With so many sites in Paris, it’s hard to know where to go first. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of our top 10 must-see attractions in the City of Lights!
1) Eiffel Tower
The most iconic symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower wasn’t always so beloved. Constructed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair, the tower wasn’t supposed to remain standing after the Fair. But half-hated / half-admired by Parisians, it escaped being torn down when inventors founded a certain usefulness in it, using it as an antenna for a new invention: the radio. More than 100 years later, the Eiffel Tower has managed to attract over 220 million visitors, becoming synonymous with all things Paris. At night, the entire tower becomes illuminated, and, if you stick around, you may even see it sparkle each hour for 5 minutes.
Insider’s Tip: If you want to go to the top or lunch/dine in the Tower, be sure to book your tickets a few months in advance. If you are unable to make it the top but still want to experience breathtaking views of the city, the Arc de Triomphe offers a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower and the rest of Paris, as well.
2) Musée du Louvre
The former home of French royals, the Palais du Louvre has since become the largest (and arguably best) art museum in the world. Pose for a photo with I.M Pei’s famous Louvre Pyramid or head inside to view the classics, including the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. With a collection of over 300,000 objects, 35,000 of which are permanently displayed, you are sure to never get bored.
Insider’s Tip: You can explore the Louvre yourself or with one of the many guided tour options. With so much to do and see, it’s best to allow an ample amount of time to explore this museum.
3) Arc de Triomphe
Located at the end of the famed Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe can’t be missed. Commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, it was originally constructed as a celebration of France’s military victories. It now houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where an eternal flame commemorates all those who have died in battle, with a ceremony to revive the flame every day between 6 and 6:30pm.
Within its walls, you can discover its rich historical significance and climb the 234 steps to the top. At 50m (164 ft) high, the Arc de Triomphe offers stellar views of some of the city’s most spectacular sites.
Insider’s Tip: Be aware that there is no elevator or escalator, so you may not want to make the climb if you have mobility issues or are bringing small children.
4) Notre-Dame de Paris
One of the most recognized churches of all time, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is an impressive representation of French Gothic architecture. Constructed in the mid-12th century, the cathedral is known as being the site of Napoleon’s coronation, as well as the setting for Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. While visiting the cathedral is free, lines are unavoidable with a typical wait time of about 30 minutes.
If you’re feeling up to it, you can also climb the 422 steps to the top, where you will find the iconic gargoyles and stained-glass windows, as well as a 13-ton bell named Emmanuel. Due to quota limitations, there is always a line for visiting the towers, which can go up to 2 hours or more… This visit is independant from the visit of the cathedral itself.
Insider’s Tip: Arrive early in the morning before the opening to avoid the long lines, or book well in advance a guided tour after the regular opening hours to avoid the lines.
5) Sacré-Cœur Basilica
Consecrated in 1909, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica overlooks one of the most artistic neighborhoods in Paris: the Butte Montmarte. Here, you will find the famous Place du Tertre where you can pose for a portrait from one of the many street artists.
To reach the basilica, which is located at the top of a hill, you can take the funicular for a small fee or climb the 222 steps to the entrance. Although tiring, it’s well worth the march. Within the walls of its stark white exterior, you will step into a world of opulence, with gold, red, and blue mosaics resulting in breathtaking depictions of religious figures.
Insider’s Tip: Keep in mind that Montmartre is not just the Sacré-Cœur and the Place du Tertre. Allow yourself time to wander the smaller streets where you will find some of the neighborhood’s most tucked away treasures, including a number of small shops and vineyards.
6) River Cruise on the Seine
With several reputable companies to choose from, river cruises are one of the most popular attractions in Paris. Visitors will see a number of famous monuments flanking the banks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Musée d’Orsay.
Insider’s Tip: A regular cruise lasts around 1 hour. For a special occasion, there are plenty of lunch or dinner cruise options available, as well. You can check out our review of a Seine dinner cruise here.
7) Chateau de Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is truly a site to behold. One of the largest and most opulent palaces in existence, it was home to the great French kings from Louis XIV until 1789, when it was renamed the Cradle of Liberty in honor of the Revolution. Inside the palace walls, you can explore over 700 extravagant rooms, as well as the famous Hall of Mirrors reflecting over 250 acres of well-manicured lawns, fountains and marble statues in the largest palace garden in Europe.
Versailles is located just outside of Paris, reachable by high-speed train or private car. Because of the distance and the immense size of the property, you should allow at least half a day to explore this site.
Insider’s Tip: Keep in mind that separate tickets are required for entry to the Palace, the gardens, the Trianon, and the domain of Marie-Antoinette and that they should be purchased in advance to skip the lines.
8) Centre Pompidou
Known for its extensive collection of 20th century modern and contemporary art, the theme is visible inside and out, with exposed pipes, plumbing, and elevators covering the outer walls. First opened in 1977, this eclectic building is home to several art museums, the Brancusi studio, a library, 2 cinemas, a theater, and even a rooftop restaurant.
As a visitor, you’ll have the opportunity to view works from the National Museum of Modern Art, dine in the mezzanine-level cafe, or check out one of the featured shows.
Insider’s Tip: In addition to viewing the exhibits, you have the option to purchase tickets to exclusively go to the top for a view of the Beaubourg neighborhood as well as of Paris.
9) Jardin du Luxembourg
Originally owned by the Duke of Luxembourg, the site was purchased by Henry IV’s widow, Marie de Medicis in 1612. A native of Florence, the queen was inspired by her childhood home, the Pitti Palace, and its Boboli Garden. During the Revolution, the gardens expanded and adopted a more French style. The Palais du Luxembourg, void of royals, became a temporary prison and now serves as home of the French Senate.
The Jardin du Luxembourg has become a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. At the center of the park lies an octagonal pond called the Grand Bassin where children can rent small boats. The garden offers several other child-friendly activities, including a playground, merry-go-round, pony rides and a puppet show. Adults will enjoy the tennis courts, music pavillion, and orangery.
Insider’s Tip: Be sure to check out one of the temporary exhibitions featured at the Musée du Luxembourg or take in the breathtaking view at the Fontaine Médicis.
10) Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Père Lachaise may be the most popular cemetery in Paris, but this wasn’t always the case. Opened in 1804 under the reign of Napoleon, the cemetery was an unpopular burial ground due to its distance from the city center. However, after the remains of Molière and La Fontaine were transferred to the site, popularity drastically increased, as everyone wanted to be buried next to the stars.
Today, the cemetery is home to many ornate sculptures that decorate the graves. In addition to Molière and La Fontaine, you will find the remains of a number of famous artists, musicians, and literary legends including Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde.
Insider’s Tip: The cemetery is very large (the size of the Vatican), so it is a good idea to allow plenty of time to wander the grounds and locate all the famous men and women buried there. To facilitate this process, we offer a package with an optional guided tour where you can visit the top 10 most popular celebrity burial sites.
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