Gracing the banks of the Seine River, Paris has a way of romancing visitors with its elegant beauty and magical ambience. This incomparable city is filled with grandiose monuments like the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, and the Champs-Elysées Boulevard. Yet the charm of Paris lies in the small details: the quaint cobblestone streets, prettily trimmed trees, perfectly puffed pastries, dainty tea salons, Belle Epoque brasseries, and avant-garde art galleries. Like a veritable open-air museum, the city’s buildings are works of art, and the Parisians’ everyday fashion is worthy of a magazine spread.
From stylish boutiques to exquisite cuisine, Paris is synonymous with the finer things in life. The city celebrates its cultural heritage by assiduously maintaining its historic landmarks, formal French gardens, and world-class art collections. Visit the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay to see the Mona Lisa and Monet’s masterpieces. Wander the distinctive quartiers(neighborhoods) to discover the medieval Latin Quarter, the legendary café scene in Saint-Germain-de-Prés, and the Bohemian atmosphere of Montmartre. In every hidden corner and at all the famous sites, Paris casts a spell of enchantment. One visit may inspire a lifelong love affair.
1 Eiffel Tower
This may be the most famous monument in the world and is certainly the most emblematic of Paris. It’s hard to believe that the structure was dismissed as a monstrosity when it was first unveiled. The Eiffel Tower was designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel and built for the Paris Exhibition of 1889, which marked the centenary of the French Revolution. The tower consists of 15,000 steel sections held together by 2.5 million rivets. This innovative structure is now considered a masterful architectural feat and is one of the top tourist attractions in Paris. From the Jardins du Trocadéroand the lawns of the Champs de Mars, there is just the right distance from the Eiffel Tower for a great photo. The tower stands 307 meters tall. It was the world’s tallest building until the Empire State Building was erected. Visitors can take an elevator or walk up the 360 steps to arrive at the first level (at 57 meters) and 344 more steps to the second level (at 115 meters). To reach the top level, at the dizzying elevation of 276 meters, take the exhilarating elevator ride from the second level. At the top, views of the Paris cityscape are truly stunning. For those interested in a gourmet meal, theRestaurant le Jules Vernes is on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. This Michelin-starred restaurant features expansive windows that allow diners to enjoy the amazing views.
2 Louvre Museum
A sumptuous palace that was once the home of France’s Kings, the Louvre is now a marvelous museum of fine art. Visitors enter the museum in the courtyard of the palace at the glass pyramid (designed by Ieoh Ming Pei in 1917). This Louvre Museum possesses more than 30,000 works of art, from antiquities to medieval art and European painting of the 15th to 19th centuries. It is impossible to see it all in one visit, but tourists can focus on one particular gallery such as classical sculpture, Italian Renaissance art, or 17th-century French paintings; or take a tour of the highlights. The museum’s most famous piece is the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (in French La Joconde) painted by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503-1505. Other exceptional masterpieces are the ancient Venus de Milo sculpture, the monumental Victory of Samothrace of the Hellenistic period, the immense Wedding Feast at Cana painting by Veronese (1563), and Botticelli’s frescoes. Also a must-see is Liberty Leading the People (1831) by Eugène Delacroix, which depicts the violence of the Revolution of 1830.
The Louvre is surrounded on one side by the elegant Jardin des Tuileries, one of the largest and loveliest parks in Paris. The famous French landscape architect André Le Nôtre (who also designed the park at Versailles) created the Tuileries Gardens in classic formal French style. The gardens feature perfectly manicured trees, decorative pools, and park benches. There is also a pleasant café restaurant with outdoor seating.
3 Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
A triumph of Gothic architecture, the Notre-Dame stands in the heart of Paris on the Ile de la Cité (an island in the Seine River) near the Latin Quarter. An island in the Seine River, the Ile de la Cité is the historical and geographical center of Paris. On this small plot of land, the Romans built the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia, and from the 6th century to the 14th century the Kings of France resided here. The Notre-Dame Cathedral was founded in 1163 by King Louis IX (Saint Louis) and Bishop Maurice de Sully, and the construction took more than 150 years. The cathedral was first created in Early Gothic style, while later additions (the west front and the nave) show the transition to High Gothic style. Tourists are immediately struck by the ornamental design of the facade, with its profusion of sculptures, flying buttresses, and gargoyles. Look out for the 21 figures in the Gallery of Kings who lost their heads during the Revolution. (The heads are now on display in the Musée de Cluny.)
After admiring the decorative doorway, enter the sanctuary to take in the grandeur of this immense vaulted space. The sanctuary seems almost endless and beckons visitors with the light of flickering candles. The interior features magnificent stained-glass windows, in particular the rose window in the north transept. This stunning work of art features 80 Old Testament scenes centered around the Virgin. Every Saturday and Sunday at 9:15pm, the cathedral offers a special audiovisual show designed to inspire visitors. The show projects images onto a 100-square-meter screen of tulle for a magical effect. Entrance is free.
4 Avenue des Champs-Élysées
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
The most monumental boulevard in Paris used to be a desolate field of marshland until the 16th century, when it was landscaped by Le Nôtre. The Champs-Elysées is divided into two parts with the Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées as its intersection. The lower part of the Champs-Elysées, bordering the Place du Concorde, includes a spacious park, the Jardin des Champs-Élysées, and the Petit Palais fine arts museum. The upper part, extending to the Arc de Triomphe, is lined by luxury shops, hotels, restaurants, cafés, cinemas, and theaters. This bustling area draws many tourists and is a gathering place for Parisians.
The Champs-Elysées is famous for its prestigious establishments such as Maison Ladurée (75 Avenue des Champs-Elysées), a patisserie shop renowned for its opulent 18th-century tea salon and exquisite pastries (their specialty is “macarons”), and upscale designer boutiques like Tiffany & Co. (62 Avenue des Champs-Élysées),Louis-Vuitton boutique (101 Avenue des Champs-Elysées), and Cartier (154 Avenue des Champs-Élysées). For fine dining, the top choices are the legendary “brasserie du luxe” restaurant Le Fouquet’s and the swanky gastronomic restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (133 Avenue des Champs-Élysées) that boasts two Michelin stars. Although the Champs-Élysées has an image of elegance, there are many places that cater to tourists in a hurry and students on a budget, such as Starbucks, H&M, Quick, and McDonald’s.
Address: Address: Champs-Elysées, 75008 Paris (Métro: Champs-Élysées Clemenceau station to visit the Jardin des Champs-Élysées and Petit Palais; Franklin d. Roosevelt station for Laduree; George V station for the main shopping area)
5 Musee d’Orsay
This renowned collection of Impressionist art is one of Paris’ top attractions. The museum is housed in an expansive space (formerly the Belle Epoque-era Gare d’Orsay railway station) and the collection represents the work of all the masters of Impressionism. The artists range from classic Impressionist masters Degas, Manet, Monet, and Renoir to Post-Impressionist artists such as Bonnard, Cézanne, and Van Gogh; the Pointillists (Seurat, Signac); and Bohemian artists like Toulouse Lautrec. Some of the museum’s most memorable pieces include Claude Monet’s The Magpie,Gare Saint-Lazare, and Luncheon on the Grass and Renoir’s Ball at Moulin de la Galette, which was painted in Montmartre. The Orsay Museum is the best place in Paris to get an overview of Impressionist art history-from the gentle brush strokes of Monet to the wild, colorful scenes of Gauguin. The museum also features exhibits of decorative objects and photography as well as two cafés and an upscale restaurant that is worth the splurge. The restaurant was the former restaurant of the Hôtel d’Orsay and is a listed historic monument with gilded ceilings and sparkling chandeliers.
6 Palais Garnier Opera House & the Bibliotèchque-Musée de l’Opera
Palais Garnier Opera House & the Bibliotèchque-Musée de l’Opera
The Palais Garnier Opera House is a sensational Neo-Baroque theater designed as a venue for opera and ballet performances. The building was created by Charles Garnier in lavish “Napoleon III” style and was built between 1862 and 1875. The facade features classical columns and eight sculptures representing allegorical figures: Poetry, Music, Idyll, Recitation, Song, Drama, and Dance. The loggia depicts busts of composers Halévy, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Auber, Spontini, Beethoven, and Mozart. At the very top of the building are four exquisite gilded groups glorifying Poetry and Fame. Garnier’s sensational floor plan of 11,000 square meters dazzles the eye but only offers seating for 2,200 people. Most of the building’s space is dedicated to the grand foyer with its incredible marble entrance staircase and opulently gilded lamps. The plush red and gold auditorium is adorned with a ceiling painting by Chagall. The salons are beautifully decorated with gilded moldings and ceiling frescoes.
For a deeper understanding of Paris opera and its rich cultural heritage, visit theBibliotèchque-Musée de l’Opera (Library-Museum of the Opera House) located inside the building. The library and museum contains three centuries of archives as well as exhibits dedicated to the art of opera. The museum’s permanent collection features drawings of costumes and scenery, scale models, and paintings of the Opera House. Throughout the year, the museum hosts temporary thematic exhibits, for example a presentation of the Ballets Suédois’ (Swedish Ballet) avant-garde dance in the 1920s and a tribute to the Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet) celebrating the centenary of Serge Diaghilev’s company.
Attending an opera or ballet performance at the Palais Garnier is a favorite tourist experience. The Opéra Garnier hosts performances by companies of the highest caliber. The Opera House also has a bookstore-boutique and a stylish restaurant that serves classic French cuisine.
Address: Address: Place de l’Opéra, 8 Rue Scribe (at Auber) 75009 Paris (Métro: Opéra)