Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris is a city for the senses. Not only has it captured the imaginations of romantics the world over, it is a city of art and culture. Tourists flock to this city on the Seine to partake of a life rich in all the things Paris represents. Whether sitting in a café or floating down the Seine, Paris is an adventure that few can forget.
There are so many things to see and do while visiting Paris, yet these top ten items surely reflect the best of what is surely a city full of riches.
One - Arc de Triomphe
Located on the most famous street in Paris, the Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe was built by Napoleon in 1806 in honor of his victories in war. The largest arch in the world, the Arc de Triomphe has been the location of solemn occasions, both of French state funerals and, most notably, when the Germans took Paris in World War II. Yet, like Napoleon, it was also the spot where victories reign, and the French marched victoriously beneath the arch after having been liberated at the end of World War II. This is also the site for France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Two - Basilica du Sacre-Coeur
Built as a tribute to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the cathedral was constructed between 1987-1914 from a design by Paul Abadie. Its luminous white façade, huge dome of more than 200 feet, and Byzantine style make it an unusual church, even for Paris. So elaborate is its gingerbread façade that it looks like it belongs in a patisserie. With one of the world’s largest mosaics inside and a stunning hilltop location overlooking the city, it’s a marvel to see.
Three - Café Afternoon
No trip to Paris would be complete without partaking in the world of daily Parisians, who spend much of their time with friends and families in cafes and brasseries throughout the city. For the traveler to Paris, there’s no better place to while away an afternoon than on the Left Bank where one can detect a glimpse of the Paris of Hemingway or the other ex-pats who called Paris home after the war. The famous Café de Flor and Les Deux Magots still draw those who see Paris as the center of the world for art and literature, all encompassed in a café table.
Four - Centre Georges Pompidou
Opened in 1977 to rave reviews, the Centre Georges Pompidou still has the power to awe with its heart on its sleeve (or in the Pompidou’s case, with its brightly colored pipes and duct work on the outside of the building). The Centre Georges Pompidou houses France’s National Museum of Modern Art, with a collection of some 40,000 works (of which about 800 are on display at any one time), as well as performance spaces for music, dance, and theater. The performances continue outside, where street performers congregate to win over passers-by.
Five - Eiffel Tower
No doubt the most recognizable emblem of the city, the Eiffel Tower was originally created to be a temporary structure for the 1889 Universal Exhibition. It was only kept from destruction by its height (at that time, the tallest in Europe), which appeared suitable for a radio tower. Today, of course, tourists from around the globe flock to see this unusual building, which offers stunning views of Paris from its observation decks.
Six - Jardins des Tuileries
This lovely garden in the heart of Paris was created in 1664 according to a design by Andre Le Notre, who also designed the gardens at Versailles. Dotted with statues and fountains, it’s the place for strolling, for lovers‘ meetings, and for their offspring, who can be found in the heat of summer sailing their toy boats in its fountains.
Seven - The Louvre
Once the largest palace in the world, today it is, instead, the greatest art museum in the world. Home to "Winged Victory," "Venus de Milo," and the most famous lady in the art world, "Mona Lisa," the Louvre owns some 400,000 works of art, and showcases a remarkable 35,000 of its pieces. Divided into seven departments, the artistic treasures range from Egyptian antiquities to paintings and drawings to sculpture. Even this staid museum is not without its controversy, however, and whether or not you like IM Pei’s glass pyramid addition amid this ancient former palace, a trip to the Louvre is not to be taken lightly.
Eight - Musee d’Orsay
Where the Louvre is a classic waltz, the Musee d’Orsay is a can-can. Light and lively, this former railway station now holds one of the premier collections of popular artwork ever amassed. With works from 1848-1914, this puts the collection firmly in the center of Impressionism, Pointillism, Symbolism, Fauvism, and the Late Romanticism. There is also a stunning collection of Art Deco furniture and objets d’art. Don’t miss the museum café, behind the huge railway station clock face.
Nine - Notre Dame
"A symphony of stone" is the way Victor Hugo summarized the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and there are few descriptions more apt. From its flying buttresses to its unearthly gargoyles, it’s a wonder of design and structure. Be sure and climb the 300-plus stairs to the top of the South Tower for stunning views of the city and close-ups of the gargoyles.
Ten - The Seine
Paris is a city that grew up around the Seine River, and its banks are studded with the city’s architectural masterpieces, from the Place de la Concorde to the Petit Palais. Tourists need only follow its pathways or float along in one of the iconic bateaux mouches (the Parisian version of the Venetian gondola) to witness the magic and history of the city. These glass-enclosed boats make a good introduction to the charms of Paris as they pass slowly along the Seine and beneath its picturesque bridges.
While this list can never encompass the wonders of Paris, it does provide a starting point for anyone who has ever wanted to see the City of Light and experience its glow.