Whether the sun is shining on the café terraces of Boulevard Saint-Germain or the melancholy mists of the Seine enveloping Notre-Dame Cathedral, the magical atmosphere of Paris has a way of romanticizing visitors. This incomparable city is full of grandiose monuments like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Pantheon. Yet the charm of Paris lies in the small details: the picturesque cobbled streets, the perfectly maintained trees, the delicate tea rooms, the Belle Epoque brasseries and the avant-garde art galleries. A veritable open-air museum, the city’s buildings are works of art and the daily fashion of Parisians deserves magazine circulation.
A world of discovery awaits you in the distinctive districts: the winding labyrinth of the old streets of the medieval Latin quarter, the mythical scene of the cafes of Saint-Germain-de-Prés and the bohemian village atmosphere of Montmartre. In all the hidden corners and on all the famous sites, Paris casts a spell of enchantment. A visit can inspire a lifelong love story. Find the best places to visit in this magical city with our list of the best tourist attractions in Paris.
1. Eiffel Tower
The most visited tourist attraction in Paris, the Eiffel Tower is also at the top of the list of places to visit in France. It is hard to believe that the structure was dismissed as a monstrosity when it was first revealed. The iconic tower was designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Paris exhibition, which marked the centenary of the French Revolution. The tower consists of 18,000 sturdy iron sections (weighing over 10,000 tonnes) held together by 2.5 million rivets. This innovative structure is today considered a masterful architectural feat and is the most emblematic spectacle of Paris. From the Trocadéro Gardens and the Champs de Mars lawns, there is just the right distance from the Eiffel Tower for a perfect photo. Reaching 324 meters in height, the tower was the tallest building in the world until the Empire State Building was erected.
Visitors can take an elevator or climb the 360 steps to the first level (57 meters) and an additional 344 steps to the second level (115 meters). The perspectives of the first and second level are spectacular. To reach the upper level, at a dizzying altitude of 276 meters, you need an intoxicating lift from the second level. Visiting the upper level is one of the most exciting things to do in Paris, but it’s not for the faint of heart. For those wishing to indulge in a gourmet meal, the Jules Verne restaurant is on the second floor. This restaurant has large windows, which allow diners to enjoy incredible panoramas. It is best to buy tickets in advance, especially if you are visiting during the high season. To guarantee the best possible experience, tourists can sign up for the Eiffel Tower Priority Access Tour. This hour-long tour allows tourists to avoid standing in several long queues and offers the added benefit of educational commentary. A knowledgeable guide will share interesting information and provide historical context.
2. Musée du Louvre
Sumptuous palace that was once the home of the kings of France, the Louvre is the most important of the best Parisian museums. Visitors enter the museum in the palace courtyard of the glass pyramid (designed by Ieoh Ming Pei in 1917). The Louvre has more than 30,000 works of art (many of which are considered masterpieces), from antiques to European paintings from the 15th to the 19th century.
It is impossible to see everything in one visit, but tourists can focus on a particular gallery, such as classical sculpture, Italian Renaissance art or French paintings from the 17th century, or take a self-guided tour to see the highlights of the Louvre museum.
The most famous piece is the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (or La Joconde in French) painted by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503-1505. Other exceptional works are the ancient sculpture of Venus de Milo, the monumental Victory of Samothrace from the Hellenistic period, the huge painting of Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese (1563) and the frescoes by Botticelli. See also, Liberty guiding the people (1831) by Eugène Delacroix, illustrating the Parisian uprising from July 27 to 29, 1830 known as “Trois Glorieuses” (“Three glorious days”).
To make the most of a visit to the Louvre, tourists can take a guided tour. The skip-the-line ticket: visit to the Louvre museum allows participants to jump in front of the long queues and go directly to the museum’s most famous works of art, notably the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. During this three-hour tour, an experienced guide discusses the collections, explains interesting information about the paintings, and answers questions. The Louvre is surrounded on one side by the Tuileries Garden, one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Paris. The famous landscape architect André Le Nôtre (who designed the gardens of Versailles) created the Tuileries garden in a classic French style. The formal gardens have perfectly maintained trees; two ponds; and statues of Rodin, Giacometti and Maillol. The park benches provide a place to relax and enjoy the scenery. There are also several café-restaurants with terraces.
3. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
A triumph of Gothic architecture, Notre-Dame stands in the heart of Paris on the Ile de la Cité near the attractions of the Latin Quarter. Île de la Seine, Île de la Cité is the historic and geographic center of Paris. On this small plot of land, the Romans built the Gallo-Roman city of Lutèce, and from the 6th to the 14th century, the kings of France resided here. Notre Dame Cathedral was founded in 1163 by King Louis IX (Saint Louis) and Bishop Maurice de Sully, and the construction lasted more than 150 years. The cathedral was first created in an old Gothic style, while later additions (the western front and the nave) show the transition to the high Gothic style. Tourists are immediately struck by the ornamental design of the facade, with its profusion of sculptures and gargoyles, while elaborate flying buttresses ensure the structural integrity of the huge building. Look for the 21 figures above the door of the gallery of kings, who lost their minds during the Revolution. (The heads are now on display at the Musée de Cluny.)
After admiring the decorative door, enter the sanctuary to admire the grandeur of this immense vaulted space. The sanctuary seems almost endless and invites visitors to light the flickering candles. The interior is illuminated by magnificent stained glass windows. The most remarkable window is the rose window of the north transept. This superb work of art presents 80 scenes from the Old Testament centered around the Virgin.
4. Musée d’Orsay
This splendid collection of impressionist art is magnificently presented in a vast space (formerly the Orsay Belle Epoque station). The collection represents the work of all the masters of impressionism. Artists range from classic Impressionist masters Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet and Pierre-August Renoir to post-Impressionist artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh; the pointillists (Georges Seurat, Paul Signac); and bohemian artists like Toulouse Lautrec.
Some of the museum’s most famous pieces include La Pie by Claude Monet, Gare Saint-Lazare, the Poppy Field and the Luncheon on the Grass; Self-portrait and starry night by Vincent van Gogh; and Renoir’s dance at the Moulin de la Galette, which depicts a festive scene in Montmartre.
The Musée d’Orsay is one of the best places to visit in Paris for a glimpse into the history of Impressionist art – from soft brushstrokes by Monet to wild and colorful scenes by Gauguin. The museum also has two cafes and an upscale restaurant, which is worthwhile. Formerly part of the Hôtel d’Orsay and classified as a historic monument, the museum restaurant has golden ceilings and sparkling chandeliers.
5. Palais Garnier, Opéra National de Paris
Commissioned by Napoleon III in 1860, the Palais Garnier opera house was designed by Charles Garnier in an exuberant baroque style. Garnier worked tirelessly on the project for more than a decade, from 1862 to 1875. Today, the opulent monument is a symbol of the imperial regime of Napoleon.
The facade features classical columns and eight sculptures representing allegorical figures: poetry, music, romance, recitation, song, drama and dance. The loggia represents busts of composers, including Rossini, Beethoven and Mozart, while the dome is surmounted by a statue of Apollo with allegorical figures of poetry and music. Upon entering the building, visitors are dazzled by the sumptuous interior of 11,000 square meters. Most of the building space is dedicated to the grand foyer with its fabulous Grand Staircase, marble entrance staircase, decorated with ornate golden lamps. The auditorium has an intimate atmosphere, although it can accommodate 2,105 people in its soft red velvet seats. Golden balconies, a huge crystal chandelier and a Chagall ceiling painting add to the wonder of the theater, creating the dramatic backdrop perfect for cultural performances. For visitors looking for things to do at night in Paris, the Opéra Garnier hosts a prestigious calendar of events. Besides the opera, there are ballet performances, classical music concerts and gala events.
Attending a performance is a wonderful way to see the interior of the building and enjoy a glamorous evening. Another option is to visit during the day (entrance ticket required). For a more in-depth understanding of the Paris Opera and its rich cultural heritage, tourists should visit the Bibliotèchque-Musée de l’Opéra (Library-Museum of the Opera) located inside the building. The library and museum contain three centuries of archives, as well as exhibitions devoted to the art of opera. The museum’s permanent collection presents costume and set designs, models and paintings of the building. The Opera also houses a boutique and an elegant, contemporary restaurant, which serves Japanese-French fusion cuisine.
6. Seine River Cruises
To really soak up the alluring atmosphere of Paris, tourists should try to take a boat cruise along the Seine. In addition to being one of the most pleasant things to do when visiting the city, cruises on the Seine allow tourists to see the sites from a different angle. The Seine bridges, the Eiffel tower, Notre-Dame cathedral and the Louvre museum are magnificent from the point of view of a river boat.
While a day cruise allows tourists to appreciate the glory of the monuments illuminated by the sun, the most romantic experience is an evening cruise. After sunset, the city’s monuments are illuminated, which creates a special effect, and the city seems somewhat more magical. For a cruise that includes dinner, try the cruise on Parisian boats on the Seine. This four-hour sightseeing trip departs near the Eiffel Tower, and guests are entitled to a three-course gourmet meal.
7. Luxembourg Gardens
The Jardin du Luxembourg is the most famous park in Paris after the Tuileries. The gardens were laid out in the 17th century when the Palais du Luxembourg was built, but they received their current form in the 19th century by the architect J.F. Chalgrin. The central feature of the park is the large octagonal pool adorned with a fountain, which is flanked by two terraces lined with statues, neat geometric rows of well-kept flower beds and shrubs. This part of the park illustrates the classic French style, with many chairs distributed for visitors. Another key feature is the picturesque 17th century Medici Fountain, a fountain basin hidden under the trees opposite the eastern facade of the Luxembourg Palace, the palace that King Henry IV created for his wife Marie de Medici. Nearby is the Pavillon de la Fontaine, a small café with a pleasant terrace in a shaded forest.
The park is the favorite place for locals to relax and have a picnic. Students from the Latin Quarter can be seen here enjoying baguette sandwiches for lunch or just lounging on a sunny day. Recreational opportunities include basketball, tennis and chess. Children enjoy the playground with swing and pony rides. The most popular activity for younger visitors is to manage miniature sailboats in the octagonal pool (boats can be hired from a kiosk near the pond).
For French-speaking children, traditional puppet shows at the Théâtre des Marionnettes are a popular pastime. The Luxembourg Theater, in the south-west of the park near the tennis courts, presents adorable puppet shows in French.
8. Place Vendôme
This gracious square was designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, one of the main architects of the “Grand Siècle” under King Louis XIV. Originally, the square was called Place Louis le Grand. The facades of the houses were built between 1686 and 1701. The original intention was that the royal academies, the Mint, the Royal Library and a hotel for foreign envoys be installed on the square, but due to financial difficulties, the king was forced to sell the buildings to nobles and wealthy citizens. The new owners have built magnificent residences with courtyards and gardens.
The charm of Place Vendôme is that it has retained the coherence of the overall design, which combines royal ostentation with civic simplicity. After careful restoration in the early 90s, it has been restored to all its splendor. The square is known for its high-end jewelry stores including Boucheron, Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier. Another luxury establishment here is the Ritz Hotel, frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Coco Chanel has made the Ritz hotel its home for 34 years; she decorated her suite in her signature chic style, with velvet-upholstered sofas, lacquered furniture and golden mirrors. In the center of the Place Vendôme stands a monument of historical importance, the Column of the Grande Armée. Built between 1806 and 1810, the 42-meter-high column is dedicated to Napoleon and his Grande Armée (army) who fought heroically and victoriously during the battle of Austerlitz (in December 1805). The facade of the column is made from bronze plates in relief with 108 friezes in spiral bas-relief (similar to the column of Trajan in Rome), which tell the story of the glorious events that took place during the campaign of Napoleon in 1805.
9. Place de Bastille
Now, only the name of this square recalls that the famous state prison known as the Bastille, the much-hated symbol of absolutist power, once stood here. After the Bastille was taken on July 14, 1789, the prison was completely demolished. In the center of the Place de la Bastille is the Colonne de Juillet, 51 meters high, surmounted by a graceful golden figure of Liberty. The monument commemorates the Revolution of July 1830, which overthrew King Charles X and brought Louis-Philippe to power. Four Gallic roosters and a lion relief at the base of the column symbolize the free people of France. A 283-step spiral staircase inside the column leads to an observation platform.
On the site of the Bastille prison is the new Opera, the Opera-Bastille, inaugurated by President Mitterrand on July 13, 1989. This huge modern theater can accommodate 2,745 people. Both the view of the stage from the auditorium and the acoustics are superb. The Opéra-Bastille has a calendar of events throughout the year with performances by the Paris Opera Orchestra, the Paris Opera Choir and the Paris Opera Ballet companies. Tourists can enjoy attending one of the shows, then explore the Bastille region. This trendy district is full of original boutiques, trendy clothing boutiques, elegant restaurants and trendy cafes.
10. La Conciergerie
Whatever the inviting name, this imposing medieval fortress is the famous prison of the French Revolution. Here, prisoners including Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre were detained in wet cells awaiting their fate. The Salle des Girondins presents relics of the bloody days of Terror, including a guillotine blade, prison rules and a copy of Marie-Antoinette’s last letter.
The Salle des Gens d’Armes is a vaulted Gothic room with impressive proportions. In this forbidden room, the condemned were handed over to the executioner. For an exceptional view of the building’s neo-Gothic facade, stand on the other side of the Seine on the Quai de la Mégisserie. From this distance, with its three round towers and the Clock Tower, the fortress looks like a fairytale castle rather than a penitentiary. The Conciergerie is now open to the public as a museum. It is possible to buy a combined entrance ticket for the Conciergerie and the Sainte-Chapelle.