There is so much to see and do in France’s capital that it’s hard to decide on a selection. In our opinion, these are the 30 best attractions in the City of Light.
1. Eiffel Tower
The 300-meter-high structure that symbolizes Paris was built by the builder and engineer Gustave Eiffiel to surprise the world during the Universal Exhibition of 1889, held in the city. It is the monument that tourists in the world are most willing to pay to visit, with nearly 20,000 visitors a day. If you don’t take a photo of Paris from a prominent place on the tower, it’s almost like you haven’t been to the city.
Although they were institutions facing death, the most important museum in France is the product of the efforts of the royal house first and the French Revolution later. Kings amassed impressive art collections to adorn their palaces and the Revolution opened the Louvre in 1793 as an artistic space for the people. Private collectors also collaborated, many unwittingly. It would be endless to list its treasures. La Gioconda, La Bella Jardinera, La Venus de Milo, The Code of Hammurabi, not to mention the controversial pyramid at the entrance, which irritates so many Parisians.
3. Notre Dame Cathedral
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris is the oldest surviving grand Gothic building, although it still shows influences from the Norman Romanesque style. Its construction on the Ile de la Cité was carried out between 1163 and 1345. The main façade, with two towers and three portals, is monumental, and its interior stands out for its clarity thanks to the enormous and beautiful stained glass windows. According to tradition, the treasure contains nails from the Crucifixion of Jesus, as well as fragments of the Cross and the Crown of Thorns. The organ is another of his artistic jewels.
4. Arc de Triomphe
It was the most representative monument in Paris for more than 50 years, until at the end of the 19th century it had to cede the privilege to the Eiffel Tower. Its construction on the Champs Elysées was ordered by Napoleon to symbolize the triumph of the French empire in the Battle of Austerlitz. Each of its 4 pillars has a statue attached to it, El Triunfo , La Resistencia , La Paz and La Marsellesa . The names of notable revolutionaries and the 558 generals of the empire are engraved on the outer and inner faces.
5. Avenue des Champs Elysées
This avenue of almost two kilometers, the most important in Paris, joins the Place de la Concorde with the Arc de Triomphe. The Elysian Fields were the paradise of the virtuous dead in Greek mythology. Along the wide and beautiful tree-lined avenue on both sides, there are exclusive shops and beautiful public buildings. It is the finishing point of the last stage of the Tour de France, the most important cycling tour in the world.
The construction of this neoclassical building began in 1764, with the intention of consecrating it to the cult of Saint Genevieve, patron saint of Paris; but the works were delayed and it was finished in 1790, in full effervescence of the French Revolution. The revolutionaries did not agree that it was a temple and decided to turn it into a pantheon of notable dead. There rest the remains, among other illustrious, of Rousseau, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie (first woman to enter) and Louis Braille. In 2002 Alejandro Dumas entered.
7. National Palace of the Invalids
It was opened in 1674 to serve as a shelter for disabled and homeless soldiers. The church was completed in 1706. The building is topped by a beautiful golden dome and became Napoleon Bonaparte’s mausoleum when the remains of the Grand Corsican were repatriated in 1840. Napoleon’s imposing sarcophagus stands in the middle of a circular room, around to which his military exploits are outlined.
8. Basilica of the Sacred Heart
This temple stands out at the top of the Montmartre hill. It is said that the Second French Empire, which lasted between 1852 and 1870, was very impious and this church was conceived in 1873 as reparation to God. It was finished in 1914 but the war came and its consecration was delayed until 1919. It is a successful architectural combination of Roman and Byzantine styles.
9. Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres
This Benedictine abbey was built in the 6th century, during the Merovingian era, being the oldest religious building in Paris. According to tradition, the Frankish King Childebert I besieged the Spanish city of Zaragoza, whose inhabitants had asked San Vicente Mártir for protection. When the king lifted the siege, he received as a thank you gift a tunic that had belonged to the Spanish saint. Upon his return to Paris, the monarch had the abbey built to honor the saint and his relic. The French philosopher and scientist René Descartes is buried in its enclosure.
10. Grand Palace of Paris
The Grand Palais was built on the Champs-Elysées as the main venue for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. It is a monumental work in the style fashionable in France at the end of the 19th century, that of the School of Fine Arts in Paris. He was a pioneer in the use of glass roofs and exposed steel and iron. It has two very striking sculptural groups in chariot format, by the Parisian artist Georges Récipon, Immortality advancing Time and Harmony Triumphant over Discord .
11. Petit Palais Museum
It is located opposite the Grand Palais, on Avenida Winston Churchill. Like its older brother, the Petit Palais was built for Expo 1900. Designer Charles Girault was prolific in his use of large windows and glass domes to maximize natural lighting. It currently shows artistic collections from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the great French painters of Romanticism and Realism in the 19th century (Delacroix, Ingres and Courbet).
12. National Museum of Natural History of France
Its starting point in the 17th century was the Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants. At that time, the main healing resource of doctors was plants and the king’s family doctor was also the head of the garden and “pharmacy”. Currently, the institution is both a museum and a training and research center in natural history.
13. Musée d’Orsay
It is an art gallery that exhibits works made between 1848 and the beginning of the First World War. Most of its collection is of Impressionist art, a current that Claude Monet inaugurated in Paris in 1874. It has been operating since the 1980s in the old Orsay railway station, built for the 1900 Expo and rebuilt as an art space. It exhibits works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir and other great masters.
14. Palais Garnier
The former palace of the Paris Opera is the emblematic work of the great French architect of the 19th century, Charles Garnier. It is neo-baroque in style and was one of the most important buildings in the renovation of Paris led by Baron Haussmann commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III.
The hill of Montmartre, located on the right bank of the Seine with the Church of the Sacred Heart on top, is linked to various events in the city of Paris. It was the scene of some battles in the war between France and Prussia between 1870 and 1871. Important clashes were experienced during the insurrection of the Paris Commune. It was also the cradle of the Impressionist movement, the current that revolutionized universal art from 1874. Another place of interest in the neighborhood is the church of Saint Pierre, dating from the 12th century.
16. Latin Quarter
This central neighborhood of Paris was named for hosting the main universities and colleges, whose students and professors spoke in Latin, the language of education in the past. It houses the Sorbonne, the prestigious French university of letters and humanities. Other attractive buildings in the Latin Quarter are the Luxembourg Palace, seat of the Senate of the Republic of France; the Pantheon, the National Museum of the Middle Ages and the Odeon Theatre.
17. Ile Saint-Louis
Saint-Louis is one of the three large islands that form the Seine as it passes through Paris. It bears the name of the French king sanctified after commanding the Seventh Crusade. It is connected to the rest of the city by several bridges, among which the Tournelle and Luis Felipe bridges stand out for their decorative elements. It is a good place to relax from the hustle and bustle of the city as it is mainly a residential area, with one-way streets, small cafes and restaurants.
18. Ile de la Cite
It is considered the point of origin of Paris and is the island of the most visited city since the Cathedral of Notre Dame is located there. Other places of interest include the Holy Chapel, a dazzling jewel of Gothic art, and La Conciergerie, first a royal palace and then a famous prison, serving as ‘death row’ during the Age of Terror.
19. Alexander III Bridge
It is on the Seine joining the Les Invalides area with the Grand and Petit Palais area. This emblem of the Belle Epoque in the style of the Paris School of Fine Arts is, at 160 meters, one of the longest bridges in Paris. It pioneered the use of prefabricated components and is richly decorated with garlands and suspended marine flora. It was named after the Tsar who died in 1894, in response to the Franco-Russian alliance, and Tsar Nicholas II, son of Alexander III, laid the foundation stone in 1896.
20. Great Fraternity Arch
Among so many pre-19th century Parisian monuments, the Great Arch of Fraternity, also called the Arch of Defense, stands out as a unique work of contemporary art. It was the product of an international competition in 1982 in which 424 architects participated, the winner being the unknown Danish Otto von Spreckelsen. Its exterior faces are covered by 2,800 glass panels and inside there is a computer science museum and an exhibition center. It was inaugurated in 1989, during the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
21. Boulogne Forest
It is an old forest already mentioned in the eighth century in ancient documents, which was converted into a city park in the mid-nineteenth century. The place was repopulated with oaks, beeches and other trees; grassy spaces were developed, two lakes connected by a waterfall were excavated, and several kilometers of paths were opened. It was the favorite place for the bourgeoisie and aristocracy of the city to go horseback riding during the Belle Epoque. On its grounds is the Longchamp Racecourse.
22. Forest of Vincennes
It is located to the East of Paris and with its almost one thousand hectares it is the largest green space in the city. It was originally a royal hunting ground that included the Palais de Vincennes, built by order of Louis VII in the mid-12th century. It was another forest set up as a park during the reign of Napoleon III in the 19th century. In its area there are also the Paris Zoo, a tropical garden, the fort and the lake of Gravelle and the Vincennes Racecourse.
23. Tuileries Garden
It was the garden of the Tuileries Palace, the royal residence, and Catherine de Médicis herself was involved in its design. The palace went up in flames in 1871 in a fire set by the Communards amid the final chaos of the Paris Commune, but the garden managed to survive. It is situated between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, with the Seine on one side.
24. Luxembourg Gardens
They are the private gardens of the Luxembourg Palace, seat of the French Senate, although they are open to the public. It is said that the palace administrators do not buy flowers, as they cut them in their own gardens. It was planted at the initiative of the queen regent, Marie de’ Medici, and has a beautiful collection of tree species in pots. Children are delighted by the wide variety of children’s entertainment, including pony rides and donkey rides.
25. Paris Plant Garden
The main attractions of this almost 24-hectare botanical garden are the rose garden, with 170 varieties of European roses; the winter garden, an Art Deco style greenhouse, with palm trees and ficus; and the Mexican greenhouse, with cacti, coffee trees, avocados and other American and African species. It also has a zoo with more than 1,000 animals, including endangered species such as the Prjevalski horse.
26. A walk along the banks of the Seine
If you are in Paris with pleasant company, a walk along the banks of the Seine at sunset or on a summer night is an incomparable experience. Walking leisurely, visiting stalls selling old books and other curiosities, and then sitting down in a nearby cafe to eat a baguette with Camembert cheese, accompanied by a good red wine from the country. What simple pleasures!
27. Disneyland Paris
This American-style entertainment complex, the first of the Disney companies in Europe, opened its doors in 1992, in the midst of great controversy, because many French personalities believed that it was contrary to the country’s culture. It has theme parks, hotels and a golf course. It’s like being in Paris and going to Orlando in a few minutes. It changed its name to Eurodisney for marketing reasons.
28. Parc Asterix
The French school of comics is one of the three largest in the world, along with the Japanese and the American, and Asterix is one of the icons of comics in France. The Astérix theme park is 35 kilometers from Paris, in the commune of Plailly. The more traditional French see it as an authentic product, as opposed to the foreign Eurodisney. The 33-hectare park is divided into sections dealing with each part of the Asterix universe.
29. To the table!
French gastronomy is the most refined in the world, being an example for the culinary art of all nations. Their meats, poultry, hams, pâtés and cheeses are incomparable. They are also masters in the preparation of fish and not to mention their wines and other drinks. In Paris you have thousands of culinary options. We can recommend an onion soup or some snails (escargots), with a duck or an orange chicken, but whatever you choose will be exquisite.
30. Cabaret Night!
The cabaret is a French product, although at first it designated a tavern and not the current nightclub of varied entertainment. One of its main Parisian symbols is the Moulin Rouge, opened in 1889 in Montmartre. Other options are the Lido, the Crazy Horse and the Belle Epoque. In all there is music, dance, illusionism, humor and champagne at 100 euros a bottle! But they are worth it.
Were you dazzled by the City of Light? And what you need to know!