My girlfriend lived in Paris for 3 months in spring 2017 – a good opportunity and more than enough time for me to get to know all the most important sights of the French capital.
In this photo series I lead you along a sightseeing tour through Paris, up from Montmartre down to the other side of the Seine. I also show you Versailles, the French castle par excellence, and Giverny, where the painter Claude Monet lived out his last years.
We start our tour on the Montmartre, the iconic hill in the north of Paris. It became famous in the late 19th century and there are still a lot of sights standing from that period. The most famous one is Moulin Rouge, which still belongs to the biggest (and nowadays the most expensive ) Cabarets of Paris.
On top of the hill stands Sacre Cœur (1864-1914), the sugar loaf church, which is rather unpopular among the Parisians, because of its design as well as its history (it was built as a demonstration of the power of the Catholic Church after the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871).
The Cemetary of Montmartre (1918-1924) is situated at the foot of the hill. Even though it doesn’t host as many famous people as Père Lachaise, it is worth a visit, not least because of its location.
More cemetery. The already mentioned cemetery Père Lachaise lies in the east of Paris and is best reached by tram (station: Père Lachaise). It is well known for the abundance of famous people which are buried here (Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Frédéric Chopin, Eugène Delacroix and many more). If you actually want to find the graves and not just wander through the cemetery, you should get yourself a map at the main entrance (don’t enter on the first corner, just keep on walking along the wall to the next entrance). It makes things a lot easier.
From sight to sight
The Canal Saint-Martin in the east of the city is not only great for taking a stroll in the sunlight, you can also spend some quality drinking and relaxing time in the evenings, when the Parisians are coming together along the canal.
The Bibliothèque nationale de France in the Bercy district may lie off the typical tourist route, but is worth a visit for everybody with a little bit more time, because of the impressive architecture as well as the closeby Parc de Bercy.
The Place des Vosges in the quarter Marais, which was built at the turn of the century of the 16th/17th century, is in amazingly good condition. You can still get a feel for the Paris of the kings here. Since you should visit Marais anyways you can just as well step inside.
The Opéra Garnier (1861) close to the Tuileries Garden is one the architectural highlights of Paris. If you have the time and like opera you can go see the inside during one of the shows.
The cultural centre Centre Georges-Pompidou is of great importance for the history of architecture of museums. Its highly innovative facade, which turns all the heating and air pipes, usually hidden, to the outside, was something not seen before and set new standards for the exteriors of museum buildings. Inside you can find the Museum for Modern Art.
North of the Tuileries Garden and of the Louvre there are the famous arcades of Paris, in which you can find food and shops of every kind.
The mega shopping mall Galeries Lafayette on the Boulevard Haussmann opened its doors in 1912. It became famous quickly also due to its huge Jugendstil-dome.
The old Biblioteque nationale de France in the second arrondissement (the new library is situated in Bercy) was built between 1854-1875 and is one of the most important examples of the iron architecture of the 19th century in Paris.
The Forum des Halles you can see nowadays was built on the site where the original famous market halls out of glass and iron stood and which were torn down in 1971.
The Hôtel de Ville, the city hall of Paris, is situated on the Seine, opposite the Île de la Cité. In 1357 a city hall already stood in this place, but was demolished in the 16th century. The Renaissance building, which was built after that, was set on fire during the Paris Commune in 1871. The contemporary building was built between 1874-82.
The Île de la Cité, seen here from the left bank of the Seine, is the oldest urban zone of Paris. For a long period in the early history the island was all there was of Paris.
The most famous church of Paris, Notre Dame de Paris, was begun in 1163 and is, besides the cathedral of Saint-Denis, the oldest gothic church of Paris and the world.
The inside of Notre Dame, the arrangement of the single architectural elements, became a classical model for generations of other churches, from the Gothic to modern times.
On the left bank of the Seine
The Musée d’Orsay on the left bank of the Seine was still a train station in the beginning of the 20th century. Instead of the originally planned demolition of the building it was restructured, renovated and reopened as a museum in 1986. Nowadays it houses one of the most important collections of the art of the 2nd half of the 19th century, especially of Impressionism.
On the left side of the Seine you can do a scavenger hunt after houses, in which famous people lived (best done with a guide book). Here the building where Pablo Picasso lived in a flat on the second story from 1936 on, for 20 years.
The church Saint-Germain-des-Près appears to be rather unimpressive from the outside (especially compared to Notre Dame), but belongs to the most important churches of the capital. Since the 6th century a church stood here; the building you see now was built in the long period from the 11th to the 17th century.
As one of the highest buildings of Paris the Tour de Montparnasse towers over everything else in the district Montparnasse. It was built between 1969 and 1873.
From the top of the sky scraper you have an amazing view over the city. Instead of taking the elevator to the touristic platform on top I would recommend to go to the Café on the highest level. Having a drink here and enjoying the view is actually cheaper than the platform.
The Eiffel Tower was erected for the Paris International Exhibition 1889. Luckily for all the souvenir shops, the Eiffel Tower miniature sellers, the photographs and films it was not demolished afterwards, as planned before.
The street artist Clet, who lives in Florence, has decorated many a street sign in Paris. Keep your eyes open.
From the Montmartre Hill you have the best sunset view over Paris and Eiffel Tower. Come early for a good spot.
Close to the Eiffel Tower, on the other side of the Seine, you can find the Palais Tokyo, which was built in 1937 and which houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in its eastern sector nowadays.
Musée du Louvre
Through the Small Triumphal Arch, which leads to the Big Triumphal Arch in a straight line, you can see the Musée du Louvre, the biggest museum in the world. The history of the building dates back to the 13th century when it was built as a fortress. Later it became the seat of the French kings and after the French Revolution it was declared a museum.
The glass pyramid in the inner courtyard of the Louvre was built between 1985 and 1989 and functions as the main entrance of the museum.
In the main season there are hordes of tourists in the museum. Best time to visit, with only a fraction of the visitors, is wednesday evening, when it is open until 10 pm.
Along the Champs-Élysée
Starting at the Louvre, through the Small Triumphal Arch, you first come to the Tuileries Garden, then to the Place de la Concorde with the ferris wheel and the obelisk, from there in a straight line first to the Triumphal Arch and then to the Grande Arche in La Défense. On sunny days the green metal chairs standing around everywhere in the Tuileries and in other parks in Paris invite the city explorer to take a break.
At the end of the Tuileries Garden you can find the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais on the left, both built for the Paris International Exhibition in 1900. In the Grand Palais big changing exhibitions are held; in the Petit Palais art from all epochs is exhibited, like a Mini-Louvre, for free.
If you follow the Avenue des Champs-Élysée from the Tuileries Garden you come to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Napoleon ordered the famous Triumphal Arch in 1806 as a celebration of his victory in the Battle of Austerlitz. After many building stops it was finished in 1836.
On the way from the Triumphal Arch to La Défense you can take a detour to visit the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which lies on the edge of the forest Bois du Boulogne. The museum was built by star architect Frank Gehry between 2006 and 2014 and mostly shows art from the 20th century.
Who doesn’t want to walk all the long way from the Louvre to La Défense, the futuristic banking district, can take the metro, with which it’s only a short way. The office district was built from 1958 on and in 1989 the Grande Arche was opened as a modern counterpiece of the Arc de Triomphe, in extension of the Champs-Élysée.
The importance and the extent of the Avenue des Champs-Élysée had continuously increased since 1667. Due to urbanistic changes like the creation of the square nowadays called Place de la Concorde, or the erection of the Arc de Triomphe and due to changes and enlargements the boulevard became the most famous street of Paris.
The origin of the Gothic: Saint-Denis. The gothic renovation of the cathedral was begun in 1144, of which only parts are still there. The front facade for example stems from more recent times.
It’s easy to get to Saint-Denis, with the metro line 13 in direction St.Denis.
Since the 6th century Saint-Denis was the tomb of almost all French kings. You can find the tombs in the back part of the church and in the crypt underneath it. This part is not free like the rest of the church.
Cheap trains to Versailles leave regularly from the train station St.Lazare close to Montmartre.
Versailles, the French castle par excellence, draws masses of tourists every day. To escape them at least a little bit firstly you should come very early and secondly you should try to go during the week.
Under Louis XIV. the hunting lodge Versailles was systematically extended to be the seat of the king. Later the whole French court moved to the castle.
The Hall of Mirrors of Versailles is probably the most famous room of the castle. After the German-French War in 1871 the First German Reich was proclaimed here and after the Second World War the Paris Peace Treaties were signed here.
In the castle you can marvel at the splendour of the rooms of the kings and the royal family. The extravagance of the absolutistic rulers was one of the reasons for the French Revolution.
After the visit of the castle you leave it at the back and come to the huge castle garden.
The Hameau de la Reine (pond of the queen) was built as an idealised village, including a mill and a farm house, as a resort for queen Marie Antoinette late in the 18th century.
Another destination in the proximity of Paris is the village Giverny, in which Claude Monet bought this property in 1890. He layed out his garden here, of which he painted many of his most famous paintings and he died here in 1926.
The garden of Monet is layed out in two parts: the first one in front of the building, with straight-lined flower beds.
You reach the second part through a small unterpass. Here you find the famous water lily pond, with the equally famous Japanese brigde.
At the end of the idyllic village you find the small church, where Monet was buried in the garden.