Around every corner in Paris, you’ll find something unmissable: an ancient church, a gallery of modern art, or even just a dingy little bar which is the perfect spot if you have a passion for jazz. Nevertheless, there are some sights that every visitor must see. Below are the French capital’s 20 biggest attractions, after which every other discovery is a bonus.
Gustave Eiffel’s wrought iron tower is undoubtedly Paris’s most famous attraction. Completed in 1889 as the centerpiece of that year’s Exposition Universelle, the tower stands at 324 meters and is the tallest structure in the capital. Around 6.9 million people pay to climb the tower every year and plans are afoot to renovate it in order to bring down waiting times.
Arc de Triomphe
Originally conceived by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his army’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, the Arc de Triomphe, the largest triumphal arch in the world, took 30 years to complete. The eternal flame, which is located beneath the Arc’s sculpted vault and above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, has been relit every day at 6:30 p.m. since November 11, 1923.
Jardin des Tuileries
Walking along the Axe historique of Paris, the straight line which connects the Grande Arche at La Défense and the Louvre, will take you along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and into the Jardin des Tuileries. Created by Catherine de Medici in 1564, the park was fully opened to the public during the French Revolution (after some pretty horrific butchery took place there) and has been the place to stroll and relax since the 19th century.
At the eastern end of the gardens, you’ll pass by another of Napoleon’s arches, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and into the grounds of the Louvre. Remnants of the former royal palace, dating back to the 12th century, are still visible and every year more than 7.4 million people come to see its 38,000 objects, making it the most visited museum in the world.
This grand opera house on the Boulevard des Capucines was built between 1861 and 1875. One of the most extravagant buildings in Paris, a team of 14 painters and mosaicists and 73 sculptors worked on the ornamentation of its south façade alone. Over the years, it has inspired great works of art from the book and musical Phantom of the Opera to the painted ceiling of Marc Chagall which was unveiled in the opera house in 1964.
From one form of nighttime entertainment to another slightly less civilized one, we arrive at the iconic Moulin Rouge. Founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, this Pigalle cabaret was the place to party during the Belle Époque. Nowadays, it’s a little pricey and touristy but definitely worth visiting for the windmill selfie, especially if you can demonstrate the perfect can-can while taking it!
A stroll up the winding streets or a surge up the steep staircases of Montmartre will bring you to the Sacré-Cœur. Sitting atop the highest point in the city, the white basilica is visible from far and wide and also offers incredible views from its largest dome. Designed by Paul Abadie, construction began in 1875 and it was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.
Located in the center of the city, between Les Halles and Le Marais, the Centre Georges Pompidou houses the national museum of modern art, which also happens to be the largest in Europe, a massive public library, and a center for musical research. The distinctive inside out structure was completed in 1977 and its 40th birthday is being celebrated in 2017 with a year-long calendar of events.
Place des Vosges
The Place des Vosges, known for the carefully clipped trees and red brick buildings which surround it, is the oldest planned square in Paris. Constructed between 1605 and 1612 by Henri IV, it’s the main reason why Le Marais became so fashionable with the French nobility between the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, it’s a great place to sunbathe and people watch.
Place de la Bastille
Just a few hundred meters away, you’ll find the Place de la Bastille. All that remains of the Bastille prison, the storming of which is marked each year on July 14, are a few stones inlaid in the street and road surface. Surprisingly, the column in the middle has nothing to do with the square’s most famous event but instead commemorates the July Revolution of 1830.
The Canal Saint-Martin was dug between 1802 and 1825 and was paid for using funds generated by a tax on wine. Funny, then, that today it should be one of the most popular places in Paris for a liquid picnic.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
The largest cemetery in the city of Paris, Père Lachaise contains the tombs of numerous famous Parisians and expats. The graves of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are among the most visited but you can also find the final resting places of Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, and Édith Piaf.
Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in France. Over the course of its 854-year history, it has seen kings (and one emperor) coronated, revolutions and wars rip apart the city around it, and its own doom narrowly avoided by several loving restorations.
Another of Paris’s Gothic wonders on the Île de la Cité, the Sainte-Chapelle is a royal chapel constructed between 1238 and 1248. It was commissioned by Louis IX to house his collections of Passion relics but is today best known for its spectacular 13th-century stained glass windows.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Cross over the Seine onto the Right Bank and you have the neighborhoods of Saint-Germain-des-Prés on one side and the Quartier Latin on the other. Between the two, 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 and she had them designed to replicate the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens of her native Florence.
The most imposing monument in the Quarter Latin, the Panthéon, which was originally intended to be a church dedicated to St Genevieve, was completed in 1790, just as the French Revolution was taking hold. Upon the death of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau on April 2, 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.
At 210 meters high, the Tour Montparnasse is the only true skyscraper in the city of Paris (for the moment) and is the second tallest structure behind the Eiffel Tower. Constructed between 1969 and 1973, it has never been a favorite of architecture buffs. Indeed, a 2008 poll ranked it the second ugliest building in the world. Nevertheless, it deserves its place on this list as you literally cannot miss it. Plus, the views from the top are amazing.
Catacombs de Paris
From one of the highest spots in the capital, we plunge down into one of its deepest and, for that matter, spookiest. The Catacombs de Paris, which are located in a vast network of ancient quarries under the streets of Paris, contain the remains of some six million people. The ossuary was created in 1738 and has been a tourist attraction since the early 19th century.
The Église du Dôme, with its piercing gold spire, is the crowning glory of Les Invalides, a former military hospital and retirement home commissioned by Louis XIV in 1670 and finished in 1708. The complex of 15 interconnected courtyards now hosts a military museum as well as the tomb of Napoleon. It also marks the western boundary of the plush Faubourg Saint-Germain.
Originally built as a train station to welcome guests to the World Fair of 1900, the Musée d’Orsay boasts the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world. Featuring more than 2,000 paintings and 600 sculptures, by artists like Monet, Renoir, and Seurat, the collection provides a link between the collections of the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou.