Paris – the City of Light. We’d been meaning to go for ages. I suppose it’s because it’s only a 3 hour and 40 minute train ride away from Stuttgart that we felt we could go anytime (and thus kept delaying it). Finally, last week we packed our bags and hopped on a German ICE train to Paris for 3.5 amazing, jam-packed days in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
I had been to Paris before as a kid and as a teenager, but only briefly and S had never been. We wanted to see and do everything. After researching places to go, reading travel blogs highlighting the best of Paris and writing an itinerary including everything we wanted to experience, we quickly realized it wasn’t going to be possible. At all. Ever. You could stay for a year and still not see everything in Paris! So we just picked a few key things that we really wanted to experience during our first proper Paris visit. I already have a huge list of things I’d love to see on our next trip (and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one…). We’ll never be short of things to do in Paris!
Here are some of our favourite Parisian sights. It’s by no means an exhaustive or definitive list of top Paris sights (how could it be when we only saw a handful?), but rather a list of sights that I can heartily recommend to you.
Paris’s signature landmark, the Eiffel Tower is a must-see. It’s gorgeous in the daytime, at nighttime, anytime! You can spy the 300 m tall iron lattice tower all over the city, with the best views coming from the Right Bank.
Eiffel Tower Tip #1: Buy your Eiffel Tower tickets online beforehand to skip the lines. We reserved tickets about a week in advance to go up the Eiffel Tower (though you may want to book further ahead if you’re travelling in the peak summer season). In theory, there are open time slots every 30 minutes (though some slots may be sold out/unavailable when you look for tickets). Five minutes before your reservation time, you can go to the ‘Visitors with Reservation’ entrance and present your ticket. I’m so glad we made a reservation in advance because the regular line for tickets was crazy!
Eiffel Tower Tip #2: What time should you aim to go up the Eiffel Tower? Both daytime and nighttime are great, but we opted for a nighttime ascent so we could enjoy the City of Light in the evening. I suggest reserving a time slot on the half hour (6:30pm, 7:30pm, etc.). Why? Starting at sunset, the Eiffel Tower lights up every hour on the hour for 5 minutes. If your reservation is on the half hour, you can spot the first light show on your way to the tower as you walk along the Seine river (captured in my photo above). Then, once you’re on the tower, you can actually experience the light show in person if you stay on the platform for more than 30 minutes.
The Left Bank
Also known as La Rive Gauche, the Left Bank is the southern bank of the River Seine in Paris. This smaller, artsy area of Paris is home to the Latin Quarter, Montparnasse and Saint Germain, neighbourhoods overflowing with style and charm.
Left Bank Tip #1: Take a guided tour or wander by yourself around the lovely neighbourhoods on the Left Bank. Visit a weekly market, stop by a few bakeries and enjoy a quiet cup of coffee in a quintessential Parisian café away from the tourist crowds.
Gorgeous facades in the Latin Quarter. #Paris #France A photo posted by Kaffee und Kuchen (@kaffeeundkuchenblog) on
A prominent landmark in Paris and one of the largest museums in the world, the Louvre (Musée du Louvre) is a sight to behold. Located inside the Louvre Palace, the museum exhibits nearly 35,000 pieces of artwork and reigns as the most visited museum in the world. You can also spot the lovely Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo inside, among many other masterpieces.
Louvre Tip #1: The Louvre is notoriously packed with visitors. Consider visiting the Louvre on a Wednesday or Friday evening when the museum is open late until 9:45pm.
Louvre Tip #2: Given that the museum is humongous, focus on visiting only certain areas of interest (say Italian paintings, Greek sculptures and Egyptian Antiquities). This way you’ll avoid the dreaded ‘museum burnout’.
The Musée d’Orsay
The Musée D’Orsay in Paris, built inside a converted train station. Wow! #Paris #France A photo posted by Kaffee und Kuchen (@kaffeeundkuchenblog) on
The Musée d’Orsay is the number one highest rated attraction in Paris. This art museum is located inside the former Gare d’Orsay, a gorgeous Beaux-Arts railway station built in the late 1800s. It features the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world by artists such as Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gaugain, Van Gogh and more.
Musée d’Orsay Tip #1: If you know when you’d like to visit the museum and want to skip the long line, you can buy your tickets online in advance. We didn’t know when exactly we would be able to visit so we had to wait in line to buy tickets at the museum. Fortunately it was only about a 20 minute wait, but the lines can get quite a bit longer in the peak summer season.
Musée d’Orsay Tip #2: Take your time touring the galleries. We were a bit rushed for time when we were there in the late afternoon and didn’t get to see everything we would have liked before the museum closed at 6pm. Budget at least 3 hours to enjoy the museum fully.
Notre-Dame Cathedral is a historic Catholic cathedral on Île de la Cité, right in the centre of Paris. It is one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture and is known for its beautiful rose window and characteristic flying buttresses. It’s free to enter the church, though there is usually a long line to enter (are you sensing a theme with these famous Parisian sights?). To climb the cathedral tower, head to the entrance on the left side of the church. After paying a small fee, it’s 387 steps to the top of the South Tower.
Notre-Dame Tip #1: If you’d like to look inside, head to Notre-Dame in the early evening (around 5pm) to avoid the crowds.
Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe – amazing detail! #Paris #France A photo posted by Kaffee und Kuchen (@kaffeeundkuchenblog) on
Officially called Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, this 50 m tall monument stands at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle at the western end of the famed Champs-Élysées. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars.
Arc de Triomphe Tip #1: Do get up close to the Arc – the details and engravings are spectacular and not easily seen from a distance.
Arc de Triomphe Tip #2: Climb up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for spectacular views of the city. We tried to go on our last day but the stairs up to the top were inexplicably closed in the early afternoon. I definitely want to go up there next time!
There are SO many places we didn’t get to visit during our short trip but that are definitely on the must-see-soon list! Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre, Palais Garnier, Les Invalides, Panthéon, Trocadéro…
What are your top sights to see in Paris? What must I absolutely see next time? I’d love to hear in the comments below!