Things to do in the suburbs

St-Denis and the north

Stade de France

Football- and rugby-crazy kids (and grown-ups) will absolutely love the behind-the-scenes tours of France's handsome national sports stadium. After a quick scan of the museum (photos, football shirts, electric guitars from the rock stars who also play here), the tour begins by sitting in the stands and ends with a runout through the tunnel to the sound of applause. On the way, you can visit the changing and shower rooms and learn about the on-site hospital and prison cells. Tickets are best bought online beforehand. On match or concert days, tours are not available.

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North of the centre

Basilique St-Denis

Legend has it that when St Denis was beheaded, he picked up his noggin and walked with it to Vicus Catulliacus (now St-Denis) to be buried. The first church, parts of which can be seen in the crypt, was built over his tomb in around 475. The present edifice was begun in the 1130s by Abbot Suger, the powerful minister of Louis VI and Louis VII. It is considered the first example of Gothic architecture, uniting the elements of pointed arches, ogival vaulting and flying buttresses. In the 13th century, master mason Pierre de Montreuil erected the spire and rebuilt the choir nave and transept. St-Denis was the burial place for all but three French monarchs between 996 and the end of...

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North of the centre

Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace

Set in the former passenger terminal at Le Bourget airport, the museum's collection begins with the pioneers, including fragile-looking biplanes and the command cabin of a Zeppelin airship. On the runway are Mirage fighters, a US Thunderchief, and Ariane launchers 1 and 5. A hangar houses the prototype Concorde 001 and wartime survivors. A scale models gallery opened recently.

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North of the centre

Musée National de la Renaissance

The Renaissance château completed in 1555 for Royal Constable Anne de Montmorency and wife Madeleine de Savoie is the setting for a collection of 16th-century decorative arts (some sections are open only at certain times so it's a good idea to phone ahead). Best are the painted chimney pieces, decorated with biblical and mythological scenes.

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Beyond the centre

Albert Kahn Musée & Jardins

The spectacular, ten-acre jardin alone makes a visit to the Albert Kahn Musée & Jardins in Boulogne-Billancourt worthwhile: Each section is modelled on a garden from around the world – rocky Vosgienne forest, Japanese village gardens, contemporary Japanese gardens and English and French gardens – and makes for a wonderful, lazy afternoon away from the hubbub of central Paris. On Tuesdays and Sundays between April and September (except July and August), in the pavillon du thé, you can even partake in a Japanese tea ceremony, led by a tea master from Kyoto’s Urasenke school. Albert Kahn was an early-20th-century banker and philanthropist...

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Visitors' areas

Boulogne and the west

Château de Malmaison

Napoleon and Josephine's love nest, bought by Josephine in 1799, was the emperor's favourite retreat during the Consulate (1800-03). After their divorce, Napoleon gave the château to his ex, who died here in 1814. The couple redesigned the entrance as a military tent; you can see Napoleon's office, the billiard room and Josephine's tented bedroom. Today, the château is often used for wedding receptions.

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West of the centre

Musée des Années 30

The Musée des Années 30 is a must for lovers of the Art Déco period, with a small but interesting collection of art and sculpture from the 1930s. Look out for modernist sculptures by the Martel brothers, graphic designs, and Juan Gris still lifes and drawings. The highlights are the designs by avant-garde architects Perret, Le Corbusier and Fischer. If your French is up to scratch sign up (with the museum) for an Art Déco themed tour around Boulogne. The morning part takes you around the town centre, which is peppered with 1930s gems; while the afternoon is dedicated to the museum's collections.

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West of the centre

Mémorial de la France Combattante

Sixteen bronze relief sculptures by 16 artists represent France's struggle for liberation - from a Gaullist perspective. Behind an eternal flame, the crypt contains tombs of 16 heroes from 16 French battles in World War II. The memorial was built on the site where members of the Resistance were brought from prisons in Paris. A staircase from within the crypt leads visitors inside the curtain wall, then up around the hill to the chapel where prisoners were locked before execution, and down to the Clairière des Fusillés, the clearing where they were shot. The chapel walls were covered in the prisoners' last graffiti (of which only a small patch remains)...

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West of the centre

Musée Paul-Belmondo

For most people in France, the name Belmondo is associated with Nouvelle Vague actor Jean-Paul Belmodo; that sexy, thick-lipped heart-throb, with a distinguished boxer’s nose, who shot to stardom in 1960s films like Jean-Luc Godard’s A bout de Souffle (Breathless). What most of us don’t know is that the actor’s father, Paul Belmondo (1898-1982), was actually one of France’s most important 20th-century sculptors; and one of the last to use neoclassical, academic techniques. Many of his works - characterised by harmonious forms, unfussy lines and smooth surfaces - epitomise the 1930s style; particularly the gracious proportions of La Danse...

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Hauts-de-Seine

Vincennes and the east

Château de Vincennes

An imposing curtain wall punctuated by towers encloses this glorious medieval fortress, which is still home to an army garrison. The square keep was begun by Philippe VI and completed in the 14th century by Charles V, who added the curtain wall.Henry V died here in 1422, and Louis XIII used the château for hunting expeditions and had the Pavillon du Roi and Pavillon de la Reine built by Louis Le Vau. After years of renovations, the château has finally re-opened to reveal Europe's tallest dungeon tower. Although much of the fine detail has been lost, you still get a haunting sense of what life might have been like for Charles V who lived in the tower's upper floors. The castle's 14th-century chapel...

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Beyond the centre

Musée Fragonard

In 18th-century French medical schools, study aids were produced in one of two ways. They were either sculpted in coloured wax or made from the real things - organs, limbs, tangled vascular systems - dried or preserved in formaldehyde. Veterinary surgeon Honoré Fragonard was a master of the second method, and many of his most striking works are now on display here.'Homme à la mandibule' is a flayed, grimacing man holding a jawbone in his right hand - an allusion to the story of Samson slaying the Philistines. 'Tête humaine injectée' is a rather more sober human head whose blood vessels were injected with coloured wax, red for arteries and blue for veins...

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East of the centre

MAC/VAL

Opened just days after the 2005 banlieue riots ended, this contemporary art museum has earned a fearsome reputation for artistic savvy. Its collection offers a stunning snapshot of French art from 1950 to the present, including installations by Gilles Barbier, Jesús Rafael Soto and Christian Boltanski. Recent acquisitions have branched out into contemporary art, representing artists of all nationalities including Yvan Salomone, Tsuneko Taniuchi and Jesper Just. Add to that its ongoing tradition of artists in residence, as well as a wide range of temporary exhibitions, and you’ve got one of Paris’s most exciting galleries.

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Beyond the centre

Les Puces de Montreuil

Less famous (and charming) than its older brother up north in St-Ouen, Montreuil’s flea market is where real folk rifle for antiques nowadays; mostly because it’s off the beaten tourist track so you can still get a bargain and find the occasional treasure. You’ll find pretty much everything, from vintage clothes and toys to old cutlery, 1940s light-fittings, furniture and antique glassware. Just be patient: you have to walk past stands selling arrays of junk before you get to the little square where the best dealers are (at the end of the alley alongside the periphérique). Haggling is par for the course bien-sur, so put on your best French accent and don’t give up until the price is right!

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Eastern Paris

More from our guide to the suburbs

Galleries

Those who don't believe that contemporary art (think 'pretentious, highbrow, trendy, urban') and the suburbs ('rough, dodgy, uncultured, rude') could ever go hand in hand should pop over to the other side of the périphérique from time to time. In the last 20-odd years, between the narrow belt covered by the underground and the oh-so-distant terminuses of the RER lines, contemporary arts centres and galleries have been cropping up all over the place... 

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By: Tania Brimson

Theatres and cinemas

Théâtre Jean Vilar Created in the 1970s in grey, suburban Vitry-sur-Seine, the Théâtre Jean Vilar isn’t pretty.  But what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for ten-fold on the stage, with top-class, wide-ranging programmes of contemporary dance, classical music, theatre, stand-up comedy and pop concerts - so you don’t necessarily need to speak French, to enjoy a night out or a matinee performance here. Théâtre Gérard Philipe This town hall has quite a history...  

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Music and nightlife

Le Mange Disc Now there’s another reason to head to Montreuil apart from the Marché aux Puces, in the form of great new neighbourhood bar Le Mange Disc. One major draw is the sun terrace, while the main attraction is the old-fashioned and charming rock’n’roll ambiance that harks back to the 1980s rockabilly revival. At the bar, a record player blasts out doo-wop, teen rock and rhythm and blues, while a bartender with slicked-back hair asks warmly, ‘What can I serve you, pet?’... 

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Things to Do

St-Denis and the north Stade de France Football- and rugby-crazy kids (and grown-ups) will absolutely love the behind-the-scenes tours of France's handsome national sports stadium. After a quick scan of the museum (photos, football shirts, electric guitars from the rock stars who also play here), the tour begins by sitting in the stands and ends with a runout through the tunnel to the sound of applause. On the way, you can visit the changing and shower rooms and learn about... 

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