Essentials for visiting Paris: What's new, classics and more

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Posted: May 14, 2015 9:03 AM
Essentials for visiting Paris: What's new, classics and more

PARIS (AP) — The City of Light is not just one of Europe's most beautiful capitals. Because of its small size, just 8 kilometers (5 miles from north to south), Paris is also perfect for exploring on foot.

So walk round the winding cobbled streets of panoramic Montmartre or stroll through the historic Marais with its devastatingly chic fashion boutiques.

And for budget-conscious foodies — forgo the world-class restaurants in favor of the local artisan shops where you can stock up on delightful cheeses and wines for a picnic in Paris' oldest monumental square, the Place des Vosges, or in the gardens of the majestic Louvre museum.

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WHAT'S NEW

To encourage Parisians to walk around and fight rising air pollution by ditching their vehicles, car-free pedestrian zones are cropping up all over the city — especially near the river Seine.

Enjoy walks on the arty left bank, which was transformed in 2013 when a stretch was pedestrianized from the Musee d'Orsay museum all the way to the popular Quai Branly museum near the Eiffel Tower.

And from 2016, you'll be able to walk down a 3-kilometer (2-mile) car-free stretch of the Seine's right bank — past Notre Dame cathedral, the beautiful island Ile Saint-Louis and end up at the beautiful blooms of Tuileries gardens.

If you want a break from Paris' classical beauty, head to the once-gritty suburb of Pantin, which has been dubbed the "Brooklyn of Paris." Its derelict, graffiti-covered warehouses by a canal have been taken over by galleries and artists, turning it into the hippest place in the City of Light.

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CLASSIC ATTRACTIONS

The incredible Versailles Palace has been given a new feature — to celebrate 300 years since the death of the palace's founder, Sun King Louis XIV.

This week, it inaugurated the newly renovated Water Theater grove — fittingly, to great fanfare.

It's an incredible contemporary fountain with gilded sculptures composed of 2,000 pearls and 20,000 pieces of gold leaf. It's fit for a king, even though the king is dead.

And what would a trip to Paris be like without a visit to the new-look Eiffel Tower? The 324-meter (1,063-foot) monument was given a vertigo-inducing face-lift last fall as organizers celebrated its 125th anniversary — and now has see-through glass floor panels on its first level.

The four small viewing sections, which cost 30 million euro (US $38 million), allow visitors to see 57 meters (187 feet) below their feet.

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TIPS

Airbnb, the house rentals website, is hugely popular among Parisians. Visitors can save hundreds by opting to stay in a private accommodation instead of a hotel, and an organized tourist can find something for every area, taste and price range — from a small room to an apartment in a historic town house.

If you're on a shoe-string budget, check out the new 1,000-bed Generator hostel in the city's funky 10th district, with a shared room for 25 euros per person per night.

For getting around, nothing is more fun than the free-bicycle rental initiative called the "Velibe." Bike stations are located around the city — and all you need is a pair of legs and a credit card (that won't be billed — it's just to insure the bike return).

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HANGING OUT

The famed pedestrian street Rue Montorgueil, near metro Etienne Marcel, is a perfect place to sit and people-watch. It's as popular with fashion-conscious hipsters as it is with queens — Britain's Queen Elizabeth's favorite bakery Patisserie Stohrer is here!

Paris is famed for its beautiful gardens and parks. So sit, talk philosophy, nibble Camembert and sip fine Bordeaux wine in the Parc Monceau in the 17th district. Or picnic in Paris' "Central Park," the awe-inspiring Buttes Chaumont in the 19th district. A verdant beer garden called Rosa Bonheur, found within the Buttes Chaumont, is a particular hit with Parisians.

For those not afraid of getting their feet wet, go boating in the large lake at the Bois de Vincennes, in the east.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP