Unmissable Attractions in Paris

The Île Saint-Louis in Paris offers a great view of the dome of the Panthéon, on the Left Bank
The Île Saint-Louis in Paris offers a great view of the dome of the Panthéon, on the Left Bank | © Steve Tulley / Alamy Stock Photo
Paul McQueen

There’s not a corner in Paris where you won’t find something worth visiting: an ancient church, an art gallery, or an atmospheric jazz bar. But even the more obvious attractions are well worth exploring. Here’s our pick.
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Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower rises over 320 metres

Gustave Eiffel’s wrought-iron tower is the most famous landmark in Paris and the symbol of the city. Completed in 1889 as the centrepiece of the Exposition Universelle, it stands at 324m (1,063ft) and is the tallest structure in the French capital. More than 7m people visit the Eiffel Tower each year, alrthough it was not always so popular. Legend has it that French writer Guy de Maupassant would dine in the restaurant in the tower every day, as it was the only place in Paris where he did not have to look at it.

For a symbol of French history, go to the Arc de Triomphe

Originally conceived by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 to commemorate his army’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, the Arc de Triomphe is the largest triumphal arch in the world and took 30 years to complete. The eternal flame, underneath the sculpted arch and above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, has been relit every day at 6.30pm since 11 November 1923. This is the site of the official New Year’s Eve street party in the city, culminating in a spectacular light show at midnight.

Take a stroll through the Tuileries Garden

Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) is the oldest and largest public garden in the city. With unparalleled views of the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe at one end and the Louvre at the other, it makes for a gorgeous stroll over gravelled paths and perfectly manicured lawns, with coffee stops on the way. The park was designed by André Le Nôtre, the man behind the gardens at Versailles, and was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1991.

Be inspired at the Louvre Museum

Visitors admire the various sculptures at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France

From the eastern end of the Tuileries, walk through another of Napoleon Bonaparte’s arches, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and into the grounds of the biggest art museum in the world: the Louvre. Remnants of the building’s former life as a royal palace, dating back to the 12th century, are still visible, and every year more than 8m people come to see its 38,000 objects, making it the most visited museum in the world.

Take in a show at the Palais Garnier

The grand Palais Garnier opera house on the Boulevard des Capucines was built between 1861 and 1875. As one of the most extravagant buildings in Paris, it saw a team of 14 painters and mosaicists and 73 sculptors work on the ornamentation of the south facade alone. Over the years, it has inspired great works of art, from the book and musical Phantom of the Opera to Marc Chagall’s painted ceiling, which was unveiled in the building itself in 1964.

Watch a performance at Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge, Paris

Founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, the Moulin Rouge was the place to party during the Belle Époque. As well as cabaret, it’s the home of the can-can – attend its Féerie show for a memorable experience. Nowadays, the Moulin Rouge is pretty pricey and not a little touristy, but definitely worth it, if only for a selfie in front of the famous red windmill.

Climb up to Sacré-Cœur

A stroll along the winding streets of Montmartre or a surge up the steep hill below in the dedicated cable car will bring you to the Sacré-Cœur cathedral. Sitting atop the highest point in Paris, the white basilica is visible from far and wide in the city, and the views from its largest dome are spectacular. Designed by Paul Abadie, construction began in 1875, and the church was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

For modern art and architecture, visit the Centre Georges Pompidou

The Centre Georges Pompidou, with its distinctive inside-out design by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, opened its doors on 31 January 1977 and has been a reference point for modern and contemporary art ever since. Other than hosting the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou is home to the Bibliothèque Publique d’Information and the IRCAM, a centre dedicated to musical and acoustic research. Centrally located between Less Halles and Le Marais, it’s worth a trip even if you’re not a big fan of art just to ride the escalators up to the fifth floor for an umbeatable view across Paris.

Relax on Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges consists of red-brick architecture and a lovely central garden

The Place des Vosges, with its carefully clipped trees and red-brick buildings, is the oldest planned square in Paris. Constructed between 1605 and 1612 by Henri IV, it became particularly fashionable with the French nobility between the 17th and 18th centuries, and the historic mansions that border its manicured lawns now house popular museums. Today, it’s a great place to sunbathe and people-watch.

Commemorate the French Revolution at Place de la Bastille

All that remains of the Bastille prison, the storming of which marked the start of the French Revolution in 1789, are a few stones inlaid in the street and road surface. Surprisingly, the column in the middle of the Place de la Bastille, the Génie de la Liberté (Spirit of Freedom), has nothing to do with the square’s most famous event, but instead commemorates the July Revolution of 1830.

Picnic on the banks of Canal Saint-Martin

The Canal Saint-Martin was dug between 1802 and 1825 and was paid for by funds generated from a tax on wine. Funny, then, that today it should be one of the most popular places in Paris for a liquid picnic. Shops, cafés and bars line the banks of the canal, and on summer days, locals gather on the water’s edge with baguettes, cheese and wine for a relaxed al fresco meal.

Pay your respects at Père Lachaise Cemetery

Not only is the sleepy 20th arrondissement the last Paris borough in numerical terms, it’s also the one people are least likely to visit, except, that is, if they have an interest in life’s ultimate deep sleep. Just next to Gambetta metro station, you’ll find Père Lachaise cemetery, the final resting place of, among many others, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

Appreciate Sainte-Chapelle’s stunning stained glass

Just a short distance from Notre-Dame Cathedral lies another of Paris’s Gothic wonders, the Sainte-Chapelle. Situated on the Île de la Cité, the towering stone structure was constructed between 1238 and 1248. It was commissioned by Louis IX as a royal chapel to house his collections of Passion relics, but today it is best known for its spectacular 13th-century stained glass windows.

Go for a wander through the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

The grand Luxembourg Palace in Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, France, was once the home of Marie de’ Medici

On the Left Bank of the Seine, snuck in between St-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, you’ll find the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg. The park and the palace inside it were the home of Marie de’ Medici in the early 17th century, designed to replicate the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens of her native Florence. The park’s opening hours change with the seasons, but if it’s still light outside, then the park should be open.

Honour the greats of French history at Paris’s Panthéon

The Panthéon in Paris, France, contains the remains of many notable figures from French history

Take a walk along Rue du Cardinal Lemoine to get to the Panthéon in the Latin Quarter. The most imposing monument in the Latin Quarter, the Panthéon was originally intended to be a church dedicated to St Geneviève when it was completed in 1790, just as the French Revolution was taking hold. Upon the death of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, on 2 April 1791, a well-respected statesman in the new world order, the decision was taken to transform it into a mausoleum for the great men and women of French history.

Take in the views from Tour Montparnasse

Nothing beats the view of Paris from atop the Montparnasse Tower

The lone skyscraper in Paris’s skyline may seem a bit out of place, but it means the 360-degree view from the top of the Tour Montparnasse is unmatched. Just across the road from the Montparnasse SNCF and metro station in the 14th arrondissement, it has a rooftop terrace that can be reached in less than a minute. Up here you can enjoy a breath of fresh air as you gaze over the City of Lights – and take some spectacular photos.

Descend into the depths of the city in the Catacombs of Paris

One of the spookier inclusions on a typical Paris tour has to be the Catacombs. This vast network of ancient quarries under the city’s streets, the catacombs contain the remains of some 6m people that have been used to decorate the walls and ceilings. The ossuary was created in 1738 and has been a tourist attraction since the early 19th century.

Swot up on French history at Les Invalides

The Église du Dôme, with its piercing gold spire, is the crowning glory of Les Invalides, a former military hospital and retirement home that was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1670 and finished in 1708. The complex of 15 interconnected courtyards now hosts a military museum, the Musée de l’Armée, as well as the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Enjoy Impressionism at the Musée d’Orsay

People flock to the Musée d’Orsay to see Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works of art

Originally built as a train station to welcome guests to the World Fair of 1900, the stunning Beaux-Arts Gare d’Orsay now houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world. Featuring more than 2,000 paintings and 600 sculptures by artists such as Monet, Renoir and Seurat, the Musée d’Orsay’s artworks date between 1848 and 1914. The museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

Discover new artistic talent at Palais de Tokyo

Only a few moments away from Trocadéro, in the 16th arrondissement, the Palais de Tokyo is Europe’s largest contemporary art centre. Opening its grand Art Deco doors in 2002, the art centre was established to be a progressive home for contemporary art. The space exhibits an ever-changing rota of temporary art exhibitions that showcase the most exciting and dynamic artistic practices, from performance art to fashion. Describing itself as an “anti-museum”, the space has no permanent collection, the programme instead exploring work from young creative talent.

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