Top ten tourist attractions in Paris – knowing what to see and where to start is easy with our insiders guide to the top ten Paris sites.
When you visit Paris it’s hard to know where to start and what to make sure you see before you leave – almost every metre of the city seems to be oozing with history and beauty and you’ll want to see all of it but of course that’s not always possible. My first visit to Paris was when I was 14 years old and on a school exchange visit – I fell in love with Paris and the French way of life and have been back dozens of times since then and Paris never ever fails to wow and impress me.
These are the top attractions in Paris according to their popularity. We’d highly recommend that you arm yourself beforehand with a good Paris street map, metro map and guide book – our online bookstore has recommendations for Paris tourist guides.
As if all this isn’t enough there are also the street markets and Christmas markets of Paris, the restaurants and shops of the Champs Elysées and surrounding areas – you’ll always find something new in Paris.Janine
Not surprising that the theme park with its amazing rides tops the Paris attractions list , with nearly 15 million visitors in 2011 Euro Disney is a major draw for families on holidays to France. You may find our review of Disneyland Paris helpful
Cathédrale Notre Dame
Paris’ most popular site – Notre Dame de Paris welcomes 13.5 million visitors a year to view what is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in France and in Europe dating back to the 13th Century.
It is of course the setting for Victor Hugo’s famous story The Hunchback of Notre Dame and when you visit you can almost feel the ghosts of the hunch backed bell ringer Quasimodo and the beautiful gypsy Esmerelda whom he loves.
If you’re feeling fit you can climb the 422 spiralling steps which will take you to the top of the west facade. It’s well worth the hike as you’ll be able to see some of the amazing, gargoyles, the 13-tonne bell Emmanuel, and take a camera as you will have an absolutely magnificent view over Paris.
Nearest Metro stations: City, St. Michael, City Hall, Chatelet
For more details on visitor times, services at the Cathedral, practical information etc. the official website has lots of details.
The Louvre Museum is the most visited museum in the World – an accolade cemented in 2011 with around 8.5 million visits. The Palais de Louvre was turned into France’s first national museum in 1793 by the factions created by the French Revolution. Every year record number of tourists file past the Mona Lisa, known in France as La Joconde, who now has her own room in order to cope with the influx of viewers.
At times there are long queues but you can aim to avoid the backlog outside the pyramid at the main entrance or at the Porte des Lions entrance by going in via the Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre entrance, at 99 rue de Rivoli, or by following the ‘Musée du Louvre’ exit from the Palais Royal–Musée du Louvre metro station. You can also buy your tickets in advance from the ticket machines in the Carrousel du Louvre or from the billetteries (ticket offices) of Fnac or Virgin Megastores for an extra €1 to €1.60, and walk straight in without queuing. Tickets are valid for the whole day, so you can come and go as you please. If you’d like to see the wonders of the Louvre without the queues – 2012 will see the inauguration of its alter ego the Lens Louvre.
Nearest Metro Station: Palais-Royal/musée du Louvre
The official Louvre website has details of how to buy tickets in advance.
The world’s most famous tower is synonymous with France and attracted around 7 million visitors in 2011. It was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World Fair), held to commemorate the centennial of the Revolution and despite initial resistance it holds a place in the heart of the French. You can’t go to Paris without a photo of yourself posing against the impressive metal sculpture! In spite of widely published reports in 2011 that the Tour Eiffel organisers were planning to cover the tower in plants this isn’t going to happen but there are plans to renovate the first floor with a revamped visitor area and restaurant.
You’ll need to buy a ticket to ascend the Eiffel Tower – there are three levels open to the public, though the top level closes in heavy wind. You can either take the lifts (east, west and north pillars), or, if you’re feeling fit, the stairs in the south pillar up to the 2nd platform. There are almost always long lines at the ticket office so buy a ticket online in advance if you don’t want to queue.
Nearest Metro station: Bir-Hakeim or Trocadéro
The Eiffel Tower website sells tickets online and gives details of opening times and other useful details (there’s an English language version available).
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
With more than 3.5 million visits in 2011, the Pompidou Centre houses the country’s leading contemporary art gallery. The centre is the home to a vast public library, the Musée National d’Art Moderne which is the largest museum for modern art in Europe, and IRCAM, a centre for music and acoustic research. Because of its location in the Beaubord area of Paris, the Centre is known locally as the Beaubourg. The Place Georges Pompidou in front of the museum is famous for its street performers, bands, sketch artists and sometimes skateboarding!
The second branch of the modern art museum, the Centre Pompidou-Metz opened in May 2010 and is also proving popular with 550,000 visitors in 2011
Nearest Métro stations for Pompidou Centre Paris: Rambuteau, Les Halles
For details of the Centre and the 2012 exhibitions check the Centre’s English language website.
Arc de Triomphe, Paris
One of the most famous monuments in Paris the Arc de Triomphe (Triumphal Arch) stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle (originally named Place de l’Étoile), at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. A smaller arch, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, stands west of the Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe was built to honour those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The names of all French victories and generals are inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces and beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
The arch is so big that three weeks after the Paris victory parade in 1919, (marking the end of hostilities in World War I), Charles Godefroy flew his Nieuport biplane right through it.
The eternal flame in the arch burns in memory of those who died and were never identified in the First and Second World Wars. According to a 2008 television programme, presented by Griff Rhys Jones, “the flame has only been extinguished once, by a drunken Mexican football supporter on the night that France beat Brazil here in Paris”.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy paid their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, accompanied by French President Charles de Gaulle. When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 Mrs Kennedy remembered the eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe and asked that an eternal flame be placed next to her husband’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. President Charles de Gaulle went to Washington to attend the state funeral, and witnessed Jacqueline Kennedy lighting the eternal flame that had been inspired by her visit to France.
Nearest Metro station: Charles de Gaulle Étoile
The newly renovated Musée d’Orsay museum of arts is devoted to paintings and sculptures, photography, architecture, arts and decoration. Housed in an old railway station – it’s a stunning location and attracted around 3 million visits in 2011. The museum got an extra dose of unwanted fame in early 2012 when an unauthorised lingerie photo shoot took place in the gallery.
Nearest Metro station: Palais Royal
Website for Musée d’Orsay museum
Originally a sacred hill from the time of the Romans, Montmartre preserved its cultural and artistic identity by becoming the place where painters and artists of the 19th and 20th Centuries called home – depicted in films such as Moulin Rouge. Montmartre remains an area full of vitality and joie de vivre and around six million people a year stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets of old Paris drinking in the cultural atmosphere and admiring the architecture, sites and work of the famed street artists.
Nearest Metro station: Montmartre
The Sainte-Chapelle church is visited by 850,000 people each year who cram into its 33-metre long and 10-metre wide space – but if you go there it’s easy to see why.
Commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion Relics, including the Crown of Thorns – which is said to be one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom – it’s a stunning piece of Gothic architecture and was once one of the most important holy buildings in the World.
Built in the 13th Century the Sainte-Chapelle was considerably damaged during the French revolution and heavily restored in the 19th century. It retains one of the most extensive in-situ collections of 13th century stained glass anywhere in the world and this is what draws an admiring group of visitors.
Nearest Metro stations: Cité, St-Michel, or Chatelet-Les Halles
Père Lachaise Cemetery
The Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris where numerous famous figures have their final resting place is reputed to be the most visited cemetery in the World. According to the official website of Paris one million people have been buried at the cemetery and along with the stored remains in the Aux Morts ossuary, the number of human remains exceeds 2-3 million. Père Lachaise cemetery is named after the Jesuit Father Lachaise, King Louis XIV’s confessor and is called by Parisiens “the grandest address in Paris”.
Visitors come to pay tribute to The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, whose tomb is kept constant vigil by fans, as well as French playwright Molière, Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Marceau, and Edith Piaf amongst many other famous names. The Tomb of Oscar Wilde is in fact so admired that in 2011 it had to be renovated due to red lipstick marks left by kisses on the tomb which had started to cause damage. It’s a wonderful haunting and beautiful cemetery and attracts hundreds of thousands each year.
Nearest metro station: Phillips Auguste or Père-Lachaise
Just a few more!
Musée Rodin, Paris
Renovation work is on-going during 2012-2013 so check the museum’s website for opening hours and any disruption to exhibits.
Natural History Museum of Paris
Located within the grounds of the Jardins des Plantes the centuries old botanical gardens of Paris
Nearest Metro station: Censier – Daubenton
For details of exhibitions, opening times and tickets visit the museum’s website.