Paris is a city with a rich history that stretches back to the third century B.C. It is no surprise, then, that important Paris monuments and attractions are so numerous, breathtaking, and varied in terms of period and architectural style. From Roman-era ruins to post-World War II memorials, these famous sites and monuments in the City of Light are essential keys to understanding the city's elaborate and complicated past.
Dating to the 12th century, the Notre-Dame Cathedral has long towered dramatically alongside the banks of the Seine River, beckoning all to come to visit. With its intricate Gothic architectural details that took workers more than a century to complete, this landmark has become synonymous with Parisian religion and architecture.
Unfortunately, a fire that broke out on April 15, 2019, destroyed a large portion of the cathedral, including the iconic spire known as "la fléche" ("arrow") and the roof made of 800-year-old lumber known as "The Forest." The 13th-century South Rose Window—which was created and offered to the church by King St. Louis in 1260—the archaeological crypt at Notre Dame, and the 8,000-pipe La Grand Orgue (The Great Organ) survived the flame.
Visitors are not allowed near Notre Dame while it undergoes extensive reconstruction. While French President Emmanuel Macron believes the restorations could be completed by the 2024 Olympics Paris is set to host, architects estimate it may take between 10 to 15 years, realistically, to fully restore the building.
Although many decried it as an eyesore on the city's horizon when it was presented as part of the 1889 World Exposition in Paris, the Eiffel Tower has become the city's most famous landmark as well as a beloved and enduring icon of the City of Light.
Located on the Champ de Mars in the 7th arrondissement of midwest Paris, the Eiffel Tower is easily accessible on Line 6 or Line 8 of the Paris Metro via Bir Hakeim, Trocadero, or Ecole Militaire stations. If you can, avoid visiting at peak hours and on weekends, so you can make the most of your visit and really enjoy the views from the top. The best times are just after it first opens and in the evenings.
Housed inside the Palais du Louvre, which serves as a testament to its rich history spanning from the medieval period to the present, the Louvre Museum is one of the most famous art museums in the world, known for the iconic glass pyramid at its entrance.
Located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, the Louvre is centrally located and easily accessible on Line 1 from the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre station or any number of buses that stop in front of the glass pyramid. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays as well as January 1, May 1, and December 25 each year.
The Arc de Triomphe is an icon of imperial France under Napoleon I and is a testament to a time when European leaders felt the need to celebrate wealth and power with monumental structures. Looming 164 feet above the bustling traffic circle at the head of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe seems to exemplify pomp and circumstance.
Located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris at the west end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées on the Place Charles de Gaulles, the Arc de Triomphe is accessible by Lines 1, 2, or 6 to Charles de Gaulle Etoile station. Guests of the arch can additionally purchase tickets for a tour to the top to witness views of the avenue, which stretches all the way to the Place de la Concorde, through the Jardin des Tuileries, and on to the Louvre.
One of Europe's oldest and most esteemed universities, the Sorbonne was founded in 1257 for scribes, monks, or other figures attached to the Catholic Church to pursue theological studies. In later centuries, the Sorbonne would go on to help produce some of Europe's most famous literary and creative minds, before becoming a site of revolt during the 1968 student movements.
Unfortunately, access to the Sorbonne is limited to students and faculty of the school, so you won't be able to get a tour unless you're planning to attend. However, since it's centered around a public square in the Saint-Michel neighborhood of the Latin Quarter of Paris, you'll be able to see it from the outside.
Not to be confused with the Pantheon in Rome, Paris' Pantheon was built between 1758 and 1790. Located in the Latin Quarter, the Pantheon in Paris is a neoclassical-style mausoleum where many of France's great minds such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo are buried.
The Pantheon is perched on top of the quarter's historic Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, and the colonnade of the dome is open to the public from April to October each year. Independent and group tours are available throughout the year for a small fee, and the Pantheon offers free admission on the first Sunday of the month from November 1 through March 31.
There are many beautiful cemeteries in Paris, but Père-Lachaise is one of the most popular and beautiful. In addition to hosting the graves of famous people like Oscar Wilde, playwright Molière, and Jim Morrison of the Doors, the cemetery is simply a gorgeous place to stroll and meditate. There are also important war memorials on the site that pay tribute to the many who perished in conflicts and wars.
The Père-Lachaise Cemetery is located in the 20th arrondissement near Belleville and Oberkampf, and entrances to the park are accessible from Metro Philippe Auguste, Père-Lachaise, and Gambetta on Lines 2 and 3. Guided tours and maps are available, which explain where to find the most famous gravesites.
Not far from Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cité looms another pinnacle of gothic architecture. Sainte-Chapelle was erected in the mid-13th century by King Louis IX. The cathedral features some of the period's best-conceived stained glass, housing a total of 15 glass panels and a prominent large window, whose colors remain surprisingly vibrant. Wall paintings and elaborate carvings place more emphasis on the stunning Medieval beauty of Sainte Chapelle.
To extend your visit, you can tour the adjoining Conciergerie, which was part of the former Medieval royal palace. It was used as a prison during the Revolutionary "Terror." Queen Marie Antoinette spent her last days there before being executed.
Seating close to 2,000 people, the imposing Opera Garnier in Paris—also known as the Palais Garnier or simply the Paris Opera—is an architectural treasure and essential spot for the city's ballet and classical music scene.
Designed by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875 as the Academie Nationale de Musique Theatre de l'Opera (National Academy of Music Opera Theater), the neo-baroque-style building is the home of the Paris ballet. The city's official opera company relocated to the starkly contemporary Opera Bastille in 1989.
Located in the 9th arrondissement, the Opera Garnier is open for tours on weekdays throughout the year (with varying hours). Tickets must be purchased in advance for most ballet and other performances.
The Hôtel de Cluny is a Medieval residence that now houses the National Medieval Art Museum, Musée Cluny. The famous tapestry, "The Lady and the Unicorn," is displayed here. Situated in the historic Latin Quarter, not far from the Sorbonne, the Hôtel de Cluny boasts a Medieval-style aromatic garden that provides a pleasant spot for a stroll or for reading on a bench in the spring or summer.
The ruins of Roman Empire thermal baths can also be seen on-site. One of the museum's rooms, the tepidarium, was originally the "warm room" from the baths. Located in the very center of the Latin Quarter in Paris' 5th arrondissement, the Cluny Museum is within walking distance of several other sites including Sorbonne University, Sainte-Chapelle, and Jardin du Luxembourg.
Situated between the Louvre and the Opera Garnier, Palais Royal is a Renaissance-style palace that was once the residence of the Cardinal Richelieu. Today, Palais Royal is occupied by luxury boutiques and restaurants as well as several government offices whose decor mix old-world charm with modern sentiments.
Located centrally in the 1st arrondissement, the stately Palais is a pleasant place to get a meal, do some shopping, or simply take a stroll in the accompanying gardens. While there, be sure to stop by the inner courtyard, known as Cour d'Honneur, to take in the quirky modern sculptures of Daniel Buren's "Les Deux Plateaux."
Sitting proudly in the center of the 4th arrondissement, Hôtel de Ville is the City Hall of Paris. Constructed on the vast plaza that was once called "Place de Greve," a site notorious for gory public executions during the Medieval period, this centerpiece of Parisian culture is a great addition to any trip.
The facade that covers Hôtel de Ville was built in 1873; however, some parts of the building are even older. The neo-Rennaissance Hôtel de Ville now hosts events throughout the year such as free exhibits, summer concerts, and ice-skating during the winter months.
Hôtel National des Invalides is a vast complex that was originally constructed in 1670 under the reign of Louis XIV as a hospital and convalescent home for injured soldiers. Part of des Invalides maintains this role today, but it is most famous for housing the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Additionally, the on-site Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum) boasts a vast collection of military artifacts and an elaborate armory. Both des Invalides and the museum are open daily year-round—with the exception of several holidays and special closures—and entry is free for guests under 26 years old.
Just north of Paris in the working-class suburb of Saint-Denis, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in France. It's famous for its abbey, which serves as the burial place for 43 kinds and 32 queens who died as early as the fifth century. With its sculpted tombs and flamboyant Gothic details, this often-overlooked gem is worth a trip outside the city limits.
The Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation (Deportation Memorial) pays tribute to the 200,000 people who were deported to Nazi death camps from France during World War II. Erected in 1962 on the banks of the Seine across from Notre Dame on the site of a former morgue, the Deportation Memorial was designed by architect G.H. Pingusson to evoke a sense of claustrophobia and despair.
One part of the memorial features an "eternal flame of hope" and an inscription that states the following: "Dedicated to the living memory of the 200,000 French deportees sleeping in the night and the fog, exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps." Nearby, you can also visit the Museum of Jewish Art and History.