Top 15 Monuments and Historic Sites in Paris

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    Beeline to These Places for a Ticket Back in Time

    Paris skyline Les Invalides
    ••• Les Invalides (left) pops up from the Paris skyline. kiszon pascal / Getty Images

    Paris is a city with a dizzying history that stretches back to the 3rd century BC. No surprise, then, that important Paris monuments 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 rich and complicated past. 

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  • 02 of 16

    Marvelous Monument #1: Notre-Dame Cathedral

    Notre Dame Cathedral is particularly beautiful at dusk when its glow can be seen even from afar.
    ••• Notre Dame Cathedral is particularly beautiful at dusk when its glow can be seen even from afar. Ag photographe/Moment/Getty Images

    Dating to the 12th century, Notre Dame dramatically towers alongside the banks of the Seine river, beckoning all to come revel in it. It's simply breathtaking, with its intricate Gothic architectural details-- ones that reportedly took workers over a century to complete-- its flying buttresses; its famed bell tower from which one can still imagine Hugo's Quasimodo carrying out his duties; the scary or humorous gargoyles and grotesques; the stunning rose window inside. It's a sight that isn't likely to leave you indifferent. If you have extra time, make sure to pay a visit to the archaeological crypt at Notre Dame, to learn more about the history of its construction, and other fascinating elements. 

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  • 03 of 16

    Marvelous Monument #2: Eiffel Tower

    The Eiffel Tower: once despised, now embraced as a symbol of modern Paris.
    ••• The Eiffel Tower: once despised, now embraced as a symbol of modern Paris. Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images News

    When the world's most famous landmark was presented as part of the 1889 World Exposition in Paris, most decried it as an eyesore on the city's horizon, and many others demanded its removal. Who would have thought, then, that the Eiffel Tower would become such an enduring and beloved icon of the city of light--literally and figuratively? Hint: try to 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. 

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  • 04 of 16

    Marvelous Monument #3: The Louvre Palace and Museum

    ••• Harald Sund/The Image Bank/Getty Images

    Most think of the monumental Louvre as a museum, but it was a fortress and palace long before it became a world center for art. The palace is testament to a rich history spanning from the medieval period to the present. Visiting the Louvre's medeival foundations is fascinating. The adjacent Tuileries gardens are perfect for a stroll pre-or post-visit.

    Explore the Museum in Depth:

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    Marvelous Monument #4: Arc de Triomphe

    Arc de Triomphe
    ••• The majestic Arc de Triomphe lies at the end of the Champs-Elysees. Pascal Ducept/

    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. You just don't get structures like these anymore: an icon of imperial France under Napoléon I, the arch is testament to a time when European leaders felt no shame in erecting massive structures in the service of their equally massive egos. Many don't bother to take the tour to the top, but the views over the elegant avenue, stretching all the way to the Place de la Concorde, through the Tuileries and on to the Louvre, is more than worthwhile.

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    Marvelous Monument #5: The Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter

    Université de la Sorbonne, Place de la Sorbonne, Latin Quarter, Paris, France, Europe
    ••• Joachim Hiltmann/Getty Images

    What wannabe (or actual) intellectual hasn't dreamed of roaming the halls of the Sorbonne, dusty old books in their arms, or of sipping a cafe out on its old square? Luckily, you can do the latter without any problem. One of Europe's oldest and most esteemed universities, the Sorbonne was founded in 1257, but studies here were initially exclusively theological. This is because, during the medieval period, scholarship was almost exclusively the domain of monks, scribes, and other figures attached to the Catholic church. Of course, in later centuries, the Sorbonne would go on to help produce some of Europe's most famous minds, before becoming a site of revolt during the student movements of 1968. 

    Read related: Top Literary Haunts in Paris (A Self-Guided Walking Tour)

    I highly recommend coming to admire the University from the square situated in the St-Michel district, then exploring the gorgeous, quiet little streets of the Latin Quarter. 

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  • 07 of 16

    Marvelous Monument #6: Pantheon, Burial Place of Great Minds

    France , Paris City,The Pantheon
    ••• CALLE MONTES / Getty Images

    The Pantheon is a neoclassical-style mausoleum where many of France's great minds are buried. It was built between 1758 and 1790. From the Pantheon, a distant Eiffel Tower can be seen. Stop by the Pantheon during a stroll in the Latin Quarter.

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  • 08 of 16

    Marvelous Site #7: Père Lachaise Cemetery, Place of Repose

    ••• Strolling in Pere-Lachaise can be very pleasant. Graham Monro/Gm photographics/Getty Images

    There are many beautiful cemeteries within Paris' city walls, but it is the opinion of this writer that Père Lachaise is the loveliest among these. In addition to hosting the graves of famous souls from Oscar Wilde to playwright Molière and Jim Morrison, the cemetery is simply a gorgeous place to stroll and meditate. There are also important war memorials on the site, paying tribute to the many who perished in conflicts and wars. 

    Especially on a nice day, going up the gentle slopes of the cemetery to look down at this city of the dead can be...remarkably pleasant.

    Need Some Inspiration?: Père Lachaise in Pictures

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  • 09 of 16

    Marvelous Monument #8: La Sainte Chapelle, Treasury of Light and Glass

    ••• Sainte-Chapelle houses some of the world's most magnificent stained glass work. tmal / Pixabay

    Not far from Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite 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 stain glass, housing a total of 15 glass panels and a prominent large window, whose colors remain surprisingly vibrant. Wall paintings and elaborate carvings emphasize the stunning medieval beauty of Sainte Chapelle even more.

    To extend your visit, you can tour the adjoining Conciergerie, part of the former medieval royal palace of which Sainte-Chapelle was a part and used as a prison during the Revolutionary "Terror": Queen Marie Antoinette spent her last days there before being executed

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    Marvelous Monument #9: Opera Garnier

    Opera Garnier, Paris, France, Europe
    ••• Gabrielle & Michel Therin-Weise / robertharding / Getty Images

    Seating 2,200 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.

    Read related: Paris for Music Lovers

    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 Opera Garnier is now the home of the Paris ballet. The city's official opera company relocated to the starkly contemporary Opera Bastille in 1989.

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    Marvelous Monument #10: Hotel de Cluny and Roman Baths

    Hotel de Cluny
    ••• Hotel de Cluny. 12019 / Pixabay

    The Hôtel de Cluny is a medieval residence that now houses the National Medieval Museum. The famous tapestry, "The Lady and the Unicorn", is displayed there (pictured above).

    The ruins of thermal baths from the Roman empire can also be seen at the site. One of the museum's rooms, the "Tepidarium", was originally part of the baths.

    Situated in the historic Latin Quarter, not far from the Sorbonne (see #5), the Hôtel de Cluny also 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.

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    Magnificent Monument #11: Palais Royal Gardens and Galeries

    Palais Royal and fountain
    ••• Nico De Pasquale Photography / Getty Images

    Situated between the Louvre and the Opera Garnier is a Renaissance-style palace that was once the residence of the Cardinal Richelieu. Today occupied by luxury boutiques and restaurants, as well as several government offices, the Palais Royal was for centuries the center of royal amusement: French playwright Molière occupied a theatre that once stood here with his troupe (it would later burn down-- twice!)

    The stately "palais" and accompanying gardens are a very pleasant place for a stroll, cafe or whirl around high-end shops, while Daniel Buren's quirky modern sculpture adds interesting contrast to the old-world charm-- even if it's not for everyone.

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    Magnificent Monument #12: Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

    Paris City Hall
    ••• Santiago Urquijo / Getty Images

    Yet another "Hôtel" that is most certainly not a hotel in the English sense, Paris' Renaissance-style City Hall sits proudly in the center of Paris. It was built in 1873 on the vast plaza that was once called "Place de la Grève", a site notorious for gory public executions in the medieval period.

    Read Related: 10 Strange and Disturbing Facts About Paris

    Today, Hôtel de Ville hosts events throughout the year, including free exhibits, concerts during the summer, and ice-skating during the winter months. It can be a glorious sight in its lit evening guise.

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    Marvelous Monument #13: Les Invalides, Important Site of Military History

    The Hotel des Invalides
    ••• The Hotel des Invalides is an important site in French military history. Juan Carlos Cordovez-Mantilla / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    This vast complex was built as a hospital and convalescent home for injured soldiers under the reign of Louis XIV. Part of les Invalides maintains this role today, but it's most famous for housing the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.

    The onsite Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum) boasts a vast collection of military artifacts and elaborate armories.

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    Marvelous Monument #14: St-Denis Basilica, Burial Place of Kings

    France, Seine and Marne,Saint Denis, Saint Denis, interior of the basilica, sculpture of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
    ••• Christophe Lehenaff / Getty Images

    Just North of Paris in a working-class suburb is one of France's oldest sites of Christian worship and its most famous abbey-- a burial place for 43 kings and 32 queens. The Saint-Denis Basilica, whose current edifice was built sometime between the 11th and 12th centuries, served as a royal burial site from as early as the 5th century. With its sculpted tombs and flamboyant gothic details, this often-overlooked gem is worth a trip outside the city limits.

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    Marvelous Monument #15: Memorial de la Deportation, Remembering Nazi Victims

    Martyrs Francais de la Deportation memorial
    ••• Jon Boyes / Getty Images

    This sober memorial pays tribute to the 200,000 people (mostly Jews) who were deported to Nazi death camps from France during WWII. Erected in 1962 on the banks of the Seine (across from Notre Dame Cathedral) and on the site of a former morgue, the Deportation Memorial was designed by architect GH Pingusson to evoke a sense of claustrophobia and despair.

    Related and Nearby: Paris Museum of Jewish Arts and History

    One part of the memorial features an "eternal flame of hope" and an inscription reading 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."

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