Experience the crème de la crème of the ‘City of Lights’ by exploring these top 10 places to visit in Paris including museums, galleries, and iconic sites.
With so many world-famous attractions to explore in Paris, narrowing down your Parisian bucket list can be a real challenge. So to help you experience the best of the enchanting ‘City of Lights’, here are 10 must-see places to visit in Paris; from museums to markets to iconic 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 comes aglow with 20,000 sparkling lights for five minutes every hour. Interestingly, the famous structure was designed as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 World Fair; this was to mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. But more than 125 years later, 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 of Paris from the landmark.
If you have the energy, you can climb the 704 steps to the second level and explore the various shops, installations, and fantastic views. And if you’re feeling peckish, you can dine at 58 Tour Eiffel on the first floor or Le Jules Verne on the second. If you opt for the former, make sure to check out the transparent floor. But if you’re feeling particularly brave, you can take a glass elevator all the way to the top. Here, you can visit the office of Gustav Eiffel; the famous engineer whose company designed and built the tower. You can also sip on champagne while overlooking the city. The tower is open every day until 23:00 and until 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 artifacts dating 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 IM 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 in Paris. 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 like of Degas, Cézanne, Manet, Renoir, and Monet. Meanwhile, the Foundation Louis Vuitton modern art gallery houses the art collection of LV’s CEO Bernard Arnault. It is worth a visit just to admire the spectacular building which resembles a magical sailboat afloat on a man-made lake in the Bois de Boulogne. You can even visit these and other major museums for free on the first Sunday of the month.
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. The stunning basilica also symbolizes the return of self-confidence after these devastating years of conflict.
Over a million tourists flock to the 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 reaching up to 30km 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. Nearby, cafés, street entertainers, and hawkers fill the cobbled streets and while this is very touristy, it still has its own charm. Many famous artists of the past are associated with the Montmartre district, including Renoir, Degas, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso. If you head to Place du Tertre square, just a few streets away from the Sacré-Cœur, you will even find modern-day street artists eager to sketch your portrait or sell you paintings.
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. Constructed in 1623, it 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. Over the centuries, several generations of architects, sculptors, decorators, and landscape architects have embellished the palace.
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 wonderful 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 would use it as a refuge to escape the formality of court life and shake off the burden of her royal responsibilities. After all, she was famous for supposedly uttering the words “Let them eat cake”; referring to the starving peasants suffering from famine. More than 10 million people visit the extravagant palace each year, making it 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 fancy escaping the busy tourist hotspots and experiencing the bohemian side of Parisian life, then take a stroll along the tranquil banks of Canal St. Martin. Lined with numerous hipster cafés and boutiques, this once-derelict neighborhood lies is now a popular haunt among the arty and the affluent. Located between the Gare du Nord and Republic in the 10th arrondissement, Canal St. Martin was originally created by Napoleon back in 1802 as part of the city’s fresh water system. Back then, it was primarily a working-class area, however, after years of gentrification, it is now an up-market hub and one of the coolest places to visit in Paris.
On warm days, you’ll find students, artists, models, and well-heeled young professionals strolling, picnicking, chatting, and strumming their guitars along the canal. The shady, tree-lined quayside and striking arched iron footbridge also create a picture-perfect setting for budding photographers. Along the canal, you can pick up some pastries at one of the bakeries or browse the fashionable boutiques and book shops. And if you fancy a drink, there are countless bars and cafés in which to enjoy a coffee or wine. If you prefer beer, though, the popular Paname Brewing Company serves its own delicious craft beers and ales on a spacious outdoor terrace on the canal.
6. Shop ’til you drop on the Champs-Elysées
If you live to shop, then you will do 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, reserved only for the most luxurious and high-end designer brands. The likes of Dior, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, and the über-glam Vuitton flagship store are dotted along the prestigious avenue. Today, however, you will also find numerous high-street shops, global chain stores, and movie multiplexes here.
These include everything from Adidas and Apple to Sephora and H&M. If you prefer something a little less commercial, though, the Galerie du Claridge and Galeries Lafayette malls provide charming, up-market spots to get your shopping fix. 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 is 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 stalls, which are often surrounded by beautiful scenery and a lively atmosphere. One of the biggest markets in Paris is Marché Bastille in the Boulevard Richard Lenoir (in the 11th). More than 150 stalls sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to clothing, handbags, jewelry, and antiques. Meanwhile, Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, out by the Avenue de la Porte de Clignancourt in the 18th, is the largest flea market in Paris; and quite possibly the world.
This boasts more than 3,000 canvas-covered and open-air stalls and shops selling all manner of antiques and knick-knacks within a 7-hectare space. Book lovers, on the other hand, will find plenty of good reads at Le Marché du Livre; a specialty marketplace dedicated to antique and second-hand books. Fashionistas might also enjoy browsing up-and-coming brands at the monthly l’Hôtel Bohème market. Here, the hottest budding designers showcase their work, including clothing, jewelry, lingerie, and cosmetics. You can find a full list of daily markets in Paris online.
8. Dine at one of the 114 Michelin-starred restaurants
Unsurprisingly, France boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other country in the world. Furthermore, Paris is home to almost a quarter of them. Indeed, the gastronomic city boasts 114 establishments that carry the prestigious accolade. This is 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 have been awarded three stars, while eighteen have two. Needless to say, if you’re an avid foodie, you will be overwhelmed with options when to comes to dining out 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 are Frenchie, Septime, and Garance. So if you fancy savoring some of the most exquisite cuisine in the world, in the very same country where the Michelin Guide originated, you have plenty of options. Just make sure you arrive hungry to allow room for all those delicious must-order items.
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, marked by a distinctive 19th-century windmill. The risqué performances have been enticing audiences since 1889 when the venue first opened. They also famously inspired director Baz Luhrmann to create his 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’s impressive, nonetheless. It is also well worth a visit if you fancy an evening of pure musical escapism. Shows are scheduled every night at 19:00, 21:00, and 23:00, and 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 emblematic 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, since 1991, the banks of the Seine in Paris became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Taking a cruise along the Seine provides a fantastic way to explore Paris and take in all the sights and sounds without missing a beat. You are also likely to gain good insight into the city’s history, evolution, and architecture from this unique point of view.
Luckily, there are numerous river cruises that you can choose from; depending on how much time and money you have to spare. These can cost anything from €10 per person for a basic one-hour boat tour to upwards of €200 for a four-hour candle-lit, gourmet dinner cruise by night. Whichever boat you decide to hop aboard, however, you’re sure to snap some amazing photos and quite possibly have the most romantic date night ever. After all, Paris isn’t called the ‘City of Love’ for nothing!