Travel Tip: If you plan to visit several of these popular sights during your trip, consider purchasing the Paris Museum Pass, which provides entry to over 60 major attractions.
1. The Louvre
To learn the Louvre in and out, you might need a lifetime. Still, one has to start somewhere. The site of the world's largest and most diverse collection of pre-20th century painting, sculpture, and decorative objects, The Louvre is definitely one of Paris' most coveted attractions. Not forgetting the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, bask in the works of Vermeer, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and countless others. The palace itself is testament to a rich history spanning from the medieval period to the present.
No first trip to Paris is complete without a visit to this marvel of gothic architecture. One of the most singular and beautiful cathedrals of Europe, Notre Dame Cathedral's dramatic towers, spire, stained glass and statuary are guaranteed to take your breath away. Witness firsthand the spot that was once the heartbeat of medieval Paris, and that took over 100 years of hard labor to complete. Climbing the North tower to see Paris from the hunchback Quasimodo's vantage is essential, too. You'll soon understand why Notre Dame is one of Paris' top attractions.
3. Eiffel Tower
More than any other landmark, the Eiffel Tower has come to represent an elegant and contemporary Paris. The iron tower, which was built for the 1889 World Exposition by Gustave Eiffel, was wildly unpopular with Parisians when it was unveiled, and was nearly torn down. It has since attracted over 220 million visitors, and it would be hard to imagine Paris now without it. The tower crowns the Paris night sky with its festive light, and glitters up a storm every hour. Cliché? Maybe. But essential.
Walk over the bridge from the Louvre to the Musee d'Orsay-- and see the bridge between classical and modern art. Housing the world's most important collection of impressionist and post-impressionist painting, the Musee d'Orsay's light, airy rooms whir you through three floors of modern wonders, from Degas' ethereal dancers to Monet's water lilies, all the way to Gaugin's leafy jungles. Major works by Van Gogh, Delacroix, Manet, and others await you, too.
Read Further:Musee d'Orsay Visitor Tips
Parisians consider the Centre Georges Pompidou to be the cultural pulse of the city. This modern art museum and cultural center, located in the neighborhood affectionately dubbed Beaubourg by locals, opened in 1977 to honor president Georges Pompidou. The Center's signature skeletal design, which evokes bones and blood vessels, is either loved or reviled-- no in-betweens. If wacky design isn't your cup of tea, the permanent collection at the National Museum of Modern Art is a must and features works by Modigliani and Matisse. Rooftop views of the city are also in order.
Seeing some of Paris' most beautiful sites glide past as you drift down the Seine river is an unforgettable and essential experience. Companies such as Bateaux-Mouches and Bateaux Parisiens offer one-hour tours of the Seine year-round for about 10 Euros. You can hop on near Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower. Go at night to enjoy the shimmering play of light on the water, and dress warmly-- the wind from off the Seine can be chilly. You can also take tours of some of Paris' canals and waterways, which will allow you to see a semi-hidden side of the city of light.
- All About the Seine River: History, Facts, and How to Enjoy
- Boat Tours of Paris Canals and Waterways
- Paris Eiffel Tower Dinner and Seine River Cruise Package (Buy Direct at Paris Trip)
What about the bad and the ugly? It's just as fun to ponder the things that make many people go "grrrr" in the city of light-- from dog "business" left on the sidewalk to overcrowded metro cars and surly service in certain restaurants or cafes. Check out our gripe list of the top 10 most annoying things about Paris.