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Paris achieves the heights of pleasure

To get the most out of a school visit to the French capital, the key is in the planning, writes Isobel Durrant

There comes a moment in every French teacher's career when the school trip to Paris needs planning. The city offers such a wealth of activities that keeping your itinerary within the realms of sanity is a feat in itself. Since Julius Caesar's armies arrived in 52BC, Paris has been a popular destination.

Whether you want to focus on history, architecture or museums, or practise language skills, you can't go wrong. There's plenty to satisfy the most diverse demands.

Children visiting Paris for the first time want to see the sights for which the city is famous. Top of the list is the Eiffel Tower. "They all want to see it, not because it's wonderful but because they think that's what Paris is all about," says French teacher Viv Molinari, of Westwood High School in London. "Going up the Eiffel Tower was an experience I'd always wanted to have, " says Cathy Schofield, 15. "It was great, just being there." The view on a clear day is spectacular, but the queues can be daunting. Early morning is the best time.

Alternatively, climb another important monument - Notre Dame. The 400-step bell tower will give you a panoramic view from a gallery where you'll find yourself cheek by jowl with Gothic gargoyles.

The cathedral is on the kle de la Cite, where Paris began. By the early-19th century the cathedral was falling down. Paintings and novels, including Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris, drew attention to its plight and it was restored. More restoration is under way, but the scaffolding comes down in April.

If you're afraid of heights, both the above are a nightmare. Don't worry. You can enjoy great views with lifts that travel at normal angles and the chance to stand well back from edge at the Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon's monument to the French army's successes under his leadership.

The Pompidou Centre at Beaubourg has a creative workshop for children of all ages, and a library. They are open on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons when French children do not attend school, and are free. The Beaubourg plaza is popular. Relax and watch the free street entertainment on offer - jugglers, fire eaters and mime artists.

If you're starting to feel "cultured out" and the children need to let off energy, head out of town to La Villette where the Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie offers "hands-on" experience of science and technology. You can step inside a camera, witness the birth of a volcano or travel through the human body. Don't be afraid to take younger children: there's an area where those aged three to 12 can make their own discoveries, not to mention the huge Geode which houses a hemispherical cinema with one of the world's biggest screens. If you wish to visit the Geode, book in advance.

Teenagers often want to visit P re-Lachaise Cemetery to see the grave of 1960s icon Jim Morrison. Admission is free, and you can also pay your respects to Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust and Colette, to name but a few. Still down among the dead, the Catacombs in Place Denfert-Rochereau are atmospheric. In the late-18th century, bones were removed from the overflowing Parisian cemeteries where people had been buried one above the other and the cemeteries were serious sources of water contamination. During the Occupation the Resistance's headquarters were here. Guided tours are in French and must be pre-booked.

Few schools have time to visit everywhere they want to go. A boat trip down the Seine allows you to see the main sights in a short time. Bateaux-Mouches is the best known, but for personal commentaries try the smaller Bateaux Parisiens.

Travelling the Metro with a school group sounds daunting, but older students quickly grasp how it works. Planning is the key for a successful trip. With so much to choose from, knowing where you want to go and what you want to do is vital. Where you can, book ahead. Exact plans also allow you to prepare classes before leaving home to maximise each visit. Bon voyage!

Bateaux Mouches, tel: 00 331 42 25 96 10

Bateaux Parisiens, tel: 00 331 44 11 33 44

Catacombs, guided tours for groups bookable in advance 150FF Tuesday to Friday 2pm to 4pm, weekends 9am to 11am. Tel: 00 331 43 22 47 63

Cite des Sciences, Tel: 00 331 42 05 50 50

Notre Dame bell tower open daily 10am to 5pm. Tel: 00 331 42 34 56 10

Pere-Lachaise, tel: 00 331 43 70 70 33

Pompidou Centre, tel: 00 331 44 78 12 33

Travel from Britain: NST, Chiltern House, Bristol Avenue, Blackpool, Lancashire FY2 0FA. Tel: 01253 352525

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