Whether sunshine is sparkling on the café terraces of Boulevard Saint-Germain or melancholy mists of the Seine River are shrouding Notre-Dame Cathedral, the magical ambiance of Paris has a way of romancing visitors. This incomparable city is filled with grandiose monuments like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Panthéon. Yet the charm of Paris lies in the small details: the quaint cobblestone streets, perfectly manicured trees, dainty tea salons, Belle Epoque brasseries, and avant-garde art galleries. Like a veritable open-air museum, the city’s buildings are works of art, and the Parisians’ everyday fashion is worthy of a magazine spread.
A world of discovery awaits in the distinctive quartiers (neighborhoods): the winding labyrinth of old streets in the medieval Latin Quarter, the legendary café scene in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and the Bohemian village atmosphere of Montmartre. In every hidden corner and at all the famous sites, Paris casts a spell of enchantment. One visit may inspire a lifelong love affair. Find the best places to visit in this magical city with our list of the top tourist attractions in Paris.
1. Eiffel Tower
The most visited tourist attraction in Paris, the Eiffel Tower also ranks high on the list of places to visit in France. It’s hard to believe that the structure was dismissed as a monstrosity when it was first unveiled. The iconic tower was designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel for the Paris Exhibition of 1889, which marked the centenary of the French Revolution.
The tower consists of 18,000 sturdy iron sections (weighing over 10,000 tons) held together by 2.5 million rivets. This innovative structure is now considered a masterful architectural feat and is the most emblematic sight in Paris. From the Jardins du Trocadéro and the lawns of the Champs de Mars, there is just the right distance from the Eiffel Tower for a picture-perfect photo-op. Reaching 324 meters in height, the tower was the world’s tallest building until the Empire State Building was erected.
Visitors can take an elevator or walk up the 360 steps to arrive at the first level (at 57 meters) and 344 more steps to the second level (at 115 meters). The outlooks from both the first and second level are spectacular. To reach the top level, at the dizzying elevation of 276 meters, requires an exhilarating elevator ride from the second level. Visiting the top level is one of the most thrilling things to do in Paris, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
For those who’d like to indulge in a gourmet meal, the Jules Verne Restaurant is on the second floor. This restaurant features expansive windows, which allow diners to enjoy the amazing panoramas.
It’s best to purchase tickets in advance especially if visiting during high season. To ensure the best experience possible, tourists can sign up for the Eiffel Tower Priority Access Tour. This one-hour tour allows tourists to avoid standing in several long lines and offers the added benefit of educational commentary. A knowledgeable guide will share interesting information and provide historical context.
2. Musée du Louvre
A sumptuous palace that was once the home of France’s Kings, the Louvre is the most important of Paris’ top museums. Visitors enter the museum in the courtyard of the palace at the glass pyramid (designed by Ieoh Ming Pei in 1917). The Louvre Museum possesses more than 30,000 artworks (many considered masterpieces)—from antiquities to European paintings of the 15th to 19th centuries.
It is impossible to see it all in one visit, but tourists can focus on a particular gallery, such as classical sculpture, Italian Renaissance art, or 17th-century French paintings, or take a self-guided tour to see the Louvre Museum’s highlights.
The most famous piece is the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (or La Joconde in French) painted by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503-1505. Other exceptional works are the ancient Venus de Milo sculpture, the monumental Victory of Samothrace of the Hellenistic period, the immense Wedding Feast at Cana painting by Veronese (1563), and Botticelli’s frescoes. Also, a must-see is Liberty Leading the People (1831) by Eugène Delacroix, depicting the Parisian uprising of July 27th to 29th, 1830 known as “Trois Glorieuses” (“Three Glorious Days”).
To get the most out of a visit to the Louvre, tourists can take a guided tour. The Skip the Line: Louvre Museum Tour allows participants to jump ahead of the long queues and head straight to the museum’s most famous artworks, including the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. On this three-hour tour, a knowledgeable guide discusses the collections, explains interesting information about the paintings, and answers questions.
The Louvre is surrounded on one side by the Jardin des Tuileries, one of the largest and loveliest parks in Paris. The celebrated landscape architect André Le Nôtre (who designed the gardens of Versailles) created the Tuileries Gardens in the classic French style. The formal gardens feature perfectly manicured trees; two ponds; and statues by Rodin, Giacometti, and Maillol. Park benches offer a place to relax and enjoy the scenery. There are also several café-restaurants with outdoor seating.
3. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
A triumph of Gothic architecture, the Notre-Dame stands in the heart of Paris on the Ile de la Cité near the attractions of the Latin Quarter. An island in the Seine River, the Ile de la Cité is the historical and geographical center of Paris. On this small plot of land, the Romans built the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia, and from the 6th century to the 14th century, the Kings of France resided here.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral was founded in 1163 by King Louis IX (Saint Louis) and Bishop Maurice de Sully, and the construction took more than 150 years. The cathedral was first created in Early Gothic style, while later additions (the west front and the nave) show the transition to High Gothic style. Tourists are immediately struck by the ornamental design of the facade, with its profusion of sculptures and gargoyles, while elaborate flying buttresses provide structural integrity for the enormous building. Look out for the 21 figures above the doorway in the Gallery of Kings, who lost their heads during the Revolution. (The heads are now on display in the Musée de Cluny.)
After admiring the decorative doorway, enter the sanctuary to take in the grandeur of this immense vaulted space. The sanctuary seems almost endless and beckons visitors with the light of flickering candles. The interior is illuminated by magnificent stained-glass windows. The most noteworthy window is the rose window in the north transept. This stunning work of art features 80 Old Testament scenes centered around the Virgin.
Note: In April of 2019, a fire caused considerable damage to the cathedral. The interior is closed to the public. The structure will be undergoing repairs in the years ahead.
4. Avenue des Champs-Élysées
The most monumental boulevard in Paris used to be a desolate field of marshland until the 17th century when it was landscaped by André Le Nôtre. A century later, the renowned Parisian city planner Baron Haussman designed the boulevard’s elegant buildings. The Champs-Elysées is divided into two parts with the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées as its intersection.
The lower part of the Champs-Elysées, bordering the Place du Concorde, includes a spacious park, the Jardin des Champs-Élysées, and the Petit Palais fine arts museum. The upper part, extending to the Arc de Triomphe, is lined by luxury shops, hotels, restaurants, cafés, cinemas, and theaters. This bustling area draws many tourists and is a gathering place for Parisians.
The Champs-Elysées is famous for its prestigious establishments, such as Maison Ladurée (75 Avenue des Champs-Elysées), a pâtisserie shop renowned for its 18th-century tea salon and delicious pastries (their specialty is “macarons”), and upscale designer boutiques like Tiffany & Co. (62 Avenue des Champs-Élysées), Louis-Vuitton (101 Avenue des Champs-Elysées), and Cartier (154 Avenue des Champs-Élysées).
For fine dining, the top choices are the legendary “brasserie du luxe” restaurant and hotel Le Fouquet’s (99 Avenue des Champs-Élysées) and the swanky gastronomic restaurant L’Atelier Étoile de Joël Robuchon (82 Avenue Marceau, at the upper part of the Champs-Elysées near the Arc de Triomphe), which boasts a Michelin star.
Although the Champs-Elysées has an image of refinement, there are many affordable places that cater to tourists and students on a budget, such as the Disney toy store, H&M clothing shop, Starbucks, Quick, Burger King, and McDonald’s.
Address: Champs-Elysées, 75008 Paris (Métro: Champs-Élysées Clemenceau station to visit the Jardin des Champs-Élysées and Petit Palais, Franklin d. Roosevelt station for Laduree, George V station for the main shopping area).
5. Musée d’Orsay
This splendid collection of Impressionist art is beautifully presented in an expansive space (formerly the Belle Epoque-era Gare d’Orsay railway station). The collection represents the work of all the masters of Impressionism. The artists range from classic Impressionist masters Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Pierre-August Renoir to Post-Impressionist artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh; the Pointillists (Georges Seurat, Paul Signac); and Bohemian artists like Toulouse Lautrec.
Some of the museum’s most famous pieces include Claude Monet’s The Magpie, Gare Saint-Lazare, Poppy Field, and Luncheon on the Grass; Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait and Starry Night; and Renoir’s Dance at Moulin de la Galette, which depicts a festive party scene in Montmartre.
The Orsay Museum is among the best places to visit in Paris to get an overview of Impressionist art history—from the gentle brushstrokes of Monet to the wild, colorful scenes of Gauguin. The museum also has two cafés and an upscale restaurant, which is worth the splurge. Formerly part of the Hôtel d’Orsay and listed as a Historic Monument, the museum’s restaurant features gilded ceilings and sparkling chandeliers.