Experience the crème de la crème of the ‘City of Lights’ at these top places to visit in Paris including iconic museums, galleries, landmarks, and more.
With so many world-famous attractions to explore in France’s vibrant capital, narrowing down your Parisian bucket list can be a challenge. So to help you experience the best of the enchanting ‘City of Lights’, here are our favorite places to visit in Paris; from museums and markets to landmarks and beyond.
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1. Lap up the magnificent views from the Eiffel Tower
A trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without visiting its most iconic landmark, the Eiffel Tower. Standing at 324 meters tall, the striking wrought-iron tower is the tallest structure in Paris. It is also one of the most beautiful sights to behold; especially at night when it twinkles with 20,000 lights for five minutes every hour. Interestingly, the famous structure was designed as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 World Fair to mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. More than 125 years later, however, the towering beauty remains an iconic symbol of Paris. Each year, millions of people travel from all over the world to admire the breathtaking views from the top.
If you have the energy, you can climb the 704 steps to the second level and explore the various shops and installations. And if you’re feeling peckish, you can dine at 58 Tour Eiffel or Le Jules Verne on the first and second floor. If you opt for the former, make sure to check out the transparent floor. If you’re feeling particularly brave, though, you can take a glass elevator all the way to the top and visit the office of Gustav Eiffel; the famous engineer whose company designed and built the tower. And to top it off, you can sip on champagne while overlooking the city. The tower is open every day until 23:00 and midnight during summer. You can avoid the queues by pre-booking tickets online, which range from €2.60 to €25.90.
2. Get lost in the Louvre and other smaller museums
It’s easy to while away an hour or two in the world’s largest and most visited museum, the Louvre. And that’s just inside the fantastic book and gift shop! Located in the heart of Paris, on the right bank of the Seine, the magnificent museum is home to around 38,000 works of art and artefacts; some of which date back to prehistoric times. These are displayed in an area that covers 72,735 square meters and comprises a maze of galleries and passageways. Among the Louvre’s most famous treasures are the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The museum is also home to I.M. Pei’s famous glass Louvre Pyramid which sits in the main courtyard. With 9.6 million visitors in 2019 alone, the Louvre is one of the busiest places to visit in Paris. Needless to say, it’s a good idea to book your ticket in advance.
If you fancy some culture without tackling the crowds, however, there are plenty of other museums and galleries to explore. The Musée d’Orsay in the converted Beaux Art rail station, for instance, houses one of the largest collections of Impressionist and Post-impressionist art in the world. Here, you will discover masterworks by the likes of Degas, Cézanne, Manet, Renoir, and Monet. Meanwhile, the art collection of Louis Vuitton CEO Bernard Arnault can be found in the Foundation Louis Vuitton museum. The spectacular building resembles a magical sailboat afloat a man-made lake in the Bois de Boulogne. If you head there on the first Sunday of the month, you can also visit it for free.
3. See Paris from the top of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica
A steep climb or a quick ride on the funicular railway up the 130-meter hill of Montmartre will reward you with the spectacular sight of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Built between 1875 and 1914, the famous landmark is the second-most visited monument in Paris. It also stands at the highest point in the city. The French government commissioned the Sacré-Cœur to honor the lives of the 58,000 soldiers who died in the Commune and Franco-Prussian War. It now serves as a symbol of the return of self-confidence after these devastating years of conflict.
Over a million tourists flock to the stunning basilica each year to admire its Romanesque and Byzantine-style interiors and climb the 300 steps to the Dome. From here, you can enjoy sensational views of Paris that reach as far as 30 kilometers on a clear day. The Sacré-Cœur is open every day of the year and entrance is free; making it a great item to add to your Paris bucket list. The nearby cobbled streets, which are lined with cafés, street entertainers, and hawkers, also offer a certain charm. Many famous artists, including Renoir, Degas, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso, are associated with the Montmartre district. And if you head to the nearby Place du Tertre square, you will find modern-day street artists eager to sketch your portrait or sell you a painting.
4. Get the royal treatment at the Palace of Versailles
Located about 20 kilometers southwest of the center of Paris, the magnificent Palace of Versailles is one of the most popular attractions in Europe. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a fine example of 18th-century French art. The palace was once the principal residence of the French kings; from the reign of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. It was also the center of political power during the French Revolution. Several generations of architects, sculptors, decorators, and landscape architects have embellished the palace over the centuries.
Today, it is still revered for its opulent royal apartments and extravagant features such as its ceremonial Hall of Mirrors. Scattered with fountains, canals, and geometric flower beds and groves, the palace’s vast gardens are also a wonder to explore. Two stunning châteaux lie within the palace grounds; the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. The latter was gifted to Queen Marie-Antoinette by her husband Louis XVI. She used it as a refuge to escape the formality of court life and the burden of her royal duties. After all, she was famous for supposedly uttering the words “Let them eat cake”; referring to the starving peasants suffering from famine. With more than 10 million visitors each year, the extravagant palace is one of the most popular places to visit in Paris. Needless to say, it’s wise to book your tickets online in advance to avoid missing out.
5. Relax along the boho banks of Canal St. Martin
If you want to escape the busy tourist hotspots and experience the bohemian side of Parisian life, then a stroll along the banks of Canal St. Martin is a must. Lined with numerous hipster cafés and boutiques, this once-derelict neighborhood is now a popular haunt among the arty and the affluent. Located between the Gare du Nord and Republic in the 10th arrondissement, the canal was originally created by Napoleon in 1802 as part of the city’s fresh water system. Back then, it was primarily a working-class area. Following years of gentrification, however, it is now one of the trendiest places to visit in Paris.
On a warm day, you will find students, artists, and young professionals strolling, picnicking, and strumming their guitars along the canal. The shady, tree-lined quayside and striking arched iron footbridge also create a picturesque setting for budding photographers to capture. If you want a break from browsing the fashionable boutiques and book shops, there are countless bars and cafés to enjoy a coffee or wine. If you prefer beer, however, the popular Paname Brewing Company serves its own delicious craft beers and ales on a spacious outdoor terrace.
6. Shop ’til you drop on the Champs-Elysées
If you live to shop, then you will no doubt be in heaven when you browse the seemingly endless array of stores along the Champs-Elysées. Running between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle, where the Arc de Triomphe is located, the 1.9-kilometer-long street was once considered to be the most beautiful avenue in the world. It was also reserved for the most luxurious and high-end designer brands such as Dior, Gucci, and Ralph Lauren. The prestigious avenue is also home to the über-glam Vuitton flagship store. Today, however, numerous high-street shops, global chain stores, and even movie multiplexes can be found here.
These include everything from Adidas and Apple to Sephora and H&M. If you prefer shopping somewhere less commercial, though, the Galerie du Claridge and Galeries Lafayette are charming malls. The latter is arguably the most original shopping destination on the Champs-Elysées. It houses a range of emerging and international designers as well as an excellent gourmet food deli and market. The bright and airy Café Citron, meanwhile, has a glowing reputation for its delectable Mediterranean cuisine.
7. Browse one of the many Parisian markets
Paris isn’t only a haven for designer brands and high-street shopping, it’s also home to numerous sprawling markets that sell everything from food and clothing to antiques and bric-a-brac. Whatever you fancy buying, you will surely find it among these diverse and lively stalls. These are often surrounded by beautiful scenery, too. One of the biggest markets in Paris is Marché Bastille in the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Here, you will discover more than 150 stalls selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to clothing, jewelry, and antiques. Meanwhile, Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, on the northern edge of the city, is the largest flea market in Paris – and quite possibly the world.
More than 3,000 canvas-covered and open-air stalls and shops selling all manner of antiques and knick-knacks can be found within this 7-hectare market. Book lovers, however, will find plenty of good reads at Le Marché du Livre, a specialty marketplace that is dedicated to antique and second-hand books. Fashionistas, on the other hand, might enjoy browsing up-and-coming brands at the monthly l’Hôtel Bohème market. The hottest new designers showcase their work here, including clothing, jewelry, lingerie, and cosmetics. Want more? Check out this full list of daily markets in Paris.
8. Dine at one of the 114 Michelin-starred restaurants
Unsurprisingly, France boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other country in the world. And almost a quarter of them can be found in Paris alone. In fact, the gastronomic city boasts 114 establishments that carry the prestigious accolade; the highest number of any capital city, after Tokyo which is home to 226. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, ten of these Parisian eateries have been awarded three stars, while eighteen carry two. Needless to say, if you’re an avid foodie, you’ll be overwhelmed with the dining options on offer in the ‘City of Lights’.
The good news, though, is that you don’t need to be rich to appreciate the fine cuisine on offer at these world-famous restaurants. On the contrary, many of them offer set menus and à la carte items at surprisingly reasonable prices. As of 2020, a few of the most affordable restaurants in Paris include Frenchie, Septime, and Garance. So if you fancy savoring some of the most exquisite food in the world, in the very country that invented the Michelin Guide, then you have plenty of options. Just make sure you arrive hungry!
9. Catch some can-can at the Moulin Rouge
Looking for some entertainment to liven up your night in Paris? Then why not experience the most famous cabaret in the world at the spectacular Moulin Rouge. Colorfully dressed can-can dancers take to the stage every night at the iconic theater, which is famously marked by a 19th-century windmill. These risqué performances have been enticing audiences since 1889 when the venue first opened. Of course, they also inspired Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 Oscar-winning movie, Moulin Rouge!.
Although the smash-hit flick may have inflated the size and grandeur of the theater (spoiler alert: there’s no longer a giant elephant room in the garden), it is impressive, nonetheless. Shows are scheduled every night at 19:00, 21:00, and 23:00. These feature a variety of acts such as singing, dancing, rollerskating, and juggling. If you really want to push the boat out, though, you can book a table at the Moulin Rouge restaurant and enjoy an elegant dinner lit by the cabaret’s famous red table lamps. Ooh la la!
10. Take a cruise down the Seine River
Lined with iconic landmarks and exquisite monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Louvre, the Seine is one of the world’s most scenic urban rivers. In fact, the banks of the Seine became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. One of the best ways to take in the sights and sounds of Paris is to hop on a cruise along the scenic river. From this unique point of view, you can also gain insight into the city’s rich history, evolution, and architecture.
Luckily, there are numerous river cruises to choose from; depending on your budget and how much time you have to spare. These can range from €10 per person for a basic one-hour boat tour to upwards of €200 for a four-hour gourmet dinner cruise. Whatever you opt for, though, you’re sure to snap some incredible photos and enjoy an unforgettable date night. After all, Paris isn’t called the ‘City of Love’ for nothing!