The Best of Paris: Guided Tour of the Top 10 Iconic Places and Monuments You Must Not Miss
Paris is like a real amusement park! Even though it can be challenging, due to time constraints, to enjoy everything it offers, these attractions, whether touristy or not, all deserve a visit. Here's a selection of 10 must-see Parisian places that we hope will help you make your choices or even inspire you to visit them all!
1. The Eiffel Tower!
The Eiffel Tower? What more can be said? It's an iconic symbol of France ever since its inauguration during the 1889 World's Fair. The view from it is breathtaking, and the emotion remains intact when you approach the tower that was the world's tallest for nearly 50 years.
If you remain indifferent to the Iron Lady (because clichés are not your thing!), imagine yourself back in 1889 during its construction, when the tallest structure in Paris was still Saint-Louis des Invalides Cathedral. 300 meters! Think about the technological marvel, its deep foundations along the Seine, the thousands of hands that tightened thousands of bolts, and its unchanged elevators... The Eiffel Tower, the world's most visited monument with nearly 14 million annual visitors, is nothing less than Paris's crown!
2/ The Arc de Triomphe
Built under the orders of Napoleon, starting in 1806, and inaugurated in 1836, the Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of the victories of an entire nation. Even without going up it (access with a ticket), you can visit the roundabout of Place de l'Étoile by taking one of the tunnels. From there, you can appreciate the hustle and bustle of Parisian traffic and the monumental architecture of this trophy celebrating the glory of the French army.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been located there since November 11, 1920. Every day at 6:30 PM, a ceremony is held to rekindle its flame. On one of the pillars facing the Champs-Élysées, you won't have any trouble recognizing the immense Napoleon towering over Paris. The emperor chose this location, on one of Paris's hills, to amplify his gigantism, even though the Arc de Triomphe itself has dimensions three times larger than traditional triumphal arches of Ancient Rome. Napoleon's arch is 49 meters in height compared to an average of 17 meters for those in Rome.
The roundabout of Place de l'Étoile was designed by Baron Haussmann during Napoleon III's reign. You'll notice that at the intersections of the twelve avenues converging at the roundabout, private mansions were built following the same architectural model.
Therefore, you can experience two centuries of French history at the base of the Arc de Triomphe (or from its summit, as it offers one of the most beautiful views of Paris).
3/ The Louvre and the Tuileries Garden
The Louvre, did you know that before becoming the largest museum in the world, it was a fortress built on the defensive wall of King Philippe Auguste? Built at the turn of the 13th century, this stronghold represented a true revolution in the field of military architecture. To the extent that the Louvre Castle became a model for many castles built throughout Europe during the late Middle Ages. They would even call it the "Philippean Castle"!
Within the museum, it's possible to see the foundations of Philippe Auguste's castle, which was built on the site of the current Cour Carrée, including its round towers, which were a major innovation at the time.
The largest museum in the world welcomes over 10 million visitors each year. It houses a collection of 500,000 works of art, with 36,000 on display in over 70,000 square meters of exhibition space.
The museum was inaugurated in 1793 in the Louvre Palace, the former royal residence. It was initially named the Central Museum of the Arts of the Republic. The first pedestrian bridge in Paris, the "Pont des Arts," located between the Louvre and the Institute of France, is named after the museum.
If you don't feel like being indoors on such beautiful days, the Tuileries Garden will also astound you. Designed for the now-lost Tuileries Palace (built by Catherine de Medici), the Tuileries Garden was redesigned by André Le Nôtre (just like the Champs-Elysées). The garden is named as such because it is located on the site of a former tile factory.
There are nearly a hundred statues in the Tuileries Garden, along with two national museums whose existence can be attributed to Napoleon III. In 1852, he ordered the construction of the Orangerie and the Jeu de Paume at the western end of the garden, near the Place de la Concorde.
4/ Place Vendôme and Place des Vosges
The French capital has five royal squares: Place des Vosges, Place Dauphine, Place Vendôme, Place des Victoires, and Place de la Concorde. We will focus on the history of those that have best withstood the test of time.
But what is a royal square? The simple idea was to build a square with a statue of the king in the center. It is often said that the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, built at the very end of the 16th century, was the first of its kind. Place des Vosges was built only a few years later, in 1604. It was originally called "Place Royale" and was later renamed Place des Vosges because it was the first department to pay the tax to support the revolutionary army (or simply its taxes).
Initially, it was intended to accommodate artisans and merchants under the arcades. Due to the exorbitant construction costs and the beauty of the square, it was eventually the wealthy families who settled there. This is evident through buildings like the Hôtel de Sully (where you can visit the garden!), once the home of Henri IV's chief minister; Victor Hugo's house (which offers free admission!); and prestigious restaurants like L'Ambroisie, a three-star Michelin restaurant that has hosted figures such as the Clintons and the Obamas.
The facades are protected, meaning no alterations are allowed. The buildings are constructed from bricks, stones, and slates. As bricks were expensive, on some buildings, the illusion of bricks was preferred, with the appearance of bricks being painted directly onto the stone. This contributes to making it an exceptionally well-preserved architectural ensemble, much like the splendid private mansions located just a few steps away in the Marais district.
Place Vendôme, also perfectly preserved, was inaugurated in 1686. Formerly known as Place Louis-Le-Grand, it has housed the Vendôme Column at its center since 1810. This column, inspired by Rome's Trajan's Column, features bas-reliefs depicting the great Napoleonic battles. At its top is the sculpture of Napoleon I as a Roman emperor, created by Auguste Dumont (the sculptor of the "Génie" on the July Column in Bastille Square).
The rigorous architectural program ensures the unity of the private mansions and, consequently, the square; the railings, moldings, sculptures, window forms... The only elements that differ from one building to another are the sculpted portraits that can be admired above the doors. In total, there are 158 portraits – all unique – sculpted by the same artist.