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Paris weekend break or tours day trips

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If you do only have a weekend break or even a day trip in which to visit Paris, you cannot expect to see every aspect of the city. The best thing to do is to choose either a theme (say Art) or an area (the 18e) and to discover as much of it as you can on foot. Get up early and buy a croissant from the bakery while they are still warm from the oven.

Wander up and down the various staircases in Montmartre, or meander through the Passages near the Louvre where you can buy anything from an old postcard to a porcelain doll. Dart into the Galleries la Fayette and look up to see the beautiful ceiling, or climb to the tenth floor of the Art Nouveau department store Samaritaine and see the view of Paris from up there.

Also see our guide to weekend city breaks to Paris.

As a city, Paris is laid out symmetrically but it is full of contrasts. The imposing church of La Madeleine, home to the famous organists Saint Saens and Fauré, is today surrounded by luxury food shops such as Hédiard and Fauchon where you are more likely to feed your stomach than your soul. Art is often brought to areas where you least expect it in Paris. In the courtyard of the Palais Royale, near to the Comédie Française and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Daniel Buren's 1986 installation of black and white pillars of varying lengths provides an intriguing contrast to the Renaissance style architecture all around. In the winter, the place de l'Hôtel de Ville, itself a nineteenth century replica of the Renaissance building that was destroyed during the Commune, is turned into a giant ice rink.

Try visiting the Musée d'Orsay instead of the Louvre and see how a nineteenth century railway station has been adapted to show off the Impressionist paintings. Rather than taking the métro between sights, walk from one end of the Voie Triomphale to the other, from the Tuileries gardens to the Arc de Triomphe, and gain a sense of the French kings', emperors' and presidents' power (and self importance!) with each having added a new iconic building. At place de la Concorde you can begin to imagine how many people witnessed the guillotining of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

For a more modern approach to art you could do worse than spending a day in the Centre Pompidou, which contains the Musée National d'Art Moderne (€5.49, closed Tues). Built in 1977 by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, its infrastructure is all outside so all pipes and escalators are outside leaving the inside free from clutter to display the art. There is always an interesting exhibition on, as well as the permanent collection of twentieth century art from Matisse to Buren. However, it is not only the art inside the building that makes this a great spot for discovering Paris. From the fifth and sixth floors there is an amazing view of Paris, and a very good restaurant on the roof to make the perfect end to your weekend break or day trip to Paris.