Mapping out a whistle-stop tour of Paris’s unmissable sights is no easy task. Compact and criss-crossed by airy boulevards, the city is a joy to walk around. Each neighbourhood has its fair share of a long and colourful history, lingering on in gardens, monuments and belfries. It pays to take time to explore – particularly when breezy terraces, inventive pastry shops and on-trend coffee shops await along the way.
Start at Notre-Dame de Paris, at the very heart of the city, to take in gargoyles, weeping willows and film-worthy river banks. Sweep south through the elegant streets of St Germain and the palm-studded Jardin du Luxembourg, or north past the high-tech Centre Pompidou and that masterpiece of Napoleonic extravagance, the Palais Garnier.
Whichever bank you head for, make a beeline for the city’s bustling department stores – Galeries Lafayette is particularly impressive – stocked with the very best Paris has to offer.
She may need no introduction, but even hardened Parisians can be swayed by her charms – particularly at night, when her lights twinkle alluringly.
Some 100 runners race to the top every spring, but an everyday visit to the Iron lady takes a little bit of planning. Book a spot online to avoid the interminable queues, and treat yourself to some bubbles at the top if you choose to take the stairs.
You could easily spend entire days exploring this sprawling museum’s Egyptian treasures, Renaissance masterpieces and gilded royal apartments. On a hot summer’s day, the photogenic courtyards, cool fountains and shaded archways outside are just as enticing. For the swiftest entry, avoid the pyramid’s main entrance and sneak in through the much quieter shopping centre instead.
This must-visit museum houses the great sculptor’s most famous works in a handsome classical mansion. You’ll find The Kiss, The Thinker and The Gates of Hell here, as well as a room dedicated to his long-suffering lover and assistant Camille Claudel. Scattered with striking bronzes, the peaceful gardens are charming in the summer, particularly when the roses are in bloom.
Jim Morrison may be this cemetery’s most famous resident, but there’s a lot more to this leafy sanctuary than his graffiti-strewn tomb. A walk around its cobbled avenues sweeps through much of France’s illustrious literary and sombre political pasts. Pay your respects at Balzac’s imposing bronze bust, Oscar Wilde’s stone sarcophagus or the surprisingly poignant Communards’ wall.
It’s no surprise this pretty basilica has captured the hearts of die-hard romantics. Squint and you might just see echoes of the Taj Mahal in its whitewashed dome. The Byzantine interiors are certainly impressive, but a trip up the Butte Montmartre is just as much about the views from its terraced gardens. For a cinematic spin, hop on the traditional carousel made famous by Amélie.
Rue de Vaugirard, 75006, Website
The Tuileries may be the bigger name, but this former royal garden is one of Parisians’ favourite places to stroll, bask, lunch, or even jog. The artificial pond behind the palace is especially popular for its miniature wooden sailboats, available to rent on Wednesday afternoons and weekends.
Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 75008
Bookended by the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde, Paris’s grandest boulevard needs no introduction. A tree-lined avenue flanked by designer boutiques, iconic restaurants and tourist hotspots, it hosts the city’s biggest events, including the Bastille Day parade. On the first Sunday of every month, the street closes to cars and becomes a pedestrian promenade.
Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004, Website
Spot the building that doesn’t quite fit in central Paris. Designed in the 1970s by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, this avant-garde structure with its exterior escalators famously houses the National Museum of Modern Art. Admire works by Picasso and Matisse, and consider pieces by Andy Warhol and Anish Kapoor in Europe’s largest modern and contemporary art collection.
Place de l’Opéra, 75009, Website
To step into this 19th-century opera house and ascend its grand staircase is to experience French culture’s love affair with art. Attend opera, ballet, and classical music performances in its opulent auditoriums, and take a guided tour of the building to sneak a peek behind the scenes. In the main performance hall, be sure to look up at the Marc Chagall-painted ceiling.
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