The mere mention of its name often evokes thoughts of romance, and memories of incredible cuisine, glamorous women, and cutting-edge fashion. For everyone, it’s a city of beautiful buildings, with a style of art and architecture unsurpassed anywhere else. And that’s just for starters…
By Jim Ferri
I never tire of Paris, since few places in the world possess such allure for me.
But beyond its cuisine, its museums, and its incredible beauty, what beguiles me most is that Paris never stops fascinating me with myriad discoveries.
How can I forget my first taste of that delicious cheese in the little Left Bank market or the café where my morning croissant was as light as air? Ot that pâtisserie where the macarons were as delicious as they were beautiful in the window? Or my ad-hoc picnic in Luxemburg Gardens one wonderful autumn afternoon?
From its bistros and boulangeries to its macarons and markets and Michelin stars, Paris oozes a glamor and style like nowhere else, a je ne sais quoi that has been bringing travelers back for centuries.
Whether you are a returning traveler or making your first trip to Paris, here are the top 10 places in Paris you shouldn’t miss.
The Incredible Musee du Louvre
It’s home to one of the most renowned art collections in the world, and for many travelers, the Louvre is the pièce de résistance of the museum world. It is firmly entrenched as one of the top 10 places in Paris travelers want to visit. Although best known for the Mona Lisa and her enigmatic smile, it’s an incredible repository of more than 75,000 pieces of art from almost every civilization on earth (it’s estimated it would take nine months just to glance at every piece). Its works are spread out over 675,000 square feet in three different wings, with their entrances located under I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid in the courtyard. It’s best to go online to buy your tickets and select the areas you’d like to see ahead of time.
The Renowned Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is the top of the top 10 places in Paris just about every traveler wants to see. It seems Incredible to us today, but when Gustave Eiffel’s soaring wrought-iron tower was erected for the 1889 Universal Exhibition, the media denounced it. Today, though, it still stands proudly along the Seine on the Champ de Mars, the most enduring symbol of Paris. Everyone has to see it if only to stand below to view its soaring arches, although the sights from above are much better. There will be crowds queuing at the tower from opening to closing, so it’s well worth getting tickets online in advance. And if you’re hungry you’ll find its Jules Verne Restaurant to be one of the best in Paris.
Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées
The triumphal arch, the most famous in the world, was built to celebrate Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. It is firmly entrenched as one of the top 10 places in Paris. The customary starting point for parades up the Champs-Élysées, the arch stands in the center of the hub where 12 avenues converge, a nightmare for unsuspecting out-of-town drivers. The viewing platform on its roof provides one of the best views of the city, the only place to get a good view of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées. When you come down from the Arc, spend an hour or two leisurely strolling along the Champs-Élysées.
Exquisite Notre-Dame Cathedral
Another of the top 10 places in Paris, Notre-Dame de Paris is as beautiful as it is historic. Located on the Île de la Cité in the Seine, it’s now more than 850 years old and attracts 13 million visitors every year. Be one of them and you’ll discover an incredibly beautiful church, unlike any other. If you have the stamina, climb the 387 steps to the roof of the north tower for a superb view of Paris and the cathedral’s famous gargoyles. The last time I visited I was enchanted by a boy’s choir in rehearsal, as their voices drifted through the air of the great cathedral.
Famous Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre
The Romano-Byzantine church of Sacré-Cœur, completed in 1914, isn’t as old as other Parisian churches but is better known due to being a Parisian landmark visible from many areas of the city. It stands on top of the hill of Montmartre, an area of Paris that was once a village outside the city. For centuries it’s been known as the haunt of artists, something that continues today as scores of them showcase their paintings for tourists in the bustling Place du Tertre. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s fun and colorful and still retains the aura of pre-war Paris.
Along with the neighboring Bastille district where the French Revolution was born, the Marais was a forgotten bit of Paris until it became popular once again with artists and designers a few decades ago. It’s a beautiful area directly north of Notre Dame and the Seine, filled with mansions and several small but notable museums, as well as many popular cafés and restaurants peppered along its little lanes. Encompassing the 13th-century Jewish Quarter, today it’s one of the liveliest nightspots in the city.
From a collector’s perspective, the Musée d’Orsay takes over where the Louvre leaves off, exhibiting pieces from 1848 to 1914. It’s a superb museum that was born as a Belle Époque railway station in the 19th-century and was given a second life in 1986. It’s world renown for its collection of Impressionist and Postimpressionist paintings, with works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, Degas, and Cézanne. It’s a comfortable, easy-to-see museum with exhibits spread about three floors.
The Famous and Beautiful Luxembourg Gardens
Luxembourg Gardens are not only one of the top 10 places in Paris, but also one of the top parks in the world. It’s a treat to visit these beautiful quiet gardens that are surprisingly close to the hustle and bustle of St-Germain-des-Prés. This green oasis is the most popular park in all of Paris, a refuge filled with spacious lawns and paths beneath towering chestnut trees. In its center is the beautiful Luxembourg Palace with its octagonal pool where children sail their toy sailboats, for rent at the nearby kiosk. The beautiful 60-acre park has both French and English gardens with more than 100 statues spread throughout it.
Sainte-Chapelle was built in the 13th century by Louis IX as a repository for holy relics (now in Notre Dame) that he had acquired from the Emperor of Constantinople. It’s claim to fame, however, are its magnificent stained-glass windows, the oldest in Paris. They are what have made it one of the top 10 places in Paris, and are as extraordinary as they are magnificent, soaring glass walls that the ceiling above appears to float over. It is an amazingly beautiful place, the most stunning Gothic monument in all of Paris. It’s housed within the Palais de Justice, which requires visitors to transit a security area as they enter. Try to visit on a sunny day to get the full impact.
Located in the Latin Quarter, and modeled after its namesake in Rome, the neoclassic Panthéon originally was constructed as Sainte-Genevieve Church, in honor of the patron saint of Paris. Its life as a church was short-lived, however, since it was completed right before the French Revolution, and the revolutionary government converted it into a mausoleum. Its 220-foot-high dome is so extraordinary that Foucault used it to test his famous pendulum, proving the Earth rotates on its axis. It is a beautiful and stately building, whose “residents,” a “Who’s Who” of French history, include such luminaries as Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, and Marat. Marie Curie was re interred there in 1995.
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