This is our own list of must-see Paris sights. This list barely scratches the surface of the thousands of things to do and see in the city of light, but you must start somewhere.
Must-see Paris Sights
A trip to the top (or any level) of the Eiffel Tower offers a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the city. You may want to ascend this wonderful attraction at night for a dazzling look at the lights of the city. Go all the way to the top or get a fabulous city view from the second level, it costs a little less. Be aware that there are usually at least two elevators going to the top and ticket booths at the base of each. Ask your concierge for the best time to visit this Paris sight; there is usually a line! To save time, use the link above to purchase your tickets in advance. The Eiffel Tower turns on the sparkles every evening on the hour after dark.
Note: The Jules Verne Restaurant, located in the tower, is one of the best in the city (and is priced accordingly.)
The Musée du Louvre houses 35,000 works of art drawn from eight departments, displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space dedicated to the permanent collections. You can’t see it all in one day, or even in several days, for that matter. Get a map when you enter and decide what is most important to you on that particular visit. Most people usually make a bee-line for the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, or Venus de Milo; but then have no idea of what else is available. Choose a theme – Napoleon, Egypt, Italian masterpieces or sculpture. Just one of those themes can keep you busy for hours. The Louvre has something for everyone. Remember that students are free; bring your school ID to this Paris sight.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral is a Paris sight that is famous worldwide for it’s flying buttresses and the legend of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It is a sight to see, in all its Gothic elegance. The true crown of thorns is housed here and is available for view on certain occasions.
Metro: Cite, Hotel du Ville, Chatelet
RER: St. Michel, Notre Dame
The Musée d’Orsay
The Musee d’Orsay is the main Impressionist museum in Paris. Housed in an historic train station, it contains French art from the 19th century and is generally very crowded. It is a fabulous museum, one of our favorite Paris sights.
+33 (0)1 40 49 49 78
The museum is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9.30am to 6pm and on Thursdays from 9.30am to 9.45pm
Sainte Chapelle Church
A national historic monument since 1862, Sainte Chapelle has been called the “jewel-box” church, this owing to its gorgeous stained glass windows on the second level. Try to visit the church when the sun is shining to experience the full beauty of the light. Built to house the crown of thorns and other relics by Lousi IX, Sainte Chapelle is a Gothic masterpiece. (The crown of thorns are now housed at Norte Dame.)
Boulevard du Palais
Musee National du Moyan Age
Though one of the smaller Paris sights, the Musee National du Moyen Age -or simply “The Cluny” is housed in a former Cluny Abbey. The museum is a mélange of a variety of exhibits to include: sculptures and architectural decorations from a large number of Parisian monuments that had been mutilated and ripped from the monument by revolutionaries. Of particular interest are the mysterious Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries. Also on display at the Musee de Cluny are the Gallo-Roman baths and the Medieval Garden with its own Unicorn forest.
Hôtel de Cluny
6, place Paul Painlevé
Days and hours of operation
Every day except Tuesday, from 9:15 to 5:45
Desk closes at 5:15
Closed 1 January, 1 May and 25 December
Métro: Cluny-La Sorbonne, Saint-Michel
Another favorite is the Marmottan Museum; it has a fine Monet collection as well as other French impressionists. It is a small and not well known museum, so you won’t need to fight the crowds to really enjoy the art. And it is easy to get to: once you arrive at Metro stop La Muette, just follow the signs through the park to the museum; it is a short stroll and you won’t be disappointed.
The Orangerie Museum is home to the works of some of the most famous impressionists and is located right at the entrance to the Tuilleries. Monet’s water lilies are installed in separate oval rooms to give visitors a wonderful visual experience. Don’t miss it.
A stroll down the Champs Elysees is a Paris must. It is a magical experience any time of day, but especially in the evening. Shops and restaurants are open late and there is always a great deal of activity on the Champs. If you venture into some of the automobile dealerships; you will find cafes and bars that are quite interesting and seem a bit out-of-place. And, unlike in the US, no one will bother you to buy anything.
We strongly recommend a stroll through the exquisite Luxembourg gardens; it absolutely lovely any time of year. This is a great spot for a picnic, or to just hang-out and watch the world go by. Sundays are our favorite times to go to the Luxembourg gardens as most of the Paris stores are closed and you will get to see Parisians enjoying a Sunday in the park.
If you have never been to a European market, we recommend you check-out a Paris market. You won’t be disappointed. There is a food market Tues-Sat in St Germain on rue Mabillon. (Near the Metro stop Mabillon) It is open 8-1 and 4-7:30pm. You can also try theEdgar Quinet market near Montparnasse, the Mouffetard market on Rue Mouffetard (near the metro stop Cencier-Daubenton), or the market on Rue Cler.
For a completely different experience, take Metro Line #1 to La Defense where you will find the new, modern Paris. You can take an elevator to the top of the modern Grande Arch which is built in alignment with the Arc du Triumph. The Grande Arch provides a fantastic, distant view of the Champs Elysees and is one of the most unique Paris sights.
Located just off the Champs Elysees, the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais have changing exhibits and the buildings are as beautiful as the art. Built in 1897-1900 for the Universal Exhibition in Paris, the Grand Palais was originally, as the inscription on the front proclaims, “a monument raised by the Republic to the glory of French art”.
3, avenue du Général-Eisenhower
Tél.: +33 (0)1 44 13 17 30
Fax: +33 (0)1 45 63 54 33
If you have time, we recommend a day at Versailles. Open every day except Monday, you can take the RER train to Versailles for very little money. Take the RER “C” (regional train) at a connecting RER or metro station. Line C can be found on your Metro Map; it is yellow. Take it DIRECTION: Versailles-Rive-Gauche. You will arrive at the station Versailles-Rive-Gauche the last stop. It is a 45 minute trip from Paris (The RER comes every half hour or so.) Once you arrive in the town of Versailles, it is a short walk to the Chateau de Versailles. As you leave the station, turn right for a few blocks and follow the crowds.
After visiting the palace, you can take a little tram to the Petit and Grand Trianon, or just walk there. If you go on a summer weekend, you can experience the Grande Eaux Musicales where the fountains in the park are turned on with accompanying music at 11am, 12pm and 3:30pm. By the way, the Carte Musee does get you into Versailles without waiting in line. It does not get you into the Gardens or the Royal Chambers; there is an extra fee for each.
Just for Fun
Take the Batobus (river bus.)
You can get a 2-day hop-on, hop-off ticket to see several Paris sights from the Seine River. It is inexpensive and fun.
We love the Marais district! Considered Paris’ art district, the Marais is known for its signature narrow streets, low slung buildings, specialty shops of all kinds, and of course, art galleries. If you like modern art, don’t miss the Center Georges Pompidou. And while in the area, visit the serene Place des Vosges. This little park is surrounded by lovely period buildings and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. By the way, the BHV department store is located in this district (across the street from the Hotel de Ville.) If you have an interest in hardware (and even if you don’t), the basement of this Paris sight is a treasure trove.
Metro Stop: St Paul
Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com