The Eiffel Tower is the place many start their Parisian sight-seeing, but it might be best to save this ultimate icon of Paris till last. The spectacular views from its 305-metre vantage point make most sense when you've already gathered in the details; when Paris is no longer a blank. Instead head for the historic centre of the city – the island in the Seine where Paris started, the Ile de la Cité. Here, the Notre-Dame Cathedral lights up its heart, and from its towers you can take in a viewpoint that has witnessed all of the city's tumultuous history.
And while that history is worn proudly on every street, its most vibrant remnants are gathered into Paris' many magnificent museums and art galleries (because art is history in Paris, after all). The Louvre is its most triumphant, home of the Mona Lisa and much else beside. The Champs-Élysées might be better-known for its uptown shopping, but it also has two fine art museums, the Grand and Petit Palais. And the Pompidou Centre loudly proclaims Paris' insistence on staying contemporary, with its hugely popular National Museum of Modern Art.
The north side of Paris takes the most dramatic architectural line – the Axe Historique. Starting in Place de la Concorde, this line tracks through three of the city's most famous monuments – the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the Arc de Triomphe d'Etoile and the modernist Grande Arch, 13 kilometres west. Here it ends in the modern business district of La Defense, a forest of glass-fronted towers and towering sculptures.
Also on the north-side is a prime example of that old-town charm – the narrow alleys of Montmartre, clustered around the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. This is Paris' bohemian heart, home of the Moulin Rouge and a still-thriving artistic community. Step south of the river and you'll find a very different community – the intellectual musings of the Latin Quarter, home to many of the Sorbonne's colleges, the Senate, and the dreamy open spaces of the Luxembourg Gardens. Close by, you can descend into the bowels of Paris, and explore the macabre magnificence of the Paris Catacombs.
Light and dark; reason and passion; ancient and modern – every one of Paris' 20 districts picks at the threads of this cultural multiverse in its own particular way.