Seven attractions in Paris draw a whopping 30 million + visitors yearly. With the hundreds of museums and monuments in the grand City of Light, take this short list to be sure you catch the best spots. After all, could millions of people be THAT wrong? TIP: You can also get the Paris Pass, which includes entry to many of these attractions.
Edited by Mary Anne Evans
Arguably the world's most famous art museum, the Louvre Museum's most famous work of art is Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The painting was acquired by the French royal family some time after 1516 when Leonardo moved to France, though the background is murky. La Gioconda (the Italian name for the Mona Lisa) was in Versailles then was moved to the Louvre when the palace became a museum in 1793, making it one of the oldest museums in Europe. It has items from the birth of great civilizations up to the 19th century divided into Antiquities (Egyptian, Greek and Roman); Islamic arts which opened in 2012; Objets d’Art which includes beautiful tapestries, jewellery, furniture and ceramics in a huge 81 room section; French Sculpture including monumental pieces that would look better outside (Rodin is in a separate section and there's also a separate Rodin museum in Paris); and the largest section: Painting. A whopping 9.4 million tourists visited the museum in 2015.
In 2012, the Louvre-Lens was opened in the north of France. This outpost of the Louvre is a quick gallop through art from the ancient world up to the 20th century, with top temporary exhibitions. It’s a beautiful building and well worth a visit to Nord-Pas de Calais and then on to the museum which is easily reachable by car from Calais, and by public transport from Lille, a city with plenty of attractions both in the city and within easy reach.
The Eiffel Tower is one of the world's most recognizable monuments (and the best-known monument in all of Europe), and it is breathtaking to behold, particularly when you are in the park looking at the soaring structure stretching up to the sky. This marvel of industrial engineering, built for the 1889 Exposition was at the time the tallest building in the world. Get a magnificent view of the city from the top where the city looks like a child’s model below you. There are exhibitions, restaurants and shops. At night there’s a spectacular light show which is best seen from afar. The Eiffel Tower drew 7.5 million visitors in 2014.
When the Centre Pompidou opened in 1977 and instantly became one of the most influential modern buildings in Europe, if not the whole world. Its design, with all the functional parts of the building carrying the services on the outside of the building and painted in strong colours, was revolutionary. The space in front was instantly claimed by the people, and is still full of performing artists and people just sitting there, waiting for friends or just looking at passers-by. It houses the National Museum of Modern Art which has over 100,000 world of at from 1905 to today. The Galerie des Photographies is an enormous and very important collection of photographs of 40,000 prints and 60,000 negatives, including works by all the great names. Graphic works are here, as is a top collection of experimental films, artists’ films, video and HD works. Design features as well and this is the place to see works by the likes of Eileen Gray, Ettore Sottsass Jr. and Philippe Starck. There are changing exhibitions and a changing programme of events such as live performances and film. The Centre Pompidou had 3.8 million visitors in 2014.
In May 2010, the Pompidou-Metz Centre opened, the first major decentralized cultural outpost. In Metz, Alsace, it’s a fabulous building, with great temporary exhibitions and near enough to Paris for a day trip.
The Musée d’Orsay is an attractive, manageable museum famous for its Impressionist collection. It’s housed in a former Beaux-Arts style railway Station and has the atmosphere and personality to match. A revamp of the museum has produced stunning exhibition spaces to show off the paintings by of Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and more who painted from 1848 to 1914. It’s well arranged with the ground floor mostly showing pre-1870 art. Some beautiful Art Nouveau furniture and objets occupy levels two, three and four alongside paintings from the same period. The fifth level is the main Impressionists’ gallery, a feast of paintings by the great names, from Renoir to Degas, Manet to Sisley and Pissaro. Gauguin and the Pointillist painters occupy the middle level. Musée d’Orsay had 3.5 million visitors in 2014.
The Science and Industry Museum stands out at Le Parc de la Villette, the complex which has transformed the former working class district into a significant post-modern cultural park of science, art and music. It’s enormous, in fact four times the size of the Pompidou Centre, built on the site of one of the former abattoirs that La Villette was famous for. The building has different levels, crow’s-nests, bridges and walkways built around a huge central open space that rises 40 metres high to the roof. Permanent exhibitions include Earthwatch: The Satellite Revolution which shows you the earth from space; The Great Story of the Universe, telling the story of the discovery of the universe and taking you from Earth into space; Sounds; Brain and a whole lot more. It’s a great place for families, with a special Cité des enfants catering for children from 2 to 7 year-olds and 5 to 12 year-olds (all accompanied by an adult) where children play with water, build structures and manipulate robots.
The Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie had 2.6 million visitors in 2014.
National Museum of Natural History
The Muséum Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle (National Museum of Natural History) is located in the Jardin des Plantes, the botanical garden of Paris. The Natural History Museum is more a French than an international attraction, with French school parties making up a huge number of visitors. You can’t miss the Great Gallery of Evolution in a 19th-century glass domed building where huge creatures fill the building.
The Natural History Museum had 1.9 million visitors in 2014.