One of the most beautiful cities in the planet, Paris has a way of attracting people from far and wide. Sitting on the banks of the Seine River with all its elegance, beauty and charming ambiance, this city is abundant with world famous and impressive monuments like the Notre-Dame, Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysées Boulevard. In addition to these attractions, the charm of Paris is further magnifies by the old-time cobblestone streets, Belle Epoque brasseries, avant-garde art galleries and exquisite tea salons. With so much to see and do in Paris, it’s difficult to narrow it down to the essentials. However, here is a list of some of the must see unforgettable attractions in Paris:
An opulent palace that was once occupied the royal family of France, the Louvre is now the world’s largest and greatest museum of fine arts and the ultimate traveler’s paradise. The Museum houses more than 30,000 works of art, from those of historic time to medieval art and European paintings of the 15th to 19th centuries. The three most popular pieces of art displayed here are the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory. Surrounding the Louvre on one side is the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries, one of the largest and stunning parks in Paris.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Situated at the heart of Paris, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame is the perfect place to jump-start your tour in Paris. Although the cathedral was first created in Early Gothic style, later additions show the shift to High Gothic style. The decorative design of the facade, with its richness of sculptures, flying buttresses, and gargoyles are bound to attract the tourists without any doubt. As you reach the interior, you will be amazed by the magnificent stained-glass windows, especially the rose window in the north transept. Notre-Dame may not be the oldest or largest cathedral in France, but when it comes to beauty and architecture, only a few structures can stand up to its grandeur.
Second to the Tuileries, the Luxembourg Gardens are the best known park in Paris. An important feature of the park is the large pond in the shape of an octagon with a fountain, flanked by two statue- lined terraces. The pond is popular with small children who use it to race their miniature sail boats. Bordered by Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg gardens are popular with the Parisians, who come here to relax on the lawn chair or enjoy an impromptu picnic.
Sacré-Coeur and Quartier Montmartre
One of the most spectacular attractions in Paris is the Basilique Sacré-Coeur, which watches over Paris from its highest point at Montmarte. The church was created as a symbol of hope and self confidence after the Franco-Prussian War. The interior of the Basilica features a spectacular mosaic of Christ with a flaming heart, which creates a spiritual and emotional aura for the place. Visitors can admire the lovely views of Paris from the terrace or climb the tower for an even higher view. While visiting the Sacré-Coeur, make sure to explore Montmartre, which was once a medieval village in the country. With its cobblestone streets, charming squares, and excellent art museums Montmartre is indeed a place worth visiting.
The Panthéon, which was originally built as a church, is the national memorial and burial place of the great men of France. A neoclassical church in the Latin quarter, with a façade modeled on the Pantheon in Rome, this monumental building set the standard for the creation of other magnificent structures such as the Madeleine, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Bourse. Among those buried in the Panthéon are Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Marie Curie and René Descartes.
The Place vendome, originally known as the Place Louis le Grand is an elegant square laid out by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, one of the leading architects of the “Grand Siècle”. Although the royal academies, the Royal Library, the Mint, and a hotel for foreign envoys were all planned to be installed in the square, due to financial difficulties the buildings had to be sold to nobles and wealthy citizens. The square is also popular for its upscale jewelry shops including Chanel, Boucheron, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. At the center of the square, there is the Colonne de la Grande Armée, a 44-meter high bronze column that remembers the glorious works of the French army.
The Centre Pompidou, located between the Halles district and the Marais in Paris is a famous cultural and art center, featuring impressive modern architecture. The architectural finesse of elevators and staircases are found on the exterior, often describing it as an “inside out” design. Ever since it opened in 1977, the Centre Pompidou has been amazing visitors, with its outstanding collection of modern art and also its revolutionary architectural style. The arts centre hosts an irresistible mix of galleries, exhibitions, dance performances, workshops, cinemas and other entertainment activities.
The majestic building of Palais-Royal, situated opposite the Louvre Museum is another superb example of royal architecture. Originally created as a Cardinal’s Palace during the reign of King Louis XIII, the Palais-Royal later became a royal place and was a center of power for four centuries. The building has a beautiful central courtyard illustrating the amazing classical French architecture. The interior of the courtyard features a unique installation of small striped columns of different heights, that generates surprise and curiosity in the minds of travelers.
It is in this square that the infamous state prison known as the Bastille once stood. It was stormed by a crowd on July 14, 1789 and the prison was completely demolished afterwards. The 51 meter high Colonne de Juillet, adorning by a graceful gilded figure of Liberty at the top can be seen in the center of Place de la Bastille. The monument was erected to memorialize the July Revolution of 1830 that brought Louis-Philippe to power after overthrowing King Charles X. The free people of France are symbolized by four Gallic cocks and a lion relief on the base of the column. The new Opera House that was officially opened by President Mitterrand on July 13, 1989 now sits on the site of the Bastille prison.
Grand Arche of La Défense
A complex of multistorey buildings that were developed since the mid 1960s can be seen in the western part of Paris at the end of Avenue Charles-de-Gaulle. The quarter, which is named La Défense recalls the strong resistance offered by the French forces in this region during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. The Grande Arche, designed by Johan Otto von Spreckelsen is a 110-meter-high rectangular triumphal arch that features white Carrara marble. Inaugurated in 1989, the monument is considered a present-day symbol of fraternity.
If you wish to discover the popular Paris cafés, the Boulevard Saint-Germain in the 6th arrondissement is the best place to start. This boulevard lined by trees has quite a good number of reputable cafés, upscale shops and classic restaurants. The most popular are the Café de Flore in 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, and the Café des Deux Magots in 6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Both cafés, offer a wonderful classic Parisian café experience to its customers.
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
What was once a desolate field of marshland was landscaped by Le Nôtre the 16th century to create the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the most monumental boulevard in Paris. It is divided into two parts with the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées as its intersection. The lower part of the Champs-Elysées that borders the Place du Concorde, has a large park, the Jardin des Champs-Élysées, and the Petit Palais fine arts museum, while the upper part has numerous hotels, cafés, restaurants, luxury shops, cinemas, and theaters. This is a popular gathering area for Parisians and attracts many tourists as well.
If you want to get a summary of Impressionist art history in Paris, the Orsay Museum is the best place. This museum, housed in huge space, which was once the Belle Epoque-era Gare d’Orsay railway station is one of top attractions in Paris. The museum has a large collection of impressionist art representing the work of all the masters of Impressionism. Some of the most unforgettable pieces in the museum include Claude Monet’s The Magpie, Gare Saint-Lazare, and Luncheon on the Grass and Renoir’s Ball at Moulin de la Galette.
Palais Garnier Opera House & the Bibliotèchque-Musée de l’Opera
The Palais Garnier Opera House is an appalling Neo-Baroque theater created by Charles Garnier for opera and ballet performances. The facade features classical columns and eight sculptures that represents allegorical figures for Drama, Dance, Poetry, Music, Idyll, Recitation and Song. There are four elegant aureate groups glorifying Poetry and Fame at the very top of the building. For an in-depth understanding of Paris opera and its rich cultural heritage, check out the Bibliotèchque-Musée de l’Opera (Library-Museum of the Opera House) located inside the building. The museum hosts temporary thematic exhibits throughout the year. Attending an opera or ballet performance at the Palais Garnier is a favorite experience for tourists.
Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde, created between 1755 and 1775 by the architect of King Louis XV is an amazing octagonal square and one of the most beautiful squares in the city. This was part of Napoleon’s triumphal route and is also the place where several historical events took place, including the execution of King Louis XVI. An Egyptian obelisk that was presented to Charles X by the Viceroy of Egypt sits at the center of the square. You can reach Place de la Concorde by either taking the Métro to Concorde station or by walking from the Louvre through the Jardin du Tuileries or the Rue du Rivoli, or following the Quai along the Seine River.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe, designed by JF Chalgrin is constructed in memory of the triumphant French armies of the Revolution and the First Empire. The arch features reliefs with figures depicting the departure, triumph, and glorious return of the French armies. The inner surface of the arch contains names of more than a hundred battles and more than 660 generals. You can get amazing panoramic views of the 12 avenues from the viewing platform.
Sainte-Chapelle is a masterpiece of High Gothic architecture that was built from 1242 to 1248 for King Louis IX (Saint Louis). It was built to house the valuable Christian relics, that the king had received from the Byzantine Emperor. A relic of the Crown of Thorns is displayed on the altar. The chapel is famous for its beautiful stained-glass windows that gives the place a divine and heavenly aura. Although it is seldom used for mass, Sainte-Chapelle often serves as a venue for concerts.
One of the most iconic monuments in the world and top tourist attraction, the Eiffel tower is the most unique symbol of Paris. Designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, the tower stands 312 meters high and consists of 15,000 steel sections held together by 2.5 million rivets. It was the tallest building in the world until the Empire State Building was erected in 1931. The view from the top of the tower is totally stunning. The Eiffel Tower is lit by a 200,000-watt lighting system at night, which makes it the most spectacular night-time sight in Paris.