“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.” So said Thomas Jefferson, reflecting upon his travels to the French metropolis. It’s been several centuries since he set foot in Paris, but the city’s splendor has not diminished — it remains the financial and cultural capital not only of France, but a capital of the world. Here we’ve assembled a list of the Top 10 Must-See Sites to visit during your stay in Paris, the fabled city known around the globe for its sophistication, romance and, of course, light.
Like Big Ben in London and the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Eiffel Tower is Paris’s most identifiable landmark with the numbers to prove it – 7 million visitors per year. Named after the engineer who built it (Gustave Eiffel), the Tower was constructed to welcome guests to the 1889 World’s Fair. At the time of its construction, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world! Initially many Parisians considered the monument an eyesore; in fact, the Tower was almost dismantled in 1909, but was saved because of its value to transmit radio signals. Today, the Eiffel Tower is regarded as an architectural marvel and is the most frequented paid monument in the world.
There are three levels open to the public, the highest standing at a height of 276 meters or 905 feet. All levels can be accessed by elevators/lifts or stairs (though the latter is not for the faint of heart). On the first floor you’ll find a cinema devoted to the Tower’s history, a souvenir shop, and the 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant. The second floor is home to the Jules Verne restaurant, where you can sample French cuisine with a spectacular view of the city. At the top floor, walk through a recreation of Eiffel’s office before making a toast at the champagne bar. And no matter how high you travel, the Tower will provide stunning views of Paris laid out before your eyes. The monument stands on the lawns of the Champ de Mars, which is located in Paris’s seventh arrondissement. Check out our guide of the 7th Arrondissement of Paris for more details.
The site is easily accessed via the Métro and RER. As of March 2014, ticket prices to the top floor range from €15 for adults to €10,50 for children and disabled individuals (tickets that access the first and second floor are less expensive). If looking to dine at one of the two restaurants, you’ll need to make a reservation. The Tower is open 365 days a year, from 9:00 until 0:45 in the summer months and 9:30 to 23:45 during the rest of the year. More information can be found in our Eiffel Tower’s Visitor’s Guide.
One of the most famous churches in the world, Notre Dame overlooks the Seine from the eastern end of the Île de la Cité in the center of the city. In 1160, Bishop Maurice de Sully of Paris began the process of constructing the cathedral, though the first stone was not laid until 1163. The entire project took nearly 200 years to complete, and has survived everything from the French Revolution to multiple restorations. Notre Dame is in the fourth arrondissement, with Metro and RER stations not too far from the site.
As of March 2014, the cathedral is open daily, 365 days a year, between the hours of 7:45 and 18:45 weekdays; closing time is extended to 19:15 on weekends. The church is free of charge, though entrance fees are required to take the cathedral tower tour and a visit through the Treasury. Tours are available in multiple languages; should you miss a tour, audio guides are an available resource. As the cathedral is a working church, Catholic Mass is held daily – feel free to attend if you wish. Notre Dame’s bell towers and gargoyles have inspired artists throughout the centuries – experience the history yourself with a visit!
3) Arc de Triomphe
Where the Champs Élysées Avenue meets the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle traffic circle stands the Arc de Triomphe. A memorial in honor of the French soldiers lost in the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary Wars, the intricate, neoclassical design is perhaps the most recognized structure in Paris aside from the Eiffel Tower.
Have younger members in your party? You’re in luck: children and adolescents below the age of 17 have free admission; tickets cost €8, €5 for young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 (and it’s free for people aged 18-25 who are European citizens). Group discounts for parties of more than 20 members are also available. Between April and September, hours run from 10:00 to 23:00; the Arc limits its hours from October through March, but only slightly: 10:00 to 22:30. The monument remains open most days but is closed on New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and several days in the calendar year: May 1 and the morning hours of May 8, July 14 and November 11. Located in the sixteenth arrondissement, line A of the RER and lines 1, 2 and 6 of the Metro will take you close to the site – you can explore it as a pedestrian or drive by as a passenger in the unpredictable de Gaulle traffic junction!
To witness the most underrated view of Paris, you just might have to say a prayer. Atop the peak of the highest non-manmade point in the city, the hill Montmartre, lies the Sacré Coeur Basilica. This Catholic church is a popular destination for its stunning panoramas of Paris as well as its religious services and striking architecture. Construction began in 1875 as a message of French spiritual repentance (the country had just been defeated by the Prussians) and was completed in 1914, though the church’s consecration was postponed until the end of World War I. The Sacré Coeur stands apart from other Parisian churches because of its Romano-Byzantine architecture and its white stone façade. Be sure to make the 300-step climb to the basilica’s dome for a viewpoint of the city unlike any other.
The Sacré Coeur is open daily from 6:00 to 22:30 with no entrance fee. Take the 2 and 12 Metro lines to arrive at the eighteenth arrondissement church. And while you’re here, take advantage of the surrounding Montmartre neighborhood, known for its nightlife and the Moulin Rouge cabaret. Here’s some extra information about the legendary neighborhood of Montmartre.
Arguably the most famous art museum in the world, the Louvre houses thousands of objects including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Once a 12th century fortress, the site underwent centuries of transformation, from a royal palace to a Napoleon conquest. In 1793, it opened as a museum to display art from around the globe and has been a gallery ever since, though it has gotten a few aesthetic facelifts! Browse through exhibits of Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek-Etruscan-Roman, and Islamic art as well as halls of sculptures, paintings and decorative pieces (think tapestries, jewelry and ceramics). And while the Mona Lisa may be your main objective for visiting, don’t neglect the other masterpieces the museum has to offer.
The Louvre is open daily, except Tuesdays, from 9:00 to 18:00; Wednesdays and Fridays have extended hours until 21:45. Additionally, the museum closes its doors on the first of January and May, plus Christmas Day. As of March 2014, tickets to access the permanent and temporary exhibitions of the museum cost €16, though free admission can apply to some guests.
6) Centre George Pompidou
In the market for a more contemporary cultural experience? Look no further than the Centre George Pompidou in the fourth arrondissement. Opening in 1977, the complex – comparable to Lincoln Center in New York — is the home of a public library, the Museé National d’Art Moderne, and what the Pompidou calls a “center for musical creation.” Gape at the innovative architecture, a blend of glass and pipe-like structures that give the center the appearance of a building turned inside out, before exploring the interior’s attractions.
Tickets for adults, as of March 2014, range from €11 to €13, and like the Louvre, there are some guests eligible for free or discounted rates. The complex is open between 11:00 and 22:00, but closes on Tuesdays and May 1. Take the Metro or RER to the Les Halles stations for your convenience.
This seventh arrondissement museum might just have the most unusual history. Originally the central train station for the railroad network, later a mailing facility for World War II prisoners of war and the location for a number of film shoots, the building became the Museé d’Orsay in 1986. Most of the museum’s displays are mid-19th to early-20th century French art, with the works by some of history’s most illustrious painters: Degas, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh.
Hours run from 9:30 to 18:00 with closings on Mondays and certain holidays. As of March 2014, full adult tickets will cost €11 out of your pocket, but as with the other art museums listed here, there are exceptions to the rule. Line 12 on the Metro and line C on the RER will get you there – and had you been a Parisian flâneur in 1900, you would have taken a direct train into the museum site!
An astonishing example of Beaux-Arts opulence, the Palais Garnier will take your breath away with its Old World glamour. Part of the Opéra National de Paris – alongside the modern Opéra Bastille — the Opéra Garnier was a fourteen year project, completing in 1875. Before the Bastille’s opening, it was the main opera house; now it presents a majority of the Opéra National’s ballet productions. The Opéra Garnier also displays exhibitions at the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris. Marvel at the intricate interiors, from the symmetrical staircases to the ornate chandelier that inspired The Phantom of the Opera.
As with most live performances, tickets vary in price. Tours are also available to see the Opéra Garnier’s beautiful interiors for €10 (as of March 2014) between the hours 10:00 and 17:00; matinee shows restrict the time between 10:00 and 13:00. The Opéra Garnier closes on the first of January and May; Metro and RER accessible to the ninth arrondissement.
The most famous street in all of Paris, the Champs Élysées stretches down to the Arc de Triomphe in the eighth arrondissement. Flanked by greenery and a number of shops, designer boutiques, and eateries, the avenue is a popular walkway for Parisians and tourists. Be aware that the Champs Élysées’s prime location means prices won’t be cheap, but are certainly worth some splurging. Considering that the avenue originated as an extension of the Tuileries Garden, you should pay a visit to the park, which has been a hub for people watching and leisure for centuries. Discover our complete guide to the Champs Elysées for more information.
Although outside city limits, the Château de Versailles is too spectacular to miss. French kings lived at the site, now part of the affluent Parisian suburbs, between the 1670s and 1789 — the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. Versailles now serves as a museum, preserving the lavish style of the royals, as well as a testament to French history. Wander through the world-famous Hall of Mirrors, where sparkling chandeliers hang from elaborately painted ceilings and reflect in hundreds of mirrors. Take a turn about the immaculately landscaped gardens or the quieter grandeur of Marie Antoinette’s estate. To see all Versailles has to offer, purchase a passport ticket for €18 (price as of March 2013). Outdoor areas on the site are open daily, while interiors close on Mondays. Hours vary per section, but generally open by mid-morning and close by evening. The Versailles Express bus transports guests from the Eiffel Tower to the estate; the RER C line also offers access to Versailles. To find out more, read our Palace of Versailles Visitors Guide.
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Readers, have you ever visited Paris? Which of these spots appeals to you most?