When you’re trying to plan what to see in Paris you could well find yourself spoilt for choice. A city brimming with culture, style and romance, it draws millions of tourists every year - all searching for the best places in Paris to visit and usually fighting against a tight schedule at the same time.
From world famous lures such as the Eiffel Tower, to hidden gems such as the Crypte Archeologique, there are so many things to do in Paris that a long weekend just isn’t enough!
So if you’re planning to visit this romantic hub and want to make the most of your trip, then our selection of the top places to visit in Paris could be just the thing for you. We’ve put together an expert selection highlighting what to see in Paris on a short trip, with our top ten places to visit stacked alongside a few additional recommendations that didn’t quite make the cut but shouldn’t be ignored if you have more time.
And if that’s not enough, you can even explore our full list of sites in Paris to your heart’s content.
Ok, ten out or ten for stating the obvious. Everyone puts the Eiffel Tower top of the list of things to see in Paris. But with good reason, because the Eiffel Tower is a place you just can’t miss. From its looming construction to its stunning views of the city and just the general energy and buzz of the place, it really does live up to the billing.
The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) is an imposing iron monument on Paris’ Champ de Mars by the river Seine.
The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889 based on the design of engineer Gustave Eiffel, after whom the tower was named. In fact Eiffel’s design was chosen out of 107 other proposals as part of a competition to create an iron structure as the entrance way to Paris’ Universal Exhibition World Fair or ‘Exposition Universelle’. The intention was to mark the centennial of the French Revolution.
Work on the 15 metre foundations began on 26 January 1887 and the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated on 31 March 1889 when Eiffel himself climbed the Tower’s 1,710 steps and planted the French flag at its peak.
At that time, the Eiffel Tower’s 312 metres in height made it the tallest building in the world, only eclipsed in 1929 with the construction of New York’s Chrysler Building. Today the Eiffel Tower is 324 metres tall due to the later addition of antennas, making it the tallest building in Paris and the fifth tallest in the world.
The Eiffel Tower is a tourist hotspot and visitors can climb or use the lifts to reach the first or second floors, the latter of which is 115 metres high. The most expansive views can be found on the Eiffel Tower’s third level at 276 metres, which has its own separate lift from the second floor. A backstage tour is available, which details the workings of the Eiffel Tower and its history.
While most people come to this city for romance, there’s a darker side to be found… This underground burial complex houses six million skeletons dating to the 18th century. Stacked in endless corridors, it’s a fascinating and haunting place. If you have the courage, it’s one of the most interesting places in Paris to see.
The Catacombs of Paris (Les Catacombes de Paris) came into use as a burial place for Parisian bones in the eighteenth century following the overpopulation of Parisian cemeteries and the closure of the Cemetery of Innocents (Les Innocents).
The Catacombs are underground quarries encompassing a portion of Paris’ old mines near Place Denfert-Rochereau and, at the time, were outside the city gates. The official decision to use the quarries was made on 9 November 1785 and they were blessed on 7 April 1786, following which bones from the Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs cemetery were moved there. Further remains were amassed at the Catacombs of Paris over the years, including those who died in several riots during the French Revolution. Overall, approximately six million human skeletons lie within the Catacombs of Paris.
A fascinating, unusual and somewhat haunting tourist attraction, The Catacombs of Paris are well worth a visit for those who are not claustrophobic or easily spooked. A tour of the Catacombs takes approximately an hour and involves climbing 83 steps.
Firmly seated among the most famous places to visit in Paris, you could spend your entire trip exploring the Louvre. It is vast and packed full of masterpieces at every turn. So do you zip through to see the highlights – the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo et al - or do you take your time and risk joining the collection…
Musee du Louvre, also known as, the Grand Louvre or just The Louvre, is one of the world’s foremost art museums, exhibiting over 35,000 works from around the globe and throughout history.
The Louvre’s eight departments cover an extensive array of historical periods and artistic genres, each represented through the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibits. Amongst these exhibits, The Louvre holds Near Eastern and Egyptian antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities, Islamic art, sculptures and paintings as well as decorative arts, prints and drawings.
Some of the most famous pieces held by The Louvre include the Jewels of Rameses II and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Set over 60,000 square meters, Musee du Louvre can be fairly daunting, but guided tours and audio tours are available in English and French lasting ninety minutes. Tours can be historically themed.
The building in which Musee du Louvre is housed has a fascinating history of its own, having started life as a fortress built by Philippe Auguste to protect Paris from the Anglo-Normans. It later became a royal palace of Louis XIV. The Louvre opened as a museum in 1793. The history and archaeology of The Louvre is explored on the lower ground floor of the museum in room 3.
The Pantheon's in Rome right? True, but it’s also in Paris. At least, the Paris Pantheon is in Paris. Makes sense, if you think about it. The Paris Pantheon is a church turned mausoleum and resting place of France’s famous. Little visited, it’s a magnificent building and ranks as one of the best things to do in Paris.
The Pantheon in Paris (Le Pantheon), was built as a result of King Louis XV’s determination to create an edifice to the glory of St-Genèvieve, the patron saint of Paris.
“The Pantheon” means “Every God” and construction began in 1758 with the intention that the building be a church. However, it was completed just before the French Revolution in 1789 and the revolutionary government converted The Pantheon into a mausoleum for the interment of great Frenchmen.
The Pantheon’s crypt is now the burial place of many French icons and bears the inscription ‘Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante’, meaning "To the great men, the grateful homeland".
Those buried there include Rousseau, Émile Zola, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Moulin, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and the architect of the Pantheon Jacques-Germain Soufflot. In fact, Soufflot died before the Pantheon was completed, meaning that his vision of a semi-gothic building with elements of basic principals was somewhat compromised.
Guided tours of the Pantheon are available and last approximately 45 minutes.
A monument to the decadence of royalty and a constant draw for vast numbers of visitors, Versailles is simply astonishing. And if the massive opulent palace isn’t enough, the gardens will simply blow your mind. Representing ostentatiousness beyond measure, it’s clearly one of the very best places to visit in Paris.
The Palace of Versailles was originally the hunting lodge of France’s King Louis XIII, but was transformed into a magnificent residence by his son and successor, Louis XIV.
The ostentatious monarch built the Grand Apartment of the King and Queen which included the magnificent Hall of Mirrors before moving both his court and the government of France to Versailles in 1682. And so it remained until the French Revolution in 1789.
In the 19th Century King Louis-Philippe turned it into the Museum of the History of France. The gardens of the Palace of Versailles, designed by André Le Nôtre at the instruction of Louis XIV, are equally spectacular and took forty years to complete.
There are numerous places to visit at the Palace of Versailles and a range of tour options. Audio headsets are available as are guided tours. When visiting the Palace of Versailles, you can also see Marie Antoinette’s estate and The Grande Trianon.
Standing at the very heart of the city, Notre Dame is an iconic cathedral and a staple entry on any list of what to see in Paris. With its looming ceilings and magnificent stained-glass windows, it's a wonderful place to visit. Its fame and location leave it slightly over-glorified, but it's genuinely impressive all the same.
Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is a gothic cathedral in Paris’s fourth arrondissement.
Original construction began in 1163, with the first stone supposedly laid in the presence of Pope Alexander III. At this time, it was the project of the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully who built it as a religious focal point in the city dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the original “Lady of Paris” or “Notre Dame de Paris”.
Notre Dame Cathedral has since undergone numerous building and refurbishment campaigns, with several religious, political and royal leaders determined to leave their mark on this impressive building. It was also necessary to rebuild parts of it following the French Revolution, when much of Notre Dame and its religious artifacts were destroyed.
Notre Dame Cathedral is still an operating church, but visitors are also welcome to tour the building and appreciate both its beauty and sheer size. Some of the highlights at Notre Dame include its stained glass windows, gothic architecture and many sculptures.
Free tours are conducted throughout the year, Monday to Friday at 2 and 3pm (except the first Friday of the month and every Friday during Lent) as well as Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm.
The nearby tower outside the cathedral is also worth a visit. Dating back to the 13th century, it houses the 17th Century Emmanuel Bell as well as Viollet-le-Duc’s 19th century chimera and gargoyles. Those feeling particularly fit can climb its 387 steps for magnificent views.
Also recommended is the archeological crypt just to the west of Notre Dame Cathedral and located under the Parvis. This underground crypt was built to protect ancient ruins found in 1965 and can be accessed via a staircase opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, near the Police Headquarters.
Finally, Notre Dame’s Treasury houses some of the relics of the Passion of Christ including the famous Crown of Thorns.
This cemetery is not the most obvious of things to do in Paris, and yet it has a strange allure. As well as many famous figures and military grandees found here, and alongside ornate and elaborate tombs, are a number of graves which have become cult destinations – principally the burials of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père-Lachaise) was established by Napoleon I in 1804. Originally considered to be too far from the main city, Pere Lachaise Cemetery initially attracted few funerals, but following a marketing campaign and the transfer of the remains of French philosopher Pierre Abélard in 1817, its popularity grew and it soon gained over 33,000 residents.
From singer Edith Piaf, novelist Marcel Proust and impressionist painter Camille Pissarro to playwright Oscar Wilde, an array of famous figures are buried there today. One of the most popular graves at Pere Lachaise Cemetery is that of The Doors’ front man Jim Morrison, probably attracting the largest number of visitors, but all of the graves are fascinating, including those of the regular citizens.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery is also the home of the Mur des Fédérés or ‘Communards Wall’ where 147 of the working class defenders of Belleville or ‘Communards’ were shot on 28 May 1871 as part of the ‘Bloody Week’. This is also surrounded by monuments to concentration camp victims from the Holocaust.
Maps are available to buy at the entrance, but you can also use the directories on the grounds. Overall, Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a peaceful and interesting way to spend an afternoon.
One of the city’s best hidden gems is the Crypte Archeologique – an underground museum of Roman Paris. Indeed, few people even think of Roman ruins among the interesting places in Paris to visit. This site is more curious as it's directly below Notre Dame; yet of the thousands above, barely dozens descend its steps.
The Crypte Archeologique (Archaeological Crypt) in Notre Dame Square (Parvis) in Paris is an incredible site for those interested in the history of Paris. During the Gallo-Roman Period, Paris was known as Lutetia, which developed from the first and second centuries BC.
The Crypte Archeologique contains the remains of Gallo-Roman Lutetia, including its third century BC walls, its streets and heating systems and even the ruins of a cathedral. Some of the remains are medieval, dating to the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and including a hospital.
A little known site, the Crypte Archeologique is often not as crowded as the streets above it.
If there was ever an example of good things in small packages then Sainte Chapelle is it. A 13th century church, its beautiful upper chapel is formed of intricate stained-glass windows and a richly decorated ceiling. It’s easily one of the top ten Paris places to visit and really has to be seen to be appreciated.
Sainte Chapelle or the “Holy Chapel” is a gothic church built by Saint Louis in Ile de la Cité in the centre of Paris.
The construction of Sainte Chapelle began in 1246 under the orders of King Louis IX, and was carried out with the specific purpose of housing the relics of the Passion of Christ, including the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the true cross. In fact, even by the time Sainte Chapelle was consecrated on 26 April 1248, at a cost of 40,000 livres, this expense paled in comparison to the 135,000 livres which these relics cost when bought from the Byzantine emperor Baldwin II.
The relics are now housed in the Treasury at the Notre Dame Cathedral, but there are still many attractions in Sainte Chapelle. With its two impressive upper and lower chapels and imposing gothic architecture, Sainte Chapelle a top tourist attraction.
Audio tours are available guiding visitors through and explaining the significance of its colourful stained glass windows and statues. In particular, the windows at Sainte Chapelle depict over a thousand images relating to the Old Testament and the Passion of Christ.
A hidden gem in the heart of Paris, Musee de Cluny is a medieval museum nestling within an ancient Roman bath complex. In fact, this tucked away treasure is one of the very best remnants of the ancient Roman city which would become Paris. If you’re seeking interesting places to visit in Paris, this is hard to beat.
Musee de Cluny in Paris is steeped in both medieval and Ancient Roman history. Officially known as Musée National du Moyen Âge – the National Museum of the Middle Ages - Musee de Cluny has an impressive collection, including Roman statues, gothic sculptures, a treasury filled with the works of medieval goldsmiths and an exhibit of funereal objects.
Also housing a collection of tapestries, one of the star exhibits at Musee de Cluny is the La Dame à la Licorne series, translated as “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, which date back to the fifteenth century.
Musee de Cluny contains a number of other interesting exhibits, including a set of Jewish gravestones dating back to Roman times.
However, it is not just what is inside Musee de Cluny which is of interest to historians – the very buildings in which it is contained are of great historical importance. Notably, Musee de Cluny is made up of two main buildings, the fifteenth century Cluny Abbey Hotel (Hôtel de Cluny) and an important series of Gallo-Roman baths.
These baths, known as Thermes de Cluny, date back to the first to third centuries AD and represent some of the best preserved remnants of the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia. With much of their walls intact, Thermes de Cluny is an exciting find for Ancient Rome enthusiasts.
Some of the rooms of Musee de Cluny were once part of the baths (the official site has a map showing which these are – otherwise it is hard to tell). Outside the museum, one can see the original walls of the cold room or “caldarium” and warm water room (tepidarium), although, at the time of writing, visitors cannot walk around this part of the site.
Another very obvious entry on the list of what to see in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe. An iconic landmark, you can’t really come to the city without seeing it, and you can get some excellent views of Paris from the top.
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris is a 162 foot monumental arch in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle. It was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, shortly following his victory at Austerlitz, with the aim of commemorating French soldiers, particularly those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.
The Arc de Triomphe was completed in 1836 and is an imposing and ornate structure. Its many engravings include the dates of military victories, the names of important soldiers and depictions of war.
Visitors can climb to its peak for magnificent views or enter the small museum inside it, both of which are included in the entrance fee. A further attraction at the Arc de Triomphe is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier , which commemorates those who fought in the two World Wars with an eternal flame.
Tucked away among cramped modern streets, the remains of this Roman amphitheatre are well worth a passing look. Though not the best roman ruin on the planet, it’s nevertheless centrally located and easy to get to. It may not the most obvious of places to see in Paris, but it’s definitely a quick one to add to the list.
Arenes de Lutece or “Lutetia Arena” in Paris is one of the most important and rare remnants of the Gallo-Roman settlement of Lutetia. Lutetia or ‘Lutece’ was a settlement located on the site of what is now Paris. Originating in pre-Roman Gaul it then became a Roman city.
Originally built in the first to second century AD, Arenes de Lutece was a vast amphitheatre able to seat between 10,000 and 15,000 spectators. In 280 AD, Arenes de Lutece was sacked, leaving few remains.
Rediscovered during building works carried out in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Arenes de Lutece was subject to a great deal of renovation, sadly to the extent that much of what can be seen today – such as the tiered seating - is not original. Having said this, it is definitely worth seeing if you are interested in Roman Gaul. Some of the Roman stage settings are still visible and one does get a good sense of what the theatre would have looked like.
Today, Arenes de Lutece is more likely to be the site of skateboarding competitions and picnics rather than gladiator matches.
While there’s no doubt that walking the Champs Elysees is one of the most clichéd things to do in Paris, it’s still worth the stroll. From the Arc de Triomphe to the shops and attractions there’s quite a bit to do. And standing at the top of the Champs Elysees to take a photo remains an unmissable tourist activity.
The Avenue des Champs Elysees is a central street in Paris first established in the 1660’s and in which many of the France’s national events are marked, including parades to celebrate the victories of each of the two World Wars.
Today, Avenue des Champs Elysees is a focal point for both Parisians and tourists and is lined with some of the city’s most important sites such as the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, it is also renowned for its myriad of shops.
The Basilica of St Denis is often overlooked by visitors and overshadowed by Notre Dame. Yet it was here that French royalty was laid to rest and, despite destruction during the Revolution, this royal necropolis can still be seen. Combined with stunning architecture, this is one place in Paris that is well worth a visit.
The Basilica of St Denis (Basilique Saint-Denis) in Paris, France is a cathedral basilica named after France’s patron saint. In fact, the place where Basilica of St Denis stands is believed to the site where Saint Denis, also known as Saint Dionysius, was buried after his death in around 275 AD, making the then abbey church a place of pilgrimage.
Whilst originally founded in the 7th century, the current Basilica of St Denis was built in a gothic style in the 12th century by the Regent of France, Abbot Suger.
From the 7th century onwards, and officially from the 10th century, the Basilica of St Denis acquired a new and important role as the burial place of the kings and queens of France. It retained this role for hundreds of years and all but three of France’s monarchs were buried there. However, during the French Revolution, many of the tombs were opened and the remains removed.
In 1966 the Basilica of St Denis became a cathedral.
Today, the Basilica of St Denis is open to the public, allowing views beyond its stunning façade into its vaulted interior. Inside, visitors can view its incredible necropolis.
Guided tours and audio guides are available in English, French, Spanish and Italian, lasting between an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half.
The country home of Napoleon Bonaparte, Chateau de Malmaison is one of the most famous grand houses in Paris. Containing impressive collections and a deep sense of history built around the renowned footsteps which graced its halls, this iconic property is on the outskirts of the city but is worth the effort.
Chateau de Malmaison was the home of Napoleon Bonaparte and his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, who bought it in 1799. Since then, Chateau de Malmaison served as the seat of government from 1800 to 1802 and then became Joséphine’s property in 1809 after the couple divorced.
After serving as her home and then, amongst other things, as a military barracks, Chateau de Malmaison became the property of the state.
Today, Chateau de Malmaison is open to the public, allowing visitors to view Napoleon's former bedroom and that where his first wife died. Frescos and paintings are found throughout and there is a museum dedicated to Napoleon in the grounds.
As impressive for the architecture as for the history and exhibits, this famous former prison lies in the heart of the city. You can still visit the old prison, including Marie Antoinette’s cell, and its convenient location means it often appears on most itineraries of places in Paris to visit.
La Conciergerie in Paris, France is located on an important site which once formed the seat of the city’s Roman leaders during their occupation of Gaul. La Conciergerie itself originally formed part of thirteenth century Palais de Justice, the royal palace built by King Philip IV. It served this role until the 1350’s, when the French royals moved to the Louvre.
As it ceased being used as a royal residence, La Conciergerie became the site where judicial functions were carried out, a purpose which parts of the palace still fulfil today.
From 1391, La Conciergerie’s judicial function took on a different character as it was transformed into a prison. Thus it remained for centuries, playing its sinister role during the French Revolution as the home of the ominous Revolutionary Tribunal which sent thousands of prisoners to the guillotine.
In the course of the Revolution, La Conciergerie held over a thousand prisoners at any given time. Some of the most famous inmates at La Conciergerie included Francois Ravaillac, the assassin of King Henri IV, imprisoned there in 1610, revolutionaries Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, and, most prominently, Queen Marie Antoinette. Each was then executed.
Visitors to La Conciergerie can enjoy both its impressive medieval architecture, such as its large Hall of the Men at Arms and its history, both royal and as an instrument of punishment. Its original torture chambers can still be viewed.
Originally a military hospital, Les Invalides is a large complex of buildings and monuments which houses museums, a hospital and a home for war veterans. However, it is the tall chapel dome and the tomb of one of the country’s most famous figures, Napoleon I, that perhaps ranks it among the most famous places in Paris.
Les Invalides was originally built by the order of Louis XIV as a hospital and home for ailing soldiers. This order was given on 24 November 1670, the building designed by architect Liberal Bruant and Les Invalides was completed in 1676. In fact Les Invalides still operates as an institution for war veterans, under the name Institution Nationale des Invalides.
Following its initial construction, several further additions were made to Les Invalids, including a chapel in 1679 and the striking Dome Church or 'Église du Dôme', which incorporates the royal chapel built by Louis XIV and completed in 1706.
One of the most significant dates in the history of Les Invalides was when the body of the Emperor Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) was brought there on December 15th 1840. His tomb, which was completed in 1861, remains there today and is housed in the Dome Church.
Les Invalides is made up of several buildings and now stands as the largest complex of monuments in Paris, including its comprehensive military museum, Musée de l'Armée.
Les Invalides operates numerous types of tours, including those specifically dealing with historical, cultural or artistic issues. There is even a tour dedicated entirely to Napoleon. The multimedia presentation on the life of Charles de Gaulle is also worth seeing.
It doesn’t take long to see Place de la Concorde, indeed it’s just a quick stop along the route along Paris’s famous places. And yet in terms of history, it’s hard to find a spot in the city which witnessed such momentous moments. For it was here that King Louis XVI was executed in 1793, an act that sent shockwaves across the world.
Place de la Concorde in Paris was the site where King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.
During the French Revolution, Place de la Concorde was named Place de la Revolution. Prior to this, it had been known as Place Louis XV and had contained a statue of the monarch. However, when the revolution took hold, this monument was taken down and replaced with the guillotine.
Place de la Concorde became the focus of the executions of France’s elite during the Reign of Terror, a period of exceptional violence during the French Revolution. Over 1,300 people were executed at Place de la Concorde, amongst them Louis XVI’s wife Marie Antoinette and even leading revolutionary figures such as Danton and Robespierre.
Today, Place de la Concorde is the home of the Luxor Obelisk. This monument was gifted to the French by the viceroy of Egypt in 1833 and it once formed part of the ancient Luxor Temple.
You pretty much have to visit Pont Neuf when you come to this city. Almost all the most famous places to see in Paris require that you walk over it one way or the other. It’s the oldest bridge in the city and a great spot to snap some pictures.
Pont Neuf in Paris dates back to the sixteenth century, making it the oldest bridge in the city. Work on Pont Neuf was started in 1578 by King Henry III and completed in 1607 by Henry IV.
For a building which is so renowned, the remains of the Bastille are curiously obscure. Lying almost entirely forgotten at the edge of a tiny park, the last remnants of this famous prison are marked only with a small plaque. If you’re looking for things to see in Paris that most people miss, this is one gem worth seeing.
Some remains of the Bastille, the state prison which was famously stormed thus sparking the French Revolution, can be seen in a small park known as Square Henri Galli in Paris.
A small plaque next to what seems like an innocuous pile of stones marks this out as the remains of one of the most notorious sites in history.
For the original location of this prison, see the entry for The Bastille.