From impassioned revolutionaries and ostentatious royals to the world of ancient Gaul, the history of Paris is filled with drama, intrigue, and excitement. Thus, it is of little surprise that this is not only one of the world’s most beautiful and romantic cities, but that it is also brimming with fantastic historic sites.
There’s a host of top historic places in Paris to explore. Among the very best are the world famous Musee du Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Catacombs of Paris. Other popular sites include Notre Dame, Les Invalides, and Crypte Archeologique. Here’s our pick of 10 of the city’s must-see sites. Time to get planning!
What are the best The Top 10 Historic Sites of Paris?
From Ancient Egyptian mummies and Ancient Roman statues to the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, Mona Lisa, there is something for every history enthusiast at Musee du Louvre. An iconic institution, its wealth of artefacts and displays has cemented its place as number one in our top ten historic sites of Paris list.
This vast museum of art holds over 35,000 pieces from around the world and covers practically every imaginable period of history. With so much to see, it’s worth planning your route ahead and hiring one of their audio guides – although beware, these are limited and run out quickly.
An iconic landmark and an indispensable element of Paris’s skyline since the nineteenth century, the Eiffel Tower was named after Gustave Eiffel, who designed it as part of a competition to create a monument for Paris’ Universal Exhibition World Fair.
Today, this 314 metre-high iron structure is a fantastic place from which to get a bird’s-eye view of Paris.
For those who like a little ghoulishness thrown in with their sightseeing, the Catacombs of Paris (pictured) are the perfect place to go. In the eighteenth century, these former mines were transformed into a labyrinth-like subterranean graveyard, now housing over six million human skeletons.
These catacombs tell the myriad of stories of those who were buried here, such as those who perished in the riots of the French Revolution. As long as you’re relatively fit (able to climb 83 steps) and don’t suffer from claustrophobia, this is definitely one not to miss.
This stunning gothic cathedral was first built in 1163 and is famed for its beautiful stained glass windows, grand scale and dramatic architecture. Consecrated in honour of the Virgin Mary, the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris is also home to the Crown of Thorns, one of the relics of the Passion of Christ.
Even in spite of the recent devastating fire, the cathedral is a must-see on any trip to Paris.
In the seventeenth century, King Louis XIV built Les Invalides as a place of rest for injured soldiers.
Today, this grand complex still helps war veterans, but its role has expanded significantly. Not only does it house several museums, such as the city’s military museum Musée de l’Armée, but it is also the site of the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.
A hidden gem that sneaks into our top ten list, underneath Notre Dame Cathedral and accessed by an unassuming stairwell in the plaza before it is the Crypte Archeologique of Paris. This fantastic underground museum houses the ruins of Ancient Gallo-Roman Paris, then known as Lutetia.
Mostly dating back to the third century BC, these remains include everything from heating systems to walls, streets, and homes. This is also a great place from which to gain a better understanding of Roman and even medieval Paris, with informative wall panels (although some only in French) and useful guides. Largely ignored by the throngs visiting Notre Dame above it, it nevertheless constitutes a fascinating, and somewhat forgotten, insight into the ancient history of the city.
Before the Crown of Thorns was taken to the Notre Dame Cathedral (see below), King Louis IX had built a very special place for this relic to reside, the dramatically beautiful Sainte Chapelle or “Holy Chapel”.
Today, visitors flock from around the world to see the intricate stained glass windows and floating chandeliers of Sainte Chapelle. It may have been higher in our top ten historic sites of Paris list had it not been for the rather tacky market which resides within Sainte Chapelle and rather ruins the moment.
In 1806, fresh from his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon commissioned a great monumental arch to commemorate French soldiers.
The result was the Arc de Triomphe, an ornately engraved triumphal arch which chronicles France’s military victories through pictures as well as words, and is one of France’s most iconic landmarks.
Place de la Concorde was one of the most notorious sites of the French Revolution. In fact, it was at this plaza that King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and other leading figures were beheaded by Guillotine, with a plaque marking the exact place where the executions occurred.
Place de la Concorde is also home to the ancient Luxor Obelisk, a gift from the viceroy of Egypt in 1833.
Constructed on the site of a Roman fortress, La Conciergerie was built as part of the famous Palais de Justice before becoming a court and a prison. During the French Revolution, La Conciergerie took on the ominous role of housing the brutal Revolutionary Tribunal, which sentenced thousand to execution. This was also the site where Marie Antoinette and other prominent figures were imprisoned before their death sentences were carried out.
With its mix of medieval grandeur and sinister history, La Conciergerie is a fascinating historic site and just sneaks into our top ten historic sites of Paris.