Paris is a dream—whether you’re imagining the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower or strolling down the Rue de Seine, Paris is a glowing, romantic city with enough whimsy to cover the world over. Everyone should visit Paris at least once in their lives, for the pastries, architecture, or art.
Paris is one of the most easily recognizable cities in the world thanks to its iconic landmarks, which are some of its top destinations for tourists. No trip to Paris is complete without stopping at the Eiffel Tower, which is just as lovely from the lawn as it is from the top floor.
That’s not to say all there is to Paris is its famed locations, in fact, many tourists don’t see its hidden beauty. It’s a city that is best dug into with a plan—find out what you want to see and do, where that is, and from there begin the idle Parisian wanderings. You might not stumble upon some of Paris’s treasures unless you know where to look, so included in this list of 15 famous must-see attractions in Paris are 5 lesser known locations that should be as famous as the Arc de Triomphe.
20 Eiffel Tower - The Ultimate Icon Of Paris
Of course the Eiffel Tower is the first destination for every visitor, and at 324 meters, you can see it rising over the city from far away. The leading symbol of Parisian romance and culture draws thousands of visitors daily, resulting in long lines to get to the observation deck, but once there, you’re provided with the most stunning view of Paris.
The tower is open at night too, for an alternative, dazzling view of the City of Light. You can also dine at one of the tower’s two restaurants for a charming French experience. Either way, book tickets or reservations early to avoid the lines.
19 The Louvre Museum - Spend 75 Days Looking At Art
The Louvre museum is the world’s largest and most visited art museum, housing a collection of more than 35,000 works.
Across the eight departments of art collections, the Louvre has so many pieces of art that, according to TripAdvisor, if you were to spend 60 seconds looking at every one of them it would take you 75 days to see everything.
The museum was built on a medieval fortress, so in addition to the art, make sure to check out the underground level to see the base of the original building.
18 Avenue des Champs-Élysées - An Entire Avenue Dedicated To Luxury
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is one of the most famous streets in the world, located between the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde. The avenue is named after the Elysian Fields, the heaven of Greek mythology.
Being home to the flagship Louis Vuitton store, it is the place for luxury shopping, and aside from brands you already know, is also lined with smaller, Parisian boutiques. Beyond clothing and accessories, the avenue houses fine cafes, restaurants, and patisseries, so you can dine in luxury in between visiting shops.
17 Notre-Dame Cathedral - No Hunchbacks Here
Made famous by the Victor Hugo novel about hunchbacks and gypsies, Notre-Dame is a hulking Gothic cathedral, one of the greatest demonstrations of the architectural style. It is over 850 years old and an incredibly advanced construction for its time, with some of the best architects working on it. You can see this in its renowned flying buttresses and gargoyles.
Entrance to the cathedral is free, but there is a fee to enter the crypt and the tower. Be careful not to cramp your neck by staring up at the lofty vaulted ceilings and colorful stained-glass windows too long.
16 Sacré-Cœur Basilica - The Second-Highest Point In Paris
Sacré-Cœur Basilica might remind you of the Taj Mahal in India at first glance. Its stark white exterior is visible throughout the city as the second highest point in Paris, just after the Eiffel Tower.
Though it looks much older, it was built in the 19th century to commemorate the Franco-Prussian war and has both religious and socio-political significance.
The basilica is located in the heart of the artsy district of Montmartre, which historically housed the studios of celebrated painters and where modern artists set up easels on the street and search for their creative inspiration.
15 Père Lachaise Cemetery - The Resting Place Of The World's Famous
Though a trip to the cemetery might not be at the top of everyone’s travel itinerary, Père Lachaise is a unique burial ground. The cemetery was established in 1804 as the first garden cemetery, noted for its elaborate tombs, winding paths, and foliage.
Just after its foundation, Père Lachaise wasn’t a very popular place to be buried due to its distance from the city center and conflicts with Catholic beliefs but has since become the final resting place of some of history’s brilliant minds. Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, and Jim Morrison are only a few of the recognizable names buried here.
14 Palace Of Versailles - Historic Parisian Luxury
The Palace of Versailles is probably close to what comes to mind when you think of a palace. It’s got golden walls and crystal chandeliers throughout, and its Hall of Mirrors is known to for its extravagance. The gardens and grounds are equally well modelled, with the cottage built for Marie Antoinette a short walk from the palace.
Its last residents were Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were captured during the Revolution when Versailles was raided. Since then, the palace was repaired and most of its furnishings have been returned.
13 Arc de Triomphe - Dare To Take The Roundabout?
The Arc de Triomphe is the centerpiece to the world’s largest and busiest roundabout. It’s said that car insurance is void while driving on that road, and while this can be partially true, policies differ between companies. The Arc is so hard to access from the road, visitors have to take an underground passageway that ends directly at its base.
The Arc rests at the top of the Champs-Élysées, marking Napoleon’s victories in the Revolution. Since its completion in 1836, it has seen both WWI and WWII, including the occupation of Paris, and has stood as a symbol of triumph at the end of these times.
12 Musée d'Orsay - This Museum Will Make An Impression
France has produced some of the best visual artists in history, and in the 19th century, an artistic movement called Impressionism was born in Paris, marked by an emphasis on light and movement in paintings. These days, the Musée d'Orsay in Paris houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, with works by Monet, Manet, van Gogh, Millet, and Renoir.
The building that holds the museum is a renovated train station from the late 19th century, when Impressionism was at its height of popularity. The building itself is protected as having historical significance, so it’s not just the artwork that people come to see.
11 Les Catacombes - You'd Give An Arm And A Leg (Bone) To Get In Here
The Catacombs of Paris are in a tunnel underneath the city and not for the faint of heart, as they are a series of ossuaries that contain human bones. At their completion in 1810, six million people were interred from other cemeteries and organized so that the walls of the Catacombs were lined with bones—skulls and femurs are stacked to save space.
The Catacombs may seem a bit morbid, but they were a clever way to solve Paris’s problem of overcrowding cemeteries. After a wall caved in the basement of a building next to one of the cities larger cemeteries due to the pressure of the graves, the cemeteries were emptied and led to the creation of the Catacombs.
10 Place de la Concorde - History Squared
At the opposite end of the Champs-Élysées from the Arc you’ll find the Place de la Concorde, a historically and culturally significant city square. It was an important site for the Revolution, when the name was changed from Place Louis XV to Place de la Révolution.
Architecturally, a 3,000-year-old obelisk stands in the square, a gift from the Egyptian government, as well as two elaborate fountains inspired by the Roman technique of incorporating mythology.
9 Disneyland Paris - The Happiest Place In France
Who wouldn’t want to go to Disneyland, with its fairytale castle, in Paris? Disney’s second theme park outside the US is located just outside the city and is celebrating its 25th year in 2018.
It contains many of the same features the parks in the USA have, like the classic ride It’s a Small World, the spinning teacups, as well as exclusively local attractions.
The resort consists of two parks: Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios. The former is modeled after the traditional Disney park layout and the latter is dedicated to Disney movies and their production.
8 Palais Garnier - Take "Note" Of The Paris Opera House
You may know the Palais Garnier by the title “Paris Opera House” or recognize it from The Phantom of the Opera. If you’ve ever seen its Grand Staircase you can easily imagine a king or queen of France ascending the marble stairs.
The Palais Garnier still showcases ballets and operas if you want to step back in time and feel like nobility. Otherwise, it houses the library museum for the Paris Opera which has a regular exhibition of the Opera’s history and is a wonderful look at French music and theater in the past centuries.
7 Centre Pompidou - After A Visit To The Louvre...
While in Paris, you may find you need a break from all the history. If the Louvre is a museum for works of art throughout history, then the Centre Pompidou is for modern art.
The exterior of the building looks more like the headquarters of a tech company than a museum, but it reflects the modernity of its subjects. The center contains the library of public information, the museum of modern art, and a hub for music research.
All the museum's exhibits are modern or post-modern, meaning they are 20th century or later, and some of the major works here are by artists such as Picasso and Warhol.
6 Luxembourg Gardens - A Floral Renaissance
The Luxembourg Gardens are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise busy city. The gardens were commissioned by Queen Marie de Medici in the early 17th century, and as a Medici creation, you can be assured they were and are extravagant and extremely artistic.
Within the space of the gardens are pavilions, fountains, flower beds, ponds, forests, statues, and even bee-keeping hives. The grounds make for a charming wedding or concert but are also perfect for a picnic or a quick stop to relax if you’re in the nearby Latin Quarter.
5 (Hidden Gem) Les Passages Couverts - An Alternative Avenue
Paris has its unique shopping experiences, and while the Champs-Élysées is certainly the most famous locale, there are lots of other shops and shopping centres tucked away from the tourists' line of vision, including Les Passages Couverts, a Parisian way of shopping.
The covered passages are like normal pedestrian streets, except that they are covered by glass roofs. They usually house shops and restaurants, but sometimes galleries, depending on which you go to. One is dedicated to exotic shops, one is for antiques, one has luxury shops—there’s an entire passage for every interest.
4 (Hidden Gem) Canal Saint-Martin - Lovely Canal To The Seine
The neighborhoods around the Canal Saint-Martin are the most stylish areas in Paris. Perfect for young people, the area is bustling with artists, writers, and dreamers frequenting its galleries and coffee shops.
The canal itself is a calm stream of water, with iron footbridges connecting the streets on either side. As popular as evening cruises along the Seine are, you’ll find fewer crowds and more casual locals along Canal St. Martin. And if you’re looking for a quaint, chic place to stay, there are B&Bs dotting the neighborhood and nearby Le Marais.
3 (Hidden Gem) Sainte-Chapelle - The Heart Of Western Worship
Sainte-Chapelle is in all the guidebooks, but still is overlooked in favour of Notre-Dame Cathedral. The 13th century chapel, built in the Palais de la Cité, was built to store relics, most importantly the Crown of Thorns.
In modern days the chapel is celebrated for the impressive architectural feat of its day and its vivid stained-glass windows. There are fifteen total window panels which depict Biblical scenes, and though some were broken during the Revolution, most are the original 800-year-old panels. The chapel is a short walk from its famous neighbor, Notre-Dame, for history fans who want to check out both.
2 (Hidden Gem) Musée Rodin - Carving Out A Memory
Of the hundreds of art museums and galleries in Paris, the Musee Rodin is one of the most significant, though not nearly as famous as many other museums. The museum exclusively exhibits personal works of sculptor Auguste Rodin. Unlike many museums, this has two separate sites, one at Hôtel Biron and the other at Rodin’s home, Villa des Brillants.
The collection houses many of Rodin’s famous sculptures like The Thinker and The Gates of Hell. If you have time, visit the gardens at Hôtel Biron, which are a great opportunity for a quiet break, especially with the gentle splash from the fountain.
1 (Hidden Gem) Les Deux Magots - A Taste Of Literary History
Les Deux Magots is the buried treasure for fans of literature. It’s an unassuming café in the Saint-Germain neighborhood, across from the Café de Flore, another literary hangout. In the early part of the 20th century, writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Pablo Picasso, among dozens of others, were known to get lost in musings here.
The café is one of the oldest in operation in Paris, dating back to the 19th century, and still is known for its good food and coffee. It's an excellent stop if you’re on a 20th century literary tour of Paris!