You visit Paris because it’s Paris – a city known for its effortless combination of breathtakingly grand monuments you’ll never forget seeing up close, twilight river walks that guide along luxury hotels, and bohemian cafés buzzing with beautiful people who define European style, elegance and class. As one of the world’s most extraordinary cities, the French capital will leave your senses spellbound with the taste of fine wines, the scent of fresh bread, and the feel of its cobbled streets beneath your feet.
The only thing you can’t have more of in the self-proclaimed “City of Love” is time – and with that in mind, here’s our guide to the Paris attractions you really need to see.
What’s the first thing that leaps to mind when you think about what to do in Paris? It has to be a trip to the city’s skyscraping sentinel – the Eiffel Tower. As one of the world’s most photographed structures, “iconic” doesn’t quite cover it. You might think you’ve seen plenty of it in countless movie scenes down the years, but there’s a lot that’s simply “you had to be there” about the Eiffel Tower experience, especially at night.
Hitch a ride up in its vintage elevator to take in the twinkling streetlights of the city it has overlooked – and symbolized – since it was built in 1889. Eiffel Tower tickets can be purchased online or at booths on the ground and second floors of the tower itself.
Notre Dame Cathedral
A Gothic masterpiece more than 170 years in the making, Notre Dame Cathedral cuts a dramatic figure on the banks of the Seine. Another must-do for any short stay in Paris, this UNESCO World Heritage site became the stuff of legends thanks to Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, plus the numerous movie versions that followed.
Gaze in wonder at the sky-high gilded ceilings and soak up the splendor of the stained-glass windows that belong to the stunning cathedral. Then, (if you’re feeling sprightly) clamber up the 422 steps to reach Emmanuel, Notre Dame’s mighty tenor bell, weighing in at a cool 1,100lbs. Next thing you know you’re stepping out onto the cathedral’s panoramic terrace – complete with a 360-degree view over Paris that’s guaranteed to knock your socks off.
If the majesty of Paris’s two biggest-hitting monuments leaves you hungry for more, head north to bohemian Montmartre, which is overlooked by the stunning Sacré-Coeur. Completed in 1919, Sacré-Coeur is a basilica that symbolizes the struggle between the conservative Catholic old guard and the secular, republican rebels.
Some 300 spiraling steps lead you to its dome, making it an awesome vantage point from which you can see up to 20 miles away. Head there on a Sunday and you’ll hear the organ being played during Mass and Vespers, the sunset evening prayer service. Listen out too for the resonant ring of La Savoyarde, the largest bell in France. Afterwards, walk along the streets of Montmartre, one of the most colorful neighborhoods in Paris, where you’ll catch musicians, artists and writers on every corner.
The Louvre Museum
For centuries, Paris has been a magnet for artists who come to the city to mingle in creative crowds – and nowhere exemplifies this trend more than the Louvre Museum. Both an art collection and a former royal palace, you can tell the Louvre means business even before you’ve even set foot inside. Based in the heart of Paris, its sparkling glass pyramid-shaped roof contrasts with the historic buildings surrounding it.
As the world’s largest museum, the Louvre houses some of its most celebrated pieces of art – including the Mona Lisa – giving the place a tangible buzz of excitement. But while the crowds gather around its world-famous masterpieces to snap selfies, there’s so much else to explore – from classical sculpture to Egyptian mummies. A quick tip – book tickets in advance to avoid the lengthy lines.
While the Louvre Museum grabs most of the artistic limelight, the Orsay Museum – or Musée D’Orsay to the locals – gives you art without such big crowds. Housed in a beautifully renovated train station, it showcases paintings by the likes of Degas, Monet and Van Gogh, as well as awe-inspiring sculptures and statues. Check out Lady Liberty, a small-scale version of the Statue of Liberty, by the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, who created the full-size version gifted to the US in 1885.
The Orsay Museum arguably adds just as much to Paris’s reputation as a global city of art – and because it’s smaller and easier to get around than the Louvre, it has a more laidback, less frenetic pace.
Even Paris’s cemeteries are visually beautiful. If you don’t believe it, visit Père Lachaise to see the unofficial shrines that have sprung up amid the famous graves of Doors legend Jim Morrison, the prolific playwright and author Oscar Wilde, and countless other writers, singers, actors and war heroes within the more than one million burial plots.
While Père Lachaise might seem an odd attraction, it’s a moving and tranquil spot filled with poignant homages to life. Plus, Père Lachaise is Paris’s largest green space, so the fresh air, cascading trees and cobblestone pathways it encompasses are an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Another leafy retreat that’s perfect for sun-soaking and people-watching is Luxembourg Gardens. It’s a great place to unwind, enjoy the scenery, or have a picnic. Take a walk around the reflective ponds overlooked by tall trees, or the shades of lavender, fuchsia and dandelion adorning every pathway. If you’ve got energy to burn, you could try to get view all 106 of the sculptures dotted around Luxembourg Gardens’ 61 acres.
Arc de Triomphe
A weekend in Paris will certainly give you a workout, and that’s true of the Arc de Triomphe as much as anywhere else. Commissioned by Napoleon in 1809 as a monument to his armies, it’s one of the city’s largest and most impressive structures, made up of hundreds of stairs all the way to the top.
If you can make the climb, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most sensational views across Paris. With the rolling neighborhoods and glorious monuments encased within a shimmering 360-degree skyline, it’s one of the finest photo opportunities you’ll get.
The glory and grandeur never stops, continuing at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées – just down the road from the Arc de Triomphe. Arguably the most beautiful avenue in the world, Paris’s tree-lined main avenue was once the famed meeting point for historic politicians. Now it is home to the many stylish cafés, art auctions and marquee stores, making it one of the best places for shopping in Paris.
Even among the busy weekend crowds, a stroll down the Champs-Élysées’ huge sidewalks, with their elegant facades and leafy plane trees, is an experience not to be missed. Shopping on the Champs-Élysées is an experience in itself and the place to come for gifts for loved ones back home as well as treats for yourself.
Getting from Paris to Versailles Palace is just a 14-mile drive. And it’s more than worth the short trip, because Versailles Palace is one of Europe’s grandest estates. Exploring its 2,300 rooms – including the Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Opera House and the King’s Private Apartments – will take you a while, just because there’s so much to see that defines grandeur.
Versailles Palace was the residence of Louis XVI and his royal court, before the monarchy was overthrown during the French Revolution. It was also where the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War One, was signed. Given how much there is to see, it’s well worth a day trip.
What are your favorite Parisian attractions? Comment on Facebook to let us know what stops you agree are a “must-see” in the City of Love.