Paris: tourism and sightseeing
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Everyone loves Paris, as much for its boulevards, cafe life and romantic atmosphere as for the more famous sights such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral. But how do you make the most of a visit when you only have limited time available?
Paris - exploring the greatest city in the world!
When asked why we want to visit Paris we all think of different things. For some it will be the famous monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, for others it will be the chance to walk along the Champs-Elysées or to sit in a street-side cafe enjoying croissants and coffee, while others will think of going shopping or exploring some of the best museums in the world...
In truth it is the combination of all these attractions that makes Paris so special, and the reason why so many people fall in love with the city and keep coming back...and why you will do the same!
So although we give reviews of the most 'famous places' in Paris below - and these are certainly very worth visiting - these only scratch the surface of the 'real' Paris, where almost every street and building, every restaurant or passer-by adds as much to the overall appeal of a visit to the city as time spent looking at the main monuments.
You will of course discover many of these 'smaller' pleasures as you travel around Paris visiting the famous sights. Try and remember that the journeys between the famous monuments are as much a part of the Paris experience as the monuments themselves, to be enjoyed slowly and preferably on foot rather than rushed through in a taxi or tour bus.
When you look at a Paris Map you can see that the majority of the important sites are quite close together, following the Seine river from the Eiffel Tower in the west of the city centre to Notre-Dame cathedral to the east. This makes the centre of Paris one of the most compact and easy to explore of all capital cities.
First time in Paris - selected places to visit
If it's your first visit here and you don't know where to start we suggest that as a minumum you try and include the following:
- visit the Ile de la Cité with the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle
- go up the Eiffel Tower (you really don't want to go home and say you didn't see it!)
- stroll along the Champs Elysées between the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde
- explore Montmartre and the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur
- see one or more of the museums including the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée de Cluny
Each of these will take at least half a day to visit, so even a minimal visit to Paris will need three days. A week or more is highly recommended!
In the Paris guide below we remind you of the principal highlights in each sector of the city. If you already know what you are looking for you can also start exploring using the list of the most important 'places to visit in Paris' below.
You can find all you need to book your hotels and travel at book a trip to Paris
Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Islands of the Seine River
The Ile de la Cité and the Ile Saint-Louis are close together in the Seine river in the heart of Paris and the starting point for any visit.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame, perhaps the most famous cathedral in the world, is on the Ile de la Cité and is one of the iconic examples of religious architecture in France. One of the first Gothic cathedrals ever built, the construction of the cathedral took almost 200 years, thus spanning almost the entire gothic period. See the Notre Dame cathedral guide.
As if that wasn't enough Sainte-Chapelle is on the same island. This 13th century gothic chapel is an astonishing architectural masterpiece where almost all the stone walls have disappeared to make way for enormous amounts of stained glass windows, a remarkable sight.
Other highlights on the islands include the medieval Conciergerie; Pont Neuf and the Square du Vert-Galant at the eastern tip of the island, the daily flower market, and the grand townhouses on the Ile Saint-Louis such as Hotel de Jassaud, the Hotel de Lauzun and the Hotel Lambert.
The Latin Quarter and the Pantheon
The Latin Quarter is to the south-east of the centre of Paris. One of the most historic and interesting regions to explore, it is here that you can visit the Pantheon and several other important highlights.
The Pantheon itself was originally commissioned as a church in 1744 under King Louis XV, but building wasn’t actually finished until 1789 by which time, due to the revolution, churches were no longer popular. As a result the building instead became a temple honouring various historical French figures. See the Pantheon guide.
In the south-east of the Latin Quarter you should also visit the Museum of Natural History and the famous Jardin des Plantes with their enormous greenhouses and a small zoo.
Other highlights of the Latin Quarter of Paris include the Church of Saint-Severin, the Cluny Museum (a very well known museum predominantly exhibiting medieval tapestries and other medieval items as well as some ancient roman baths) and the famous University of Paris called the Sorbonne.
Montparnasse and Saint-Germain
The Saint-Germain and Montparnasse district is the central south part of Paris city centre, with Saint-Germain closer to the river and Montparnasse further south. It is a region of art studios and cafes that is most lively in the evenings.
The most dominant monument in the district is the Tour Montparnasse, a tall glass and steel building that is best known for the exceptional views across the city from its viewing platform.
The 17th century Palais de Luxembourg (designed by Jacques Lemercier) and the associated Jardin de Luxembourg dominate the centre of this region. The gardens are exceptional, covering 29 hectares (about 65 acres) and including formal French style gardens, avenues of trees, numerous water features and statues and much more.
Notable monuments in the Saint-Germain sector to the north include the Church of Saint-Sulpice and the Church of Saint-Germain des Prés, and two interesting museums: the Musée de la Monnaie and the Musée Delacroix.
The Montparnasse district to the south is dominated by memories of the dead with the very extensive Montparnasse cemetery and also the entrance to the Paris catacombs, one of the best kept secrets and most remarkable sights in Paris.
The Louvre and the Royal Palace
This region is in the very centre of Paris,on the northern banks of the Seine (the Rive Droite).
The main attraction here is of course the Louvre itself, a royal residence during several centuries and now one of the most extensive art museums in the world. With hundreds of thousands of items spanning the entire range of human history, it is the most visited museum in the world and one of the greatest highlights of a visit to Paris - see the Louvre guide.
To the front of the Louvre you can see the modern addition of the glass pyramid, and extensive beautifully maintained gardens that include the Carrousel Gardens with the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel, and the Jardin des Tuileries.
In the Jardin des Tuileries you can also visit the Musee de l'Orangerie with its impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, and the National Gallery of Jeu de Paume with its exhibitions by contemporary artists.
Next to the Louvre (to the north) is the Royal Palace (the Palais Royale). Now occupied by government offices, the highlight is the gardens and arcaded courtyard in the centre of the palace.
Champs-Elysées: Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe
To the west of Paris and north of the Seine you can visit one of the most famous avenues in the world, the Champs-Elysées, that follows a straight line from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.
For almost two kilometres the Champs-Elysées has impressive architecture typically from the 17th to the 19th centuries, numerous shops including many of the best known fashion shops in the world, and numerous cafes and restaurants.
The Place de la Concorde at the western end of the avenue is centred around its statues and the famous 3300 year old obelisk and has clear views along the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe in one direction and across the Jardin de Tuileries towards the Louvre in the other direction.
You can also see the Grand Palais and Petit Palais next to the Place de la Concorde, belle-epoque style palaces built for the 'Universal Exposition' in 1900.
At the eastern end of the Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe is the world’s largest triumphal arch. The arch was commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his important victory at Austerlitz and completed in 1836. There are 12 roads that all converge on the square containing the arch so traffic is always excessive, but there is a subway so you can reach the arch in safety - once there you can visit the upper floor for very far-reaching views across large areas of Paris. See Arc de Triomphe.
France This Way suggest: if you’re in Paris on a Sunday and the weather’s fine, join the locals and stroll down the Champs Elysees, starting from the Arc de Triomphe.
Le Chatelet and Les Halles
This region is in central Paris, to the north of the Seine and the Ile de la Cité. The most visited sight here is the extensive glass and steel complex of the Pompidou Centre which includes the National Museum of Modern Art, one of the most extensive collections of modern art in the world, and other exhibitions and museums.
Other notable highlights in this region of Paris include the ornately embellished Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), built in the neo-renaissance style in the 18th century, and the 16th-17th century Church of Saint-Eustache.
Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower
The south-western region of the city is known as Les Invalides, a region of grand mansion houses now usually converted into embassies and government buildings. These were built by the noble families after the death of Louis XIV in 1715, when the Royal court returned to Paris from Versailles.
Two of the mansions now contain excellent museums. One is the Musée d'Orsay, world famous for its collection of impressionist paintings, and the other is the Rodin Museum.
It is also the region where you will find the Eiffel Tower. Built in 1889 as a 'temporary' structure and the most easily recognised landmark in the city, there are magnificent views across Paris and beyond from the top of the tower. See Eiffel Tower for details.
Nearby is Les Invalides, an imposing classical style 18th century building that was originally built as somewhere for war veterans and injured soldiers. It now contains the tomb of Napoleon and several military museums.
Montmartre and the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur
The Montmarte district, on a hill to the north of the centre of Paris, is one of the most popular and visited parts of the city.
The village atmosphere and the music and art that create the ambiance of the district make it lively and fun to explore and although it is now very touristic a visit is still highly recommended. Start exploring at the Place du Tertre.
In the centre of Montmartre you will see the famous cabaret known as the Moulin Rouge. See Montmartre for details.
The most imposing monument in Montmartre is the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur, only 100 years old and dominating the hilltop. Almost adjacent and in complete contrast to the basilica is the Church of Saint-Pierre, a modest structure dating in part from the 12th century and partly in the roman style.
You will find that you see the Seine from many different places as you explore, either from the famous monuments along the riverside, or as you cross one of the many bridges across the river, or around the Ile de la Cité and Notre dame Cathedral.
But we must also recommend that you think of the River Seine as an attraction in itself. in particular the views of the monuments of Paris from the glass enclosed tourists’ boats called bateaux mouche are among the best you can get.
Note: if you are visiting Paris in summer you might surprised to find you can spend time on the beach! There is a large artificial beach on the banks of the Seine in the heart of the city, with sand that gets replenished each year.
More Paris highlights
There are many other important buildings, religious monuments, museums and regions of Paris for you to explore as well as the most famous sights mentioned above, according to your time available and whether you have visited the city before. Some other highlights include:
- Strolling through some of the many different markets held in Paris. Many have been held in the same place for hundreds of years and you can find markets selling everything from flowers and fruit and vegetables to antique books or furniture.
- Other important monuments such as the Eglise de la Madeleine, the Paris Opera and the Saint-Denis Basilica
- The Pere Lachaise cemetery to the north-east of Paris contains the graves of many, many important people, from Honoré de Balzac to Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf to Jim Morrison. As a result it is now one of the most visited attractons in Paris.
- Paris has done an excellent job of integrating modern buildings into its historical centre. The most famous examples include the famous glass pyramid in front of the Louvre pyramid, the Pompidou Centre, much of the the La Défense business district, and the Le Monde headquarters, designed by architect de Portzampark.
Places to visit near Paris
Although there is too much to see in the city itself during a visit it is still pleasant to take a trip outside the centre and see one or two of the most popular highlights close by.
There are many other official National Monuments in Paris and the surrounding region, including Champs-sur-Marne Chateau, Chapelle Expiatoire, Maison des Jardies (aka Gambetta House), the Chateau de Maisons, Rambouillet Chateau, Saint Cloud Parc, Villa Savoye and Vincennes Chateau.
Public Transport in Paris
There are loads of places to visit in Paris...so how to see them all? When walking seems too much, Paris is also one of the easiest cities in the world to get around by public transport.
The Paris Metro is very efficient - the lines go everywhere and the trains are frequent if a little crowded at busy times. See details and practicalities of travelling (includes tickets options etc) at Paris Metro tickets.
Note: don't miss the entrances to many of the metro stations, themselves often fine Parisian architectural highlights and among the most photographed of the Paris attractions.
Buses are also good and it’s often just as quick to take a bus as pay for a taxi - and you can see more from the extra height in the bus.
Map of places to visit near Paris
- great prices on hotels and travel at book a paris visit
- more Paris Maps including the Paris Metro and the different arrondissements in the city
- see the photos on this page in large versions at Photos of Paris.
- see a summary of the most visited Paris Highlights
French version: Paris (Francais)