Top Sixteen Attractions in Paris, France

Top Sixteen Attractions in Paris, France

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Paris is big. I mean big… really big. While many cities have a larger population not many surpass its global dominance in art, fashion, gastronomy, and culture. My most recent European trip to Paris allowed me to spend five days frolicking around this delightful city, yet I still didn’t feel I had enough time to enjoy it all. Having two trips to Paris now under my belt, I can confidently say these are the top sixteen attractions in Paris, France. And yes, I said sixteen. Not many cities will get a top (whatever) list that big either. Enjoy.

1 – Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

One of the most iconic landmarks, the Iron Lady is worth the wait. Even if the wait is past thousands of street venders, through winding lines, and crammed into elevators like herded cattle. Before Dustin was completely converted to European travels he would say, “why go to Europe, to see the Eiffel Tower I can see the same thing in Vegas.” Of course I would counter with, “it’s not the same thing!”, and it isn’t. He came around to my thinking, which you can read more about here.

2 – Notre-Dame Cathedral*

Notre Dame

Standing in the square in front of Notre-Dame you can find point zero, the center of France and the point by which all distances in France are measured. Like many churches constructed in 1163 Notre-Dame, translated as Our Lady, is dedicated to Mary the mother of Jesus. However, the dedication mass wouldn’t occur for nearly two centuries when Our Lady was completed in 1345. The faith of the people mustering the money and energy to continue working on the cathedral, often without pay, is as astonishing as the structure itself.  Especially considering the medieval tools they had to work with.

Taller and filled with light from stained glass windows, the Gothic style encompassed in Notre-Dame is a major improvement over the Romanesque style. The height and windows are possible because of two things. First by crisscrossing pointed arches along the interior, which supports the weight of the roof by pushing it outward. Second, the famous flying buttresses on the outside of the cathedral also support the roof by pushing in against the arches pushing out. Although both of these features are for structural integrity, they are stunning. After walking through the cathedral, head up the 200 feet (60 m) tall bell tower that inspired Victor Hugo’s story of a deformed bell-ringer. The hideous yet functional gargoyles sticking out from pillars and buttresses represent the souls caught between heaven and earth while also serving as rain spouts. Entrance to the cathedral is free; however, climbing the bell tower to enjoy the spectacular views and gargoyles costs 8.50 euros. Nevertheless, if you have the Paris Museum Pass it is included.

Notre Dame Gargoyle

3- Sainte-Chapelle*

Although Notre-Dame is famous for its stained glass rose windows, the small Sainte-Chapelle is the place to see immaculate stained glass. A gem of Gothic style, the chapel was built in 7 years. An impressive feat, considering Notre-Dame took 200 years to complete. The stunning stained glass covers 15 windows all nearly 50ft (15m) tall. Each pane depicts different scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Visitors to the chapel are required to pass through security as the chapel is located in the center of the Palais de Justice, a government building.

Saint Chapel Windows – Photo Credit Christophe Benoist

4 – Seine River

By day or by night, enjoy time along the Seine River. Whether you choose a leisurely stroll along the banks or a romantic dinner cruise I recommend spending some on the Seine. My first evening cruise was magical and I couldn’t wait to take Dustin back to experience it with him.

The Seine River

5 – Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf or “new bridge” is the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris today. It connects the heart of the city Ile de la Cite to the rest of Paris. It was given the name to distinguish it from older bridges lined on both sides with houses. However, this bridge has remained after the others were replaced. All through the 18th century, Pont Neuf was the center of Paris. Alive with crime and commerce, the bridge attracted street performers, hustlers, pick-pockets, tooth pullers, sellers of flesh, and gangs hiding in and around it. Flocking to see the sights, laugh, chat, make love and enjoy life the bridge crowded with people. The central role of this bridge declined as its atmosphere subdued. Today you can stroll across a piece of history on this lovely bridge as you make your way to the heart of Paris.

Pont Neuf

 

6 – Paris Catacombs

I was ecstatic to go to the dark underworld of Paris’ catacombs. As a girl who is obsessed with Halloween and a touch of the macabre, this is right up my alley.

Before the remains of over six million dead were stacked below the streets of Paris, the catacombs began as a limestone quarry. The caves and winding tunnels of the quarry stretch over 186 miles (300 km) beneath Paris, but only a portion is open to the public.

By the end of the 18th century, Paris had a major problem. Cemeteries like Le Innocents were beyond full, and yet people still had the audacity to die. To make more room, Le Innocent exhumed the long-dead and packed their bones into mass graves. However, the dead continued to demand more places to lie which led to shoddy burials, unearthed corpses, and open graves. Naturally, people began complaining of the putrid stench of decomposing flesh. King Louis XV tried to solve the issue with a series of ineffectual decrees limiting burials within the city.

Paris CatacombsIn May of 1780 the situation came to a literal breaking point. A basement wall adjoining Le Innocent collapsed due to the mass grave behind it. Spilling rotting corpses into the neighboring property and forcing Parisian authorities to take action. The idea of moving the dead to the subterranean passageways of the recently renovated quarry gained ground and eventually became law in 1785. A nightly procession of the dead, hauled by wagon through the streets, continued for two years before the overpopulated cemeteries emptied.

Finally offering a place for all of the dead, the Paris catacomb walls are filled with bones. Nevertheless, not all of the tunnels of the old quarry are lined with stacked bones. In 2004 police discovered a fully equipped movie theater, a stocked bar, and restaurant in one of the caverns. In 2015 Airbnb paid 350,000 euros to offer customers the eerie chance to stay overnight in the Catacombs.

Whether you’re ready to spend a night with the dead or not I recommend making this a stop on your Paris trip. Just note that some can find this site disturbing. I do not recommend it for those that are highly claustrophobic as some of the passages are quite narrow. Nevertheless, exploring the dark underworld of Paris is fascinating, slightly creepy, and thoroughly enjoyable.

7 – Orsay Museum*

Orsay

Housed in an old train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair, the Orsay is a museum devoted to arts between 1848-1914. It holds the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works in the world. The idea to house painting, sculptures, furniture, and photography from this era was to bridge the gap from the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art.  It’s rumored that most of the pieces were held in the basement of the Louvre until they found their home in the Orsay.

Given the choice between the Louvre and the Orsay I prefer the Orsay.  The fascinating works of Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir are captivating and the size of the museum is more manageable than the vast Louvre. I suggest going to the Louvre and the Orsay on different days in order to appreciate each museum for what it has to offer.

8 – The Louvre *

The Louvre

Home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Louvre is considered the world’s largest art museum. It houses collections from western middle ages, ancient orient, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Islamic civilizations. In total there are 35,000 works to be discovered, and that’s just currently on display.

The museum’s 800-year-old history began in the late 12th century when Phillip II built a medieval fortress to protect the city from Viking attacks. Due to the ever-expanding city, the fortress lost its defensive function and was converted to the main residence of French nobility in 1546. During the French Revolution, it was decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display France’s masterpieces.

With all the collections on display in the Louvre, I admit that the Mona Lisa is not my favorite. It’s a lot smaller than I realized and you’ll have to throw a few elbows to make your way past the hording crowds to get a good view. It lies behind bulletproof glass to shield the piece from attackers. Including acid and a rock which were thrown at the painting in 1956 before the glass was installed.

Some would argue that the Mona Lisa didn’t acquire her fame until a disgruntled employee stole her from the Louvre. After hiding in a broom closet until close, the thief walked out with it under his coat. The thief Vincenzo Peruggia believed the painting should be returned to an Italian museum to be displayed. Once caught, he served six months in prison for the theft. Shortly after the theft, the painting began being hailed as a masterpiece of the Renaissance. However you feel about the Mona Lisa, you should check out this piece.

I go to the Louvre for the sculptures. My favorite piece is Winged Victory of Samothrace. The statue is a winged female figure which stood on the prow of a ship. I love trying to figure out how the artist was able to carve wet clothing out of stone. Other sculptures of note are Venus de Milo and Cupid’s Kiss.

One thing for sure is that my feet tired long before I explored every inch of the Louvre. Plan on spending at least 2-4 hours at the Louvre. Trust me you won’t run out of things to look at. If you want to avoid crowds, go early in the morning or in the evening.

Winged Victory

9 – Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Located between the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries Garden. Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was built to celebrate the victories of Napoleon and modeled after the famous Roman arches. This arch is richly decorated in rose marble and topped with a group of men on horses with names of battles and treaties of Napoleon. Take a moment to examine the three arches that comprise this monument before entering the Tuileries.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

10 – Tuileries Garden

A public garden separating the Louvre Museum from the Palace de la Concorde gets its name from the tile factories that previously stood here. Originally created by Queen Catherine de Medici as the garden of the Tuileries Palace, for her escape. However, Louis XIV re-landscaped the garden which gives it the current French formal style. The gardens’ two ponds are great for relaxation and soaking up some sunshine, but you’ll have to fight for a coveted sun chair. We stopped here to rest our feet after a morning strolling through the Louvre.

Tuileries Garden

11 – Champs-Elysees

Just over a mile long, the Champs-Elysees is probably the most famous avenue in the world. Running a straight line from the Louvre, through the Tuileries Gardens past the Egyptian Obelisk of Luxor and the Palace Concord it has massive sidewalks lined with leafy trees. Once the meeting place for politicians, it is now a hub for luxury shopping. It’s worth taking a stroll along, regardless if you want to shop.

Egyptian Obelisk of Luxor

12 – Arc de Triomphe*

The Arc de Triomphe stands at the western end of Champs-Elysees in the center of the Palace Charles de Gaulle. Towering 162 feet above Paris, it is one of the most famous monuments. Built in honor for those who fought for France during the Napoleonic Wars, the arch has become a revered patriotic site. Names of generals and their battles are engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch, but I love it for the relief sculptures and beautiful views of the city from the top. However, while I was enjoying the panoramic views, Dustin was trying to figure out the rules of a 20+ lane roundabout as we had to drive through one the next day. He concluded there aren’t any.

Arc de Triomphe

13 – Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge is unmistakably the most famous cabaret show. Glamorous women and athletic men showcase their talents as professional cabaret dancers in bright colorful costumes. Expect that some of the women will be topless, however you will not experience any full nudity. Tickets can range between 110-500 euros. Dustin and I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a show, but we stopped by the theater to snap a few photos of the famous building. In the day, Moulin Rouge souvenirs can be purchased from the store around the corner on Rue Lepic, regardless of show attendance.

Moulin Rouge

14 – Montmartre

Montmartre is a neighborhood in northern Paris. The original inhabitants were forced out of Paris’ prime real estate by Napoleon III so they moved to the outskirts. Establishing their own “town” without the strict rules of the city, the area became popular for less reputable entertainment and drinking.

During the mid to late 1800s the area became home to many artisans including Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Picasso. A throwback to the artisan hey-day is Place du Tertre. A square just a few blocks from the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Place du Tertre will tempt those passing by as today’s artist set up their easels and display their artwork. Wandering around the square, chances are you’ll be asked if you’d like your portrait painted, which can be a fun souvenir.  There are also many cafes and shops around the square offering artwork for reasonable prices. It’s easy to see why this area was, and continues to be, an inspiration to artists.

Monmarte
Photo Credit – Son of Groucho from Scotland

15 – Sacre-Coeur Basilica*

The white dome of this Roman Catholic basilica sits at the highest point in the city in Montmartre. Sacre-Coeur is built of travertine stone quarried in France. Inside you’ll find beautiful stained-glass windows and a mosaic in the apse that is among the largest in the world. Unfortunately, photographs are not permitted inside the basilica. Luckily tourists are permitted to climb the tower to the dome. After a winding climb up 300 steps, the top of the dome offers open air and spectacular panoramic views of Paris.

Sacre Cour

16 – Versailles

A day trip from Paris will take you to this magnificent palace and gardens. Originally a hunting pavilion for Louis XIII, the palace was expanded by Louis XIV and his ever-changing opulent style. For more about how to get there, tickets, and attractions of the palace and gardens click here. If you decide to go, make sure you wear comfortable shoes as you’ll want to investigate the gigantic gardens.

Orangery

 

*Entry ticket or tower access included with the Paris Museum Pass


12 Replies to “Top Sixteen Attractions in Paris, France”

  1. My 7 year old daughter is obsessed with the thought of going to Paris, so that was a cool article to read through. A bunch of stuff for my wife and daughter to checkout while I spend my days at the French Open. Haha. A boy can dream, can’t he? Hahaha!

    1. Your daughter sounds like me when I was a little girl. While I’m sure your wife and daughter would love these on their own, I bet they’d enjoy them even more in your company. You may even enjoy it yourself. My husband was surprised how much he enjoyed France. Thanks for the most excellent comment Bill. 

  2. Wow, these are all great attractions in Paris. Paris is definitely on my bucket list. I was wondering how long it took you to visit all of these places? I mean, how long of a trip do I need to plan for? I have lots of family in Europe, so I can visit family and go to Paris…killing two birds with one stone 🙂 Can I do it all in a week, or is that too ambitious and rushing it too much? If I have just a week, what should I make sure and visit…the must see attractions? Thanks!

    1. Hi there, and thanks for the question. 

      A week would be plenty of time to do everything on this list. We were able to hit it all on a five day trip. If you go to Versailles, plan on that taking up a whole day. Then you can combine things that are close to each other. For example, you should do Saint Chapel and Notre Dame together since they are just a couple blocks away from each other. And though the Louvre and Orsay are relatively close, I would recommend visiting them on separate days since there’s just so much to see, and you might get museumed out trying to do them both. 

      Another thing you can do to maximize your time is to be smart about when to start your activities. For example, we waited over 3 hours to get in to the catacombs. It was totally worth it, but could have been avoided if we got there earlier. That being said, it’s not always easy to drag yourself out of bed early in the morning when you are exhausted from site seeing the day before. 

      So there’s a fine balance to walk; but long story short, a week will give you plenty of time to do this and more. 

  3. Thank you for the great review and suggestions for Paris sightseeing. I have been in about sixty countries also in France five times. But I never visited Paris, and this romantic and historic city is on my wish list top lines. Some of your reviewed places as Eifel tower and The Louvre I guess there are places where you must visit but most of all I like Paris Catacombs. I must admit that I have never heard that it can be visited, I even thought that all this is a fairy tale for kids.

    1. Hi Andrejs. That’s amazing that you’ve been able to see so many countries. I hope you’re able to make it t Paris someday soon. Especially now since you’re aware that you can visit the catacombs. Be sure to tell us about it if you make it there. Thanks for the comment. 

  4. Me and my wife have been palinning to go on an action to Paris since we were dating in high school. This was very exiting for us to read. Once we get the money saved up we will be sure to come back and check out this post once more. I will bookmark it just to be on the safe side.

    1. Hi James Harvey. I hope you guys are able to get to Paris soon.  You should check out this post. It has some really good tips that might help you get there a little bit quicker.

  5. Thank you Kendra! I love this list! As a busy traveler, it really helps me to decide what and where to spend my priceless minutes. I’ve only been to Paris a couple of times, in a hurry on my way to other parts of France on business, so I’ve not been able to do much or dig too deep – Thanks for doing the digging for me!
    Top 16 is impressive, even for in-depth travel guides, and you surely explore each very well – I’m definitely going to do the Catacombs next time I’m in Paris, and I’ll probably add at least two more venues to my list because of your great explanation. Still, I must mention a place in Paris near and dear to my heart that your readers should know about: Marché aux Puces St.-Ouen de Clignancourt, the orgininal and world champ among flea markets! I’m not generally a big shopper, but the Marché aux Puces is more than shopping, it is a window into the soul of Parisians now and in the past. I’m convinced shopping the Marché aux Puces, like riding the Metro, is a French culture experience every Paris visitor should have, if they wish to understand just who these Parisians actually are.
    Thanks for your exceptional article – please do many more!

    1. Thank you for the kind words Steve.

      I will have to add the Marche aux Puces to my itinerary on my next trip to Paris. I’m not a big shopper either, but I love anything that gives me a chance to immerse myself in the culture. Thank you for the recommendation. I’m excited to check it out.

      I hope one day you’ll be able to slow it down and spend more time once you’re there. Hopefully your work has taken you to other cool areas of France. We loved the French Alps area. If you’re ever able to spend some time in Annecy, it’s one of our favorite European cities.

  6. The catacombs were far and away the most interesting thing I saw in all of Paris, if I ever make it back I’ll definitely be visiting again. They have a creepy vibe, but gosh is it interesting to go down there and just see the rows and rows and stacks and stacks of bones! Who ever would have thought something like that would be preserved so well?

    The Moulin Rouge was another huge win. I thought it might be kind of trashy when my wife and I went, but it turned out to be really cool and I would absolutely love to return.

    Thanks so much for the great run down of spots, I’ll have to make it out to Versaille next time per your recommendation!

    1. I loved the catacombs. I’m a big fan of all things Halloween, so it was right up my alley.

      We stopped by the Moulin Rouge, but we didn’t go to any shows because we had the same thought. Did you actually go to a show? If so, I’d be curious what it was like.

      Thanks for the comment.

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