Beyond the Eiffel: 4 Little-Known Towers to Visit in Paris

For Panoramic Views, Historic Interest, or Both

Having lived in Paris for over a decade, I'm a tiny bit embarrassed to admit that I've only gone up in the Eiffel Tower once: during a family visit in which I agreed to go along for the ride. Had my family members not been interested, I certainly wouldn't have minded foregoing it. Perhaps because that particular tower is so synonymous with the French capital, at least in the minds of filmmakers and tour guides who inevitably rely on it as a scene-setter, I've always felt a little indifferent to it-- or at least to the idea of visiting it up close. I tend to prefer it from a distance, gleaming invitingly on the horizon; more symbol than real place. Other towers in the city hold my interest far more, but are usually overlooked by tourists. Here's the four I recommend you check out, once you've crossed old Gustave's more famous "tour" off of your bucket list. 

01 of 04

Tour Saint-Jacques: A Recently-Renovated Masterpiece

The Tour St Jacques is simply sublime.
Courtney Traub

For the first eight years I lived in Paris, the city center was blighted by a heavily-scaffolded building that I assumed was a skyscraper of some sort under sloooow construction. Then, one day, heading into the city center, I was dazzled by the top of a gleaming, sumptuously decorated tower peeking out from under the scaffolding. It was only then that I learned about the Tour St-Jacques: all that remains of a 16th-century church that once stood here in the bustling Chatelet-les-Halles district. When it first re-opened, it could only be admired from below, but since 2013 some visits to the top have been allowed. If you're not afraid of heights, enjoy the panoramic views of the city afforded by a visit to the top. 

02 of 04

Tour Montparnasse: For Great Panoramic Views

Tour Montparnasse and the nearby metro station.
r.g.-s/Some rights reserved under Creative Commons license.

It's admittedly not the prettiest building, but as Paris' tallest, and only, true skyscraper, a visit to the top of the Montparnasse Tower (also known as the 56 for its number of floors) is well worth it for the breathtaking panoramic views over the entire city. There's also a lovely restaurant at the top. Visit the tour during an exploration of cosmopolitan Montparnasse, a real hotbed of artists and intellectuals in decades past.

03 of 04

Tour Jean Sans Peur: A Curiously Overlooked Medieval Tower in Central Paris

 Isaac Sanolnacov / Wikimedia Commons

Not far from Les Halles and in the fashionable area around Rue Montorgueil and metro Etienne Marcel, lined with concept shops and high-end boutiques, stands a tower most people never even really see, much less visit: it's sort of hiding in plain sight. This tower, named after the Duke of Burgundy or "Fearless Jean", is infamous as the site of a notorious murder: Jean's assassination of his cousin, the Duke of Orleans, in the early 15th century.

If you're interested in medieval history, this is a definite must-see: the Tour Jean Sans Peur is the only fortified medieval tower that remains in Paris; and it's also all that's left of the sprawling palace that once belonged to the Dukes of Burgundy and formerly stood here. 

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04 of 04

Grande Arche de la Défense (Ok, it's not really a tower...)

The Grande Arche de la Defense is a monstrous architectural feat.
Mibuchat/Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons License

I'm including this oddest and most imposing of Parisian arches because it's a truly impressive feat of architecture, and makes Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe down the way look positively puny. Located in the vast business district also known as "La Défense", the 110 meter-high Grande Arche de la Défense was erected in 1989 to celebrate the bicentennial of the French Revolution of 1789. It futuristically looms over the district, and can be seen from miles away, ending the long "triumphal way" leading from the Louvre, past the Place de la Concorde, down the Champs-Elysées and under the Arc de Triomphe.

Visiting the Top: Deck Re-Opens in April 2017

Despite the architectural feat that it represents-- the stone and steel building actually houses dozens of offices in its hollowed-cube structure-- some serious structural issues have been identified, and the rooftops are not currently open to visitors. Renovation projects are in the works and the rooftop viewing deck is scheduled to re-open on April 1st, 2017, according to this local municipal website

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