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eiffel tower at sunset

What weighs 10,100 tons and has 1,665 steps and 20,000 light bulbs? The Eiffel Tower! This breathtaking landmark was built by Gustave Eiffel (did you know he also designed the framework for the Statue of Liberty?) for the 1889 Universal Exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution. Though it was meant only as a temporary installation, it has become one of the planet's most popular tourist attractions, visited by nearly seven million people a year.

The 164-foot Arc de Triomphe was planned by Napoleon to celebrate his military successes, but wasn't finished for another 20 years after he was exiled to Elba. It has some magnificent sculptures, and the names of Napoleon's generals are inscribed on the stone facades. There is a small museum halfway up the arch devoted to its history (you can actually climb to the top). France's Unknown Soldier is buried beneath, and the flame is rekindled every evening.

Although it's probably easier to take the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can also climb 387 steps up to the south tower of 12th-century Notre-Dame for a nice view of the city. It was here in 1804 that Napoleon crowned himself emperor and then crowned Josephine as his empress. When planning your visit, keep in mind that the cathedral has different opening hours than the towers (which are operated by the National Monuments Centre) and crypt (which is operated by the Musee Carnavalet); check ahead to avoid disappointment.

The Louvre is the world's greatest art museum -- so it really doesn't matter if you've been here before since there's no chance you've seen it all. Collections divide into Asian antiquities, Egyptian antiquities, Greek/Etruscan/Roman antiquities, sculpture, decorative arts, paintings, Islamic art, and prints and drawings. Obviously, the top attractions (and most likely the ones you've seen) are the "Mona Lisa" and the 2nd-century "Venus de Milo." Note: Avoid the never-ending lines to enter through the Pyramid. Instead, come in from the Carrousel de Louvre mall on rue de Rivoli or, even better, through the Louvre's Metro stop.

Moulin Rouge has been putting on its famous show since 1889. Of course, being immortalized by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and known for the risque can-can didn't hurt either. It's still fabulous with plenty of feathers, sequins and, of course, scantily clad showgirls. It's open nightly, with show and "dinner + show" options.

The Musee d'Orsay is a magnificent 1900 railway station that now houses a superb collection of Impressionist art from 1848 - 1914, including major works from Degas, Monet, Renoir, van Gogh and Gauguin. If you don't have lots of time, browse the upper level to see the enormous railway clocks in addition to some of the museum's best exhibits.

Photos: 12 Best France Experiences

There's little left of the Bastille fortress, and its remains are surrounded by a neighborhood filled with an array of popular cafes, clubs and the Opera Bastille, completed in 1989. The Colonne de Juillet dominates la Place de la Bastille, memorializing the July Revolution of 1830.

The Centre Pompidou is a must-visit for lovers of modern and contemporary art. Lines can be long, especially for high-profile temporary exhibitions. Visit on a weekday if you can.

In the 16th century, 30 windmills were built in Montmarte for winemaking and milling grain, but only two remain today. Wander the back streets, away from the main square and souvenir shops. At dusk, sit on Basilica du Sacre-Coeur's top steps and watch Paris indeed become the City of Lights. When the basilica's 19-ton bell tolls, you not only hear it -- you feel it!

Check out a few of the city's lesser-known museums. The Musee Rodin was once the home of Rodin and now houses several of the artist's most impressive works, including "The Thinker" and "The Gates of Hell." The sculpture garden is as spectacular as the inside, so leave time for both. The Musee de l'Orangerie, located in the lovely Tuileries gardens, is home to a series of Monet's "Water Lilies" as well as other Impressionist works. The Musee Nissim de Camondo is an early 20th-century aristocratic home full of art and decorative objects; it's named after the son of the home's owners, who died in World War I.

Hotel des Invalides is the magnificent 17th-century domed structure constructed under the direction of Louis XIV to shelter old and wounded soldiers; it's also the site of Napoleon's tomb.

The Musee d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme (Museum of Jewish Art and History) in the Marais is a wide-ranging collection of objects dating as far back as the Middle Ages.

Paris Walks offers informative two-hour walking tours that range from the Latin Quarter to Hemingway's Paris. They even have foodie tours that include chocolate tastings. The tours are a great way to get up close and personal with the city.

Head for rue de Bac for smart shops and a bit of neighborly biographic history. Edith Wharton lived around the corner on the rue de Varenne at Nos. 53 and 58; the Prime Minister's official residence is at No. 57 on Varenne. The chapel of the Miraculous Medal, where Catherine Laboure was said to have visions of the Virgin in 1830, is at No. 140 rue de Bac.

Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine is dedicated to architecture and architectural heritage. Designed by Jean-Louis Cohen and Jean-Francois Bodin, the museum showcases the collections of drawings, drafts and models of the French Institute of Architecture. It's also got a great view of the Eiffel Tower.


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