Things to Do in Paris
The Eiffel Tower isn't just a symbol of Paris but a symbol for all of France. Erected by Gustave Eiffel to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution in 1889, the 1,050-foot (320-meter) tower once held the title of the world's tallest structure. Despite having been dwarfed by Dubai's Burj Khalifa and The Shard in London, the Eiffel Tower remains one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet. View the architectural icon from afar, or stop in at the three observation levels for stellar city views.
Primarily associated with the steady gaze of Leonardo Da Vinci's famousMona Lisa, Paris' Louvre museum is home to a 35,000-strong collection of paintings and sculptures considered one of the greatest in the world. The contemporary glass Louvre Pyramid heralds the museum's entrance, which millions of tourists flock to every year to feast their eyes on masterpieces that span from antiquity to the 20th century.
The lifeblood of Paris, the River Seine plays many roles in the city: It separates the Right Bank from the Left Bank, acting as a dividing line between Paris’ historically sophisticated and bohemian halves; it provides transportation via riverboat and plenty of opportunity for romantic strolls; and its riverbanks are a UNESCO World Heritage Site lined with the city’s top landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Musée d’Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, and the Louvre.
Second only to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is one of Paris' most iconic attractions, a marvel of medieval architecture that was immortalized in Victor Hugo's classic novelThe Hunchback of Notre Dame. Today, the Gothic grandeur and stained-glass windows of the UNESCO World Heritage site continue to reign supreme from Ile de la Cite, an island in the middle of the Seine River.
(UPDATE: Notre Dame Cathedral is currently off-limits due to fire damage)
Rivaling the Louvre as Paris' favorite art museum, the Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay) is known for its impressionist, post-impressionist, and art nouveau works from 1848 to 1914. Equally impressive as what’s inside the museum is its exterior: a former Beaux-Arts railway station with an enviable location on the banks of the Seine River. Both architecture and art buffs will want this museum on their Parisian itineraries.
Situated on the right bank of the Seine River and flanked by the idyllic Tuileries Garden and the grand boulevard of Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris. The infamous guillotines of the French Revolution were located here, but today the square is best known for striking monuments, elegant hotels, and elaborate fountains.
The Paris Catacombs (Catacombes de Paris) date back to the 1700s, when the ossuary was formed from an old underground quarry. Over the years, more and more remains were brought here from overcrowded cemeteries to make room for the city's development, up until 1860. For those with an interest, it’s a fascinating look at a former burial practice.
A large hill in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, the historic district of Montmartre is crowned by Sacré-Coeur Basilica, attracting visitors who come to walk the cobblestone streets and imagine what life was like during the Belle Epoque, when artists such as Dalí, Renoir, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso lived and worked here from the late 19th to early 20th century. Today, artists still gather at Place du Tertre to sketch tourist portraits—a favorite souvenir.
The Grand Palais is one of Paris’ most beautiful and recognizable structures. Debuted in 1900 in time for the World’s Fair, the architectural marvel is famed for its colossal nave, Beaux-Arts architecture, and immense glass roof. Today, the Grand Palais houses several gallery areas and also hosts tournaments, Chanel fashion shows, and other major events.
Though it translates to “New Bridge” in French, the Pont Neuf is in fact the oldest bridge in Paris, built in 1607 to connect the banks of the river Seine to Ile de la Cite. Known in the 18th and 19th centuries for its unsavory street vendors and pickpockets, Pont Neuf is now a tranquil pedestrian bridge and meeting place for visitors and locals alike.
More Things to Do in Paris
One of many bridges that cross the Seine, Pont Alexandre III was officially unveiled in 1900. Widely considered the city’s most beautiful and opulent bridge, it connects the Champs-Élysées and Grand Palais on the Right Bank with Invalides on the Left, making it a popular thoroughfare for tour groups and amblers.
The Arc de Triomphe looks down upon the grand tree-lined boulevard that is Avenue des Champs-Élysées: one of Paris’ most memorable sights and one of the world’s most famous avenues. It’s not just the striking architecture that captivates visitors—the shopping street is lined with designer boutiques, luxury hotels, and fine restaurants.
An instantly recognizable symbol of Paris, the colossal Arc de Triomphe stands at the epicenter of Place Charles de Gaulle, where 12 of the city’s busiest avenues converge. The Napoleon-commissioned monument, adorned with high-relief sculptures depicting sword-wielding soldiers and inscribed with the names of generals and battles, celebrates French military victories and remembers all those who have fought on behalf of France. The top of the arch, accessible via 284 steps, affords superb views over all of Paris.
Formerly a humble hunting lodge, the Palace of Versailles (Chateau de Versailles) is the extravagant creation of Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. Embellished to epitomize royal decadence (the inequality of which tindered the French Revolution), Versailles features 700 rooms replete with frescoed ceilings and carvings, plus the Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles), which brim with geometrically designed walkways and fountains. No visit to France is complete without experiencing the grandeur.
Paris’ Latin Quarter is a popular, historical area of the Left Bank. Home to the main Sorbonne campus, this dynamic, student-filled neighborhood was once frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and other revolutionaries. Today it’s distinguished for its buzzing cafés, lively restaurants, and must-see landmarks.
Expect bright lights, extravagant costumes, and raucous music at the world-famous Moulin Rouge. Opened in the Belle Epoque of 1889 to celebrate Paris' thriving creative scene and the end of the civil war, the windmill-cum-cabaret hall has never stopped basking in fun and frivolity. As a staple of Parisian nightlife, an unforgettable evening at the Moulin Rouge is a must on any traveler's France itinerary.
Home to the Opera de Paris, ballet performances, and the fictional Phantom of the Opera, the grand 19th-century Palais Garnier—also known as Opera Garnier—recalls the splendor of France’s Second Empire, an era synonymous with elegance and extravagance. Beyond its opulent exterior and foyer, the 2,000-seat auditorium is a riot of red velvet, gold, and bronze, with a massive chandelier and a colorful ceiling painting by modernist master Marc Chagall.
Known less for its name and more for the lily ponds that inspired Claude Monet's iconic paintings, Giverny is a provincial gem located just a short train journey from Paris. The tiny village, home to only 500 inhabitants, is an area of outstanding natural beauty, whose landscapes are comprised of ponds smothered in water lilies, weeping willow trees, and quaint painted bridges. Escape from Paris' metropolitan mayhem and spend the day in Giverny, a heaven for fans of Impressionism—you're sure to come back full of inner peace.
Designed by landscape architect André Le Nôtre—whose other creations include the Palace of Versailles gardens—in the mid-17th century, the UNESCO-listed Tuileries Garden (Jardin des Tuileries) is Paris’ most visited public park, with a spectacular setting between Champs-Elysées Avenue and the Louvre, on the banks of the Seine River.
The Pont des Arts—also known as the Passerelle des Arts—is one of central Paris’ most romantic bridges. Famed for the “love locks” that couples once clipped to its railings, the bridge has shed some weight in recent years, but not its amorous associations. These days, the pedestrian-friendly bridge is perfect for sightseeing or picnicking.
Impossible to miss in the heart of Palma’s Old Town, Plaza Mayor is the Mallorcan capital’s largest square and a lively meeting place at any time of day. Constructed in the 19th century on a storied piece of land, today the sprawling rectangular plaza serves as a shopping and dining hotspot for locals and visitors alike.
Îlede la Cité shares the Seine River with its upstream neighbor, ÎleSaint-Louis, right in the middle of Paris's city center. The westernmost end of the island is mostly residential with a small park at the tip, while the eastern end gives visitors the best view of the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame Cathedral. The Palais de Justice is also housed on the island, which has the Sainte-Chapelle inside, a tiny jewel box of almost kaleidoscopic color thanks to its wonderful stained glass.
Archaeologists found evidence of habitation on this island by the Romans, as early as the first century BC. But the early 17th century was when the island came into its own, after the construction of the Pont Neuf that spans the river and intersects with the western end.
Built by King Louis IX to house a relic of the crown of thorns—now kept at nearby Notre Dame Cathedral—the 13th-century Sainte Chapelle is renowned for its striking Gothic architecture and some of the most exquisite stained glass windows in Europe.
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