Around every corner in Paris, you’ll find something worth visiting: an ancient church, a gallery of modern art or an atmospheric jazz bar. Nevertheless, there are some Paris attractions that every visitor must see.
Gustave Eiffel’s wrought-iron tower is undoubtedly Paris’s most famous sight. Completed in 1889 as the centrepiece of that year’s Exposition Universelle, the landmark stands at 324 metres (1,063 feet) and is the tallest structure in the French capital. More than 7 million people visit the Eiffel Tower each year, and ongoing investments mean that it is continually undergoing renovations to modernise the site and improve its accessibility.
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, which is located beneath the Arc de Triomphe’s sculpted vault and above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, has been re-lit every day at 6.30pm since November 11, 1923.
Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) is Paris’s oldest and largest public garden and has unparalleled views of the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe from its gravelled paths and perfectly manicured lawns. The park was designed by André Le Nôtre, the same architect who planned the gardens at Versailles, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.
From the eastern end of the Tuileries Garden, 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 8 million people come to see its 38,000 objects, making it the most-visited museum in the world.
The grand Palais Garnier 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 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.
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 cancan dance – attend its Féerie show to experience the latter. Nowadays, the Moulin Rouge is a little pricey and touristy, but definitely worth visiting, if only for a selfie with its famous windmill.
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. 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 nothing short of incredible. Designed by Paul Abadie, construction began in 1875, and the church was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.
Located in the centre of Paris, 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, the Bibliothèque Publique d’Information; and IRCAM, a centre for musical research. The distinctive inside-out structure, which features external lifts and piping, was completed in 1977.
The Place des Vosges – known for the carefully clipped trees and red-brick buildings that surround it – is the oldest planned square in Paris. Constructed between 1605 and 1612 by Henri IV, Place des Vosges 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.
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.
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.
Not only is the sleepy 20th arrondissement the last Paris borough in numerical terms, but it’s also the one that 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, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.
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.
On the Left Bank of the Seine, between the neighbourhoods of Saint-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, and she had them 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.
The most imposing monument in Paris’s Latin Quarter, the Panthéon was originally intended to be a church dedicated to St Genevieve 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.
The lone skyscraper in Paris’s skyline may sometimes seem a bit out of place, but the 360-degree view of the entire city from the top of Montparnasse Tower is unmatched. Located across from the Montparnasse SNCF and metro station in the 14th arrondissement, the rooftop terrace can be reached in less than a minute by elevator, from where you can enjoy a breath of fresh air as you gaze over the City of Lights – and take some spectacular photos.
One of the spookier inclusions on a typical Paris visitors’ guide has to be the Catacombs of Paris. Located in a vast network of ancient quarries under the city’s streets, the catacombs contain the remains of some 6 million 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.
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.
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 like Monet, Renoir and Seurat, the Musée d’Orsay’s artworks date between 1848 and 1914. The museum is one of the most popular Paris tourist attractions.