Paris has to be one of my favourite European cities. It was my escape from small town life during my year abroad and my only source of sanity. Despite having visited countless times, all within a six month period, Paris always managed to surprise me. Some of my suggestions below are majorly tourist attractions, things that pull tourists to Paris the world over. But don’t forget that the best way to experience any city is as the locals do.
My top 10 sites to see in Paris are as follows:
1) Tour Eiffel
One of the most iconic images of Paris, and one of the most hated. Originally constructed for the 1889 World Fair and the centenary of Gustave Eiffel, the Tour Eiffel still stands at 324 meters swaying ever so slightly in the wind. Almost 7 million visitors a year flock to the tower, come rain, shine or snow – be warned it’s freezing in the snow, wrap up warm! – to climb 1,665 steps for panoramic views of Paris. Although most take the elevator. To some, it is the true embodiment of Paris and to others, to the Parisians, it is the scar on the face of Paris. Even so, the sight of the tower from any angle, especially at night when it sparkles, fills tourists with joy. For more on the Tour Eiffel, check out these 40 facts.
2) Notre Dame
Image Source: Travel Tourism Blog
You won’t find a hunchback swinging from the rafters but hundreds of gargoyles watch diligently over the Cathedral. The Notre Dame was designed and built in the Gothic style between the 12th and 14th centuries. Despite a continued history of vandalism and plundering, the cathedral still remains the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. The Notre Dame is very much a must-see during any trip to Paris and the rest of the world knows it. Waits can be long and spaces crowded. Entry is free but it’s always best to go early to avoid the worst of the crowds. For those wishing to verify the lack of Quasimodo and talking gargoyles, the bell tower can be accessed on a separate visit but be warned, there are no elevators! For more on the Notre Dame, check out these facts.
3) Les Catacombes de Paris
Image Source: Lonely Planet
Rub shoulders with the past in Paris’ Empire of the Dead. Beneath the City of Lights lies a 3,000km network of tunnels, quarries, and caves. Repurposed during the late 18th-century to prevent disease from spreading from inner-city cemeteries struggling to cope with mass executions typical of the French Revolution, the Catacombs became the final resting place to roughly 7 million Parisians and the breeding ground for many a chilling tale. A good deal of the underground network has collapsed but the sections still open to the public are filled floor to ceiling with the bones of Paris’ dead and an ever-present reminder of the city’s past. Read an account of one brave soul's experience here.
4) Sacré-Coeur / Montmartre
We’ve all seen the Moulin Rouge and marvelled at the Montmartre that once was. Some things are still there today. The Sacré-Coeur still stands as it has for nearly a century. It is one of the most iconic monuments in Paris and offers spectacular panoramic views of the city of lights from ground level alone. For those who want to gain a 360-degree view of Paris, visitors can climb to the top of the dome. Be wary, however, as this area of Paris is true to its history still. Visitors shouldn’t just be wary of pickpockets. The area attracts all levels of con-artists and generally sleazy examples of humanity. For more to do in Montmartre, visit A Paris Guide’s article on the area and read about what the area has to offer.
5) Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
Visiting cemeteries is a very popular past time in France it seems. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is the most popular and the largest of them all. Dubbed the celebrity cemetery, visitors can expect to find the likes of Edith Piaf, Molière, Oscar Wilde and more at rest within its 70,000 ostentatious tombs surrounded by sculptured gardens. For more on the cemetery, check out these tips for visiting.
6) Palace of Versailles
Image Source: Chateau Versailles
Sixteen miles outside of Paris, The Chateau de Versailles spans 250 acres of landscaped and manicured lawns and fountains. Constructed in the mid-17th century by Louis XIV, the Palace of Versailles is one of the largest and most opulent castles in the world. Think Marie Antoinette and opulent parties in the Hall of Mirrors and specially commissioned plays and performances in the Opera Auditorium. Visitors can walk in the footsteps of the royals, aristocrats, and delegates who once ran France. Hire bicycles and explore the vast grounds and marvel at the beautiful statues, fountains and water parterres decorating the grounds. You’ll need at least a day in this green oasis. For help planning your visit, check out Chateau de Versailles own website where you’ll find advice, rates, and interactive maps.
Get lost in the world’s largest museum. The Louvre is a maze of a building, boasting vast multi-level galleries stretching over 60,000 square meters and housing some 35,000 works of art and artefacts, including Da Vinci’s iconic “Mona Lisa.” The Louvre houses history but it is also a piece of history, originally built as a fortress in 1190, it became home to the royals in the 16th century until Louis XIV relocated the royal residence to Versailles. One day is not enough to take in the immense collection contained with the Louvre and if you try, you’ll likely sleep through the rest of your trip. For help planning your trip to the Louvre, take a look at this comprehensive guide.
8) The Centre Pompidou
Image Source: Lonely Planet
A centre of art not to be missed. The Centre Pompidou is a bastion of radical architecture. It’s skeletal exterior acts as both an art gallery and a cultural hub, showcasing over 50,000 modern and contemporary works. More than 6 million people visit the Pompidou annually for access to its temporary exhibitions, lively performances, and public library. For information on special exhibitions and performance, take a look at the Centre Pompidou’s seasonal program.
Image Source: Parisianist
For one month a year, Paris installs an artificial beach along the banks of the Seine and the Bassin de la Villette. Enjoy the Paris you won’t often see, with sand, deck chairs and palm trees throughout August. For more information on the Paris Plage, click here.
10) Parisian Parks
It’s all good and well to spend every hour of your time in Paris seeing the tourist trap sites but be sure to stop and look around for the Paris beneath the plastic tourist shine. Visit one of Paris’ many beautiful parks. Picnic on the grass and enjoy the Parisian atmosphere.
Image Source: European Trips
Parc Montsouris– located in the 14th arrondissement, Parc Montsouris is one of the largest green spaces in Paris. It was built under Napoléon III and comprises of a lake, beautiful statues, rarely seen (in France) trees and a restaurant surrounded by sloping lawns. It is also home to a number of different bird species. Take in the sight of the Montsouris meteorological observatory and the Montsouris reservoir, which holds a third of Paris’ drinking water.
Image Source: Time Out
Parc des Buttes Chaumont – located in the 19th arrondissement, Parc des Buttes Chaumont spans 25 hectares. It was constructed on quarries which allow for the park’s steep slopes and uneven ground levels. Appreciate stunning city views from the hilly setting. The park boasts access to caves, waterfalls, a suspended bridge and high viewpoints. Forget you’re in a busy capital city for a few hours.
Image Source: Paris Info
Parc Monceau – located in the 8th arrondissement, Parc Monceau is decked out with wrought iron gates embellished with gold, Renaissance archways belonging to the former Paris City Hall, numerous statues and a spectacular array of trees and birds congregating at a large pond. Here you’ll find a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere to pass the time anyway you see fit – play a game, curl up under a tree – but don’t forget to soak it all in.