Paris Sightseeing: 10Best Sights Reviews

Historical is a relative word here in Europe, especially when you come from the ‘New World’ of N. America. Paris was originally called Lutèce, in Latin, Lutetia.  It wasn’t until the 5th c. that this city adopted its name, Parisi, named after the Gallic people, which historians say means ‘artisan.’

The original name, Lutetia, is thought to mean ‘marsh’ and is understood to have referred to the Ile de la Cité, the little island in the middle of the Seine, upon which the Notre Dame Cathedral still sits today. It could also have included reference to the marshlands surrounding this area, Le Marais, which were known to be swamplands until the French nobility moved in en force starting from the 12th c.

Historical sightseeing in Paris, then, takes on dramatically different contexts. Left Bank sites like the Musée de Cluny house the Roman era baths, Les Thermes de Lutèce, that date back some 2000 years; As opposed to structures like the Eiffel Tower, being just a bit more than 125 years old, which can seem relatively modern in this town. And then there are the Catacombes, where you can walk through ancient tunnels, now shrines to dead Parisians’ old bones. 

Paris is often caricatured as a snail or “escargot” because it is laid out in a circular spiral. This layout lends itself to the historical development of the city. It started originally on Île St.-Louis, originally called the Island of Cows (Ile aux Vaches) the small island just next to Île de la Cité. The Ile de la Cite is 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. 

One of the genius strokes of Napoléon III 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. Just next to the Tuileries, sandwiched between the Louvre, is the Museum of Decorative Arts. For those whose interests lie in fashion, furniture, jewels and textiles, this is a gem of a Parisian museum. 

Jardin des Tuileries

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

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 Andre Le Notre 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. It’s also a great place to come for lunch when visiting the Louvre as there are several outdoor cafes and restaurants as well as lovely picnic areas. 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.

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Louvre Museum

Louvre Museum

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

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.

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 on, or at least a walk by, the Louvre. Reserve advance tickets online!

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.

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.

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Hôtel National des Invalides

Hôtel National des Invalides

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner copyright 2016

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.

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Le Musee de la Federation Francaise de Tennis

Le Musee de la Federation Francaise de Tennis

Photo courtesy of Par Romain Dauphin-Meunier via Wikimedia Commons

The Museum of the Federation Francaise de Tennis, otherwise known as the Tenniseum, is a one-of-a-kind museum devoted to the sport of tennis. Other features that make it outstanding is that it is situated on the stadium grounds of Roland-Garros. Also its media rich archives, with films and digitized historical documents about tennis, offer lots of fun distractions for an afternoon.

The French Tennis Open, known by the French as ‘Roland Garros’ takes place every year at the end of May. If you are a tennis buff, this is a not-to-miss event. But plan on pouncing on your online ticket purchases as soon as they open up, or you might miss out.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: There is no other museum like this in the world, with its wealth of archived digital material all referencing modern tennis and its historical precursors.

Paige’s expert tip: The best option is to take the hour-long stadium tour that walks you through these legendary red-clay tennis courts, then leads you into the museum which is on the stadium grounds.

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Paris Rendez-vous

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 Ile 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 Ile St.-Louis.

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Cimetiére du Pére Lachaise

Cimetiére du Pére Lachaise

Photo courtesy of Pere Lachaise Cemetery

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.

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Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles

Photo courtesy of Toucan Wings via Wikimedia

This wonderfully extravagant palace, where royals lavishly spent 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.

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Musee des Arts Decoratifs de Paris

Musee des Arts Decoratifs de Paris

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

One of Paris’ main draws is its timeless devotion to fashion. The city certainly has carved out a place for itself on the throne of world fashion centers. And it has done so largely thanks to its designers and its reverence for the decorative arts. This museum, dedicated to all things decorative, whether that be interior design, textiles, furniture or fashion, puts the spotlight on outstanding creative talent and collections.

For example, during the summer of 2017 the exhibiton was devoted to Christian Dior’s collections mainly from the 50s and early 60s. The museum is located just next to the Louvre at the beginning of the Tulieries. It covers over 6OOO square meters of exhibition space and houses more than 6000 objects of historical and decorative value.

The most popular time to visit is in the afternoon after lunch, so if you don’t want to wait in line or be rubbing shoulders with big crowds, it’s probably best to go at off hours. The exhibits change every few months so check the website to see what you will be able to take in while there.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Just next to the Louvre, this museum is often overshadowed. But for those who love textiles, fashion, culture & decor, it is well worth visiting.

Paige’s expert tip: As of this writing, there is a very special Le Petit Prince exhibit going on at this museum. The original manuscript of Antoine St. Exupery has been carefully repatriated from New York and is on display here through June 2022. It is estimated that over 200 Million copies of this classic children’s tale have been sold worldwide since its first printing.

The museum stays open until 6pm Tuesday through Sunday. During school holidays it keeps its doors open until 10pm. School holidays are frequent in France so check to see what the hours are during your stay in the city. And every Thursday evening the temporary exhibit stays open until 10pm.

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Catacombes de Paris

Catacombes de Paris

Photo courtesy of iStock_000006809433

These underground tunnels date from the Roman period, when quarries were created to obtain building stone. Most sit at the base of Parisian hills like Montparnasse, Montrouge and Montsouris. In the late 18th-century, authorities began to use the caverns and tunnels to deposit bones exhumed from medieval cemeteries that had become unsanitary.

During WWII, the catacombs were home to the French Resistance. Today, they’re open to the public, who can view artfully arranged bones from years past. Miles of tunnels are still uncharted, but this 2km route, reached down a steep staircase, is well-lit and a constant 14°C. METRO: Denfert-Rochereau

Recommended for Sightseeing because: This is a fun and slightly spooky outing, perfect to do with kids. And watch out! You just might learn some Parisian history, too.

Paige’s expert tip: Dazzling urban legends surround the catacombs, from cult worshipping to secret societies holding midnight candlelight vigils. It definitely adds to the entertainment factor when viewing all these old bones lodged deep beneath Paris.

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Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris

Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris

Photo courtesy of Paige Donner

One of the most recognizable historic and religious sites in the world, Notre-Dame de Paris is a Gothic landmark and the city’s spiritual home. Built between the 12th and 14th centuries, it’s a vision of stone, stained glass and history. If you had had the stamina to climb 387 steps, views from the north tower would have taken your breath away. Today you will still have to wait for this privilege until the structural renovations are complete. Panels along the North side of cathedral detail the salvage process and ongoing restoration following the April 2019 fire. When you look up, you’ll come eye-to-eye with gargoyles (actually chimeras, there is a difference) and see laid out before you the flying buttresses, an architectural feat to this day. Definitely worth the visit!

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Built 800 years ago the Notre Dame anchors the oldest part of Paris. It’s also a gateway to the fabulous Ile St.-Louis.

Paige’s expert tip: Yes, Notre Dame de Paris is still closed for interior visits during its renovation. But it’s well worth visiting the site to get a close-up of this venerable structure, beloved by the world over.

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