Although it was a close call between London and Paris in the battle to host the 2012 Olympic Games, both capitals have already had two summers in the limelight as host city.
The Paris 1900 Games were shambolic, with scheduling chaos, running events held on uneven grass and hurdles made out of broken telephone poles. When the Games returned to Paris in 1924, things had improved somewhat -- remember the film “Chariots of Fire”?
More recently, Paris has an impressive record for staging international events, with the football World Cup finals in 1998, the 2003 World Athletics Championships and the Rugby World Cup in 2007.
The 80,000 odd-capacity Stade de France, at Saint Denis, would have taken centre stage if Paris had won the 2012 bid. Rubgy and football internationals are held here. The odd rock star might pass through on a world tour too -- Red Hot Chili Peppers are playing in June, 2012. Take the RER line B from Gare du Nord, to RER Stade de France, or the Metro to Saint Denis Porte, where you can get a behind-the-scenes tour (12€, and free for the under-6s), which ends with visitors running out of the tunnel to wild (recorded) applause. Just make sure to check that your visit doesn’t coincide with a match or a concert.
A second Olympic cluster was planned around the Roland Garros tennis complex and the Parc des Princes stadium near Porte de Saint-Cloud to the very west of the city. Parc des Princes is home to Paris Saint-Germain football team, and match tickets are available for as little as 15€ – you don’t get that in the premiership. It’s a music venue, too.
Not far away is the Bois de Boulogne, a green space which sprawls over an area 2.5 times the size of New York’s Central Park. There’s a children's amusement park with a miniature train, a farm, a rollercoaster, boat rides and two racecourses: Longchamp and Auteuil, which host major horse-race meetings.
Not content with Paris Plage, the annual arrival of three artificial beaches at improbable sites around the city, Paris 2012 would have brought us beach volleyball against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. If going up the Eiffel Tower is something you want to tick off your list, we’d recommend buying your tickets in advance (13.40€ to go right to the top). If you can, time your visit so you go up at dusk and you’ll see the city from above by day and by night. Better still, the view from Montmartre or Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont is free.
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