Paris is constantly in the top ten in world rankings of the most visited cities every year. Different outlets (Forbes, Business Insider, the World Economic Forum) all use slightly different data to determine which city is the most visited, and of course, the list changes a bit from year to year. But Paris is always in the top ten and occasionally tops the list. All of this is to say that a lot of people go to Paris. And just about all of those people go see the Eiffel Tower. It makes sense, though. The Eiffel Tower is Paris’ most iconic landmark. But the Eiffel Tower is only one of dozens of reasons to visit Paris.
If you’ve never been to Paris, you could be forgiven for being slightly cynical about it. Countless Hollywood movies romanticize the city to such a degree that to visit Paris might seem corny or schmaltzy. Not to mention, the city is always packed with tourists to such a degree that locals have a (only partially fair) reputation for resenting tourists. Many tourists go to Paris expecting it to be exactly like what they see in the movies, as though Paris hasn’t changed since the Fin du Siecle. In fact, there is even a psychological condition–the aptly-named “Paris Syndrome”–in which the dissonance between the reality of modern-day Paris and what tourists (almost all of them Japanese, for some reason) expect is so great that it triggers an emotional breakdown. But don’t let that happen to you. Do some research first. And you can start with this article.
20 The Louvre
While Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world. And it’s easy to see why. The Louvre is also the largest art museum in the world. From a large stone tablet proclaiming Hammurabi’s Code to the Venus de Milo, the Louvre has artifacts and art from prehistory to the 21st century. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the Louvre is the Louvre itself. This former fortress cum palace is an awesome edifice and has been impressively redesigned into a museum. From old fortress walls, to a moat, to the exquisite fountains and architect I.M. Pei’s iconic glass pyramid outside, everywhere you turn, you see something Instagram-worthy.
However, there’s one room you can skip: the one with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It will take you 20 minutes of standing behind tourists with their mobile phones and tablets snapping photos of the underwhelming painting just to get up close to it. It’s really not worth your time.
19 Cimetière Du Père-Lachaise
When you have a city that’s as steeped in history as Paris, one of the top attractions will invariably be a cemetery. Morbid, yes, but a well-landscaped and manicured cemetery is really no different than a beautiful park with some gravestones in it. And those gravestones convey a lot of history that is rarely present in city parks. And apart from the fact that many of the mausoleums and headstones in Pere Lachaise are ornate and beautiful, they also serve as tangible reminders of past greats.
And Pere Lachaise has a vast array of past greats who have found their final resting place there—heavy hitters such as Honoré de Balzac, Frederic Chopin, Maria Callas, Eugene Delacroix, Edith Piaf, Georges Bizet, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison. That’s why Père Lachaise serves both as a great place to unwind and rest for an hour or two as well as remind you of the finite nature of existence, encouraging you get back out there and seize the day.
18 Montmartre / Sacré Coeur
Montmartre is a 130-meter (430-foot) tall hill in the 18th arrondissement. The hill also gives its name to the surrounding district of the most famed neighborhoods of Paris. It’s most associated with its great arts scene that experienced its zenith during the Belle Epoque. Famed artists who lived there include Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne Valadon, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent van Gogh.
Montmartre is also famous for Sacré Coeur Basilica, a 100-plus-year-old minor basilica built atop the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in all of Paris. As such, Sacré Coeur offers beautiful scenes both inside and looking out. It was built as a national penance following the Franco-Prussian War and the socialist Paris Commune of 1871, an attempt to reestablish conservative Catholic values in Paris’ most countercultural neighborhood. Judging by the crowds of people who sit outside Sacré-Coeur at night, I’m not sure it worked. But it’s very pretty.
17 Pigalle / Moulin Rouge
It might seem counterintuitive, but Quartier Pigalle is just southwest of Sacré Coeur. Why is that counterintuitive? Because Pigalle was historically Paris’ red light district. And that makes sense, considering all the artists who used to (and still do) live in the Montmartre area. Artists tend live hand in hand with bohemian lifestyles and bawdiness. There are still several reminders of that, such as a variety of shops selling toys and paraphernalia, theaters with s*x shows, as well as the world-famous Moulin Rouge. Nearly a century removed from its heyday, the Moulin Rouge still plays host to cabaret shows to this day. So, feel free to pop in for some titillating entertainment and a slice of history. And once your show is over, you can visit any of the number clubs or bars in and around Pigalle to enjoy some memorable Parisian nightlife.
16 Jardin Des Tuileries / Musée De l’Orangerie
This is a public garden that was once the grounds of a palace. Tuileries Palace was the usual home of most French monarchs from Henry IV to Napoleon III. The palace was burned down during the aforementioned Paris Commune of 1871. But the grounds of the former palace remain as a public park for all Parisians and locals alike to relax in and stroll through. Tuileries is located between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde.
On the grounds of Tuileries, there is another museum, the Musée de l’Orangerie. This art gallery specializes in impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. The gallery is home to works by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, and Claude Monet, including eight of his Water Lilies murals.
15 Palais Garnier - Opéra National De Paris
The Palais Garnier is the home of the Paris Opera. It is a 1,900-seater opera house that was designed by Charles Garnier and constructed from 1861 to 1875. It is a massive and beautiful structure replete with marble, gilded bronze, and lots of intricate stonework. It is one of (if not the) most iconic opera house in the world. It rose to further fame as a result of it being used as the setting in Gaston Theroux’s 1910 novel, The Phantom of the Opera, as well as Andrew Lloyd Weber’s famous 1986 musical adaptation of the same name.
If you’re a fan of opera, look at the schedule and see if you can get tickets for a performance. If not, you can still visit the Opera Garnier for a tour and can also see the Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum).
14 Notre-Dame De Paris
While you’re unlikely to see any hunchbacks there (and if you do, please don’t stare) Notre-Dame is still a sight to behold. The medieval Catholic cathedral is a testament to the importance that religion had to Europe in the Middle Ages. Construction began on Notre-Dame way back 1163 and wasn’t completed until 1345. It was one of the first buildings in the world to use a flying buttress. Everything about Notre Dame is impressive—the massive amount of stone used, the stained glass windows, the statue of Charlemagne out front, and the gargoyles, as well as the chimera, “Le Stryge.” Looking at Notre-Dame, we’re reminded that though Medieval Europe was nowhere near the world’s most advanced culture, they weren’t a bunch of bumbling buffoons. They had a great deal of knowledge and nous when it came to things that mattered to them (i.e. Christianity).
Notre Dame sits on the Île de la Cité in the Seine. For the Catholic faithful, you can go in and make a donation and light a votive candle. If you’re not Catholic, you’re still more than welcome to come inside and have a look around, but please don’t disrupt mass.
13 Les Invalides
The Hôtel national des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids) is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement. Built in the from 1671 to 1678, it consists of a number of museums and monuments, all connected to military history. There is also a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, which was the building's original purpose. Included on the grounds are the Musée de l'Armée, which is the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, which is a museum of military models, and the Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine, a museum of contemporary history.
The most striking feature of Les Invalides is the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the tombs of some of France's most noteworthy military figures, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte. Invalide was designed by architects Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Libéeral Bruant. The North front of Les Invalides is characterized by Hardouin-Mansart’s chapel dome above Libéral Bruant's pedimented central block.
12 Musée d’Orsay
While the Louvre is the most famed and impressive-looking of Paris’ many museums, the Musee d’Orsay arguably has the most impressive art collection. Just across the Seine from its older brother (the Louvre), the Musée d’Orsay itself is one of the largest art museums in Europe. It opened in 1986 in former Beaux-Arts railway station that was built between 1898 and 1900. Thus, like many museums in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay itself is one of its most interesting works of art.
The Musée d’Orsay houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the entire world. Artists whose work is displayed there include Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent Van Gogh. It is the tenth most visited museum in the world and, at the time of writing, is ranked as the number one attraction in all of Paris on TripAdvisor.
11 Football - Parc Des Princes, Stade De France
Paris has long been a city of art, culture, night life, sidewalk patios, boulangeries, cafes, bars, and restaurants. It, historically, is not a football (soccer) town. But that is beginning to change. Paris is home to the top (and richest) football club in the country, Paris St. Germain. PSG play at the famed Parc des Princes in 16th arrondissement. It’s always a fun atmosphere there, even if you don’t like football. And if you don’t like PSG (as many French fans don’t), feel to free to cheer for the visiting team. Just be civil about it.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Paris during an international week of football, watching the French National team play at their home of the Stade de France is a real treat. So take a trek up to Saint-Denis, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, and watch “Les Bleus” show why they’re one of the best teams in international football today.
10 The Bridges - Pont Des Arts, Pont Neuf, Pont Alexandre III
Geographically speaking, the dominant feature of Paris is the Seine river. Some of the most impressive sites in Paris are the bridges that cross the Seine. The Pont des Arts is a steel pedestrian bridge and is instantly recognizable by its design as well as the massive amount of “love locks” stuck on its railings. Incidentally, please don’t commemorate your romantic relationship by sticking a dumb padlock on the Pont des Arts or any other bridge. Just take a photo together.
Just upstream of the Pont des Arts is the Pont Neuf, an extremely important building in the development of Paris replete with a great statue of Henry IV. The Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge in Paris and it connects the western portion of the Île de la Cité to both banks of the Seine. Then there’s the Pont Alexandre III, a Beaux-Arts-style bridge built between 1896 and 1900. Near the Champs-Élysées and the EIffel Tower, the Pont Alexandre III, with its Art Nouveau lamps and statues of cherubs, nymphs, and winged horses at either end, is probably Paris’ most extravagant bridge.
9 The Palace Of Versailles
While not technically in Paris, you can easily drive, take a tour bus, or take public transit and be in Versailles in about an hour from central Paris. And while in the suburb of Versailles, you can visit the truly opulent Château de Versailles. Originally built to house France’s longest reigning monarch, Louis XIV (the Sun King), the Palace of Versailles is a testament to the elegance and decadence of the Ancien Regime and the baroque period France.
Louis XIV moved the royal court to Versailles in 1672. Now a museum, the Palace of Versailles commemorates an age before the French Revolution where the rich reveled in their excessive wealth. Today in Republican France, Versailles houses no royals but is open to any and everybody willing to pay the admission price (free for some ages) to go inside and visit.
Sharing the Île de la Cité with Notre-Dame is the Palais de la Cité which, in various different physical configurations, was once the residence of the Kings of France, the headquarters of the French Treasury, the French judicial system, the Parlement of Paris, and the Revolutionary Tribunal. Much of the modern-day site is now occupied by buildings form the 19th century Palais de Justice. But a few vestiges from its older incarnations remain, including the Conciergerie and most importantly, the Sainte-Chapelle.
Consecrated way back in 1248, the Sainte-Chapelle is perhaps the pinnacle of Gothic architecture. The Sainte-Chapelle was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of religious relics, including the purported Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus Christ (which is now housed in Notre-Dame). The Sainte-Chapelle has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections anywhere in the world.
7 Centre Georges Pompidou
Much like how arguably the greatest work of art in the Louvre is the Louvre itself, the structure that is the Centre Georges Pompidou is really impressive, but in an entirely different way. Designed in the high-tech architectural style by the team of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, along with Gianfranco Franchini, the Pompidou Center was built from 1971-1978. Proving that not all of Paris’ attractions are at least 100 years old, the Pompidou Center is instantly recognizable and just really cool. What’s also impressive is the view that Centre Pompidou gives its visitors, rivaled only by the Eiffel Tower itself.
Located in the 4th arrondissement, The Pompidou Center is named after Georges Pompidou, the President of France who commissioned it. The Pompidou Center is home to the Musée National d'Art Moderne, the national museum for modern art in France. With more than 100,000 works of art by 6,400 artists from 90 countries, it possesses the second largest collection of modern and contemporary art in the entire world, after the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
6 Jardin Du Luxembourg
Much like Tuileries, the Luxembourg Gardens were once the grounds of a French palace, the Palais du Luxembourg. The Palace was built between 1615-1645 for Marie de’ Medici, the widow of Henry IV and mother of Louis XIII. However, unlike in Tuileries, the Palais du Luxembourg still stands. Obviously, it is no longer used as a palace since there is no longer any French monarchy, but neither has it been converted into a museum. The Palais du Luxembourg is actually the seat of the French Senate.
But more of a draw than the palace are the gardens themselves. The grounds span 23 hectares and are famous for their beautiful lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin, and a picturesque Medici Fountain that was built in 1620. The Luxembourg Gardens are perfect for a lovely stroll, a picnic, or reenacting scenes from Les Misérables.
5 Le Marais
“Le Marais” translates to “the marsh” in English. Not exactly enticing. But a beautiful and historically significant district has risen up from what were apparently soggy beginnings. Spreading across parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements on the Right Bank of the Seine, Le Marais was a long-time home to the aristocrats of Paris. During and after the French Revolution, the aristocrats (the ones who were still alive) had largely left Le Marais and the district began to change. Many Jewish people migrated to the area and the district now has a strong Jewish community. In more recent times, Le Marais has been a hub for LGBT culture.
Notable buildings in Le Marais include the National Archives, several historic churches, the Hôtel d'Angoulême Lamoignon (housing the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris), the Hôtel de Sens, the Hôtel de Sully, the home of Victor Hugo, the Memorial of the Unknown Jewish Martyr, the Musée Picasso, the historic Jewish quarter (Pletzl), and the Temple du Marais.
4 The Place De La Bastille
The Bastille was an infamous fortress in Paris that became known for holding political prisoners. It was stormed by the masses in 1789 and destroyed, thus kickstarting the French Revolution. There are still a few ruins of the Bastille lying around today on Boulevard Henri IV. There is a lovely understated monument in the middle of the square, the July Column, that actually commemorates the Revolution of 1830. Atop the long column stands a gilded figure, Auguste Dumont's Génie de la Liberté (the "Spirit of Freedom").
The area surrounding the Place de Bastille is very fun as well. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs. You can spend a long eventful night there if you want. Word to the wise, though. Many of the places adjacent to the Place de Bastille can be quite expensive. Moving a few blocks away will get more bang for your buck, or euro, rather.
3 Musée Rodin
The Musée Rodin is a museum located in the building in which celebrated French sculptor Auguste Rodin once worked and stored his pieces. Opened in 1919, the museum exhibits many of Rodin’s most famous and largest sculptures, including The Thinker and The Kiss. Unless you really love Rodin, you can’t say that the Musée Rodin is the greatest museum in Paris. And though the building, the Hôtel Biron, is old and lovely, you can’t say the building is the most impressive edifice either.
However, the Musée Rodin is perhaps the most pleasant museum in all of Paris. It has a beautiful courtyard in which many of Rodin’s larger sculptures are kept. On a sunny day, that courtyard can be a lovely pleasant escape from the hustle and the bustle of Paris. There is a lovely garden, some nice trees, and of course, the artwork of the great Rodin. It’s got nature, it’s got art, it’s got peace and quiet. What more could you want?
2 Arc De Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile is an impressive structure. Standing at 50 meters (164 ft) tall, 45 meters (148 ft) wide, and with a depth of 22 meters (72 ft), it was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon Bonaparte after his victory at Austerlitz, but was not completed due to both technical and political reasons until 1836. Under the vault of the arch is a the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI. You can look at the ornate carvings in the stone and even climb up inside the Arc. But what’s also impressive about the Arc is everything around it.
The Arc is situated in the middle of a juncture of 12 avenues that all radiate out from the arch, making it feel like the center of all of Paris. It sits on the Axe Historic, a long perspective that runs from the Louvre to the Arche de la Défense, along the famed Champs-Élysées.
1 The Catacombs
So much of Paris is beauty that you could be forgiven if you become somewhat inured to it if you stay there for a length of time. The Catacombs, however, buck this trend. They are not beautiful, at least not in the traditional sense. But they are definitely cool.
The Catacombs are a series of underground ossuaries that are home to the remains of more than six million people! Bones and skulls as far as the eye can see. The former limestone mines were converted to ossuaries to relieve Paris’ overflowing cemeteries. Work began in 1774 and the Catacombs were eventually officially established in 1810. The Catacombs are an important slice of Paris’ history, which is a fun macabre excursion, as well as a memento mori. You won’t be around forever, and you certainly won’t be in Paris forever, so do your best to enjoy the time you have.