The 10 Top Sights in Paris & How Best to See Them
All nice and nice, those endless lists of the top sights in Paris. But what are the real highlights? I have been in the city eight times already, and have visited most things several times. From my visits, I’ve put together a list of what I think are the MOST iconic sights you don’t want to miss in Paris.
I’ll tell you this: it was really hard to choose! Paris is such an interesting city with tons of history, beautiful architecture, and secret gems. I’d recommend spending at least 3-4 days to really take it all in.
Paris Travel Guide
- Where to Stay in Paris: The 5 Best Neighborhoods
- How to Enjoy Paris in the Rain
- How Much Does a Trip to Paris Cost?
Top Sights in Paris
1. The Eiffel Tower
- Address: Champs de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France
- Hours: Every day from 9:30 am – 11:45 pm
- Admission: Find current admission prices here
The Eiffel Tower is one of those structures that seems overrated in photos, but it truly is impressive in person. I always stare at it, and every time I’m in Paris, I’ll stop by some way or another. The large steel structure towers above the surrounding buildings, and it is the most famous building in the skyline. In fact, perhaps it is the most famous building in the world. In any case, it’s the most visited: with six million visitors annually.
It’s especially magical in the evening when there’s a light show going on and the tower twinkles against the night sky. On foggy days, it disappears into the clouds, which also makes for a unique view.
It’s located on the left bank of the Seine, in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. You probably know its history by now but the construction started between 1887 and 1889 for the Exposition Universelle of 1889. The tower was built by Gustave Eiffel but designed by Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier.
At first the tower was hated. No less than three hundred artists protested against the construction, because they found it a “tasteless” design. For years the population looked down on the tower. Now the steel design is seen as one of the most special of its kind because of the beautiful ironwork details.
At the top, the Eiffel Tower measures 317 meters high, with a 7-meter-high video antenna on top. This was the highest tower in Europe for 126 years.
Tips for Visiting the Eiffel Tower
- The queues in front of the Eiffel Tower are always very long. If you buy your ticket online, you can enter a shorter queue.
- You can also book a tour to skip the lines.
- The least crowded visiting times are during weekdays in the winter period.
- If you take the stairs (700+ steps!) To the second floor, you can save money on your ticket, and you will not have to wait long for the elevator.
- In the evening there is a light show at the Eiffel Tower, so it is definitely worth a look!
2. Arc de Triomphe
- Address: Place Charles de Gaulle
- Opening hours: Every day from 10:00 to 22:30 (between 1 April and 30 September to 23:00). Closed on some holidays.
- Entrance price: Find current admission prices here
The second largest building in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe. It’s such a famous building that there are many copies worldwide. Only the triumphal arches in Pyongyang and Mexico City are higher. The Arc de Triomphe is in the 8th arrondissement and was built in 1806 to celebrate Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz. The construction, however, took 30 years.
The arch is known as the symbol of the First World War, and you will find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier who died during that war. The Arc de Triomphe is actually located on a roundabout, the Place Charles de Gaulle, where 12 avenues meet. If you drive here yourself (we did that once), then you really have to hold your heart, haha.
You can climb the Arc de Triomphe, about which I give you more tips below.
If, like me, you watch the Tour de France every year, you will know that they always finish on the Champs-Élysées, and that the Arc de Triomphe is at the end of that lane. And that is of course also worth a visit. It is the broadest avenue in Paris, and one of the most prestigious shopping streets in the world (shop rent is only higher in NYC). If you decide to walk away completely, I hope you have brought your walking shoes, because it is almost 2km long. After walking 1,910 meters you will reach the Place de la Concorde, where you can see the Egyptian obelisk.
Tips for Visiting the Arc de Triomphe
- You do not have to cross to go to the Arc de Triomphe, there is an underground tunnel.
- From the top (284 steps!) You have a beautiful view of Paris. This is also a good place to see the sunset.
- If you do not want to queue to buy a ticket, you can buy an online ticket that allows you to pass the queue. Then you only have to go through the security check.
3. Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
- Address: 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre
- Opening hours: Every day from 6:00 am to 10:30 pm.
- Admission price: Free, though the cathedral and the crypt cost money.
On top of the Montmartre hill lies the white Sacré-Coeur, which towers above the rest of the city due to its location. At 83 square meters, it is not exactly a small neighborhood church. I think it is a beautiful church, and I have been there several times. Even if you don’t care much for architecture or religion, it is still worthwhile to pay a visit here, because from the 130m high hill you’ll have a beautiful view over Paris. And the Montmartre district itself is really fun, but more about that later.
The basilica consists of white travertine and was built from 1875, as a commemoration for the 58,000 dead who fell in the Franco-German war in 1870-1871. The construction was only completed in 1914, and because of the next war (how ironic), it wasn’t put into use until October 1919.
Tips for Visiting Sacré-Coeur
- Skip Sundays. There is a church service going on in the Sacré-Coeur
- The church is quietest to visit during the early morning
- In the vicinity of the church, pickpockets and scammers can be active, so pay attention to your things, do not sign any “surveys,” and do not let anyone tie a bracelet around your wrist.
Montmartre is one of the nicest districts in Paris. It is a bit out of the center, on the north side, but is definitely worth a visit – just because of the Sacré-Coeur, of course. The district itself is located on the hill Montmartre, the second highest point of the city, and that is where the name of the district comes from. It is the 18th arrondissement.
Although quite touristy, a nice place to visit is Place du Tertre. Here you will find all kinds of painters who sell their work. The Montmartre district is known as the artist’s district. A few decades ago artists and writers traveled to this neighborhood, and were inspired by the atmosphere and the view over Paris. Place du Tertre was even the place where Picasso lived (his house is now a museum). Van Gogh also lived in Montmartre.
I said it for a while, but unlike most of Paris, Montmartre is anything but flat. There are a lot of stairs to be found, but you can also take the Funiculaire de Montmartre to get on top of the hill if you have less mobility. In Montmartre, you will also find Moulin Rouge, the famous cabaret theater where a film was made.
Personally, I find Montmartre especially great to stroll around. You have wonderful winding streets, and it is full of cool cafes. The last time I was in Paris, I spent a few days in an Airbnb in the neighborhood, and I had the peace to slowly discover it all.
Tips for visiting Montmartre
- Make sure you wear nice shoes, because you have to climb many stairs and hills in Montmartre
- My favorite eateries are: The Hardware Society for brunch, Maison Rose for lunch or a drink, and the tiny Picolo Rosso Tratorria Pulcinella for an Italian dinner.
- If you want more of a guided experience to Montmartre & Sacre Coeur, try this guided walking tour or, for a more fun theme, this cheese, pastry, and wine tour of the district.
5. The Louvre
- Address: Rue de Rivoli
- Opening hours: Every day from 9 am to 6 pm. Open on Wednesday and Friday until 21:45. The Louvre is closed on Tuesday.
- Entrance price: Find current admission prices here.
If there is one museum you should visit during your Paris city break, make sure it’s the Louvre, the most famous of all. It is one of the largest museums in the world, so choose what you want to see, and make time for it.
The most famous inhabitant of the Louvre is of course Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, and although a visit to her is likely to be disappointing, you must have seen it with your own eyes. You have to push a hundred tourists with selfie sticks on the side with your elbows, and just squint because the painting is not that big.
Although you will find all kinds of art (you can also see the Venus de Milo, for example), the wing with Western painting was my favorite. Painting in the Louvre goes until about mid-18th century, the newer art can be found in the Musée D’Orsay.
After you have visited the Louvre, you should of course take a walk through the gardens that lie in front of it: the Jardin des Tuilleries. This park connects the Louvre with Place de La Concorde (and from there you walk up the Champs Elysée).
The gardens get their name because of the Tuileries Palace, which no longer exists. It was created by the famous Medici family. In the park you will find sculptures, fountains, and the two museums: Musée de l’Orangerie (work by Claude Monet and Rodin) and Jeu de Paume (modern, contemporary and photography and video art).
To visit tips for the Louvre:
- Although the glass pyramid is the most famous entrance, there are three more entrances (Carrousel du Louvre, Porte des Lions and Passage Richelieu). The queues are much shorter there!
- To skip the queues you can buy an online ticket for the Louvre, then you do not have to wait anymore.
- You can also skip the line with this guided tour.
- Visit the Louvre in the evenings, then it is quieter! This is possible on Wednesdays and Fridays when the museum is open until 21:45.
6. Latin Quarter
The vibrant Latin Quarter is also a classic destination in Paris. The district, in the 5th and 6th arrondissements, was once a student district (nowadays no longer, because nobody can afford to live in the center of Paris).
The reason that the district is traditionally popular, is that it spreads around the Sorbonne and was, until 1970, the University of Paris. Since 1150 this was the center of education in the city and the country, and one of the most prestigious universities in Europe. There are few philosophers from the 13th century who have not studied at the Sorbonne.
Nowadays the neighborhood is popular for tourists because it is full of restaurants, boutiques, bistros, and bars. Like Montmartre, this was also a neighborhood that attracted creative souls in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many novels have been written at the tables of the cafes in this neighborhood. In terms of famous buildings, the Panthéon and the Jardin du Luxembourg are particularly worth a visit.
The most striking monument in Latin Quarter is the Panthéon. Although it was once mainly built as a church, it is more famous as a mausoleum for well-known French people. The construction of the neoclassical church dates back to 1744 and was commissioned by King Louis XV. The structure was completed only in 1789. Although the name refers to the Pantheon in Rome, it does not look very much like that. It is impressive. Among others Marie Curie, Voltaire, Rousseau and Victor Hugo are buried here.
7. The Notre-Dame
- Address: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame, Place Jean-Paul II
- Opening hours: On weekdays from 7:45 am to 6:45 pm, weekends from 7:15 am to 6:45 pm.
- Entrance fee : Free (climbing the tower costs € 10)
My secret favorite when it comes to nice places in Paris? That is Ile de Cité. There’s something very traditionally Parisian about this small island in the Seine. The name “Ile de Cité” means “city island”, and this is where Paris started, in the Middle Ages. The Seine separates this island on both sides of the rest of Paris, which you reach via one of the famous bridges (Pont Neuf is my favorite, the oldest bridge in Paris!).
The most famous sight on Ile de Cité is the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathédrale, or Notre-Dame. This is one of the most iconic cathedrals in the world and free to visit! The cathedral of Notre-Dame is built in early Gothic style between 1163 and 1345. The first stone was even placed by Pope Alexander III.
One of my favorite things at the Notre-Dame of Paris are the gargoyles (and that is mainly due to the movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), which were built in the Middle Ages. The spewers ensure that the rainwater does not drip down the façade.
The church is not only beautiful inside and out, it is also of great religious value. Thus the crown of thorns, a piece of the cross, and the nails with which Jesus was crucified are kept here. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor of France at this spot.
Tips for Visiitng the Notre Dame
- Just as with the Sacré-Coeur, do not plan your visit on a Catholic holiday.
- Preferably go before 10 o’clock in the morning to be as short as possible in the queue.
- If you want to climb the tower, it costs €10, and you have to climb the 387 stairs (there is no lift!).
8. Jardin du Luxembourg
My favorite city park in Paris is “Jardin du Luxembourg” (the Luxembourg Garden). This garden was also created by Maria de Medici in 1612. Like the Jardin des Tuileries, this park is actually a castle garden. And this palace still exists, it is called Palais du Luxembourg.
Jardin du Luxembourg is located in the 6th arrondissement, and is over 23 hectares. I always like sitting in one of the chairs around the pond, with a booklet. But you see, especially in the summer, many people picnic here. The park reminds me in one way or another very much of Hyde Park in London. If you like art, then this park is a must, because you will find a lot to see. The first version of the Statue of Liberty is here!
Palais du Luxembourg was designed to the Florentine palace where Maria de Medici had grown up. She lived there for only a few years. During the French revolution, the palace was used as a prison. Then it became the place where the parliament came together for meetings, and today it is the seat of the French senate. Visits can only be done with a tour.
9. Les Marais
The place to be in Paris is still Les Marais, a neighborhood in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements bursting with the hippest restaurants, finest boutiques, and beautiful, stately buildings with colorful doors (seriously, I always take 600 photos of the facades in Les Marais ).
One of the most important sights in Les Marais is Place de la Bastille. Let’s be honest: it’s quite an ugly square, and you do not have to go see it because it’s beautiful, but it’s because this square has played a gigantic role in French history. This is where the prison of Bastille stood. And if you have paid close attention during the history lesson, you know that the storming of Bastille marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The column on the square is a monument for the victims of the uprisings in 1830, 1838, and 1848. They are buried under this column.
In the heart of Les Marais, Places des Vosges is more fun. Although it may not look like this, this is the oldest square in Paris. Once this square was called Place Royale. Henry IV commissioned the construction, which took place between 1605 and 1612. Because the square was completed under Louis XIII, a statue of him was placed on the square.
The square was renamed during the French Revolution and named after the first department that would pay the revolutionary government tax: de Vosges. The statue of Louis XIII had been destroyed in the revolution, and was replaced in 1829 by a stone specimen.
Many famous Parisians lived in the square, including Richelieu and Victor Hugo. His former residence has been transformed into a museum about Victor Hugo that I visited and really enjoyed a visit. You will find many expensive terraces and shops in the arcades around the square.
Tips for Visiting Les Marais
- In Les Marais I always enjoy a quick lunch at L’as du Fallafel, Kraft Hot Dog, and Breizh Café for good crêpes.
- I have not been there myself (because: closed until the end of 2019) but Musée Carnavalet, the city museum of Paris, is on my wish list for future visits.
- Shopping can be fun in the boutiques around Rue de Roisiers and Rue du Roi de Sicile.
10. Palace of Versailles
- Address: Place d’Armes, Versailles
- Opening hours: Every day from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. Closed on Mondays, 25 December and 1 January.
- Entrance fee : Check current admission prices here.
The most important sight in the Paris area is the Palace of Versailles. The world-famous castle is located in the town of Versailles, 20 kilometers outside of Paris and is perfect to do as an excursion from Paris.
Versailles is the largest castle in the world, attracting more than five million visitors a year. So you have to plan well, you do not want to stand in line for hours.
The construction of the building started in 1624, when a hunting lodge was built for King Louis XIII who liked to go hunting around in the area. It was eventually Louis XIV who extended the castle to such great proportions.
There were 226 houses, and many more one-person apartments. Probably there were once between 3,000 and 10,000 courtiers.
The palace is really special, with its gigantic art collection, golden ornaments, and rooms that are still decorated in original style. Especially the mirror room is particularly natural. The gardens are also worth a visit, although you do have to put on your walking shoes, because with 815 hectares it is a long walk to see everything. That’s nothing compared to how big it was: over 6,000 hectares of land (and walled by a 43-km-long wall).
Tips for Visiting Versailles
- The busiest days to visit the palace are Tuesday and the weekend. Tuesday because many other sights in Paris are closed.
- Go as early as possible on the day, preferably at opening time at 9 o’clock in the morning.
- What I did was buy my online ticket on my phone, on arrival. I saw that there was still availability, bought a ticket for the next opening and walked inside.
- The queue can be long, so bring a bottle of water, some snacks, and good walking shoes, umbrella or sunscreen.
- Another option to skip the queues is with a tour with a guide . Learn more about the history of the castle.
Tips for Visiting Paris
Helpful tip # 1: Hop on Hop off bus
One of the things I always did when I had a short time to visit the city was to take a Hop-on Hop-off bus that takes you to all the sights and at the same time tells you more about the history of the highlights. Choose one of two routes (Classic or Montmartre) that run every 10-20 minutes. Choose a one-day, two-day, or three-day bus ticket and see all the highlights on this list, except for Versailles.
Helpful tip # 2: Paris Pass
If you are planning to visit a lot of museums and use public transport, it may be valuable to buy a Paris Pass.
With this pass you get free and fast track access to many important museums (Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, etc), sights (Panthéon, Arc de Triomphe), the hop-on hop-off bus from above and a river cruise. In total, it covers more than 60 attractions. Look at the list below, and calculate yourself whether you will take advantage of the benefit during your visit!
Did you manage to visit all of the top 10 sights in Paris on your first trip?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe.