20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Paris
If you have a relatively brief visit to France, there are a number of great places to experience the country, including its magnificent capital city, Paris.
Hands-down the most popular destination in the country, Paris abounds with top sights and a bounty of activities to excite even the most seasoned sightseer. No matter whether your visit is short or longer, here are the top places you simply can't miss while in France's top travel destination.
Arc de Triomphe
Created in 1806, the Arc de Triomphe was designed to mark Napoleon Bonaparte's triumphant entry into Paris after his 1804 coup. The black limestone stone monument is a key site in Paris and is always one of the first iconic monuments to be seen by visitors. The four solemn and imposing sculptures, mounted atop the arch, commemorate the Battle of Austerlitz, a conflict Napoleon won in 1805. Other major tourist attractions in Paris include the Concorde, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, Champs-Élysées, the Catacombs, the Palace of Versailles, and the Picasso Museum.
The Musée d'Orsay, housed in a Second Empire mansion, is among the most beautiful museums in Paris. Set in the Palais de l'Élysée, the museum was founded in 1891 by a group of notable Parisians to display the paintings of French artists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, and Henri Matisse. The museum is a stunning, eclectic collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures in a variety of styles from the Renaissance to the Modern era. Visitors will find the work of both early modernists and Impressionist artists here, as well as some works by masters such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Monet, who have been so well exhibited in the world's finest museums that one cannot fail to marvel at the familiar views of Venice and the Seine, the church façades of Paris, and the glories of the Louvre.
Eiffel Tower is an architectural landmark and symbol of Paris, which opened in 1889 as the third and final tower of the Grande Archede. To this day, it stands as the most-visited site in the city, with over 60 million tourists visiting each year. When the tower opened in 1887, it quickly became a tourist attraction in and of itself and, even today, is synonymous with the City of Light.
Built between 1232 and 1248 as a private chapel by King Louis IX, Sainte-Chapelle is a building that seems a perfect encapsulation of French Gothic architecture. It has as a forerunner the cathedral at Reims, as well as the basilicas of Chartres, Vézelay and Notre-Dame de Paris. But Sainte-Chapelle is far more than an amalgamation of those great French Gothic cathedrals, for it was Louis IX's most intimate and personal chapel. Worth a visit for its splendid stained-glass windows and priceless collection of monstrances (suspension vessels), it is also unique in the sense that it is a truly complete and self-contained interior space with its own crypt and its own antechamber, which not only was the king's private chapel, but was also a chapel for the members of his family. From the outside, Sainte-Chapelle is one of the largest and most beautiful surviving medieval buildings in France, its gray and white stone walls rise up towards the sky and its simple Gothic gable houses the gold and emerald colored stained-glass windows that are its most characteristic feature.
Musée du Louvre
The Louvre in Paris is one of the most popular attractions in the world and is the largest museum in the world. It is said to contain more than 40,000 works of art. History buffs will enjoy the story of how the great institution was built over the centuries. If you prefer modern art, you can find some of the world's most famous works by visiting the famous collection of the Musée d'Orsay. There you will find impressionist paintings and avant-garde works from the beginning of the 20th century. The Louvre is home to many famous paintings, including Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, among others.
Place de la Concorde
A short walk north of the Tuileries Gardens lies Place de la Concorde, one of the most beautiful squares in Paris. Originally laid out in 1762 as a Place Royale (King's Place), the square was renamed in honor of King Louis XVI's new wife, Marie Antoinette, whose infamous name provoked the French Revolution. Monuments currently occupying the square include the 19th century Esplanade de la Concorde, named after King Louis-Philippe. The building was once used as the French Army's barracks, and some of the original furniture still remains. In recent years, the square has been the site of several exhibitions and musical events.
Jardin du Luxembourg
The most famous (and one of the most beautiful) gardens in Paris is the Jardin du Luxembourg, a bit of a tourist trap but nonetheless a worthy stop. Begun in 1752 by the Duke of Luxembourg and later enhanced by Louis XVI, the garden is laid out according to the fashions of the day and features a small rococo palace and two artificial lakes, the Barrière des Bouts and the Barrière de l'Archevêché. There are a number of buildings of interest in the garden, and these include the Gallery of Gardens, the Cour de l'Homme Armé, and the Chemin des Acacias, a long, scenic walk through a rural park. One of the most important of these is the Petit Trianon, Louis XVI's summer home, on the grounds of the palace.
One of the world's most iconic destinations, this limestone square is home to some of the city's best restaurants and shops. Originally the site of a Roman temple, the square now links two of the city's most famous monuments - the Tuileries Gardens and the Arc de Triomphe, on either side. The Palais Royal, a 16th century house, is a great place for a people-watching stroll in one of the most famous addresses in Paris. At its center is the celebrated Cafe de Flore, a local hangout since 1860. A leisurely drink or a light snack in one of the square's little sidewalk cafes is the perfect way to spend the afternoon, with the Tuileries gardens at its heart. If you're looking for luxury shopping, there's no better place to be than rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. After picking up a shopping bag at the Chanel or Louis Vuitton stores, you can make a beeline for the nearby Place Vendôme, the beautiful 18th century square famous for its elegant buildings and fountains. The square is not only home to high-end shops but also has a multitude of sidewalk cafés, a rarity in Paris.
High in the east of the city, Montmartre is the most romantic neighborhood in Paris. Originally a district of artists and musicians and later home to Paris's bohemian intelligentsia, it's now a wonderful destination for leisurely people-watching. Known for its lively bars and bistros, the highest concentration of tourists and cultural attractions is on the hill that rises dramatically above the Seine, making the highest point of the whole city (where the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur is located), and giving it the name "The Mount." It's the highest spot in Paris, as well as one of the oldest. Legend has it that before the Romans arrived the Greek king, Ecdatios, saw a flock of sheep grazing here and became enamored with the site.
Built in 1927, this enormous neoclassical building is Paris' most modern and cutting-edge cultural space. The Palais is actually two buildings, connected by glass bridges. The Western Wing is Paris' first major attempt to create a spectacular contemporary art venue, with a spectacular set of cylindrical white curved-iron balconies holding some of the largest sculptures in the world. Although most of the action is on the ground floor, the Palais also has an extensive collection of art galleries, and an intriguing café. The gardens also boast the largest collection of abstract paintings in Paris, and can be visited as part of your visit.
The Panthéon, is a French monument in the center of Paris's Fifth Arrondissement, near the heart of the city. It was erected from 1807 to 1830 and, at 112 meters tall, is the second tallest building in Paris, only to the Eiffel Tower. The Panthéon is a 19th-century church constructed under Napoleon, one of the most noted and best-loved characters of the French revolution, that is now used as a museum. The building, the first in the world to follow the Renaissance architectural system of axial gravity in perspective and a powerful statement of the new paradigm in European art, stands over an open rectangle, surrounded by gardens and sheltered by a high semi-circular glass roof. Inside, it is quite simple. Its most important elements are its gilded altar and its interior murals, by David d'Angers. It is the resting place of many of France's most renowned men and women. It's also home to the Museum of the French Revolution, which chronicles the history of the French Revolution.
The white and pink Tour Eiffel can be seen from almost every square and tourist-laden city on the planet. Not so for the Trocadéro, a view-conscious district located on the western edge of the city on the western tip of the Champs Elysées. The Trocadéro looks over the open expanse of the Jardin des Tuileries (with its beautiful fountains, too) but is linked to the rest of the city by the Trocadéro Bridge, which houses the Museum of French Painting, and is less than a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. The area was meant to be part of the original plan for the Champs Elysées, but was accidentally added to the new layout by the Baron Haussmann when the massive boulevards were constructed between the 19th and 20th century. Many of the neighborhood's galleries and museums exhibit works in the style of French Impressionist artists, including Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet. On Thursday, this area is where the lively antiques fair takes place.
Château de Versailles
Versailles is a sprawling palace complex located in the center of France. After Louis XIV, France's Sun King, died in 1715 without an heir, the French court turned to the nephew of the late King to become King. With the intention of making his nephew the perfect ruler, the regent King ordered the construction of a palace that was to exceed anything ever built before. Versailles was designed as a symbol of absolute power and to project a regal image that would intimidate any enemy and be a showcase for the King's family and his court. The palace is a vast construction and contains over 3,000 rooms, covering 11 acres of the gardens. Highlights of a visit include the dazzling Galerie des Glaces, an elaborate Hall of Mirrors, the sumptuous Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette Rooms, and the Grand Trianon Palace, where the King entertained his mistress, the Empress, Marie Antoinette. It also includes the Queen's House, the biggest of all the public rooms in the palace, and has a small amount of original furnishings. Versailles is not a great destination for day trips from Paris, but can easily be included as part of a trip to Disneyland Paris or other area attractions, and is an easy day trip from the capital or from other parts of France. Versailles is the most popular destination for high-end hotel and apartment rental websites.
One of the last residences of Louis XIV, the Palace Royal (Palais Royal) in Paris is now used as an exhibition and meeting place and can also be visited by guided tour. Also home to a museum, the palace is filled with furniture, paintings, and tapestries used in the Royal Palace in Versailles. A visit is most worthwhile if you are interested in visiting a royal residence, not least because one of the two private apartments is still in an opulent Louis XIV style and has been restored to its original state as it would have been when lived in by the Sun King.
Musée de l'Orangerie
Orangerie Museum, also known as the Orangerie Museum of Art and the Paris Orangerie, is a small, privately owned museum in the Bois de Boulogne, a part of the Bois de Vincennes. Designed by landscape architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux, the orangerie was built in 1820-22 and houses works by 18th- and 19th-century artists. It also has two orangeries, creating a setting that will delight anyone who loves beautiful ornamental trees.
Gare de l'Est
The Gare de l'Est, Paris, was built in 1890-1892, a major Parisian railway station designed by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. On the eastern side, this railway station sits on the site of the rue des Rosiers, in the centre of Paris, and until the 1970s, the neighborhood of the Gare de l'Est, including its famous railway station, was called “La Rosière.” During the Second World War, the rue des Rosiers was heavily damaged and destroyed. During this period, the residents of the district rebuilt their houses along the wall of the rue des Rosiers. In the years that followed, the rue des Rosiers became the local quarter for the working class, and in the late 1970s it was hit by an uprising. The Gare de l'Est, Paris was closed in 1977, although it is still open to visitors. Although the building was converted into offices, the shell of the Gare de l'Est can still be visited, and there are some nice monuments, such as the Colisée, and the Ronde Des Constantines.
Opéra Garnier is the most important opera house in Paris. Built in 1875 and named after opera singer and composer Giacomo Meyerbeer, who lived in the surrounding area, it is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular of all opera houses. Inside are lavish rooms with rich ornamentation, gold leaf, and elaborately painted scenery. The interior was renovated in 1929 and is considered to be one of the finest opera houses in the world. The Paris Opera runs many concerts and international events throughout the year and the music program is performed by top-class musicians, making the audience feel quite a treat when it comes to opera, particularly in the summer. Performances are usually on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The Musée Picasso, Pompidou Centre, located in the former home and studio of the famed artist, now houses his best works and brings them to light in a setting designed by legendary architect Michel Vaudreuil. In a city full of famed museums, Picasso's Musée Picasso is one of the most respected and visited in the world. The art collection at the museum includes more than 2,500 works, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawing, and watercolors from Picasso's varied career as an artist, including scenes from the modernists movements of cubism, futurism, and expressionism, as well as works from many of his most celebrated series, including women, African and Mediterranean scenes, and others from his war-torn city, Barcelona.
Palais de Tokyo
The Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art museum in the Quartier Latin, is housed in an impressive four-story building located right in the middle of Paris, the Quartier Latin. The museum has 11 galleries and some exciting events every week including music, cinema, and multimedia. The main gallery, 1st Floor, is a biennial festival showcasing contemporary art and artists. The Palais de Tokyo museum was founded by French contemporary artist, Thierry Despont in 1984. It was opened to the public in 2001.
The Tuileries Garden
The Tuileries Garden is an English-style garden located at the heart of Paris. It was created in 1664 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in the 17th century in the wake of the reign of Louis XIV. The king himself was not keen on the site, but he was swayed by his mistress Madame de Montespan, who insisted that the King let the garden be created on the site where she had had her petit Trianon. The gardener and landscape architect, André Le Nôtre, created the gardens along with formal English garden structures such as the 'Temple of Love', the obelisk, 'The Boul de Mon Père' and the Grand Canal, which leads to the Champs Elysees. The Tuileries Garden, open from mid-March until October, is one of Paris's most popular places to take a stroll. Despite its size, the park has all sorts of lovely shady places where lovers sit and enjoy themselves. There is also a large amount of ancient monuments, some of which can be visited, a zoo and a traditional village, Jardin d'Acclimatation.