Paris Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

The French capital is one of the most visited cities in the world. Renowned for its beautiful buildings, charming cafes, exquisite churches and, of course, the iconic Eiffel Tower, Paris is an amazing mix of old and new. With ancient alleys leading to some of the most beautiful architecture in Europe, Paris is also home to shiny skyscrapers and intriguing modernist buildings.
Paris Travel Guide
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But the true attraction of the city is its amazing gardens. Paris boasts several parks, all perfectly maintained, and many of them with an extraordinary history. Paris is also known as the City of Lights and for good reason. The Eiffel Tower changes almost completely at sundown and the entire city becomes different once all the lights are turned on.

With 20 arrondissements and over 2 million inhabitants, Paris has no shortage of world renowned museums and breathtaking churches, but it is also the birthplace of the Golden Age and La Belle Epoque, all of which have left a great mark on the city’s culture and atmosphere.

The Champs Elysees encompasses all of Paris’ beauty and charm with perfectly manicured parks and upscale shops. The Parisian architecture is reason enough to spend days just wondering around the beautiful streets. Whether you’re interested in the perfectly calm Luxembourg Gardens, or the eclectic Montmartre district, you’ll need several weeks in order to explore this amazing city.

Let’s not forget about Paris’ main symbol – the Eiffel Tower. Though this iron structure was only supposed to last for 20 years, today, over a century later, it is still one of the most visited landmarks in the world.

However, the Eiffel Tower is not the only symbol of Paris. The Louvre Museum houses some of the most famous masterpieces in the world, while Notre Dame Cathedral attracts visitors with its intriguing façade and captivating history.

Paris is not only known for its beautiful streets and buildings, but also for its underground. Brave tourists, who dare to step through the gates of the Catacombs, will get to explore the maze of tunnels under the city, all filled with the remains of millions of people. If the sight of perfectly stacked bones and skulls will not terrify you, then it will definitely fascinate you.

A vacation in Paris should be on anyone’s to do list, not only for its spectacular sights, but also for the fact that the Parisian charm and atmosphere cannot be replicated or matched. The city’s ambiance is so enchanting, that the most difficult thing you’ll have to do here is leave.

1. Champs Elysees

Arguably one of the most famous boulevards in the world, Champs Elysees is the epitome of Paris’ elegance and beauty. Over one mile long and 230 feet wide, l’Avenue des Champs Elysees connects Place de Charles de Gaulle and Place de la Concorde and houses some of the most luxurious restaurants, hotels and shops in the City of Lights.

This monumental avenue used to be a field of marshland until the 16th century when it was turned into one of the most recognizable boulevards in history by King Louis the XIV’s gardener. At the beginning, the avenue was named “Grand Cours”, and only in 1709, the boulevard was renamed Avenue des Champs Elysees. Today, it encompasses not only a large number of shops, but also a beautiful park, a museum and the popular Arc de Triomphe. Visitors should definitely make time to take a stroll through Champs Elysees.

Starting from Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris, tourists can admire the shiny 75 feet high Egyptian obelisk. Take a few moments and admire the intricate hieroglyphics and every part of the beautiful column, known as the Luxor Obelisk, which was originally located at the entrance to Luxor Temple in Egypt.

Place de la Concorde also boasts two beautiful fountains, one dedicated to the sea, with figures representing the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and one dedicated to the rivers, with statues representing rivers Rhine and Rhone.

This square is not only famous for its beautiful architecture and statues, but also because it is the place where many important French leaders, including Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, where guillotined during the French Revolution.

The first part of Champs Elysees crosses a 14 acres garden named after this famous avenue, which also features several buildings, including two theaters and two museums – Grand Palais and Petit Palais.

The Grand Palais is an impressive beaux-arts historic venue which houses several exhibits including an art salon and a science exhibit. Fashion enthusiasts should also know that this venue is often used by one of the most famous French fashion houses, Chanel, for show, usually during Fashion Week. The nearby Petit Palace, though just as beautiful, is a smaller venue which also houses an art gallery.

At the border of the gardens, a little further away from the boulevard, visitors can take a peek at the Elysees Palace, the official residence of the French president.

At the end of Champs Elysees Gardens, the boulevard is lined with charming buildings. This part of the avenue is one of the most popular shopping spots in Paris thanks to the large number of high end stores. The boulevard also features a wide range of restaurants, from Michelin stars venues to popular fast-food places. Make sure you stop by Maison Laduree, which is not only a popular French pastry shops famous for its delicious macaroons, but also a lavish 18th century tea salon.

L’Avenue de Champs Elysees ends in Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly known as Place de l’Etoile, with one of Paris’ main symbols – the Arc de Triomphe. This square is also one of the largest road junctions in Paris, with no less than twelve straight avenues meeting in the same spot. Because of that, the original name of the square was Place de l’Etoile or Square of the Star. However, in 1970, after French president Charles de Gaulle died, the place was renamed in his honor. Right in the center of the square, the 164 feet high Arc de Triomphe is a true symbol of Paris. Finished in 1836, this neoclassical monument was the tallest triumphal arc at that moment. Right beneath the arch is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier dedicated to all French soldiers who died during the First World War.

The Champs Elysees Avenue is a great starting point for any trip to Paris. Whether you are interested in the beautiful Parisian architecture, the posh restaurants, upscale shops or you simply want to bask in the charming Paris atmosphere, this boulevard is the place to see and be seen.

2. Eiffel Tower

The most important symbol of Paris and one of the most famous touristic landmarks in the world, the Eiffel Tower attracts almost 7 million visitors a year. In fact, this is one of the most visited paid monuments on the globe and for good reason. The iron lattice tower is the tallest structure in the city towering 1,063 feet high over the enchanting metropolis.

The shape of the tower is known around the world, but few people know that the structure is made out of 8,000 metallic parts all held together by about 2.5 million rivets. It is hard to believe that the Eiffel Tower was built to last just two decades.

Designed by famous French engineer Gustave Eiffel, who also worked at another world renowned landmark, the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Eiffel Tower was a project built as a temporary exhibit for the World’s Fair in 1889. Despite its ingenuity, many important French figures of the time vehemently protested against this metallic structure. Famous artists, writers and even architects like Alexandre Dumas, Guy de Maupassant, or Charles Garnier organized a protest against this landmark, which was quite a distinctive figure among the classical Parisian architecture.

Despite the controversy, the main structure was finished by March 1889, just in time for the exposition, and it was a great hit among locals, who scrambled to admire the great tower. At night, the structure was lit with hundreds of gas lamps and on top had a beacon with three lights – red, white and blue, the colors of the French flags. What is more, at the top of the tower, Eiffel built an apartment for himself, where he lived and worked for many years.

Because the permit for the tower was only valid for 20 years, in 1909 the Eiffel Tower was supposed to be dismantle, hence its airy structure, which was supposed to be easily to tear down. However, the radio antenna atop of the tower turned out to be very useful and the City of Paris decided not to take it down.

The wrought iron structure is comprised out of three levels, all standing on four pillars and weighing about 10,000 tones. Each pillar has an elevator, one of which is private, and there’s also a post office inside one of the pillars. These massive pedestals are quite impressive, and usually tourists are fascinated by the sheer immensity of these structures, which don’t look nearly as large from afar.

Visitors don’t have to take one of the elevators in order to visit the tower. Those with enough physical strength can climb the over 300 each level. Every story offers breathtaking views over Paris, and the more you climb, the better you’ll be able to see the entirety of Paris. Right below the first level, Gustave Eiffel engraved 72 names of famous mathematicians, scientists and engineers, as a response to the French artists’ protest against the tower.

The second level also features the Jules Verne restaurant, a Michelin star venue which offers not only an amazing menu, but also a great view right form the table. The restaurant can be reached with the private restaurant.

The top level features two viewing platforms which also happen to be the best places to admire the sights in the entire Paris and during sunny days, visitors can see as far as 70 kilometer away. The third level also houses Eiffel’s apartment which can also be visited.

In order to have the full Eiffel Tower experience, you should definitely visit it during the day and after nightfall, despite the permanently long lines. During daytime, visitors can admire the intricate details of this massive structure and the breathtaking views over the City of Lights. But at night, the tower gets a whole new look. It becomes gold thanks to thousands of lights located inside the framework. What is more, once the sun sets, every hour until 1 am, the Beacon light atop of the tower casts a beam which circles the entire structure. The tower also features a sparkling lights system which is made out of 20,000 light bulbs that make the tower look like it’s been electrocuted.

Because of its enormous size, it is impossible to actually see the Eiffel Tower when near it. There are, however, several prime spots throughout Paris from which the structure can be seen in its entire glory. Among the most popular spots, there’s Champs de Mars, not too far from the tower, and Place du Trocadero.

3. Ile de la Cite

Though Champ Elysees and the Eiffel Tower attract the majority of tourists, the actual heart of Paris lies on an island in the middle of the Seine. Ile de la Cite or the Island of the City is a small patch of land in the middle of the river, which crams a great number of important landmarks including the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.

Every road distance in France is calculated starting from Place du Parvis de Notre-Dame, a square right in front of the cathedral. Pont Neuf or the New Bridge, which ironically is the oldest one in Paris, connects the island with both banks of the river.

The main attraction here is, without a doubt, the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris, a Gothic church built in 1163, after 150 years of very difficult construction work. Thousands of tourists gather in front of this magnificent building to admire one of the most famous landmarks in France. The large number of gargoyles, chimeras and flying buttresses give the church a very distinctive look, while the interior is just as beautifully decorated. Notre Dame also has 10 bells and every single one of them has its own name. The largest one is Emanuel, in the south tower, which weigh over 13 tones and has more than 100 inches in diameter.

The cathedral played an important role in the European history. Several coronations and marriage ceremonies took place here throughout the years, including the coronation of Henry VI of England and Napoleon I and his wife Josephine. James V of Scotland married Madeleine of France here, and, a few decades later, the Dauphin Francis, who later became Francis II of France, married Mary, Queen of Scots.

The Notre Dame is not the only highlight on Ile de la Cite. Palais de Justice is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. This is the place where the justice of the state was dispensed during medieval times and for two centuries, until the French Revolution, it was the seat of the Parliament. Right next to the palace, the Saint Chapelle is a flamboyant gothic chapel built by King Louis IX during the 13th century. It has a 250-feet high vaulted nave decorated with magnificent stained glass windows.

Also nearby, the Conciergerie is a part of the former royal palace as well. This was the place where, during the French Revolution, hundreds of prisoners were kept before they were guillotined in several sports throughout Paris. Among the most famous “residents” of the Conciergerie is Marie Antoinette, Princess Elisabeth of France, revolutionary Georges Jacques Danton and poet Andre Marie Chenier.

Ile de la Cite has managed to keep its medieval charm, and a walk along its narrow streets will take you back in time to the flamboyant days of kings and queens.

4. Luxembourg Gardens

Paris is not only famous for its gorgeous churches and amazing museums. The City of Lights also boasts impressive parks and gardens, many of them designed during the Golden Age. One of the most popular green spaces in the city is Luxembourg Gardens or Jardin du Luxembourg.

This peaceful park located in the 6th arrondissement is the perfect spot to relax after o long day of exploring the bustling city. The park was created by the widow of King Henry IV of France, Marie de Medici, for a new palace she commissioned that was set to be her royal residence. The 57 acres park surrounds the Italian style Luxembourg Palace, which was built to mimic Palazzo Pitti in Florence, where Marie de Medici grew up.

The name of the gardens and the subsequent palace comes from a nearby old hotel which belonged to the Duke of Piney, also known as the Duke of Luxembourg. The palace was finished in 1645 and it used to be dubbed the Medici Palace. It features several galleries, including the Rubens Gallery, which housed many masterpieces commissioned by Marie de Medici to the famous Flemish painter.

Throughout the years, the palace changed ownership and several members of the French royal family lived here. That was until 1750, when the Luxembourg Palace became a museum. Just half a century later, the building was turned into the House of Parliament and today it houses the French Senate. Though it is quite difficult to visit the interior of the palace, the building itself is a true architectural gem.

However, the Luxembourg Gardens are a beloved spot not only for tourists, but for locals as well, particularly during weekends, when they have picnics on the perfectly manicured lawns and spend quality time with their loved ones among the many fragrant flower beds and beautiful statues. The most popular spot in the park is the pond where children usually enjoy sailing mini boats.

Luxembourg Gardens is not only a simple green space in the middle of Paris, but also a true open air museum. The garden houses over 100 magnificent statues, monuments and fountains, many of them created by famous artists. Nevertheless, the most interesting piece in the park is the Medici Fountain. Commissioned during the 17th century by Marie de Medici to a famous Italian fountain maker, this exquisite landmark features a grotto, a popular element during the Italian Renaissance. Though it fell into ruins just a century after it was built, the Medici Fountain was restored by Napoleon and moved to its present location. The fountain features a large basin lined by several statues and old trees. Right behind it, there’s another similar landmark – the Fountain of Leda, commissioned by Napoleon during the same time the Medici Fountain was being restored.

5. Montmartre

One of the most captivating districts in Paris, Montmartre is the place where many beautiful works of art were created. Though it’s basically a large hill in the middle of the city, Montmartre encompasses some of the most charming cafes in the entire City of Lights.

Since the Belle Époque, Montmartre has been the home for bohemian artists and to this day, it attracts thousands of tourists in search for a glimpse into those glorious days. The chic atmosphere for which the French capital is so famous exudes on every quaint alley, lined with beautiful buildings and, sometimes, even merry-go-rounds.

The most popular landmark in this district also happens to be the highest one. The Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, perched atop of the Montmartre hill is one of the best places from which you can admire the entire city, particularly from the church’s dome. This shiny white basilica is an eclectic mix of Baroque and Romanesque styles, and it was built right after the Franc-Prussian War, in 1914, as a symbol of hope. Around this beautiful church there’s a garden designed for meditation, but the 300 steps leading to the main building are usually preferred by tired tourists.

Montmartre was the most beloved place for many artists at the turn of the century, and because of that many bars, cafes and restaurants here were popular hangouts for famous artists and writers. What is more, most of them even had studios on the streets of this charming district, many of which were turned into museums and art galleries. The most interesting ones are Espace Dali, a museum featuring many of the surrealist painter’s works, the Daida house dedicated to the renowned singer and actress, and Bateau-Lavoir, an atelier where Picasso, Juan Gris and Braque have created some of their most iconic works and started the Cubism movement. Painters like Modigliani and Paul Gauguin, and sculptor Constantin Brancusi have also lived and worked here at a certain time.

Another great place for art lovers is Musee du Montmartre, housed in a 17th century mansion which used to be a meeting place and a studio for artists like Renoir or Emile Bernard. Today, this charming building houses many astonishing art pieces including works by Toulouse Lautrec, Modigliani and Vuillard.

Though Montmartre is famous for its bohemian culture and colorful past, another bright landmark entices visitors particularly after sun down. The world famous Moulin Rouge with its bright red windmill, has been a famous cabaret since 1889 when it was founded. To this day, the burlesque shows which take place in this venue attract many visitors, and despite its long history, Moulin Rouge still maintains a fascination and a… je ne sais quoi.

While in Montmartre, couples should not miss the opportunity to take their photo by the Wall of Love, a 2000 art installation, located in Jehan Rictus garden square. The wall has 612 enameled lava tiles and the phrase “I love you” is written 311 times in 250 languages across the entire surface.

6. Louvre

Louvre is without a doubt one of the most famous museum in the world, not only for its beautiful architecture, but also for the amazing masterpieces housed inside. The infamous “Mona Lisa”, “Venus de Milo”, the “Liberty Guiding the People” and the French crown jewels are only a few of the impressive pieces of art that can be admired at the Louvre. It’s no wonder that this is the most visited museum worldwide.

Located in Louvre Place, on the right bank of River Seine, the building used to be a fortress, erected in the 12th century. Parts of this fortress can still be seen to this day in the basement of the museum. Throughout the centuries, the building has been refurbished and redesigned several times and most of the time it housed the extensive art collection of the royal family. After the French Revolution, the Louvre was turned into a proper museum.

Today, it boasts about 35,000 artefacts, dating from the prehistoric times to the 21st century. This entire collection is divided into eight departments – Near-Eastern Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Roman, Greek and Etruscan Art, Islamic Art, Decorative Arts, Sculptures, Prints and Drawings and Paintings.

The Egyptian Antiquities feature over 50,000 pieces including mummies, clothing, weapons, musical instruments, jewelries and papyrus scrolls, while the Near-Eastern collection boasts impressive pieces from Mesopotamia, Persia and many other similar civilizations.

The Louvre also houses an eclectic collection of Ancient Roman, Greek and Etruscan art dating from the Cycladic times, until the Roman Empire collapsed. Visitors can admire jewelry, bronze figures, marble sculptures, paintings and ceramics. The Islamic Art department boasts about 1,000 shards and approximately 5,000 of art pieces, including books of poems.

The museum’s sculpture collection also has many incredible pieces, including Venus di Milo, Victoire de Samothrace, and Canova’s “The Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love”. The Prints and Drawings Department is comprised out of thousands of sketches, drawings and illustrated books, while the Decorative Arts collection features artefacts from the middle Ages until the 18th century.

However, the most popular department is the Paintings one, thanks to numerous works of art by the likes of da Vinci, David, Delacroix, Vermeer, Titian, Michelangelo and many more. In fact, the over 7,500 works collection spans from the 13th century all the way to 1848.

Though such an extensive art collection needs at least a day to be properly seen, the actual building of the Louvre should not go unnoticed. Right from the entrance, the Glass Pyramid, which is located in the middle of the central courtyard, welcomes visitors with strange but interesting sights.

Several rooms of the Louvre still maintain de decadent decorations commissioned by Charles V, Charles VI and Henri II for this building. The Kings’ Room and the Hall of the Caryatides will give you a peek inside the opulent lives of the French royals.

7. Place de Vosges

One of Parisians’ favorite places to spend their free time is Place de Vosges, the oldest planed square in the city. Located between the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, in Marais district, this chic square boasts not only perfectly manicured lawns but also a great collection of beautiful buildings.

Designed at the beginning of the 17th century, the square was originally named Place Royale, because most of the aristocratic mansions were built around it. In fact, almost every old building which lines the square had at least one famous resident. Victor Hugo lived at number 6, for over a decade, while writers Theophile Gautier and Alphonse Daudet lived at number 8. The number 21 was the home of Cardinal Richelieu from 1615 to 1627.

Place de Vosges has been a popular meeting place ever since it was built. Many duels used to take place here, though they were banned by Richelieu, while the celebrated courtesans of King Louis XIII used to live at number 11 and take long strolls through the gardens.

Because of its symmetrical layout and perfectly kept green spaces, Place de Vosges has been a model for many other squares in Paris, including Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome.

Today, the buildings lining the square house upscale restaurants and shops, charming cafes and even a museum. The amazing Picasso Museum is located not too far from the square and it features some of the artist’s most famous works.

8. Palais Garnier

The opulent Palais Garnier in the 9th arrondissement is known as the most famous opera house in the entire world. Built in 1875 for the Paris Opera, this incredible building has housed some of the greatest productions in history.

Designed by famous architect Charles Garnier, this monumental and very expensive building attracts visitors not only for its impressive productions, but also for its opulent decorations. Dozens of painters, sculptors and mozaicists have worked tirelessly only to decorate the intricate façade of the palace. The main façade boasts several gilded statues and busts of famous composers, including Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini.

The interior of the building is just as magnificent. Though at the present Palais Garnier showcases ballet performance, the actual building can be visited throughout the day. On the inside, the palace houses many stairwells, corridors and alcoves, all beautifully decorated. The large white marble ceremonial staircase leads visitors into the Grand Foyer decorated with several frescoes, representing various moments in music’s history.

The auditorium had a horse shoe shape and it can accommodate almost 2,000 people. The stage is the largest one in Europe, and the ceiling was painted by Marc Chagall and it depicts various scenes from some of the most famous operas.

The palace also houses a library – museum of the Paris Opera which can also be explored by visitors. What is more, this building gained even greater recognition thanks to Gaston Leroux famous novel Phantom of the Opera which takes place inside this building and Andrew Lloyd Webber even more famous musical inspired by the novel.

9. Lafayette Galleries

Paris is not just about beautiful churches, chic cafes and wonderful boulevards; it is also about fashion. The birthplace of Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and many more world famous couturiers, Paris has a plethora of amazing shops, not only on Champs Elysees, but also in several other districts.

Shopping centers and department stores are also quite popular among Parisians, and arguably the most well-known department store in France is also in Paris. Lafayette Galleries are not just a simple department store, they are a true experience. Though there are several similar shopping centers in other important cities around the world, Lafayette Galleries in Paris are the best ones, and also the original ones.

The department store dates back to 1895, when two French businessmen opened a small fashion store on rue La Fayette. Because the interior looked more like an art gallery and people could move around the aisles and take a closer look at the products, the shop quickly gained the moniker “Aux Galeries Lafayette”.

During the next decade the two business partners managed to acquire several buildings on the same street and on Boulevard Haussmann, and by 1912 they opened what it became one of the most iconic department stores in the world. The new Art Nouveau building featured an impressive staircase inspired by the one in Palais Garnier, and a 141 feet high dome. The building was decorated with intricate stained glass windows and the rooftop was turned into a terrace for those who wanted to admire the beautiful city.

As the number of stores grew, so did the fame of Lafayette Galleries, which have turned a simple chore like shopping into a delightful pastime.

Today, the 10-story building houses dozens of upscale boutiques, including flag ship stores of some of the most famous fashion designers. What is more, the galleries also have their own… galleries. The department store houses art exhibits. Since the 60’s, Lafayette Galleries offer a small space for an up and coming designer, many of which have become successful designers, like Sonia Rykiel, Pierre Cardin, Cacharel or Yves Saint-Laurent.

10. Catacombs of Paris

Though the beauty of Paris can be spotted in every corner, the underground of the City of Lights is not as luminous. Paris lies on top of one of the largest graves in the world. Inside the remains of the historical mines, the remains of over 6 million people are kept in ossuaries.

Though the Catacombs of Paris are quite a scary place, they are also one of the most visited in the city. The main entrance is located in Place Denfert-Rochereau, in the 14th arrondissement. Tourists who dare to step inside will get to walk through a maze of tunnels and caverns all filled with piles of bones and skulls.

During the 18th and early 19th century, the city’s cemeteries were overcrowded, and they were closed, so people could only be buried outside the city’s walls. Because there was already a massive amount of graves, Paris authorities decided to move the majority of the remains into the old underground mines which were renovated. It took about two years to move the remains of million Parisians in order to empty the city’s cemeteries.

In 1810 the newly formed ossuaries were remodeled and turned into a mausoleum. The bones and skulls were stacked into different patterns and the former headstones and other decorations were also displayed in the catacombs. And so, the maze of tunnels lined with bones quickly became a museum.

From the entrance in Place Denfert-Rochere, visitors must descend a staircase and pass through a mile long corridor in order to get to the actual entrance of the ossuary. Above the entrance there’s an inscription saying “Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death”. As they enter, visitors will get to walk among millions of bones displayed in peculiar ways in a morbid atmosphere.

If that is still not enough gloomy for you, Paris’s most famous cemetery, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, is another interesting landmark. Known not just for its creepy atmosphere, but also for some of its famous residents, this is the final resting place for many celebrities including, Balzac, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Georges Bizet, Chopin Maria Callas, Delacroix, Modigliani and Oscar Wilde.

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