The best way to see any new place is to walk around outdoors. In Paris, where the interiors are every bit as incredible as the architecture, it can be tempting to spend your days inside, gazing at ornate paintings, lighting, and gilded features. But as you head from destination to the next, we have to insist that you take your time to soak up the city's incredible design. Many of the most iconic Paris landmarks are its historic buildings and monuments.
As design obsessives, we love getting insight into can't-miss French landmarks in Paris from interior design experts like Sasha Bikoff and Garrow Kedigian, who helped us curate our essential guide to the Paris flea markets, and from our own special projects editor Carisha Swanson, who visits the City of Light each year for design events including Paris Déco Off and Maison&Objet.
"Paris is always a design destination because so much of home (and fashion) design comes from there, but even beyond that there is inspiration around every corner," Swanson says. "Whether it be the timeless architecture, the people watching at a café, enjoying any number of brilliantly curated art exhibits, or stopping into one of many permanent textile showrooms in the sixth, you cannot leave this city without longing to return. It's no surprise designers worldwide descend on the flea markets of Paris, packing up containers full of soon-to-be-placed finds. Great taste and a longing for antiquities mixed with modernity brings them back over and over again."
Characterized by opulence, irregularity, and an abundance of decoration, the architecture of modern-day Paris is largely in the Haussmann style that dominated in the 19th century. That's when the city's iconic wide boulevards, such as the Champs-Élysées, were established. However, some of the older historical sites, such as the Palace of Versailles, were built in the French Baroque style. (The palace is actually the best example of this architectural style on the planet, and well worth a day trip. We'll detail why below.) You may also find some examples of the extravagant Rococo and French Gothic styles if you look carefully.
To spark your wanderlust, we've gathered 15 of the most renowned French landmarks in Paris to illustrate the timeless yet ever-changing nature of this city's design history. From the iconic Eiffel Tower to the ultra-modern Centre Pompidou, we've laid out your Paris itinerary for you. Looking for a Paris travel guide that covers more modern-day marvels? We have you covered there too with our list of the best places to visit in Paris, including recommendations from our in-the-know editors.
With a name that translates directly as "sacred heart," this 19th-century church is an architectural icon in Paris. Located at the top of the hill above Montmartre and made of pristine white travertine, the panoramic views are well worth the hike (or inexpensive funicular ride). Entry to the church is free; you can visit the crypt and go up in the dome for a small fee.
Arguably the world's most famous street, "les Champs" is nearly an entire mile of retail and food therapy. Locals and tourists alike claim the street offers the best shopping in all of Paris. You'll find luxury boutiques, including Galeries Lafayette and Louis Vuitton, and of course see the Arc de Triomphe, perhaps the most famous Paris landmark aside from the Eiffel Tower.
Place de la Concorde
Located at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysée, opposite the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde is one of the most popular public squares in the city. During the French Revolution, all major executions (including that of the royal family) were held here. The grand obelisk at its center once stood on the banks of the Nile River at the entrance to the ancient Egyptian Luxor Temple.
Once known as the Opera Garnier, home to the world renowned Paris Opera, this performance venue is now home to the Paris Opera Ballet. You can take yourself on a self-guided audio tour of the dazzling interior, with its Belle Epoque galleries, museum, immensely grand staircase, and auditorium with a ceiling painted by Marc Chagall.
The Grand Palais, located in the eighth arrondissement, has quite the history. It served as a World War I, military hospital, a Nazi truck depot, and the headquarters of the French resistance just to mention a few. These days, however, it's primarily an event space and has housed a large number of Karl Lagerfeld's immersive Chanel runway shows.
Pont Alexandre III
Ornate and extravagant, the Pont Alexandre bridge is named for the tsar who sealed the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1894. Cherubs, winged horses, and golden nymphs adorn the structure that stretches over the Seine, connecting the Champs-Élysées shopping district and Grand Palais on the right bank with the neighborhood surrounding the Eiffel Tower on the left bank.
Arc de Triomphe
Located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of a buzzy roundabout, the Arc de Triomphe was built to commemorate the French victory in the Battle of the Three Emperors, Napoleon's greatest military accomplishment. We recommend viewing this marvel from the backseat of a car to truly get the 360-,degree affect, but you can also climb stairs to the top for a special view of Paris.
A former 12th-century fortress, this structure is now best known as the home of the Mona Lisa among other artistic treasures. In the courtyard, its architecture contrasts beautifully with Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei's glass-and-metal modernist pyramid.
Built by architects Renzo Piano, Su Rogers, and Richard Rogers in the "high tech" style, the Centre Pompidou is a gallery dedicated to contemporary art. The interior is as busy as the exterior with a cinema, major public library, and concerts—and these are just a few of the offerings on hand within this cultural center.
Château de Versailles
Since 1979, the Palace of Versailles has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and is one of the greatest achievements in French 17th-century art and the French Baroque architecture style. The gardens are as ornate as the interiors, and Trianon, Marie-Antoinette's "retreat" on the park's grounds, shouldn't be missed. Plan to take up to an hour getting there on public transit and spend a full day exploring.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
The largest cemetery in Paris at 110 acres, the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is home to some of the most ornate tombstones and burial sites in the world. This cemetery is also the resting place of cultural icons including Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde (you'll know his tomb when you see it; it's covered in lipstick kisses), and Gertrude Stein. Design icons such as Louis Visconti (who designed Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides) and René Lalique (maker of famous Art Nouveau glass) are also laid to rest here.
The Eiffel Tower
It would hardly be a trip to Paris without laying your eyes on the Eiffel Tower. Built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Paris World Fair, it celebrated the centenary of the French Revolution. The tower was actually only meant to stay standing for 20 years, but its popularity and use as a radio tower ensured its longevity. Now we can't imagine the city without it. It's especially magical at night: Every hour on the hour after dusk, the entire structure glitters with lights for five minutes.
Notre-Dame de Paris
This cathedral is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the world. (It even inspired the famous musical/Disney film!) In 2019, a fire destroyed the roof and spire but thankfully didn't damage the famous bell towers or stained-glass rose windows; as of early 2024, restoration continues inside and outside the building, and scaffolding remains though it has been removed in areas where work is complete. In the past, its 20 famous bells tolled on the hour. They survived the fire and have since been undergoing cleaning. They were rung on the anniversary of the fire to mark the occasion.
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