Can you guess the correct order of Paris’ top tourist spots?
As anyone who’s heard of Paris will know, the Eiffel Tower is a bit of a fan favourite. The OG Iron Lady is recognized throughout the world on postcards and in movies, and even replicated in places like Las Vegas and Tokyo. And yet, when it comes to the hard and fast tourism numbers, you might be curiously brain-tickled to discover that the Eiffel Tower is not number one, but in fact, number four on the list of most visited monuments and museums in Paris. As for the rest of the list? Some of those might surprise you, too…
1. Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral
This stunning medieval Catholic cathedral sits on one of the two natural islands in the Seine River, right in the centre of Paris, and although its construction finished in 1260, it’s faced a long history of attacks, alterations and repairs (rioting Huguenots, Louis XIV and Louis XV makeovers, the French Revolution in the 1790s, Napoleon, etc,. etc.). But it was the 1831 Victor Hugo novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame that crucially generated buzz around the building, and this renewed sparkle led to an extensive 25-year renovation to get it to where it is now (with touch-ups in the 1960s and 1990s). This all means that today, you can be one of the 12 million annual visitors who gets to marvel at the gothic cathedral’s spire, the west twin towers, gargoyles, the intricate circa-1200s rose windows (of which there are three), and flying buttresses. Entrance to the cathedral is free, and not everyone knows that there are also urban bees living on the roof (you can track down locations where the urban honey is sold here).
2. Sacré-Cœur Basilica
Talk about a room with a view. The Sacré-Coeur (or “Sacred Heart” of Jesus) Basilica sits at the top of Butte Montmartre, which is the highest point in Paris. Consecrated in 1919, Sacré-Coeur sets itself apart from other monuments because of its white travertine stone (sourced from France) and Romano-Byzantine style. This brand of architecture and decor was a reaction to the opulent flourishes and excess of the neo-Baroque Palais Garnier. Which kind of makes it sound like they would go build a modest box frame with a tarp for a door and call it a day, but thankfully for the 10 million visitors that gaze up at Sacré-Coeur annually, the grand structure is as beautiful as all get out. The dome is open to tourists and its panoramic view of Paris is spectacular. The bell tower (which holds the largest bell in France) and the dome are 83 metres high, which when you add the height of the butte is 213 metres, making Sacré-Coeur the second-highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower at 324 metres.
3. The Louvre
For how famous the Louvre is (thank you Mona, Venus de Milo, Rembrandt, the Da Vinci Code), it is the third most visited monument or museum in all of Paris. Built in 1190, it was first a defence fortress, then a residence for French kings, before becoming a museum in 1793. Inside there are 35,000 artworks on display and some of that work dates back more than 7,000 years.
Visiting the Louvre is a Paris must for any tourist, and even outside the museum, with the water fountains and the glass pyramids, is a gorgeous place to grab a seat, do some people watching, and soak up the sunshine. The big glass Pyramid entrance to the museum is actually celebrating its 30-year anniversary this year. There was a lot of controversy over its construction initially, some arguing its style was too modern and didn’t fit with the classic French Renaissance Louvre, others felt the pyramid was a terrible choice because it was like parking an ancient Egyptian symbol of death right in front of one of Paris’ most revered landmarks. There was chatter too that maybe it was a pretentious ego project from France’s president at the time, Francois Mitterrand. At one point it was even proposed to placate the style objectors by adding a spire (like you’d see on a medieval cathedral) to the top of the glass pyramid, like some sort of anachronistic unicorn. Mercifully, the architect objected and the person who came up with the idea was summarily fired (probably).
4. The Eiffel Tower
Can you believe the Eiffel Tower is fourth on this list? Built by Gustave Eiffel’s engineering company in 1889, the world-renowned monument is the icon of Paris and tracks around 6.2 million visitors per year. With the antenna on top, the Iron Lady is 324 metres tall (the equivalent of an 81-storey building) and so even a visit to the first floor—which sits at 190 feet and has a see-through glass floor section—is going to get the knees shaking. The main areas are the esplanade, the first floor, second floor and the top floor summit, and you’ll find gift shops, restaurants and a champagne bar scattered on the different levels. Each level of access has a different ticket, ranging from 10.20 euros to 25.50 euros for adults. The Tour Eiffel even has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Jules Verne, on its second floor, and the tower has been known to host DJ sets and winter skating. This year marks the 130th anniversary of the monument being inaugurated ahead of the world expo, so there will be extra buzz around special events happening throughout 2019 (check the website for details).
A few fun facts: the tower was originally painted red to stave off rust, and needs to be repainted every seven years (a process that takes three years and 60 tons of paint). Currently it’s painted Eiffel Tower Brown. There are 1,665 steps to the very top, but people take the elevator. The tower was supposed to be demolished 20 years after it was built, but Gustave Eiffel turned the top tower into a laboratory and observatory, so scientists could study meteorology and astronomy. And today, every night on the hour, from sunset to 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., the tower displays nightly light shows that light up 20,000 rapidly firing light bulbs across the structure for five minutes straight.
Centre Georges Pompidou. (Photo: Paris tourist Office - Photographer: Amelie Dupont - Architect: Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers)
5. Centre Pompidou
It might look a bit like a roller coaster and a parking lot had a baby, but the Centre Georges Pompidou, or Pompidou Centre as it’s known in English, is actually the home of modern art in Paris. This multicultural complex houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne, which is the largest museum for modern art in Europe, along with the IRCAM, a centre for music and acoustic research. The design of Pompidou Centre, which was finished in 1977, was a winning proposal that beat out 681 world-wide entries. Created by Rogers and Piano, the Pompidou was the first major example of high-tech “inside-out” building in architecture, and was quite groundbreaking for its time. Compared to the neighbourhood, Pompidou’s colours are also very un-Paris, with mechanical elements and structures like pipes, ducts and electrical wires colour-coded by function in bright reds, blues, yellows and greens. Outside the building you’ll see more boundary-pushing with the wild and whimsical Stravinsky Fountain and the freestanding mobile Horizontal sculpture by Alexander Calder, both of which show off a more experimental and avant-garde side of Paris.
For more details on Paris’ most visited museums and monuments, you can view the press release here.