Paris is one of those cities that make you feel as if you’re literally walking into history lane. Every building appears to be telling you a story.
With so many things to do in Paris, we have created a list of the top 20 historical sites in Paris that you absolutely must see!
Related: Check out these famous historical sites in New York!
20 most famous historical sites in Paris
1. Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower isn’t just a symbol of Paris and France, it’s one of the best-recognizable buildings in the entire world. It’s located on the “Champ de Mars” in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.
The tower was named after its designer, Gustave Eiffel, and stands about 324 meters (1,063 feet) tall. This is the equivalent of an 81-story skyscraper. Upon completion in 1889, the tower was the tallest building in the world and held this record for 41 years, until 1930 when it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building.
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most popular tourist attractions and historical sites in all of Paris and allows visitors to access the tower on 3 levels. The third level is located at a height of 276 meters (906 feet) above the ground and provides astounding views of the city of Paris.
2. Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is the most famous triumphal arch in the world. It’s located at the center of the “Place Charles de Gaulle” which was formerly known as the “Place de l’Étoile.” Therefore, the full name of the arch is “Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.”
There are 12 large avenues in Paris coming together at its location and it’s located at the center of the “Axe Historique” of Paris, the central axis containing numerous historical buildings and monuments in the city.
The Arc de Triomphe commemorates those who fought during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The arch was inspired by the Arch of Titus, a famous monument in Rome. It stands 50 meters (164 feet) tall, is 45 meters (148 feet) wide and has a depth of 22 meters (72 feet).
The Louvre Museum is the largest art museum in the world, located in a historic building called the “Louvre Palace,” which used to serve as the royal residence for the kings of France.
After you enter the museum through the iconic Louvre Pyramid, there are about 38,000 objects on display for you in a total area of 72,735 square meters (782,910 square feet). This makes it virtually impossible to see everything in just one day.
The museum opened its doors on August 10, 1793, and had just 537 paintings on display at the time. The collection was seriously increased during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte and his successors and was briefly called the “Musée Napoleon.” It houses the most famous painting in the world, The Mona Lisa, the top painting in Leonardo da Vinci’s collection.
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica, also known as the “Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris,” is a Roman Catholic church and one of the most iconic churches in all of Paris. It’s located on top of a hill which is the highest point in the city.
Because the construction of the church was supported by donations, it took 39 years to complete, starting in 1875 and finishing in 1919, which is the year that the church was consecrated.
Apart from being a religious building, it also serves as a cultural icon and was constructed with a dual purpose including the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the lack of morality during the Paris Commune of 1871. It is now the second most-visited monument in Paris.
Montmartre is a large hill in the 18th arrondissement of Paris and is most famously known for its art district. The hill itself is about 130 meters (430 feet) high and is the location of the Sacré-Coeur.
The district surrounding the Montmartre hill has been classified as a “Historic District of the City of Paris,” and literally breathes the typical Paris atmosphere.
In this district, numerous famous artists used to live and work here, including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne Valadon, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent van Gogh. Right now, artists are still painting tourists who want to have an amazing portrait created.
6. Les Invalides
Les Invalides was formerly known as the “Hôtel national des Invalides,” and was originally built as a retirement home for war veterans between 1671 and 1683. It’s located near the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.
Les Invalides consists of a complex of multiple buildings and currently house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine.
It also has a large church called the “Dôme des Invalides” and is the tallest in Paris, standing 107 meters (351 feet) tall. Inside the church, we can find the tombs of some of the most notable people in the military history of France, including the most famous man of all, the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.
7. Centre Pompidou
The Centre Pompidou is a large complex located in the Beaubourg area in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. It’s one of the most peculiar buildings in the world which was designed in the high-tech architectural style.
The building was constructed between 1971 and 1977 and was named after Georges Pompidou, the President of France who had commissioned the building, between 1969 and 1974, which was the year he died.
The building houses “IRCAM,” a center for music and acoustic research, the “Bibliothèque Publique d’Information,” a large public library, and most famously, the “Musée National d’Art Moderne,” the largest museum of modern art in Europe which welcomes nearly 4 million visitors every year.
8. Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay is another famous art museum in Paris, located right in the historical center of the city on the left bank of the Seine River.
The building used to be a railway station called the “Gare d’Orsay,” but was transformed into a museum in the 1980s. It’s one of the most popular museums in Europe, welcoming over 3.5 million visitors every year.
The museum houses mostly French impressionist and post-impressionist art, created between 1848 and 1914. The pieces of art include paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography from artists such as Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.
9. Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is located just outside of Paris, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the southwest of the city center. It used to be the royal residence of France from 1682 until 1789, which is the year that the French Revolution started.
The palace is one of the most luxurious and overwhelming structures ever created and exemplifies why the French Revolution happened. everything was built to impress and the sheer size of the building and gardens is unfathomable until you have seen it with your own eyes.
The palace is one of the most-visited tourist sites in all of France, welcoming well over 7 million visitors every year. It’s also a historical monument and UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is one of the main avenues and the most famous street in Paris. It’s located 8th arrondissement of the city and runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle, ending at the Arc de Triomphe.
The name of the avenue literally translates to the “Elysian Fields” which is derived from Greek Mythology and means a “paradise for dead heroes.”
The street is 1.9 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and 70 meters (230 feet) wide. It’s is widely considered to be one of the most famous avenues in the world and is known for its cafés, restaurants, and luxury shops.
11. Tuileries Garden
The Tuileries Garden is one of the most popular public gardens in Paris and is located right in the city center between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde in the 1st arrondissement of the city.
The garden dates back to the 16th century, when Queen Consort of France, Italian noblewoman Catherine de’ Medici created it as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564.
The Tuileries Garden was opened to the public back in 1667, and the now-demolished Tuileries Palace played an important role during the French Revolution. It was briefly called the “Jardin National” after the king was removed from power and remained one of the most popular spots to gather and roam around for Parisians, up until today!
12. Notre-Dame Cathedral
The Notre-Dame Cathedral, which means “Our Lady of Paris,” is commonly known as just the “Notre-Dame.” It’s one of the most famous Roman Catholic churches in the world and is located on a small river island on the Seine River called “Île de la Cité” in the 4th arrondissement of Paris
Construction of the church started way back in medieval times in 1163 and was completed in 1345. It’s one of the finest examples of French Gothic Architecture and is abundantly decorated with sculptures.
A lof the religious works of art were damaged during the French Revolution and the church has been the site of the coronation of Napoleon I and the funerals of multiple French Presidents. The roof of the Notre-Dame caught fire on April 15, 2019, and left the cathedral severely damaged. Reconstruction will start in 2021 and is estimated to be completed in 2024.
13. Pont Alexandre III
Pont Alexandre III is arguably one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. It’s famous for its amazing decorations such as sculptures and Aerts-Nouveaux lamps and has been constructed in the same Beaux-Arts design as the nearby Grand Palais.
The bridge was originally constructed between 1896 and 1900 and was built to commemorate the Franco-Russian alliance that was signed in 1892. It was named after the Russian Tsar at the time, Tsar Alexandre III.
The Tsar had passed away in 1894 so it was his son, Tsar Nicholas II, who was allowed to lay the first stone. This amazing bridge was completed just before the World Fair of 1900 which was held in Paris that year.
14. Sainte Chapelle
The Sainte Chapelle is arguably one of the most beautiful chapels in the world and is world-famous because of its large collection of 13th-century stained glass windows. About 2/3 of the windows are still original.
The chapel is located inside the courtyard of the Palais de la Cité, the royal residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century. It as built by King Louis IX in order to hold his holy relics which he had purchased just before.
The chapel was consecrated in the year 1248 and became one of the most important religious buildings at the time, holding some of the holiest relics in all of Christendom, until they were moved to the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
15. Grande Arche
The Grande Arche is one of the most remarkable modern landmarks in the city of Paris. It was commissioned by French President François Mitterrand in the year 1982 and designed by a Danish architect who had won a design competition.
It was constructed between 1985 and 1989 and was ready just in time for the bicentennial of the French Revolution in July of that year. It was inaugurated with a massive military parade to commemorate this event.
It stands 110 meters (365 feet) tall and is located right in the heart of the biggest business district in France called “La Défense.” It’s located right at the end of the famous line of monuments in Paris called the “Axe Historique,” and was designed as a modern version of the famous Arc de Triomphe which it directly faces.
16. Tour Montparnasse
Tour Montparnasse is without a doubt one of the most peculiar historical sites in Paris. This famous skyscraper instantly received heaps of criticism because of its simplistic design and huge size in an area that doesn’t have any tall buildings at all.
The building was constructed between 1969 and 1973 and 2 years after it was completed, and after a lot of protests, a new law was passed which banned the construction of buildings taller than 7 stories in the entire center of Paris. It’s fair to conclude that Parisians weren’t too fond of what was the tallest skyscraper in the country back then with a height of 210 meters (690 feet).
One of the most amazing things about the tower, though, is that it has an observation deck on its roof which offers a 360-degree view over the city of Paris. Because of its central and unique location, you can catch some of the most amazing views of the city and its surroundings from the observation deck at Tour Montparnasse!
17. Tour Saint-Jacques
The Tour Saint-Jacques is a free-standing tower located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, right within the historical heart of the city. It stands in a square that forms an intersection between the famous Rue Rivoli, a famous shopping street, and the Rue Nicolas Flannel.
It stands 52 meters (171 feet) tall and used to be part of a church. This church, the Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie and named after the butcher’s area in medieval times, was destroyed during the French Revolution and its materials sold to the highest bidder.
The tower was bought back, however, by the City of Paris in the year 1836 and declared a “Monument Historique” in the year 1862. The area surrounding the tower was transformed into a public park and has become one of the most famous historical sites in Paris!
18. Place de la Concorde
The Place de la Concorde is arguably the most famous square in Paris. It’s squeezed in between the Champs-Élysées and the Tuileries Garden, right in the middle of the Axe Historique of Paris. It borders the Seine to the south as well and is connected to the Rue Rivoli, another famous avenue in the city.
The square was commissioned by King Louis XV and was originally called the Place Louis XV in his honor as well. It was constructed between 1755 and 1772 and contains two famous hotels on its north side which were constructed in the typical Style Louis XV by his main architect.
The square is most infamously known for being the location of over 1,200 execution by guillotine during the French Revolution in a period of just 3 years. These executions included King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette and numerous members of the royal family. A huge 3,300-year-old obelisk is located in its center and the square is decorated with fountains as well, making it one of the best-recognized historical sites in Paris!
19. Stade de France
The Stade de France is the national football stadium of France, and while it’s not located in the center of the city but rather a commune just north of Paris called Saint-Denis, it’s within its metropolitan area. The stadium is located behind Montmartre Hill in the north of the city.
The stadium has a seating capacity of 80,698 which makes it one of the largest football stadiums in Europe. It was built especially for the FIFA World Cup of 1998 with construction lasting from 1995 until 1998. We included it in our list of most famous historical sites in Paris because France actually wrote history during this tournament as they won the World Cup in their own country and in their brand new stadium by beating Brazil 3-0.
The stadium can be used for athletics competitions as well and is frequently used for concerts. Some of the most famous artists in the world have performed here. It’s one of two stadiums in the world which has been the venue of both a world cup of association football and rugby.
20. Luxembourg Palace
The Luxembourg Palace is located just south of the historic center of the city and is surrounded by one of the most amazing gardens in Paris referred to as the “Jardin de Luxembourg” or “Luxembourg Garden.” It was commissioned by Marie de’ Medici after her husband, King Henry IV, had died in 1610.
The construction of the palace started in 1615 and the design was based on the Renaissance-style Pitti Palace in Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region in Italy. This was the building that Marie de’ Medici, the Queen of France, was born in. The massive palace was finally completed after a construction period of 30 years in the year 1630, even though the royal family had moved in it since 1625.
The palace was expanded several times and eventually became the property of the government after the French Revolution, after which it was turned into a legislative building. Ever since 1958, it has been the home of the Senate of the Republic of France which makes it one of the most important structures in the country!
This concludes our top 20 list of historical sites in Paris, one of the most amazing cities in the world that you simply have to visit one day!