Take a walk in the Jardin des Tuileries, next to the Louvre Museum. Nude by Aristide Maillol.
The Top Ten Paris Attractions
Paris is the most visited city in the world and deserves the attention because it’s stunning, stylish and sensual, with a dramatic past and a buoyant present, even if France’s economic status generally is questionable thanks to weak and short-sighted politicians.
Paris is a seductive place of grand structures, world-beating museums, attractive walks, spacious gardens and fine eating in both large and small establishments – all tied together by an efficient public transport system.
See our Paris Map for the location of the sights listed below.
Note: To avoid lining up for most Paris attractions
Tourists need to do just two things:
a) buy a Museum Pass online, at a tourist office or at some museum that has short lines such as Sainte-Chapelle that is conveniently located between the Louvre and Notre Dame.
b) arrive as close as possible to opening time, usually at 9am.
Magnificent interior sights and exterior views.
The Cathédrale Notre Dame (Cathedral of Our Lady) has been at the heart of Paris since its foundation in 1163. It’s on an island in the Seine River, Ile de la Cité and the distance from Paris to any place in France is measured from this cathedral. Both worshippers and sight-spotting travellers come from all over the world to soak in the aura of this masterpiece of French Gothic architecture.
Notre Dame is also free to enter (but get your timing right unless you don’t mind a long wait) and offers lots of interesting sights, inside and out.
Avenue des Champs Elysées is the central boulevard in the photo. Twelve busy roads converge around the Arc without any form of control! It’s madness, but it works. Only in France!
The Champs-Elysées stretches from the obelisk at the Place de la Concorde roundabout (which is at one end of the Jardin Tuileries, which is at one end of the Louvre Museum. . . ) straight to the Arc de Triomphe.
A stroll from the Louvre to the Arc is an unwavering line of about 3 kilometres (almost 2 miles); if you care to continue straight on to La Défense it’ll be another 3 kilometres.
5. Eiffel Tower
Straddling the well-trodden grass of Champ de Mars, this symbol of Paris was the world’s tallest building – at 321m – when it was built for the Exposition Universelle (World Fair) in 1889.
The Eiffel Tower is famous for its panoramic views and infamous for long lines for the lifts.
To avoid queuing/lining up for the Eiffel Tower
Buy your tickets online for a specific half-hour time slot, up to one month before your intended trip at Tour-Eiffel website. Print out the ticket then get to the entry just 10 minutes before your time and look for priority boarding.
Busy times on the tower are 10am-12 noon and 2pm to 4 pm so try to avoid those times as there will still be a line for the upper lift. Try the shorter queue for night sights, or walk up the stairs to the platforms on the first (57m) or second (115m) levels for very fit visitors.
From the top over 60km distance may be visible on a clear day, and the best time is at dusk.
There is a bistro on the first level and a restaurant on the second. The Tower is open everyday until 11pm, or until midnight in the summer.
Very nearby is the visually stunning Quai Branly Museum of exotic artifacts.
7. The Panthéon
Finished in 1790 and looking somewhat between Rome’s Pantheon and London’s St Paul’s, Paris’ Pantheon has been a church, a mausoleum and is now a kind of museum/gallery, with some wonderful frescoes, statues, a tomb or two, a bizarre pendulum clock right in the centre (Foucault’s Pendulum) and views over Paris that outshine the Sacré Coeur, though not the Eiffel Tower, of course, if you have the patience to get to the top.
The Pompidou Centre, displaying modern and contemporary arts in the Musée National d’Art Moderne, in addition to space for shops, library and cinema, attracts more than 25, 000 people a day, not only for its avante-garde building style and excellent temporary exhibitions, but also to savour the colourful and wacky street action around the building.
9. Orsay Museum
Previously a railway station, the Musée d’Orsay was saved from demolition and turned into one of the Paris’ finest museums. It is now home for a superb collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.
Most visitors come to see the masterpieces by Degas, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir among others, though these top floor rooms are a bit cramped.
Other key works are found in the airy sculpture gallery on the ground floor, or Rodin sculptures and an Art Nouveau collection on the middle floor. There’s a great view over the river Seine from the open-air terrace.
Photos are not allowed inside the building and the museum is closed on Mondays.
To avoid queuing (lining up) for literally hours, the best option is to buy a museum pass
– get advance tickets from the Musee d’Orsay website or from Paris branches of the French department store FNAC.
Entry is not timed so it’s best to get to priority-access door C (on the right of the main entrance) at opening time, 9. 30 a. m, then head directly to your main targets, especially if they are the busy impressionist galleries.
Try visiting the Orsay on Thursday evening when they open till 9. 45pm.
10. Sacré Coeur
Sacré Coeur was undoubtedly the bugcrew’s least favourite major Paris attraction for a number of reasons, and tourist numbers was the least of them
– The approach street was dirty, tacky and housed the least friendly service personnel in Paris.
– the route further up involved dealing with unusually aggressive souvenir vendors.
– the Sacré Coeur had little of interest inside but even so did not permit photos (Notre Dame and Ste Chapelle both do).
– the patio outside the church was filthy.
– the much vaunted panorama was useless compared to the Notre Dame, Pantheon and of course the Eiffel Tower (though we were too late to book a quick trip to the top and too impatient to wait in line, so we didn’t go up the tower). From the church terrace the view reveals a mere 90 degrees of nothing (see below).
Don’t bother with Sacré Coeur, there are better things to do in Paris!
Speed up use of trains or buses and reduce costs with a carnet
Paris sights are thickly clustered around the central Seine River region so visitors who like walking and manage to find accommodation on the left bank near Notre Dame, for example (which is relatively inexpensive), will find that they rarely need to use the Metro, let alone hop in a taxi – which are expensive.
Most tourists will stay within Zones 1 and 2, the 20 arrondissements (districts) of Paris and will find a metro station within a very few hundred meters of anywhere.
There are many complex systems to keep costs down when using the Metro, RER rail network and bus systems which cover the city thoroughly. Normal tourists spending a few days or even a couple of weeks will be well satisfied with a simple carnet (pron: ‘carnay’) of 10 tickets for 12 euros, as opposed to an individual ticket for 1. 7 euros. Use them anytime.
More information on other multi-use transport passes