Paris is rich with museums, art, and history, all housed in distinctively French architecture. The city of lights possesses a timeless charm that enchants both the first-time visitors to the longtime residents. Here are 8 Paris museums and monuments you shouldn’t miss.
If you can only visit one museum in Paris, make sure it’s to The Louvre. This former royal palace is home to some of the most iconic pieces in art and history: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, The Raft of the Medusa, the Venus de Milo, and over 35,000 other works. The Louvre itself is a work of art; its numerous glass walls flood the building in warm sunlight. At night, these windows give visitors a unique and stunning view of Paris: the Seine, Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois Church, the Cour Carrée, and Pei’s glass pyramid.
Musee d’Orsay is internationally renowned for its extensive collection of Impressionist art. With exhibits of every kind of medium—painting, architecture, sculpture, and photography—one visit is enough to inspire even the most frustrated artist to pick up a pen or brush. Musee d’Orsay has renovated expanded since 2012; returning visitors are sure to enjoy the Pavillon Amont and redesigned Impressionists gallery.
Notre Dame de Paris
Notre Dame isn’t home to any hunchbacks, but Paris’ most famous medieval Catholic cathedral is one of the city’s most visited monuments. A masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, it’s easy to get lost in the small details of Notre Dame. So here are three can’t-miss sights on your visit: the famous vaulted warheads, the gargoyles, and the belfry, where the famous 13-tonne Emmanuel great bell is rung and heard across the city.
These days, you’ll have to reserve a slot to tour Notre Dame. You can do this online.
Arc de Triomphe
After Napoleon’s Austerlitz victory in 1805, he told his soldiers: “You will return home through archs of triumph. And while he died before its completion, the Arc de Triomphe continues to stand grand and victorious. Come in the early evening, and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which lies just beneath the Arc. Each evening its flame is rekindled. Complete the visit by climbing to the top, for a stunning nighttime view of Paris.
Palace de Versailles
You may need more than a day to explore. Declared an UNESCO World Heritage sight, the palace complex is home to a number of important monuments of the French monarchy: the Royal Apartments, the Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Opera, and the Museum of History of France. A number of exhibits recreate moments from the daily lives of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. But the most stunning sight at Palace de Versailles are the gardens. The 800 hectares of sprawling, manicured lawns dotted with flowers, sculptures, and fountains will leave you speechless.
Château de Fontainebleau
For a more intimate look at French royalty, consider Château de Fontainebleau—the only French château which housed every French monarch. Significantly less crowded and more accessible than the Palace de Versailles, visitors will enjoy this immersive, well-preserved testament to the lives of the French monarchs. Discover rare, commissioned Renaissance artworks, Napoleon-era artifacts, and historic gardens.
Château de Vincennes
Château de Vincennes has been many things. It started off as a hunting lodge and residence for Louis VII. Over generations, it was expanded and strengthened into a medieval military fort until reaching its present size under Louis XIV. During this time, the notable battlements, moats, and donjon towers were built. It then became a state prison for political prisoners
Now, it’s simply a medieval monument, but much of it remains preserved and open to the curious public to see. Château de Vincennes is also home to Sainte-Chapelle, another of Paris’ most beautifully designed chapels.
The Panthéon was originally built as a church in honor of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. But since the French Revolution, the former church is known more as a mausoleum for some of France’s most well-known citizens. Buried in its crypt are Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Marie Curie, and many more notable figures. Internment here is so prestigious, it requires a parliamentary act for ‘National Heroes.’ You’ll find the words ‘Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante’ (“To the great men, the grateful homeland.” inscribed at the entrance.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the city for two days or two weeks—you’ll never have your fill touring around. So skip the queues and save on all those entrance fees by purchasing the Paris Museum Pass, and gain access to over 50 attractions of your choice.