Paris is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — consider printing them all.
Paris, the cosmopolitan capital of France, is - with 2.2 million people living in the dense (105 km²) central city and almost 12 million people living in the whole metropolitan area - one of the largest agglomerations in Europe. Located in the north of the country on the river Seine, Paris has the reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historic associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design. Dubbed the City of Light (la Ville Lumière) and Capital of Fashion, it is home to the world's finest and most luxorious fashion designers and cosmetics, such as Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, Guerlain, Lancôme, L'Oréal, Clarins, etc. A large part of the city, including the River Seine, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city has the second highest number of Michelin-restaurants in the world (after Tokyo) and contain numerous iconic landmarks, such as the world's most visited tourist sight the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum, Moulin Rouge, Lido etc, making it the most popular tourist destination in the world with 45 million tourists annually.
Eiffel Tower, Paris
Once the tallest structure in the world, the Eiffel Tower is probably Europe's best known landmark and Paris's most famous symbol.
You couldn't possibly visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Even if you do not want to visit this world famous structure, you will see its top from all over Paris. The tower rises 300 meters tall (984 ft); when it was completed at the end of the 19th century it was twice as high as the Washington Monument, at the time the tallest structure in the world.
The Tallest Inaugurated March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower would be the tallest structure in the world until the completion of the Chrysler Building in 1930.
Arc de Triomphe
In the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the border of the 8th, 16th and 17th arrondissement stands one of the greatest arches in history: the Arc de Triomphe (arch of triumph).
Napoléon's Triumphal Arch
The arch was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victories, but he was ousted before the arch was completed. In fact, it wasn't completed until 1836 during the reign of Louis-Philippe. The Arc de Triomphe is engraved with names of generals who commanded French troops during Napoleon's regime.
The design of the arch by Jean Chalgrin is based on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The Arc de Triomphe is much higher (50m versus 15m), but it has exactly the same proportions.
The triumphal arch is adorned Mareillaise relief, Arc de Triomphe with many reliefs, most of them commemorating the emperor's battles. Among them are the battle of Aboukir, Napoleons victory over the Turkish and the Battle of Austerliz, where Napoleon defeated the Austrians.
The best known relief is the Departure of the Volunteers in 1792, also known as the Marseillaise. At the top of the arch are 30 shields, each of them bears the name of one of Napoleon's successful battles. The arch also includes the Grave of the Unknown Soldiers from the first World War.
The Louvre, originally a palace but now one of the largest and most visited museums in the world, is a must-visit for anyone with a slight interest in art. Some of the museum's most famous works of art are the Mona Lisa and the Venus of Milo.
Originally a royal palace, the Louvre became a public museum at the end of the 18th century. It is located in the 1st arrondissement, at the heart of Paris.
There are about 35.000 objects on display, spread out over three wings of the former palace. The museum has a diverse collection ranging from the antiquity up to the mid 19th century. A large part of the collection consists of European paintings and sculptures. Other rooms contain Roman, Egyptian, Greek and Oriental art. There is also a section with 'Objects d'Art', where objects such as clocks, furniture, china and tapestries are displayed.
Some of the most famous works of art in the museum are the Venus of Milo, the Nike of Samothrake, the Dying Slave by Michelangelo and of course Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
Not the largest cathedral in the world, the Notre-Dame might be the most famous of all cathedrals. The gothic masterpiece is located on the ?le de la Cité, a small island in the heart of the city.
A Religious site
The site of the Notre dame is the cradle of Paris and has always been the religious center of the city. The Celts had their sacred ground here, the Romans built a temple to worship Jupiter. A Christian basilica was built in the 6th century and the last religious structure before the Notre-Dame construction started was a Romanesque church.
Bishop Maurice de Sully started the construction in 1163. The Cathedral was to be built in the new gothic style and had to reflect Paris's status as the capital of the Kingdom France. It was the first cathedral built on a monumental scale and became the prototype for future cathedrals in France, like the cathedrals of Amiens, Chartres or Rheims, just to name the most famous.
Sacré Coeur Basilica
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica is one of Paris's major tourist draws. The majestic building is located on top of the Montmartre hill.
Above all, Montmartre is known for its many artists who have been omnipresent since 1880. The name Montmartre, an area around a hill in the 18th arrondissement, north of downtown Paris, is said to be derived from either Mount of Martyrs or from Mount of Mars. Until 1873, when the Sacré-Coeur was built on top of the hill, Montmartre was a small village, inhabited by a mostly farming community.
The Musée d'Orsay is a museum housed in a grand railway station built in 1900. Home to many sculptures and impressionist paintings, it has become one of Paris's most popular museums.
New Railway Stations
At the turn of the 19th century, two large railway stations were built in Paris, the Gare de Lyon and the Gare d'Orsay. The Gare d'Orsay had the most prominent site, along the Seine opposite the Louvre. The railway station was planned by the Compagnie d'Orléans, who wanted to bring electrified trains right into the heart of Paris.
The opulent Opéra de Paris Garnier was designed by Charles Garnier for Emperor Napoleon III. It is the most important symbol of the 19th century Second Empire baroque style.
Since the construction of the modern Opéra de Paris Bastille in 1989, the majestic Opéra Garnier is now mainly used for ballet performances. It was also officially renamed 'Palais Opera'.
Construction of the opera building started in 1862, but it wasn't completed until 1875, partly because an underground lake was discovered during construction. The small lake still exists under the opera building. It was the hiding place of the 'Phantom of the Opera' in Paul Leroux's famous play.
In 1969 French President Georges Pompidou launched the idea of creating a new cultural institution in Paris dedicated to modern art.
In 1971 a competition for this new cultural center attracted 650 entries. The winning project, submitted by the architects Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini broke with architectural conventions by moving functional elements such as escalators, water pipes and air conditioning to the outside of the building, freeing interior space for the display of art works. The pipes and ducts are all color-coded: blue for air, green for water, red for elevators, yellow for electricity, gray for corridors and white for the building itself.
Hotel des Invalides
Design & Construction
Originally only a number of barracks were planned, but king Louis XIV chose a design by architect Liberal Bruant which consisted of a large impressive building with a royal courtyard and church.
The front facade facing the Seine river is 196 meter long (643 ft). The whole complex features 15 courtyards, the largest being the cour d'honneur (court of honor). This courtyard was used for military parades. The building was completed in 1676 and housed up to 4,000 war veterans. A wide, 500 meter long esplanade designed by Robert de Cotte separates the H?tel des Invalides from the late 19th century Pont Alexandre III and Seine river.
Paradoxically, the Pont Neuf (French for 'New Bridge') is the oldest bridge in Paris.
The Pont Neuf is also Paris's best known bridge and together with the Pont Alexandre III, one of its most beautiful.
At the middle of the 16th century, only two bridges crossed the Seine river. Since they were in a bad state and constantly overcrowded, King Henry III decided in 1578 to construct a new bridge. It wasn't until 1607 before the bridge was officially opened by King Henry IV, who named the bridge 'Pont Neuf'. After the his death, an equestrian statue of the King was erected at the center of the bridge, on the square du Vert-Galant. The bronze statue was knocked over and melted down during the French Revolution, but is was replaced by an exact replica in 1818.
Place de la Concorde
At 8 hectares (20 acres), the octagonal Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris. It is situated between the Tuileries and the Champs-Elysées.
In 1763, a large statue of king Louis XV was erected at the site to celebrate the recovery of the king after a serious illness. The square surrounding the statue was created later, in 1772, by the architect Jacques-Ange Gabriel. It was known as the place Louis XV.
The Panthéon, an imposing 19th century building, was first designed as a church, but later turned into a civil temple.
On top of the montagne Ste-Geneviève, not far from the Sorbonne University and the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Panthéon looks over the Quartier Latin. As far back as 507, this site was chosen by King Clovis - the first Frankish Merovingian King - for a basilica to serve as a tomb for him and his wife Clothilde. In 512 Sainte-Geneviève, patroness of Paris was buried here.
The Avenue des Champs-Elysées is probably the most famous avenue in the world.
This impressive promenade stretches from the Place the la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle, the site of the Arc de Triomphe. At its western end the Champs-Elysées is bordered by cinemas, theaters, cafés and luxury shops. Near the Place de la Concorde, the street is bordered by the Jardins des Champs-Elysées, beautifully arranged gardens with fountains and some grand buildings including the Grand and Petit Palais at the southern side and the Elysée at its northern side. The latter has been the residence of the French Presidents since 1873.
The Champs-Elysées is used for all the major celebrations. This is where Parisians celebrate New Year's Eve and where the military parades are held on the 14th of July. Historic national events, like the Liberation at the end of the second World War or the victory in
Champs-Elysees street name sign the World Cup football were also celebrated on this wide avenue.
The greek temple just north of the Place the Concorde is known as 'La Madeleine' or 'L'église de St-Marie-Madeleine'.
The large building is actually a church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. In French, Magdalene is known as Madeleine, hence the name of the building.
Hotel de Ville, Paris
The Hotel de Ville, Paris's city hall, is the center of political Paris. Like Paris, it has been through some turbulent times.
Until 1141 when water merchants created the port de Grève (Shore Harbour) to relieve Paris's busy port, the site was merely a shingle beach. The square near the harbour was known as the 'place de Grève'.
Jardin du Luxembourg
The Jardin du Luxembourg is probably the most popular park in Paris. It is located in the 6th arrondissement, near the Sorbonne University.
The park, 22,45 hectare large (about 55 acres), was originally owned by the duke of Luxemburg, hence the name. The domain was purchased in 1612 by Marie de' Medici, mother of Louis XIII.
The gardens were laid out in Italian style on request of Marie de' Medici. She was of Italian descent and had spent her youth in Florence at the Pitti Palace. The Boboli gardens at this palace were the inspiration for the Jardin du Luxembourg.
In the 19th century when the private park opened to the public, it was redesigned in a more French style but the original layout has been preserved.
Erected by Louis IX, this magnificent chapel was originally designed to house precious religious treasures. At the time known as the stairway to heaven, the chapel is one of the masterpieces of medieval architecture.
This museum, a tribute to France’s most famous sculptor, is a must see for anyone who loves the works of Auguste Rodin.
The magnificent Chateau de Versailles is a testimony of the Sun King's extravaganza. The Palace and its magnificent formal garden became the quintessential model for palaces in Europe.
Place des Vosges
The Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris is one of the most beautiful squares in the world.
Dome des Invalides
The royal chapel of the Invalides complex is the location of the tomb of one of France’s favorite native sons.
The complex of buildings known as Les Invalides sits in Paris’s 7th arrondissement and consists of museums and monuments related to the military history of France. The most recognizable and well-known part of Les Invalides is the D?me des Invalides, a gold-domed building now used as a burial site for a number of the country’s war heroes.
Paris’ Grand Palais (Big Palace) was built for the World Fair of 1900. The building is best known for its enormous glass roof.
For more than 100 years, the Grand Palais has been a public exhibition hall and host to a variety of grand events. Though the main gallery is now a designated site for displaying contemporary art, you’ll see everything here from antique car shows to fashion extravaganzas from some of Paris’s top designers.
There are actually three different areas in the Grand Palais, each with a different entrance: the Palais de la Découverte (a science museum) is at the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, the Galeries National du Grand Palais (an exposition hall) has an entrance at the Clémenceau Square and the entrance to the Nef du Grand Palais (an event hall) is at the Avenue Winston Churchill (opposite the Petit Palais).
Forum des Halles
A combination park, underground mall, and huge subway station, the Forum des Halles sits on land that for centuries was home to Paris’ central marketplace.
The Forum is centrally located in Paris's first arrondissement, close to major attractions such as the Louvre and Centre Pompidou. It is well connected to the underground system with Les Halles as the nearest metro station. Underground corridors connect the station to lines 1, 4, 7, 11 and 14.
The mall is a great place to hang out, even in bad weather. An all-glass arched covering separates pedestrian shoppers from rain or snow, allowing them to shop in comfort. Additional stores and restaurants also line the areas around the Forum.
Known as one of the most attractive parks in Paris, Park Monceau, the brainchild of the Duke of Orleans in the 18th century, has become a favorite resting place for those looking for some peace and quiet away from the busy city. With its pretty flower gardens and interesting array of statues, visitors to the City of Light often include it on their itinerary.
Ever since it opened its doors more than 120 years ago, Moulin Rouge has set the standard for the world's most famous cabarets.
Today, a visit to the Moulin Rouge is still very popular with adult visitors to Paris. You’ll find myriad tourists snapping photos of the huge red windmill that sits on top of the theatre and many visitors make reservations here for a nightly show.
The show features more than 100 performers decked out in the most extravagant costumes, which include lots of feathers, rhinestones, and sequins. The sets are equally as spectacular. But remember, this is adult entertainment, so those with kids should choose a different activity or find a reliable baby-sitter and enjoy a night out sans children.
Pont Alexandre III
Most people consider the 19th century Pont Alexandre III the most beautiful bridge in Paris. It is without a doubt the city's most opulently decorated bridge.
An officially designated historic district, Montmartre is one of the most colorful neighborhoods in Paris so it's no surprise that this area is a favorite among tourists.
The Palais Royal (Royal Palace) was built in 1629 by Cardinal Richelieu, an influential French minister from 1624 to 1642.
At the time the palace was known as the Palais Cardinal; it became a royal palace after the
cardinal bequeathed the building to King Louis XIII.
The Sun King, Louis XIV spent his youth here before moving to the nearby Louvre and later to Versailles.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is one of the many great parks in Paris, but it sticks out because of its location on a rocky hill.
Thanks to the park's geographic relief with distinct elevations you have great panoramic views over Paris, including views over the Sacre Coeur. This makes Buttes Chaumont one of the Parisians' favorite parks, especially popular for strolls and picnics during weekends.
Champ de Mars
Named for the Roman God of War, Champ de Mars is a long stretch of grass bordered by laid-out gardens. Located between the école Militaire and the Seine River, the open area offers a magnificent, uninterrupted view of the Eiffel Tower.
Once a royal palace and later a prison, the Conciergerie played a dark role in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
Ole de la Cité
Considered the heart of Paris, Ole de la Cité is one of two natural islands that sits in the middle of the Seine. All distances in Paris are measured from the center of the island.
The most famous landmark on the island and undoubtedly its focal point is the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral. Built between 1163 and 1345, it is the cathedral of Paris and the seat of the archbishop of the city.
Arc du Carrousel
The most famous landmark on the island and undoubtedly its focal point is the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral. Built between 1163 and 1345, it is the cathedral of Paris and the seat of the archbishop of the city.
The other two arches are the Grande Arche de la Défense and the Arc de Triomphe de l'étoile, the most famous of the three.
Like the latter, the Arc du Carrousel was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his Austrian victories and honor his grand army.
Jardins de l'Observatoire
The Avenue de l’Observatoire connects the Jardin du Luxembourg - one of Paris's most popular parks - with the Observatory of Paris. The north part of the avenue contains two gardens: the Jardin Marco Polo and the Jardin Robert Cavelier de la Salle.
Together the two gardens form one elongated park unofficially known as the Jardins de l'Observatoire (Observatory Gardens).
Paris has an excellent underground train system, known as the Métro (short for Chemin de fer métropolitain, Metropolitan Railway). Although you will probably take the RER subway train from the airport to Paris, don't be confused: RER isn't the name for the "French subway train", and only a few large stations serve the RER network of trains. Look for the Métro stations, marked with a large "M" sign.
There are 16 Métro lines (lignes) (1-14, 3bis, and 7bis) on which trains travel all day at intervals of a few minutes between 5AM and 12:30AM (Saturday night/Sunday morning: 1:30AM), stopping at all stations on the line. Times for trains can be seen on an electronic scrollboard above the platform. Line 14, which is fully automated, is called the Méteor. Scheduled times for first and last trains are posted in each station on the centre sign. Generally, except for early and late hours, travellers should not worry about specific Metro train times; just get to your station and take the next train, which will likely be in 5-10 min.
There are several excellent boat services which makes use of the Seine. As well as providing easy, cheap transport to much of central Paris, excellent photo opportunities abound. You can buy a day or 3 day ticket and hop on and off the boat as needed. The boats take a circular route from the Eiffel Tower, down past the Louvre, Notre Dame, botanical gardens then back up the other bank past Musee D'orsay. Batobus offers a regular shuttle service between the main touristic sights (closed in January); other companies such as the famous Bateaux Mouches offer sightseeing cruises.
There is also a river shuttle service called Voguéo on the eastern part of the Seine, between Gare d'Austerlitz and Maison Alfort (in the suburbs). It's not meant for tourists, but as a convenient service for Parisians. As a result, the view isn't the most breathtaking in Paris (part of it is industrial), but even though the boats are pretty small they're bound to be much less crowded than those for tourists. More importantly, it's free if you have a Carte Orange (weekly or monthly public transport pass). Otherwise a ticket bought onboard costs €3 which can be considered expensive. The last stop is in zone 3 so normally you should not be able to go that far with a Carte Orange that covers zones 1&2, but since June 2009 it's free as they are still experimenting the system. There are boats every 15 min and the whole trip lasts about 30 min. If you want to do a round-trip and don't have a Carte Orange, you will have to buy a second ticket.
Paris is the mecca of city skating. This is due to the large, smooth surfaces offered by both the pavements and the roads. Skating on the pavement is legal all around Central Paris (zone 1) and its suburbs (zones 2+). See our Do section below for more information.
Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport. Riding a bike anywhere in the city is far safer for the moderately experienced cyclists than almost any town or city in the United States. The French are very cognizant of cyclists, almost to a point of reverence. A few years ago Paris wasn't the easiest place to get around by bike. That however has changed dramatically in recent years, starting perhaps with a lengthy bus and traffic jam. The city government has taken a number of steps in strong support of improving the safety and efficiency of the urban cyclist as well, in establishing some separated bike lanes, but even more important a policy of allowing cyclists to share the ample bus lanes on most major boulevards. Paris also has many riversides which are perfect for cycling. The Paris bike network now counts over 150 km of either unique or shared lanes for the cyclist. In addition, the narrower, medieval side streets of the central arrondissements make for rather scenic and leisurely cycling, especially during off-hours of the day when traffic is lighter. Do remember to bring a good map, since there is no grid plan to speak of and almost all of the smaller streets are one-way.
Note that, while the streets of Paris are generally fairly easy on novice cyclists, there are some streets in the city that should be avoided by those who do not have sufficient urban cycling experience. 'Rue de Rivoli', 'Place de la Bastille', and 'Place de la Nation' are particularly hairy, especially during weekdays and the Saturday evening rush, and should not be navigated by anyone not confident in their ability to cycle in heavy traffic. 'Avenue des Champs-Elysées', 'Place de l'Étoile', and 'Voie Georges Pompidou' (the lower-level express lanes along the banks of the Seine) should be avoided at all times.
Since the Métro is primarily structured around a hub-and-spoke model, there are some journeys for which it can be quite inefficient, and in these cases, it is worth seeing if a direct bus route exists, despite the complexity of the bus network. A bus ride is also interesting if you want to see more of the city. The Parisian bus system is quite tourist-friendly. It uses the same single-ride tickets and Carte Orange as the Métro, and electronic displays inside each bus tell riders its current position and what stops remain, eliminating a lot of confusion.
These same payment devices are also valid in the Noctilien, the night bus. Night buses run regularly through the central hub at Chatelet to outlying areas of greater Paris. There is also a circle line connecting the main train stations. It pays to know one's Noctilien route ahead of time in case one misses the last Métro home. Women travellers should probably avoid taking the Noctilien on their own to destinations outside Paris.
Another option for travelers who want to see the sights of Paris without a stop on every street corner is the Paris L'Opentour Bus, an open-topped double decker bus that supplies headsets with the most up to date information on the attractions in Paris. Your ticket is good for four routes ranging in time from 1-2 h. Get off when you want, stay as long as you need, get back on the bus and head for another site. You can purchase tickets at the bus stop. A one-day pass is €25 for adults and €15 for children. A two-day pass is €32 for adults or €15 for children.
Taxis are comparatively cheap especially at night when there are no traffic jams to be expected. There are not as many as one would expect, and sometimes finding a taxi can be challenging. In the daytime, it is not always a good idea to take a taxi, as walking or taking the metro (See: Métro) will often be faster.