The Best Sites & Lights of Paris

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Advisor - Nicole Mosher
Curated By

Nicole Mosher

  • Paris

  • Arts & Culture

  • City Travel

  • Architecture

  • History

  • Foodie

  • Sightseeing

View of the Eiffel Tower with a bridge and body of water in the foreground
Curator’s statement

The moment I first arrived in Paris in 2013, it felt like my second home. I am continually drawn back by memories of days spent in museums and nights strolling around the different neighborhoods. The city of lights enchants its visitors with the smells from boulangeries, the flavors of French cuisine and of course, the way it comes alive every evening. In Paris the sites will amaze, the history will entice and the city will intoxicate you.

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Things to do in Paris

Light fixtures at the Musee D'Orsay


Paris has a wide variety of museums and this list is by no means exhaustive. These are my favorites and places that I keep going back to. I chose the museums on this list because they are interesting inside and out. These are the places that taught me about art and life in Paris.

Musee d’Orsay is home to the impressionists. This is my favorite place to spend an afternoon marveling at the country scenes of Camille Pissarro and being amazed by the talent of Van Gogh. This is the place that taught me about the blue ballerinas of Degas and the street scenes of Renoir. This museum also displays many impressive sculptures and there is a selection of furniture to give an insight into the homes of the past.

Musee Carnavelet is an immersion into the history of Paris, from the prehistoric to the present. It opened to the public February 25, 1880, making it the oldest museum in Paris. The collections are housed in two adjoining mansions. There is also a wonderful restaurant in the courtyard called Fabula.

Musee de l’Orangerie houses Claude Monet’s water lilies collection. Here you can see how the infamous artist showcases the dancing of light and dark on the waters of his countryside escape. This museum is located on the edge of the Jardin des Tuileries and Place de la Concorde so there is plenty more to see once you have finished inside.

Musee Rodin takes you on a journey through the sculpture’s creation process. Wander around the beautiful garden, contemplate what The Thinker has inside of his mind and feel the moment captured by The Kiss.

Memorial de la Shoah is the Holocaust museum in Paris. It is very well curated, so much so in fact I have been three times. It is informative and well presented for those of us who are interested in this part of history.

Musee de l’Armee is the place for military history buffs; it houses one of the best collections of military history artifacts in the world. The exhibits on the two world wars are my favorite section. There is an immense collection of armories and you can see how the uniforms have evolved over time. Also, here is where you can see the grandeur of Napoleon’s final resting place.

Musee de Louvre is, of course, the most iconic museum in Paris. This is where you can catch a glimpse of the small portrait of Mona Lisa and take the obligatory photos of the glass pyramid outside the palace. Along with the Mona Lisa, visitors can see the other paintings such as Liberty Leading the People and a portrait of King Louis XIV. Some notable sculptures are Winged Victory and Venus of Milo. Be forewarned that this museum is massive and to see the entirety of its collections in one day is quite a feat.

Centre Pompidou is Paris’ center for modern and contemporary art. I saw a visiting collection by Lichtenstein here and there is always an interesting temporary exhibit. On permanent display you can see works by Chagall, Matisse and Klein. The Winter Garden by Dubuffet gives visitors a chance to interact with art. This is the place to witness the strange become beautiful works of art.

Cabaret Shows

Cabaret has been popular in Paris since the end of the 19th century and it embodied the excitement of the Belle Epoque, the period that occurred as Paris entered the 20th century. While we may think of cabaret as just burlesque and the cancan, it showcases so much more: dancers, singers, theater performers, drag artists, and other artists of many kinds. It was cheap fun for the masses not just the bourgeois.

Paradis Latin is the oldest music hall in Paris; though it has to compete with Le Chat Noir as the first cabaret show in the city. The building was rebuilt by Gustave Eiffel in the late 1800s. The show is 90 minutes long and there are a variety of ticket options during the day and evening. If you buy a ticket that includes a meal, that meal is prepared by triple Michelin-starred chef Guy Savoy.

Moulin Rouge is the first place that comes to most of our minds when we think of cabaret in Paris, with its iconic red windmill and abundance of feathered performers. If you find yourself in Montmartre stop by for a show. Dinner starts at 7 pm and the performance starts at 9 or 11 pm.

Famous Site

Paris has no lack of famous sites to see. In a city with so much history, it is hard to choose the best, so these are some of my preferences.

Eiffel’s Tower was built for the World’s Fair of 1889. It was constructed with prefabricated pieces of ironwork and took just over two years to complete. Buy tickets in advance as the lines can be very long here; there are just over six million visitors every year. You can take the elevator up to the top, or as I did, you can climb the stairs to the second floor. Some enjoy having a meal at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Jules Verne, on the second floor. The tower isn’t just a beautiful, sparkling landmark, it is the reason Paris began to have radio and television reception. The park below, Champ de Mars, is a beautiful place to have a picnic and live as the Parisians do, not on the tower but with the tower in view.

Notre Dame is still under construction after the unfortunate fire in 2019 and therefore visitors cannot yet go inside, but the front façade and bell towers remain intact. There is a wall of information explaining the construction process. This is a unique opportunity to see how the Parisians are preserving the past in modern times.

Arc de Triomphe, located at the top of the Champs Elysees, was constructed over 30 years beginning in 1806. The arch offers a breathtaking view of Paris from its rooftop. Once you are back on the ground view the sculpted art around the façade. This has been the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since 1920. Standing underneath this arch puts you in the footsteps of history, many important events for the French have occurred at this location.

Palais Garnier is the most beautiful opera house in Europe in my humble opinion. It was constructed between 1861 and 1875. Marvel at the intricate staircase and be immersed in the lights of the grand foyer. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to see a performance, this is one building in Paris not to be missed.

La Conciergerie transformed from royal residence to court to prison. Its history can be traced back to the 10th century but the Gothic architecture that is preserved today was part of the building’s modernization between the 13th and 14th centuries. This building played a major role in the French Revolution; it was the prison of Marie Antoinette before her execution.

Sainte Chapelle was built in the 13th century and took less than seven years to construct. It has 1,113 pieces of stained glass. This jewel of colorful glass is worth a visit even if attending mass doesn’t interest you.

Day trips

The Palace of Versailles is a wonderful place to spend the day. It is a short ride on the RER C to the Chateau Rive Gauche train station in Versailles and then the Palace is approximately a 10-minute walk from the station. It isn’t just the palace and its Hall of Mirrors that you must see. There are immense beautiful gardens with great fountain shows. My personal favorite was the Queen’s Hamlet which is one of a trio of places of privacy on the palace grounds There’s are also stables where you can see the royal carriages. Spend a day as the royals did.

Giverny is where one can spend a day like an artist. This little commune was Claude Monet’s countryside retreat where the water lilies were painted. You can visit his former home and walk through the gardens that inspired him to create such amazing pieces of art. To get here it is approximately a 90-minute journey, you take a train from Gare Saint-Lazare to Vernon, and then a shuttle bus to Giverny.

Places to eat & drink in Paris

Outdoor dining surrounded by plants.

Arpège is focused on elevating the most delicious seasonal vegetables to center stage. There are three Michelin stars attached to this restaurant.

Le Recamier is the place to go for souffle, sweet and savory are both on the menu.

Clover Grill is the best steakhouse in Paris. Meats are the star of the show here and they are cooked over an open flame.

Breizh Café has a menu based around sweet and savory crepes and galettes.

L’Ecrin in Hotel du Crillon provides what can only be called a dining experience. You choose the number of courses and which wines you would like, and the chef creates a personalized menu for everyone based on complimenting their wine selection.

Le Relais de l’Entrecote is a Paris staple. It is the place to eat steak au poivre.
Au Soleil Levant is a Japanese restaurant. It is my top choice for adding some variety to my meals while I’m in Paris.

Au Petit Versailles du Marais is the best bakery in Paris. If available, try the caramel royale, it is the best pastry I have ever eaten. They also serve the best café éclair in the city.

Berthillon is the infamous ice cream of Paris. There are many locations, and the brand is sold at many restaurants. Finding the original location and sitting inside is a treat.

Cookidiction serves warm, gooey “American style” cookies all day long.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Bijoy Shah’s guide, First-Timer’s Guide to Paris, France.

Advisor - Nicole Mosher

Travel Advisor

Nicole Mosher

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Paris.