AF. The two airports are also linked by a local train (RER) which is slightly less expensive, runs faster but is much more cumbersome to use with heavy luggage. AF has agreements with the SNCF, the national rail company, which operates TGVs out of CDG airports (some trains carry flight numbers). The TGV station is in Terminal 2 and is on the route of the free shuttle. For transfers to the city center of Paris, see Paris. Paris Star Shuttle offers transfers from CDG into Paris.
Some low-cost airlines, including Ryanair, fly to Beauvais airport situated about 80km northwest of Paris. Buses to Paris are provided by the airlines. Check schedules and fares on their websites. The French rail company, SNCF, provides direct service from most European countries using regular trains. France is served by numerous services from England and Ireland. Several coach companies operate in France, such as Flixbus, Eurolines, Blablabus and other local companies.
Paris is well connected to the rest of Europe by train. There is no central station serving Paris and the six different stations are not directly connected to each other. You will probably want to know in advance at which station your train is arriving, so as to better choose a hotel and plan for transport within the city. All these six stations are marked in my travel map.
A warning about the train station Gare du Nord; thieves and pickpockets are known to operate around that area since a majority of international trains terminates at that station there and also connect to the poor and notorious regions. Do not act as if you are a tourist as this could make you an obvious target.
Traveling within France
France drives on the right side of the street. A French driver flashing headlights is asserting right of way and warning you of intentions and presence. Do not use it to mean thanks. Flashing headlights can also mean, "Watch out as there's a police speed-check ahead of you!" Horns should be used only in legitimate emergencies; use of the horn in urban areas outside such circumstances might win you a traffic ticket. Parisian drivers were notorious for honking their horns at anything and everything, though increased enforcement has greatly reduced this practice. France has a reasonably developed system of highways.
The government owned train company is SNFC. Trains are a great way to get around in France, although delays and strikes do occur. While service is mostly good, the quality can vary. Some cities and towns have modern, well up to date trains, while in other areas of France trains can be outdated. You can get pretty much from anywhere to anywhere else by train. For long distances, use the bullet train TGV on which reservations are obligatory. But, if you have time, take the slower regional train and enjoy the scenery. The landscape is part of what makes France one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
You can cruise down one of the French canals on a river boat to see the sites of the local countryside and moor by a local town or village to try the local produce and visit the cafes and bars. One of the most popular rivers being the Canal Du Midi located in the south of France in the departments of Hérault, Aude, and Haute-Garonne. Many boat charter companies offer this service.
Places to visit and when to go there
As mentioned above France has a variety of climates so where you go depends on what you want to do. France offers everything from city life in one of the large cities, beach life on the Riviera,
Places to sleep
In France you have several options where to sleep. Check hotels.com and booking.com for hotels and hostelworld.com for hostels. If you want to rent a private home Airbnb.com is somewhere you could check out. There is also a site which let you stay at luxurious hotels and castles if that's what you want. Or else you can stay at a winery.
Money and banking
France has the Euro as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
Some foreign currencies such as the US dollar and the British Pound are occasionally accepted, especially in touristic areas and in higher-end places, but one should not count on it; furthermore, the merchant may apply some unfavorable rate. In general, shops will refuse transactions in foreign currency.
It is compulsory, for the large majority of businesses, to post prices in windows. Hotels and restaurants must have their rates visible from outside (note, however, that many hotels propose lower prices than the posted ones if they feel they will have a hard time filling up their rooms; the posted price is only a maximum).
Almost all stores, restaurants and hotels take the CB French debit card, and its foreign affiliations, Visa and Mastercard. American Express tends to be accepted only in high-end shops. Check with your bank for applicable fees (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee). If ever the merchant requires a minimum amount before purchasing, then they will post it in writing at the till or the shop's entrance.
French CB cards (and CB/Visa and CB/Mastercard cards) have a "smart chip" on them allowing PIN authentication of transactions. This system, initiated in France, has now evolved to an international standard and newer British cards are compatible. Some automatic retail machines (such as those vending tickets) may be compatible only with cards with the microchip. In addition, cashiers unaccustomed to foreign cards possibly do not know that foreign Visa or Mastercard cards have to be swiped and a signature obtained, while French customers systematically use PIN and don't sign the transactions.
There is (practically) no way to get a cash advance from a credit card without a PIN in France.
Automatic teller machines (ATM) are by far the best way to get money in France. They are called distributeurs or DAB (distributeur automatique de billets) in French. They all take CB, Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus and Plus and are plentiful throughout France. They may accept other kinds of card; check for the logos on the ATM and on your card (on the back, generally) if at least one matches. It is possible that some machines do not handle 6-digit PIN codes (only 4-digit ones), or that they do not offer the choice between different accounts (defaulting on the checking account). Check with your bank about applicable fees, which may vary greatly (typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may slap a proportional and/or a fixed fee; because of the fixed fee it is generally better to withdraw money in big chunks rather than €20 at a time). Also, check about applicable maximal withdrawal limits.
Note that the postal service doubles as a bank, so often post offices will have an ATM. As a result, even minor towns will have ATMs usable with foreign cards.
Exchange offices are now rarer with the advent of the Euro - they will in general only be found in towns with a significant foreign tourist presence, such as Paris. Some banks exchange money, often with high fees. The Bank of France no longer does foreign exchange.
Vaccine and health
The health care in France is of a very high standard. Pharmacies in France are denoted by a green cross, usually in neon. They sell medicines, contraceptives, and often beauty and related products (though these can be very expensive). Medicines must be ordered from the counter, even non-prescription medicines. The pharmacist is able to help you about various medicines and propose you generic drugs.
Since medicine brand names vary across countries even though the effective ingredients stay the same, it is better to carry prescriptions using the international nomenclature in addition to the commercial brand name. Prescription drugs, including oral contraceptives (aka "the pill"), will only be delivered if a doctor's prescription is shown.
In addition, supermarkets sell condoms and also often personal lubricant, bandages, disinfectant and other minor medical item. Condom machines are often found in bar toilets, etc.
Medical treatment can be obtained from self-employed physicians, clinics and hospitals. Most general practitioners, specialists (e.g. gynecologists), and dentists are self-employed; look for signs saying Docteur (médecine générale is general practitioner). The normal price for a consultation with a general practitioner is €23, though some physicians charge more (this is the full price and not a co-payment). Physicians may also do home calls, but these are more expensive.
Residents of the European Union are covered by the French social security system, which will reimburse or directly pay for 70% of health expenses (30% co-payment) in general, though many physicians and surgeons apply surcharges. Other travelers are not covered and will be billed the full price, even if at a public hospital; non-EU travelers should have travel insurance covering medical costs.
Hospitals will have an emergency room signposted Urgencies. 112 is a European standard emergency numbers. Operators at the other emergency numbers can transfer requests to other services if needed.
France is a member of the Schengen Agreement. There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Foreign nationals who are not visa-exempt must make a 'declaration of entry' (déclaration d'entrée) at a police station or to border inspection personnel if they arrive in France directly from another country of Schengen Area unless they hold a long-term visa or residence permit issued by a Schengen member state. Their passports will be endorsed by the authorities to prove that such a declaration has been made.
If you intend to stay in France for longer than 90 days, regardless of purpose and with extremely few exceptions, an advance long-stay visa is always required of non-EEA or non-Swiss citizens.
Please see the article on Wikitravel.org named "Travel in the Schengen Zone" for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
French overseas departments and territories (DOM-TOM) are not part of the Schengen Area and operate a separate immigration regime from mainland France. As such, if you intend to visit them, you will need a separate visa (if required for your nationality).
Crime-related emergencies can be reported to the toll-free number 17. Even if France is a low-crime area, the murder rate is about the double of the surrounding countries and large cities are plagued with the usual woes. Violent crime against tourists or strangers is rare, but there is pickpocketing and purse-snatching.
The inner city areas and a few select suburbs are usually safe at all hours. In large cities, especially Paris, there are a few areas which are better to avoid. Parts of the suburban are sometimes grounds for youth gang violent activities and drug dealing; however these are almost always far from touristic points and you should have no reason to visit them. Common sense applies: it is very easy to spot derelict areas.
The subject of crime in the poorer suburbs is very touchy as it may easily have racist overtones, since many people associate it with working-class youth of North African origin. You should probably not express any opinion on the issue.
Usual caution apply for tourists flocking around sights as they may become targets for pickpockets. A usual trick is to ask tourists to sign fake petitions and give some money, which is a way to put pressure on the victim. Stay away from people requesting money without any organization badge.
While it is not compulsory for French citizens to carry identification, they usually do so. Foreigners should carry some kind of official identity document. Although random checks are not the norm you may be asked for an ID in some kinds of situations, for example if you cannot show a valid ticket when using public transportation; not having one in such cases will result in you being taken to a police station for further checks. Even if you feel that law enforcement officers have no right to check your identity (they can do so only in certain circumstances), it is a bad idea to enter a legal discussion with them; it is better to put up with it and show ID. Again, the subject is touchy as the police have often been accused of targeting people according to criteria of ethnicity.
Due to the terrorist factor, police, with the help of military units, are patrolling monuments, the Paris subway, train stations and airports.
In France, failing to offer assistance to 'a person in danger' is illegal. This means that if you fail to stop upon witnessing a motor accident, fail to report such an accident to emergency services, or ignore appeals for help or urgent assistance, you may be charged. Penalties include suspended prison sentence and fines. The only exception to this law is if assistance would put you in danger.
Carrying or using narcotic substances, from marijuana to hard drugs, is illegal whatever the quantity. The penalty can be severe especially if you are suspected of dealing. Trains and cars coming from countries which have a more lenient attitude are especially targeted.
French cuisine and drink
With its international reputation for fine dining, few people would be surprised to hear that French cuisine can certainly be very good. Unfortunately, it can also be quite disappointing; many restaurants serve very ordinary fare, and some in touristy areas are rip-offs. In other words if you want to eat good food you will need to do your research - just like anywhere else - Try asking locals, hotel staff or even browsing restaurant guides for recommendations as simply walking in off the street can be a hit and miss affair.
There are many places to try French food in France, from three-star Michelin restaurants to French "brasseries" or "bistros" that you can find at almost every corner, especially in big cities. These usually offer a relatively consistent and virtually standardized menu of relatively inexpensive cuisine. To obtain a greater variety of dishes, a larger outlay of money is often necessary. In general, one should try to eat where the locals do for the best chance of a memorable meal. Most small cities or even villages have local restaurants which are sometimes listed in the most reliable guides.
In France, taxes and service are always included in the bill, so anything patrons add to the bill amount is an "extra-tip". French people usually leave one or two coins if they are happy with the service.
When you order food at a restaurant, by law the price includes bread. Feel free to ask for more bread if you want.
Every French region has dishes all its own. These dishes follow the resources of the region, the vegetables which they grow there.
Contrary to stereotype, snails and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or sometimes never having even tasted them.
Vegetarianism is more common than it used to be, especially in larger cities. Still, very few restaurants offer vegetarian menus, thus if you ask for something vegetarian the only things they may have available are salad and vegetable side dishes.
Tap water is drinkable, except in rare cases such as rural rest areas and sinks in train bathrooms, in which case it will be clearly signposted. Most dinner tables will be supplied with a few bottles of water. You may not like the taste of tap water because it may be chlorinated. Water chlorination is used to kill bacteria, viruses and other microbes in water.
Talking about France and dining there is no way out of talking about wine. French wine is produced all throughout the country, in quantities between 7 and 8 billion bottles each year. France is one of the largest wine producers in the world, along with Italian, Spanish, and American wine-producing regions. Beer is extremely popular in France as well. In addition to French winery don't forget about the sparkling wine from champagne when we are at it.
Cities I have been to in France
Paris, the cosmopolitan capital of France, is one of Europe's largest cities. 2.2 million people living in the dense, central city and almost 12 million people living in the whole metropolitan area. Located in the north of France on the river Seine, Paris has the well-deserved reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historic associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food, and design.
Dubbed the City of Light and Capital of Fashion, it is home to the world's finest and most luxurious fashion designers and cosmetics. A large part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has the second-highest number of Michelin restaurants in the world, after Tokyo, and contains numerous iconic landmarks. Some of these are the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum, Moulin Rouge, and le Lido, making it the most popular tourist destination in the world with 45 million tourists annually. If you really want to get to know Paris you need to spend time in the city. In Europe few other cities than London, can compare itself to Paris in being a complete scene in several genres like history, food, culture, art, fashion++.
The city of Paris itself is officially divided into 20 districts called arrondissements, numbered from 1 to 20 in a clockwise spiral from the center of the city. The center of the city is known as Kilometre Zero and is located at the front of Notre Dame cathedral. Arrondissements are named according to their number. You might, for example, stay in the "5th", which would be written as 5e in French. The 12th and 16th arrondissements include large suburban parks, the Bois de Vincennes, and the Bois de Boulogne respectively. Beyond central Paris, the outlying suburbs are called Les Banlieues. Schematically, those on the west of Paris are wealthy residential communities. Those to the northeast are poorer communities, often populated by immigrants.
Paris started life as the Celto-Roman settlement of Lutetia on the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine currently occupied by the Cathédrale Notre-Dame. It takes its present name from the name of the dominant Gallo-Celtic tribe in the region, the Parisii. At least that's what the Romans called them when they showed up in 52 BCE and established their city Lutetia on the left bank of the Seine, in what is now called the "Latin Quarter" in the 5th arrondissement.
The Romans held out here for as long as anywhere else in the Western Empire, but by 508 CE they were gone, replaced by Clovis of the Franks, who is considered by the French to have been their first king. Clovis' descendants, aka the Carolingians, held onto the expanded Lutetian state for nearly 500 years through Viking raids and other calamities, which finally resulted in a forced move by most of the population back to the islands which had been the center of the original Celtic village. The Capetian Duke of Paris was voted to succeed the last of the Carolingians as King of France, ensuring the city a premier position in the medieval world. Over the next several centuries Paris expanded onto the right bank into what was and is still called le Marais.
The medieval period also witnessed the founding of the Sorbonne. As the University of Paris, it became one of the most important centers for learning in Europe - if not the whole world, for several hundred years.
The Paris of today was built long after the Capetian and later the Bourbon Kings of France made their mark on Paris with the Louvre and the Palais Royal, both in the 1st. In the 19th century, Baron von Hausmann set about reconstructing the city, by adding the long straight avenues and replacing many of the then existing medieval houses, with grander and more uniform buildings.
The twentieth century was hard on Paris, but thankfully not as hard as it could have been. Hitler's order to burn the city was thankfully ignored by the German General von Choltitz who was quite possibly convinced by a Swedish diplomat that it would be better to surrender and be remembered as the savior of Paris than to be remembered as its destroyer. Following the war, the city recovered quickly at first, but slowed in the 1970s and 1980s when Paris began to experience some of the problems faced by big cities everywhere: pollution, housing shortages, and occasionally failed experiments in urban renewal.
Walking in Paris is one of the great pleasures of visiting the city. It is possible to cross the entire city in only a few hours. Public transportation is well developed and easily takes you wherever you want to go. Now that I have mentioned walking you should check out Sandemans New Europe and TimeOut as both of them provide several walking tours each. All of these are free, but it is recommended you give the guide some money after the tour. I think seeing cities by foot is an excellent way of seeing new places.
Lots of the most popular tourist attractions let you buy ticket in advance and I recommend you to do this if you want to avoid standing hours in line.
I have made a map in Google MyMaps with recommendations what to see in Paris. The map is displayed above this description on Paris and when clicking on it it opens as a layer in Google maps.