A clever blend of high-tech and Arab influences, this Seine-side grand projet was constructed between 1980 and 1987 to a design by Jean Nouvel. Shuttered windows, inspired by the screens of Moorish palaces, act as camera apertures, contracting or expanding according to the amount of sunlight; the striking design looks fresher than ever after a three-year, €5 million revamp completed in 2012. The central attraction is an engaging museum that showcases the Arab world in all its facets – linguistics, culture, history and geography are all covered. The new museum is a vast improvement on its pre-redesign incarnation, uninspired glass display cases having given way to a dynamic staging that takes in multiple floors linked by bridges.
The Institut also hosts several major, crowd-pleasing exhibitions throughout the year, as well as attracting some of the biggest names in the world of Arab music to perform in its plush auditorium. What's more, there's an excellent Middle East bookshop on the ground floor, and the views from the roof terrace (to which access is free) are fabulous.
Jean Nouvel's other landmark Paris buildings include the Musée du Quai Branly and the Fondation Cartier.
If your wanderlust isn't quenched by the time you leave, make sure to check out the Louvre's newly unveiled collection of Islamic art.