It is challenging to think of Paris and not have the Eiffel Towerconger in your mind's eye. The structure is synonymous with Paris, but it is far from the only impressive site in the City of Light. Join me along the River Seine, and past the monument lined boulevards on a journey to what we think are the top 50 places that are not the Eiffel Tower.
Place de la République
The bustling Place de la République has been reinvigorated in the past decade after the completion of redevelopment that returns the place into a real square, often used as the rallying point for demonstrations. In the centre stands a statue of Marianne, the personification of France, holding an olive branch in her right hand and the Declaration of the Human Rights in her left. Marianne is surrounded with three statues personifying liberty, equality, and fraternity, the values of the French Republic.
Jardin du Luxembourg
The grand park in Paris is beloved by tourists and residents alike for its formal terraces, chestnut groves and lush lawns. It is boarded with the Palais du Luxembourg, built by Henri IV for his consort Marie de Médici; it now hosts the Sénat, the Upper House of the French parliament. The 23-hectare park contains lawns, tree-lined promenades, and some beautiful flowerbeds. Just be careful not to sit on the grass, you’ll get a stern whistle and warning from the park’s guards.
National Library François-Mitterrand
Paris has long been an incubator for architecture and in the 80's, and 90's the president called for the Grands Projets, a plan to create a new set of modern monuments in Paris. The BnF or Bibliothèque Nationale de France set four bookend towers around a sunken central forest. It houses everything that has ever been published in France.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Our Lady of Paris Cathedral
The most popular landmark in Paris (yes, it even bests the Eiffel Tower) is the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It is a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture; its impressive flying buttresses support the magnificent stained glass windows. It took 182 years to build and was completed in 1345, just before the Black Plague decimated Europe.
Port de l'Arsenal
Little boats line the landing stages along the port that links the Seine with the Canal Saint Martin. Complete with a harbour master's office, gulls and seafood restaurants, people picnic along its bank or drink Pastis at the cafe. If it wasn't for the Column of Juliette at Bastille peaking over the top, you might think you were in a seaside harbour.
Musée du Louvre
Standing in the middle of the courtyard at the Louvre, the glass pyramid encapsulating the history of art in the largest museum in the world, standing against a backdrop of French opulence that survived Kings and Queens, revolutions and World Wars; the Louvre is unquestionably the height of French culture.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Père Lachaise Cemetery
It wasn't until the reunification (in spirit at least) of estranged lovers Heloïse Abelard that the Cimetière du Père Lachaise became famous, since then it has evolved into the most visited cemetery in the world. Over 70,000 ornate tombs populate this garden cemetery, with figures such as Chopin, playwright Molière, poet Apollinaire, and writers Balzac, Proust, Gertrude Stein and Colette. Although Anglophones probably know it better for Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.
Catacombes de Paris
Laid in the underbelly of Paris's forgotten quarries lies the remains of over six million dead Parisians. Exhumed from putrid, rancid cemeteries in the 1780s, they were transported in the dead of night on carts surrounded by incense swinging clergy before being very unceremoniously dumped down a 30m well. Decades later they were morbidly sacked and rearranged to create the most unusual of Paris' attractions.
Louis Vuitton Foundation
Situated in the Bois de Boulogne, the cutting edge glass Fondation Louis-Vuitton hosts exceptional contemporary art collections, both permanent and temporary in this extraordinary building with previously unimagined shapes to produce a unique and innovative light and airy building.
Constructed in the 12th century, the Sainte-Chapelle chapel is a jewel of Gothic art. It is covered in 600 m² of stained-glass windows, of which two-thirds are authentic. It is one of the most remarkable sets of stained glass of this era. It is always funny to note that the Palais de Justice surrounds it, so someone in handcuffs might greet you as you leave.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Chaumont Hill Park
While Jardin des Tuileries might be more popular with tourists, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is genuinely the favourite of Parisians. Sweeping views of Montmartre can be seen from the pagoda that sits atop of the former Gypsum quarry, and cheese eating, wine consuming lovers can be seen everywhere else.
Place de la Bastille
The citizens stormed the Bastille prison, an embodiment of the monarchy's abuses of power, and freed all the unjustly incarcerated prisoners within, thus sparking the match that led to the French Revolution. Lesser known is that there were only seven inmates at the time. The real reason to storm it was the armoury that laid inside. The column that rests in the centre of the square today celebrates the revolution... just not that one, rather the "Three glorious days" of the Second French Revolution.
Marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen
Saint-Ouen flea market
The flea market is a collection of a staggering 1,700 second-hand and antique dealers spread over 14 markets. From old furniture, faience, bronzes, records and other unusual objects, bargain hunters will have a field day. The gems to be found are not limited to material objects; there are some quaint bars with adorable live music to discover.
Often overlooked by tourists, the La Défense region is Europe's largest purpose-built business district. It has a baffling number of stunning sleek skyscrapers, which make it look more like Hong Kong or Tokyo than Paris. The Grand Arche lies at the end of the historic Axe, which runs down past the Arc d'Triomphe, along the Champs Elysées through the Tuileries garden and ends at the Louvre.
Philharmonie de Paris
Located in the Parc de la Villette at the north-eastern part of Paris, the Philharmonie is a cultural institution and a real masterpiece in and of itself. Clad with a fish scale-like exterior, it has reinvigorated the once former packing district of Paris and brings the exceptional sound of Paris to life.
Opening in 1900 for the Universal Exhibition, the Paris metro is clean, affordable and convenient; a symbol of the city. It is the densest metro system in the world, and the second most trafficked in Europe after Moscow. Ornate entrance deliver people into the many themed stations such as the aquatic Arts et Métiers station.
First a Royal Residence for the Medieval kings of Paris, then after the revolution, a prison, where many were led to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror, and finally now a law court; the Conciergerie has a long history in Paris' playbook. It once houses Marie Antoinette and Napoleon III.
Centre Georges Pompidou
The Pompidou Center
This 20th-century radical statement in modern architecture is instantly recognisable with its exoskeleton of bright coloured pipes and tubing and external escalator. It hosts equally radical artwork from the modern and contempt periods including fauvist, cubist, surrealist, pop-art and contemporary works. Don't miss the spectacular panorama from the rooftop.
Place de la Concorde
Once called the Place de la Revolution, this square once ran red with the blood of the 40,000 French who lost their heads during the Reign of Terror. Both Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were guillotined here. Today it is famous for the 3,300-year-old Obelisk of Luxor that adorns the centre of the square that can be seen all along the Champs Élysées.
Hôtel de Ville
Somewhat a trick of a language, the Hôtel de Ville isn't a hotel at all. The term denotes a building, a manor of a grand sort, comparable to the British townhouse. Hôtel de Ville refers explicitly to the town hall and the neo-renaissance Paris town hall has been the seat of the Paris City Council since 1357. The parvis hosts many events such as an ice skating rink in winter, and a beach volleyball court in summer to name but two.
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur
Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Built as a crown for the hill of Montmartre to look over the city in a secular battle between the old conservative Catholic guard and the secular republican radicals in the bohemian community at its feet. The views over Paris from the Parvis are one of the best in Paris and a perfect spot for a sundowner.
Pont Alexandre III
Alexander III Bridge
One of the most emblematic and stunning bridges in Paris, the Alexandre III bridge connects Invalides and the left bank, with the Grand Palais and Petite Palace on the right bank. The Pegasus on the South bank symbolises War, while those on the North Bank depict Peace. It was sweeping views of the river and grand monuments and is romantic day and night.
Built for the Exposition Universelle in 1900, the Grand Palais is one of the most impressive Parisian monuments. It is recognisable by its large glass dome flanked by the French flag. This architectural masterpiece of stone, steel and glass has been listed as a historical monument since 2000.
The most famous cabaret in the world! The Moulin Rouge was immortalised by painter Toulouse-Lautrec and was the birthplace of the music hall with the famous Mistinguett. Upon opening in 1889, it has amazed the whole world. Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Elton John … various French and international personalities have over the years become enamoured of this legendary cabaret! Even the Queen of Briton has patronised the cheeky performance hall.
Institut de France
The Académie française, the guardians of the French language, sit at the Institut de France, deliberating on the minute laws of the French language and defending it from Anglicization of the French language by creating new French words instead of introducing load words such as baladeur for walkman or ordinateur for a computer.
The Palais Royal and its gardens, situated close to the Louvre, housed royal families until the Palace of Versailles was built. Peaceful and Prestigious, the gardens are surrounded by a superb futuristic architecture with contemporary sculptures.
The tranquil banks of the Canal St-Martin are the perfect place to sit and have a dusk drink in the warmer months Take a stroll along the towpaths from République past the locks, bridges and local neighbourhoods and pause on the footbridge to watch the vintage road bridge swing open to let canal boats pass.
I know I am cheating with this one as it is a whole district and not a single sight, but Le Marais is too beautiful to pass up. The historic area has long been the aristocratic district of Paris, housing many outstanding buildings of historical and architectural importance. It spreads across most of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements.
Often overlooked, the Parc Montsouris is one of the largest green space in the south of Paris, and while the walk is beautiful, it is really on this list for it's hidden views of the abandoned railway line, the Petite Ceinture.
Arc de Triomphe
If anything competes with the Eiffel Tower as the symbol of Paris, it is the domineering monument to Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz, mounted at the top of the Champs Élysées. The impressive structure gives equally impressive views from the rooftop terrace.
A 19th-century architectural classic, the Palais Garnier Opera House is the 13th opera house in Paris since the introduction of French opera by Louis XIV in 1669. Don't forget to admire the ceiling painted by Chagall in the main auditorium.
The flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the Eglise Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. The rest was destroyed during the revolution, but the tower was spared as it was the highest thing in Paris at the time and was needed as a shot tower for the production of bullets.
Hôtel national des Invalides
Louis XIV wounded so many of his soldiers in his battles that he had to create a hospital to house them all. And why build just any old hospital when you can put a dome on it! The building also houses the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.
An art-nouveau showpiece in itself, the Railway Station of Orsay looks more like a palace. The station gave way to a Museum where it now houses a collection from the impressionist, postimpressionist and art nouveau movements.
Welcome to the oldest stone bridge in Paris, ironically called the New Bridge. It was the first bridge to be built without houses on it, which may go some way in explaining why it is still standing today.
Rue de Rivoli
Rue de Rivoli is one of the most famous streets in Paris, and arguably prettier and more practical than the Champs Élysées. This central east-west corridor is lined with some of the most fashionable names in the world. From Bastille, it cuts through the Marais, past the Hotel de Ville and Châtelet, alongside the Louvre and ends at the Place de la Concorde.
Jardin des Tuileries
Situated in the very heart of the city the Jardin des Tuileries is the oldest public garden in Paris today. Originally built in 1564 as a private garden for the royal family and the Tuileries Palace, it is a prototypical French garden with terraces and a column running through the centre of the garden along the Grand Axe, over circular and hexagonal ponds. There are always plenty of chairs scattered around the ponds and gardens, making it the perfect place to relax in the heart of the city.
The world’s great jewellery brands have turned Place Vendôme into one continuous stream of window displays; filled with sparkling diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Napoleon had the column build from the remains of 1,200 canons from his military conquests, and Hemmingway often frequented the bar at the Ritz.
Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges
It is the oldest planned square in Paris, planted with a bosquet of mature lindens set in grass and gravel, surrounded by clipped lindens. During spring and summer one is allowed to sit on the grass, a rarity in gardens in Paris, so Parisians and tourists alike flock to the square and the lounge in the sun. It was from the corner of the square that Victor Hugo penned the opera La Esmeralda, adapted from his own novel Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).
Near the Palais Royal, you find one of the most iconic covered arcades in Paris; it's definitely worth a visit. Admire the colourful mosaics on the ground and then lift their eyes to appreciate the beautiful glass roof. Filled with tea rooms, wine cellars, gourmet food boutiques, grocery shops, old bookshops and much more.
What started out as a church, was converted into a mausoleum after the Revolution. It contains the remains of distinguished French citizens. The Panthéon's iconic silhouette and dome are perched at the top of the hill in the Latin Quarter. Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Alexandre Dumas, all rest here.
Parc de Sceaux
Outside of Paris proper, but still inside the urban sprawl, Parc de Sceaux is well deserved of a mention. Located in the suburb Sceaux, some 10kms south of Paris, it has long been a popular park for Parisians, but it is not widely known by tourists. The park with its traditional French design, complete with canals, waterfalls and fountains that can rival those of Versailles, Fontainebleau or Chantilly. If you’re lucky enough to be in town in April, you are in for a treat. The park explodes into pink with the most beautiful display of cherry blossoms in the entire Paris region. Grab a bottle of wine and some cheese and make a true picnic under the falling petals with the hatter.
Château de Versailles
Palace of Versailles
The Sun King was determined to show the world the culture of the French and set about making the most opulent Château ever built. When you marvel at the magnitude of the Château, you start to understand why they had their heads cut off. An extensive formal garden complements the main building and then the forest surrounding a beautiful canal.
Go on a photography tour of the Château de Versailles with Aperture Tours
Le Jardin du Claude Monet
Claude Monet's garden
Expressionist painter Claude Monet fell in love with the area around Giverny, and spend the last decades of his life dedicated to his spectacular garden; it is as pretty as a painting.
Visit Le Jardin du Claude Monet on a photography tour of the Giverny with Aperture Tours
Cathédrale de Chartres
A comfortable 80kms west of Paris lies the masterpiece that is the Cathédrale de Chartres. A UNESCO world heritage site, it marks the high point for French Gothic art. It faired well during the religious wars of the 16th century and is considered to have the most original stained glass windows of the period.
Bois de Vincennes
Located on the eastern edge of Paris, the Bois de Vincennes along with its western counterpart, Bois de Boulogne, make up the two lungs of Paris. These extensive woodlands surround the medieval fortress of Vincennes. When you're in the middle of the forest, you can quickly forget you are in the largest city in Europe.
Châteaux de la Loire
Châteaux of the Loire Valley
The opulent buildings and French splendour of the Loire Valley, once the playground of Kings and Queens, Nobles and Dukes, are the makings of fairytales. Grand Châteaux such as Chambord, Amboise and Chenonceau, need to be seen to be understood.
Visit the Châteaus on a photography tour of the Loire Valley with Aperture Tours
Honfleur is a port city along the Normandy Coast. It's on the estuary where the Seine River meets the English Channel. The Vieux-Bassin (old harbour), lined with 16th- to 18th-century townhouses, has been a subject for artists including Claude Monet and native son Eugène Boudin. Nearby is 15th-century St. Catherine's Church, a vaulted timber structure erected by shipbuilders.
Visit Honfleur on a photography tour of Normandy with Aperture Tours
Home to the Rouen Cathedral, which hosts the tallest church spire in France. This gothic church is a wealth of art and architectural details. The dukes of Normandy were traditionally crowned here, and depending on which stories you believe in, it is suposidly here that Jeanne d'Arc was burned at the stake.
Visit Rouen on a photography tour of Normandy with Aperture Tours
Mont Saint Michel
Mount Saint Michel
The Normandy coast is fraught with history and charming ambience. The Mont Saint-Michel, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the jewel of the region with its gothic Benedictine monastery perched high on its rocky island.
Visit Mont Saint Michel on a photography tour of Normandy with Aperture Tours
And there you have it, our complete list of 50 places that are not the Eiffel Tower. What do you think, is there anything we missed? How many have you been to? Let us know in the comments below. If you enjoyed the photography in this article, and you would like to learn how to up your photography game in Paris, join us for a walking photography tour of Paris and have on of our professional photographers teach you the skills and show you the best places to shoot.
Author: Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours: professional photography guided tours, designed to help you get the best out of your camera whilst exploring wonderful cities with a local. A professional photographer for over a decade Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.