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Top Tourist Attractions in Paris

Updated on July 29, 2013
Tourist attractions don't get much more iconic than this
Tourist attractions don't get much more iconic than this | Source

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An in-depth look at the top tourist attractions in Paris

Paris appeals to the old and the young, the romantic and the cynic. It exudes a magic that is felt by visitors from all over the world. The top tourist attractions in Paris have the power to fascinate and thrill the first time visitor and surprise seasoned travellers returning to the French capital time and again.

By delving into the top must-see tourist attractions in Paris in more detail, it can reveal a few of the lesser known facts about the great city's history. Feel free to dip in and out according to your Paris tourist attraction needs!

La Seine

The Seine is the principal river of France that runs through the city of Paris. The name comes from the Celtic language meaning ‘Sacred River’ and there are 37 bridges that cross it just within Paris alone, with dozens more outside the city.

The Seine is quite the tourist attraction, aided by its romantic backdrop and many excursion boat trips offering stunning views of the city both by day and into the night.

La Seine Trivia: Legend has it that Joan of Arch’s ashes were thrown into the Seine after being burned at the stake in 1431. Also, according to his will Napoleon wished to be buried on the banks of the Seine, although his request was never actually granted.

Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle

Open: Various times depending on which section visited
Nearest Metro Stop: Gare d'Austerlitz

The National Museum of Natural History incorporates three separate centres adjoining the garden: the Gallery of Minerology and Geology, dealing with minerals and geology; the Gallery Anatomy and Paleontology, focusing on anatomy and fossils; and the Grande Gallery of evolution, which exhibits humanity's effect on the ecosystem and global warming.

Museum Trivia: Although the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle was formally founded in 1793, during the French Revolution, it was originally created by King Louis XIII in 1635 as a royal medicinal herb and plant garden (really). The medical element was later removed and today this botanical garden is just one of the departments of the natural history museum in this top tourist attraction in Paris.

Eiffel Tower

Location: Champ de Mars
9:30am - 11:45pm (January - mid June)
9:00am - 12:45pm (Mid June - August)
9:30am - 12:45pm (September - December)

What list of tourist attractions in Paris would be complete without the monumental Eiffel Tower? The great tower was built by Gustav Eiffel between 1887 and 1889 as the entrance arch for the Exposition Universelle, a World Fair marking the centennial celebration of the French Revolution. At 370 metres high it is the tallest building in Paris.

The French people hated the tower when it was first built, and considered it an eyesore. It was meant to only stand for 20 years before being torn down but it was discovered that it could be used by the army for radio and communication signals - it is still used for radio and television signals today.

Eiffel Tower Trivia: It was tallest building in the world until 1930 when Chrysler Building was built in New York.

5.5 million people visit the tower every year. It has also proved to be a popular place to commit suicide so there have been 370 suicide nets added to the tower. On a brighter note however, there has also been a birth in one of the tower’s lifts.

Shakespeare and Company Bookshop
Shakespeare and Company Bookshop | Source

Shakespeare and Company Bookshop

Located: 37 Rue de la Butcherie.
Open:11am – midnight
Nearest Metro Stop: St Michel

If you’ve never heard of this then you’re in for a treat. Part bookshop, part historic tourist attraction, Shakespeare and Company is an independent bookstore located on Paris' left bank. It first opened its doors in 1919 and served as both a bookstore and a reading library, specialising in English language literature. The bookstore used to house young writers, known as "tumbleweeds," who earned their keep by working in the shop for a couple of hours each day. Among the shop’s visitors were little known(!) writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce.

There are thirteen beds among the books on the first floor, and it’s said that more than 40,000 writers have slept there across the years. Young writers are still encouraged to write and stay here, with the only requirements being that they help out and read a book a day.

Bookshop Trivia: The current store is named after and in honour of an earlier store, which closed during World War II.

Arc du Triomphe

Open: 10am - 11pm (ticket office closes at 10:30pm)
Nearest Metro Stop: Charles de Gaulle-Etoile

The Arch du Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon at the peak of his career in 1806 after his victory at Austerlitz over the Russian-Austrian allies. It was built to celebrate his victories, but he was extradited from France after he lost the Battle of Waterloo and before the Arch was completed. It wasn’t actually completed until 1836 during the reign of Louis-Philippe and Napoleon's body passed under it a few years later on 15 December 1840 on its way to its second and final resting place at the Hotel des Invalides.

The Arc du Triomphe sits in the middle of one of the busiest roundabouts in the world with 12 avenues stranding off from it. It’s advised to take an underpass to get to the Arch as it is just too dangerous to try and cross the road.

The Arc de Triomphe is engraved with names of generals who commanded French troops during Napoleon's reign. At the top of the arch are 30 shields, each of them bearing the name of one of Napoleon's successful battles. The inside walls of the monument list the names of the 660 people who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of those who died in battle underlined.

Arc Trivia: There is no lift so be prepared to climb the 234 steps to the top.

Beneath the Arc is the tomb of an unknown soldier from the First World War who was laid to rest there in 1921. An eternal flame is rekindled every evening at 6.30pm in memory of the fallen soldiers who were never identified in both World Wars.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Nearest Metro Stops: Charles de Gaulle-Etoile, George V, Franklin Roosevelt, Champs Elysees, Concorde

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is the most prestigious avenue in Paris. It runs for 2kms between the Arch du Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde. The promenade is lined with cinemas, cafés, and luxury designer shops like Louis Vitton, Cartier and Channel. The Champs-Élysées is one of the most expensive strips of real estate in Europe with rents as high as €1.1 million per 1,000 square feet (92.9 square metres).

Champs-Élysées Trivia: The name 'Champs-Elysées' (or Elysian Fields in English) comes from Greek mythology – Elusia means the place where ‘heroes come to relax.’

The Arc du Triomphe dominates the middle of a busy roundabout
The Arc du Triomphe dominates the middle of a busy roundabout | Source
The famously gothic Notre Dame
The famously gothic Notre Dame | Source

Notre Dame

Located: Ille de Cite (one of the little islands within the Seine).
6:45am - 6:45pm (Monday - Friday)
8:00am - 7:45pm (Saturday & Sunday)
10:00am - 6:30pm (Tower)
Nearest Metro Stop: St Michel Notre Dame

The Notre Dame is a Roman Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. It was one of the first examples of Gothic architecture in France and in Europe.

Most people have heard of Notre Dame because they’ve either read the book or seen the Disney film, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. In 1831, French author Victor Hugo published a novel about the story of Quasimodo – The hunchback who lived in the bell tower of the Notre Dame Cathedral and falls in love with a beautiful gypsy girl, Esmerelda.

Notre Dame Trivia: The Notre Dame was one of the first buildings to have arched exterior supports called flying buttresses to cope with the weight of the huge stain-glass windows.

The Notre Dame took 200 years to build. The first stone was laid in 1163 and it was completed in 1345.

The creatures carved out of stone on the building are called gargoyles. Gargoyle comes from the Latin word meaning gullet or drain. These gargoyles are connected to the drainpipes and the water from the roof is then drained through their mouths.

Musee de Louvre

9:00am - 6:00pm (Wednesday and Friday until 9:30pm)
Closed Tuesday, and opening hours for temporary exhibits vary
Admission is free on the first Sunday of each month
Nearest Metro Stop:
Palais-Royal-Musee du Louvre

The Louvre is probably the most famous museum in the world and a definite must-see tourist attraction in Paris, housing famous works of art such as Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.

The Louvre began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under King Philip II to defend the Seine River against invaders. The building was later turned into a palace and was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace.

The Palace started to move towards becoming a museum during the late 17th century when Louis XIV decided to move his royal residence out to the Palace of Versailles. During the early days of the museum the Louvre was also used as a residence for artists.

The museum opened to the public in 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings. The collection increased significantly during the reign of Napoleon, mainly because he stole a lot of art from the countries that he conquered.

Today the Louvre is the world's most visited museum, holding 300,000 works of art and averaging 15,000 visitors per day.

Louvre Trivia: The museum is so big that it’s said that if you spent one minute looking at each piece in the Louvre you would be there for six months, and that’s not including bathroom breaks!

Palais de Chaillot/Trocadero

Located: Parvis des Livertes et des Droits de l'Homme
Open: 11am - 7pm (Closed Tuesday)
Nearest Metro Stop: Trocadero

The Palais de Chaillot was named after the hill that it's built on, but it's also referred to as the Trocadero as a reminder of a French victory in Spain in 1823. (Trocadero is an island inside the Bay of Cadiz, in the South of Spain.)

What you’ll see here today however is not the original Palace. The original palace was built for the 1878 World Fair and was called the Palais du Trocadero. The old Trocadero Palace was demolished and the present building, Palais de Chaillot, was built for the World Fair of 1937.

Trocadero Trivia: It was in the Palais de Chaillot that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after WWII in 1948. The esplanade in front of the palace is known as the "esplanade of human rights".

Musee D’Orsay

Located: Entrance at 1 rue de la Legion d'Honneur, and 1 rue de Bellechasse (7th)
Free on the first Sunday of each month
9:30am - 6:00pm (Closed Monday and open late on Thursdays until 9:45pm)
Nearest Metro Stop:

The Musée d'Orsay is one of Paris' most popular museums and home to sculptures and impressionist paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries, including works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne and Van Gogh.

The building is an artwork in itself. It was built in 1900 as a grand railway station for the Paris World Exposition Fair to bring electric trains right into the centre of Paris. By 1939 the platforms were too short to accommodate the much longer trains that were serving the city and the area was turned into a parking lot, a theatre location and then a mailing centre during WWII.

Museum Trivia: An impressive 12,000 tonne of metal was used for the construction of the building - a significant amount more than that used for the Eiffel Tower.

Of course there are many, many more tourist attractions in Paris but start with these and you'll be sure to make the most of your time in this iconic City of Love.


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