Gaze over Paris from the Sacré Coeur: see the French capital's low skyline pierced by the Eiffel and Montparnasse towers, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe atop the wide Champs-Elysées, and skyscraping La Défense in the distance. The river Seine divides the Rive Droite, centre of business, shopping and politics, from the Rive Gauche and its arty Saint-Germain district, with Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint-Louis in the middle.
With 20 arrondissements (districts), over 1,800 monuments and 140 museums, you can't simply "do" Paris in a weekend. So take your time exploring the streets, shops, restaurants, bars and concert halls to get a taste of the city's distinctive atmosphere and joie de vivre.
With 60 Michelin stars and brasseries on every corner, Paris deserves its foodie reputation. Experience modern French cuisine at Claude Colliot (www.claudecolliot.com), whose creative dishes may include tobacco, egg shells or hay. Savour market-fresh delicacies at Les Papilles (www.lespapillesparis.fr), a chic delicatessen and wine bar near the Jardin du Luxembourg. (If you have space left after lunch, buy an ice cream and wander into the gardens, home to the French senate.) Combine dinner and sightseeing at Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower (www.tour-eiffel.fr), or at the top-floor restaurant inside Centre Pompidou (www.centrepompidou.fr).
From the world's largest collection of art and antiquities in Musée du Louvre (www.louvre.fr) to the impressionist masterpieces in Musée d'Orsay (www.musee-orsay.fr) to exciting exhibitions in the Grand Palais (www.grandpalais.fr), Paris has culture to suit all visitors. Families enjoy hands-on activities in the Cité des Sciences (www.cite-sciences.fr) and rides in the Jardin d'Acclimatation (www.jardindacclimatation.fr). Everyone relishes a cruise down the Seine (www.bateauxparisiens.com). Fancy exploring outside the city? There are good public transport connections to Disneyland Paris and Versailles (www.chateauversailles.fr).
Join Parisians along the Champs-Elysées on 14 July for parades, parties and fireworks in celebration of France's national day. Fête de la Musique (www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr) on 21 June is one of Europe's best music nights, while Nuit Blanche (www.nuit-blanche.fr) sees free art exhibitions all over the city from dusk until dawn. To explore Parisian culture more deeply, visit during September's Journées du Patrimoine, when cultural institutions and monuments open their doors to the public with special exhibitions and tours.
When night falls, Paris's bright lights glitter in nightlife districts such as Saint-Michel, the trendy Marais and Saint Germain, where you'll find the iconic Deux Magots café (www.lesdeuxmagots.fr). La Gaîté Lyrique (www.gaite-lyrique.net), once a beautiful theatre, is now a cultural centre hosting concerts, exhibitions and shows. Looking for high culture? Get a ticket for the Opéra Bastille or traditional Opéra Garnier (www.operadeparis.fr).
Millions flock to Paris to shop in Galeries Lafayette (www.galerieslafayette.com) and Printemps (www.printemps.com) near the Saint-Honoré area, hub of Parisian haute couture. The Marais offers vintage stores and up-and-coming designers who haven't quite made it to Saint-Honoré. But the most authentic shopping in Paris takes place at colourful markets. At the Sunday Bastille market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir you'll find not just picnic ingredients, souvenirs and artworks but a genuine Parisian atmosphere of people laughing, eating, drinking, strolling and enjoying themselves.