In a city of so many amazing monuments, it's almost a surprise to discover that a real, everyday Paris actually exists. Because for all the instantly recognisable icons like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame – you'll also find that Paris is an exciting, brash, secretive and sometimes contradictory, vibrant, lived-in city. It's a place you don't just come to visit but to experience.

Explore the real Paris

It has all you'd expect of one of the world's great capitals – palaces, parliamentary buildings, grand squares, famous museums, old stones and river views. Any number of towers, fountains, squares, opera houses and triumphal arches have been put up over the centuries by kings, emperors and presidents simply to express prestige. Yet it is also human-sized, full of kids and parks, shops and cinemas, food markets and cafés. And as a densely populated, compact centre it's the perfect place for exploring on foot. Behind the harmonious golden-stone facades, you can still find secret gardens, craft workshops and rooftop garrets. Photogenic and filmic.

Romance and cafés

No surprise then that for many people this is the most romantic city in the world. One key to understanding Paris is its café society. Sit down, order a coffee or a kir and learn from Parisians the arts of people-watching, eavesdropping, eating and simply seeping up the atmosphere.

Variety in the heart of Paris

Paris intra-muros, the area of the 20 arrondissements with the prestigious 75 postcodes, roughly delineated by the Périphérique ring road, is the happening heart of the city and within it, most of the main sights are concentrated in the central core, many of them strung out along the River Seine.

First of all many Parisians define themselves as to whether they are Rive Droite (Right Bank) to the north of the River Seine (right when you're facing downstream) or Rive Gauche (Left Bank) to the south. Then there is the Paris of different villages, each with its own identity, mood, style, population: St-Germain where intellectuals meet high fashion, with its publishers, cosmopolitan cafés and elegant boutiques; the Marais with its beautifully preserved 17th-century mansions, fashion shops, art galleries and gay bars; the Latin Quarter with its universities and research institutes, bookshops, arts cinemas and narrow medieval streets; towerblock Chinatown; Canal St-Martin with its locks, iron bridges and trendy quayside bars; or hilly Montmartre, where away from crowded place du Tertre, you'll find steep stairways, quiet lanes of cottages, eccentric boutiques and even a couple of windmills.

A new Paris

It's a city that continues to evolve and surprise. Take the area going up along the Seine in southeast Paris. Here you'll find the vast new National Library, a university canteen in a rehabilitated flour mill, modern office blocks, riverside apartments, a warehouse full of artists' studios, a floating swimming pool and music venues in barges.

Paris has both preserved its past and loves the present. Parisians strain to catch up on the latest happening restaurant, the next fashion talent. Parisians enjoy arguments, literature, strikes and demonstrations, and they are absolutely certain that their city is the best.

Guides to Paris

See a selection of guides to Paris on Simonseeks here:

Simon Ball and Chris Stokel-Walker take on literary trails in their guides (respectively) - Paris: an Ernest Hemingway bar crawl and A walk through literary Paris

Cora Lydon talks chocolate in her guide - Paris is top of the chocs

And I've got further advice in my guides: France - The Paris Bistro Experience, A perfect day in Paris: the Latin Quarter and Paris for families: If in doubt, climb