Best Sightseeing in Paris

While in Paris, Feast Your Eyes on as Much as You Can

Paris is like an onion, say the locals, it has many layers. And I would add, the more you peel, the sweeter it gets.  The city is laid out in a circular spiral, that is sometimes caricatured as a snail or "escargot." This layout lends itself to the historical development of the city. It started originally on Île St.-Louis, the small island just next to Île de la Cité where the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris has stood for over 800 years. It then kept expanding to encompass what is today the Left Bank neighborhood of the Latin Quarter and the Right Bank neighborhood of Le Marais, two of the oldest, and richest, historically speaking, neighborhoods of Paris. Over the centuries it expanded ever outward to encompass the 20 arrondissements that make up Paris today. 

But historical is a relative word. When Left Bank sites like the Musée de Cluny house the Roman era baths, Les Thermes de Lutèce, that date back some 2000 years, then structures like the Eiffel Tower, being just a bit more than 125 years old, can seem relatively modern in this town.

One of the genius strokes of Napoléon was to engage urban designers who were responsible not just for the wide avenues, including the Champs-Elysées, but also for many of the luscious, large parks and gardens that give Paris its greenspace allure. One that pre-dates that era however is the Jardin des Tuileries created by André Le Nôtre in 1664.


7th Arondissement - Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower
Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

Boasting an impressive resume that includes being one of the tallest buildings in the world and a design that was lauded when it was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle - a festival to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution - La Tour Eiffel, commonly known as the Eiffel Tower, originally served as a radio transmitter and a symbol of the innovations achieved during the industrial era. Today, the Eiffel Tower stands proudly amidst Paris and glimpses of it can be seen from all over the city. In reverse, the Eiffel Tower provides a view to the whole city; a ride to the top of the tower takes visitors 276 meters up for a panoramic view of the entire city, stretching out for miles in each direction. At night, the Eiffel Tower comes alive with a light show that increases its role as the city's most recognized feature.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: With its first floor just newly re-done and now offering a panoramic viewing lounge, there is lots more to see from the Eiffel Tower.

Paige's expert tip: If you want to go on the most romantic date ever, take your significant other to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night. This view includes all the glittering lights below and the bejeweled starry sky above. Dress warmly as even in summertime those lofty heights get chilly.

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7ème Arrondissement

This gorgeous architectural gem, completed in the 17th century, is located in the city's Faubourg-St-Germain region. It was created by Louis XIV, the Sun King, as a home for aged soldiers and disabled/ injured veterans. Among its prominent features are a sweeping esplanade, a series of gardens, and a striking domed church, where Napol� I and other military heroes are interred. One of those military heroes is Turenne, one of the most famous marshals of France, whose tomb was installed in 1800 under the Dome. It wasn't until 1840 that Napoleon I's body was transferred to this site under the direction of King Louis-Philippe. The Emperor passed away on St. Helena in 1821. Also at this location is the Mus�de l'Arm� an outstanding art and military history museum, with extensive armament collections. METRO: Invalides, Latour Maubourg

Recommended for Sightseeing because: One of the most breathtaking monuments in Paris, with its glittering gold dome, this historical site is a must-see while in Paris.

Paige's expert tip: Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's body wasn't interred in the tomb here under the Dome until April 2, 1861. The body was initially transferred in 1840. The architect Visconti, commissioned by King Louis-Philippe, designed the tomb and assisted with the extensive excavations underneath prior to the installation of the tomb.

Read more about Hôtel National des Invalides →

1er Arrondissement

Stretching between the Louvre and place de la Concorde, this garden originally dates to 1564, when Catherine de Medici had it constructed as a reminder of her home in Italy. Historically, it marked one of the first times that Paris displayed beauty and elegance outdoors rather than only inside. It took its present layout by Andr� Le Nôtre during the reign of Louis XIV. Boasting gravel paths, avenues of lovely trees and numerous sculptures, both historic and modern, the garden is a peaceful place to spend an afternoon, or to come for lunch when visiting the Louvre as there are several outdoor caf�s and restaurants. In summer there is a big funfair.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The gardens are surrounded by the Louvre (east), Place de la Concorde (west), the Seine (south) and rue de Rivoli (north).

Paige's expert tip: The large central fountain just past the Place de la Concorde entrance is where children and their parents congregate to sail the little wooden boats across in spring, summer and fall. You can now easily purchase these boats at the newly spiffed up H�tel de Ville tourist office.

Read more about Jardin des Tuileries →

1er Arrondissement

The world's largest, richest collection of art and antiques occupies the Louvre, the world's largest museum and the one-time royal palace to French Kings and Queens. NOTE: Reservations are now required to visit the Louvre. Even if you hold a Museum Pass, you still must have advance reservations, which you can make online, in order to enter. Originally built in 1190 as a fortress, part of which can be viewed in the basement, the Louvre began taking its present form during the 16th century under Renaissance monarch Francois 1er, whose successors began filling it with artworks, but didn't officially open it as a museum until 1793 after the French Revolution. In 1981, then-President Mitterrand spearheaded a stunning renovation of the facility, notably the glass pyramid that now provides the main entrance. Leonardo's Mona Lisa and masterpieces of French Romanticism by Delacroix and G�ricault are several of its superstars. The popular Ancient Egyptian department is much loved by kids. There are excellent book and gift shops and several caf�s in the Carrousel du Louvre, the new shopping center it opens up onto.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: It is unthinkable to visit Paris and not have a look in at, or at least a walk by, the Louvre.

Paige's expert tip: Now offering free admission for all the first Saturday evning of the month from 6PM to 9:45 PM and every Friday evening for anyone under 26 yrs. old. Here is a true anecdote: When architect I.M. Pei designed the glass pyramid to grace the Louvre's courtyard it was a world-class design scandal. Scant decades later and it is already as emblematic a symbol of this fortress-like museum as is the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo.

Read more about Musée du Louvre →

4ème Arrondissement

This Catholic Church is the main church of the picturesque Île St.-Louis, the oldest inhabited area of Paris. The church was built according to the architectural designs of Le Vau in stages between 1624 and 1726. Le Vau was the royal architect of Versailles. The church's patron saint is Saint Louis de France who reigned as King Louis IX from 1226 - 1270. One of its most distinguishing attributes is the 18th c. church tower and the clock that decorates its exterior. Within its walls, the church has many valuable paintings including by Carle Van Loo. There are frequent concerts - classical and choir - given at the church. Check the website to see updated times and events. Mass is held Sunday mornings at 11 a.m.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The church dates to the early 17th c. and its central role, and position, on the historic and picturesque Île-St.-Louis make it a worthy destination.

Paige's expert tip: This church was first known as l'Eglise Notre-Dame-en-l'île but was rebaptized Eglise St.-Louis-en-l'Île in 1634. It is one of the smallest parishes in Paris. But its history is rich, Saint François de Sales once preached in these hallowed halls and the young Bonaparte, so it's said, once knelt in prayer here.

Read more about Saint-Louis-en-l'Île Church →

7ème Arrondissement

Centuries later and it's altogether too easy to forget that before he was the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson also served a term here in Paris as the US Ambassador to France (1785-89). He succeeded the first US Ambassador, who, of course, was Benjamin Franklin. Historical records attest to his spending long hours sketching sitting in the area of the Tuileries gardens that overlook the Seine and offer a direct view onto the Hôtel de Salm (currently the Museum of the Legion of Honor - Musée national de la Légion d'Honneur et des Ordres de Chevalerie). He was sketching the architecturally forward but with classic lines Hôtel de Salm, built in 1782, the building with its signature pillars. He later used these sketches for his beloved Monticello, which he built when he returned back to his native Virginia.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Take a look at what Thomas Jefferson holds in his hand. It's a sketch of the Hôtel de Salm upon which he modeled Monticello.

Paige's expert tip: This statue sits at the foot of the Pont Solferino, the pedestrian bridge that connects the Tuileries to the Musée d'Orsay. So once you're done visiting the Musée d'Orsay, say hello to Jefferson's statue before you walk across the bridge to the Tuileries where you'll find the exquisite L'Orangerie.

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4ème Arrondissement
Paris Rendez-vous
Photo courtesy of Photo by Paige Donner copyright 2014

There's a brand new tourist office in Paris that's unlike any tourist office you've ever seen. Gone are the harried functionaries who don't speak your language. They have been replaced by a young hip staff who are only too happy to show you how to use the complimentary digital tablets and computers that are programmed to assist you in just about any language you can imagine. The location, at Paris' City Hall (Hotel de Ville) means, too, that it is a great launching area for meandering walks through the Marais, a jaunt down along the Seine, a foray through Île Saint-Louis or a morning or afternoon spent at Les Halles with a stop in at the celebrated Centre Pompidou.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: With so many choices of things to see and do in Paris, this office will help you hone in on what is happening now.

Paige's expert tip: If you are looking for witty, fun souvenirs to bring back from Paris with you, have a look at the little boutique that offers some original gift items, all with Paris as the central theme. From here it's just minutes on foot to Le Marais, Beaubourg-Centre Pompidou and Île St.-Louis.

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20ème Arrondissement

Named for Louis XIV's confessor, who once lived in the vicinity, this cemetery was established in 1804. It was planned as a repository for human remains when authorities sought to improve sanitation by moving graves from the center of the city to its outskirts. Now park-like in its appeal, P� Lachaise is a much-desired place to be buried. Within its bounds are the graves of Moli�, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Proust, and other famous figures. The very first burial at the cemetery however was Ad�� Paillard de Villeneuve, a five-year-old girl who was the daughter of a bell-boy. Her grave no longer exists today because it was a temporary concession. Stately trees and beautiful memorials add to the cemetery's present-day calm. METRO: P� Lachaise, Philippe Auguste

Recommended for Sightseeing because: This cemetery, with its Jim Morrison claim to fame, is the second most visited site by tourists in Paris.

Paige's expert tip: Schedule a whole day if you want to explore the entire cemetery: There are a whole 110 acres to cover and many famous tombstones to hunt down in addition to Jim Morrison's and Oscar Wilde's.

Read more about Cimetiére du Pére Lachaise →

4ème Arrondissement

This central building to Paris' city center made a huge architecturally splash when Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers designed it as "an evolving spatial diagram" in the 70s. Breaking away from the then customary Parisian stone façades, the architects created a building of steel (15,000 tons) and glass (118,403 sq. ft.) and then color-codes its infrastructure which they placed outside its walls. Hence the inner workings of the building are emblematically visible on its exterior: red signifies pathways for people (elevators and escalators); yellow denotes circulating electricity; green is for water; and blue is for circulating air conditioning. As much a national library as it is a museum, there is nonetheless over 60,000 artworks housed here covering the 20th and 21st centuries. It is the largest collection in Europe of modern and contemporary art. The public information library is a multi-media one that uses all current forms of media.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: This is one of the most visited landmarks/museums/cultural sites in Paris by tourists, French and foreign alike, and has great appeal for all ages.

Paige's expert tip: France's national library is housed here and it has a mandate to focus on innovation. In addition to being dedicated to the areas of news, documentary film and digital culture, it regularly tests new tools/applications related to reading and the absorption of knowledge.

Read more about Centre Pompidou →

This wonderfully extravagant palace, where royals frittered away much of the treasury, is a necessary stop for visitors. Top designers of the day created an ornate complex of gardens, lakes, stables and guest houses to complement the luxuriously furnished palace, where Louis XIV, XV and XVI lived before the kingdom gave way to revolution. Beautifully restored rooms hint at the court's wealth, as seen in the gilt, crystal and hand-painted furnishings and details. Make sure to see the historic Hall of Mirrors. Guided and unguided tours are available. The gardens are as much as an attraction as the interior, especially when the spectacular fountains are turned on to music on summer weekends. Access from Paris by train (RER line C; Versailles Rive Gauche station is an 8-minute walk from the palace).

Recommended for Sightseeing because: A beautifully preserved and meticulously restored remnant of the heyday of the opulent lifestyles of France's Kings and Queens.

Paige's expert tip: Make a day of it. Versailles, especially if you take in its gardens, too, which you simply must, is worthy of an entire day's excursion at least.

Read more about Chateau de Versailles →


Meet Paige Donner

Paige's guidebook Paris On 4 Paws, A Dog Lover's Guide To The City of Light , her cookbook, Le CBD Cafe Coockbook and novel, I'll Take Paris are all available on Kindle and Amazon. .

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