Forget Barcelona, Paris is the ultimate beach-city break for 2011!
Paris Beach (or Paris Plages 2011) is a free summer event that transforms several spots in Paris into fully-fledged beaches, each with a distinct theme.
In total, there's three kilometres of sand, with 2000 beach chairs, and 15 restaurants.
The brainchild of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, well-known for launching ambitious municipal events, Paris Plage, which was initially criticised by some as costly and frivolous, has become a permanent fixture in the Parisian summertime scene.
From sunbathing in the sand to swimming in pools suspended over the Seine, kayaking, or enjoying free evening concerts, Paris Plages offers activities that both kids and adults will enjoy.
There's three main beach spots: on the square in front of City Hall (Hotel de Ville), along the right banks of the Seine river on the Georges Pompidou Expressway, and along the Quai de la Villette in northeastern Paris.
The new feature for this year is the involvement of Disneyland Paris. The French subsidiary of Disney has taken the construction of sandcastles to a whole new level, by reproducing the famous castle of la Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty) - seven metres high.
The Schloss Neuschwanstein in Germany provided the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle - but the rain in Paris isn't making the five-day task easy.
Paris Plages 2011 will be open daily from 8am to midnight until 21 August.
Alternative things to do in Paris
Paris gets a beach just for summer!
This bookstore (Rue de la Bûcherie, nearest metro – Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame) has provided a bed to some 50,000 penniless authors since it opened in 1951 – the idea being that writers who worked in the shop got to live there, too. The store, which predominantly sells books in English, has become something of an institution, with regular literary events and a constant stream of visitors keen to pick up a new read in order to come away with a bag bearing the shop's name.
If you enjoy an ice cream in Paris, you can guarantee it'll be a Berthillon – a Parisian ice cream manufacturer that started up in 1954. Check out the main store on Rue Saint Louis en l'ile (nearest metro – Ponte Marie) for a bevy of unusual flavours, such as granny apple, prune and rhubarb. Prepare to queue down the road for your cone but, rest assured, it'll be worth it.
You don't get a much more lavish setting for lunch than a 19th-century Parisian mansion. The café at the Jacquemart-André museum (Boulevard Haussman, nearest metro – Miromesnil) – which is well worth a visit in itself for its impressive art collection – is adorned with antique paintings and tapestries. A fascinating collection of figures looks down at you from the ceiling painted by 18th-century Italian artist, Tiepolo. The set lunch menu comes in at a reasonable €16.50.
Fashion-lovers, history-buffs, and shopping queens should all go on pilgrimage to the Chanel Store on Rue Cambon (nearest metro – Madeleine) where the iconic brand began. In 1910 Coco Chanel opened her first shop – a hat store – here and had her private apartment on the second floor. Fancy buying something but can't afford to spend £1,000s? Then come away with a bottle of exclusive 31 Rue Cambon perfume to remember your visit.
Forget the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Dedicated shoppers should head to this endlessly sprawling flea market [hyperlink http://www.parispuces.com/en/Default.asp] on the edge of Paris (Saint Ouen, nearest metro – Porte de Clignancourt). The market has built up since the 19th century and today, in the maze of tiny, intertwining streets, you'll find over 2,000 stalls creaking with vintage fashion, furniture, crockery, books, and just about everything in between. Be sure to practice your haggling en Français before you go!
Did you know that New York's Statue of Liberty was actually designed by a Parisian, Frédéric Bartholdi, and was given as a gift to America by the French? So it's perhaps no surprise that Paris has it's own lesser-known version (Île aux Cygnes, nearest metro – Bir-Hakeim). It's just 37 feet, nine inches, to the New York version's 305 feet. But it makes for a wonderfully quirky and incongruent site, with the Eiffel Tower set behind it.
Escape the obvious romantic hotspots in the City of Love and visit Le mur des Je t'aime – the I love you wall (Place des Abbesses, nearest metro – Abbesses). Across 612 enamelled tiles you'll find 'I love you' written in 100s of different languages. Search for those you can understand or just marvel at this piece of large-scale modern art. And of course...invite someone special to go with you.
If you've ticked off the Centre Pomidou and the Louvre but want an art fix, head to the Rodin Museum (Rue de Varenne, nearest metro stop – Varenne). It displays the work of French artist Auguste Rodin, made famous by his sculptures The Thinker and The Kiss. Set in a picture-perfect mansion and with vast gardens, it's a lovely place to amble away an afternoon. And it's a welcome escape from the madding crowds at the more famous Parisian art destinations.
You're spoilt for choice when it comes to churches in Paris, with the likes of Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur. But this chapel (Boulevard du Palais, nearest metro – Cité) easily rivals them in the beauty stakes, with three walls of near floor to ceiling stained glass. Inside the gothic masterpiece, the air dances with colours as the light catches the multicoloured glass – guaranteed to have you captivated.