These 5 Must-See Attractions Encapsulate the Quintessential Paris Experience

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Paris! It’s the city that figures prominently on many a traveler’s wish list, and with good reason. Whether your vision of the metropolis is romantic, chic, rude or bohemian, it’s likely to be accurate. The small, intimate cafes and hidden gems abound and are well worth finding, but there’s a reason that many of your friends’ vacation photos feature these top Paris attractions.

Sure, you can sip a cafe au lait or eat a croissant just about anywhere nowadays, but there is something charming about doing this in the French capital.  Taking a stroll through the busy streets while shopping just doesn’t feel the same when you’re in Paris. Public transportation may be less than glamorous in most cities, but not when you’re stepping out of the Montmartre from another chic neighborhood in Paris. While you’re in Paris you may want to mix in some off the beaten path things on your itinerary, but don’t miss these can’t miss attractions. They are part of the quintessential Paris experience.

5.) The Métro

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No matter where you decide to go to or what part of town you’re staying in, you’ll need to get there somehow. Why not take the Métro? The Paris Metro serves as the city’s lifeline with connections to almost every corner of the city. It’s comprised of 14 different lines and covers the span on the city and its surrounding neighborhood. But if that sounds stressful don’t worry, using the Paris metro offers many perks. It’s also considered an attraction because some of the stations and lines have been open since the early 1900s.

It offers three advantages for the traveler:

  • Saves you money: It saves you from having to explore the city on overpriced, insular tour buses.
  • Authentic experience: It gives you true insight into Paris, its residents, and how they live. As you wander through the stations you will see lavish décor, posters for films and products you don’t know, buskers, and, on the elevated lines, gorgeous views of the city.
  • Easy to navigate: If you end up getting lost as you are walking around Paris, you can usually re-orient yourself by hopping on the Métro and backtracking to a familiar part of town.

4.) Musée D’Orsay

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Even if you’ve never heard of this museum, you’ve likely seen a photo of someone standing in front of one of its iconic giant clocks. Housed in a disused Beaux-Arts train station, the Musée D’Orsay focuses on art from the 19th century onward. Vincent Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Auguste Rodin, and James Whistler are but a few of the artists featured in the Orsay’s collection.

If you’re traveling with someone who thinks art is uppity and inaccessible, take them to the Orsay. Leave them in the darkened gallery of Toulouse-Lautrec’s pastel drawings of the brothels of Paris. Ten to one, they’ll be impressed enough to change their tune.

3.) Eiffel Tower

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Yes, you really do need to see the Eiffel Tower.  Seeing it is one thing, but going to the top is another. There are elevators, naturally, but if you’re feeling ambitious you can take the stairs. The top level tends to be the most frenetic, but the views are just as good from the second floor, and the first, which is generally ignored by tourists, is an oasis. There’s a small museum about the Tower; there’s a café, and during the winter, there’s even a free ice rink.

Plans are underway to totally overhaul the first floor, so enjoy it while you can: an evening spent roaming around, looking out at the city and enjoying a coffee and a gentle breeze is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have in Paris. If hiking up to the top isn’t exactly your thing because you hate crowds and waiting in line then we have an exciting alternative. Have a picnic in the park right in front of the Tour Eiffel with some bread and French wine, that’s about as quintessential as it gets.

2.) Notre-Dame de Paris

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There was a lot to do at this Gothic cathedral. You could get your exercise climbing the winding marble staircase to the towers to see the cheeky gargoyles — look for the elephant perched on one of the ledges. You could descend into the archaeological crypt, just outside, to see the remains of ancient Gallo-Roman and 18th-century buildings. Inside the church, the stained glass windows are spectacular. During the summer, teenage volunteer docents gave tours in several languages and from July to October multimedia shows illuminate the interior at night.

However, the 856-year-old cathedral is currently under repairs and renovations after barely surviving a terrible fire in April 2019. Either way, this monument is a can’t miss on anyone’s Paris attractions list. It still doesn’t hurt to visit the area and see the surrounding neighborhoods and take a peek at history. Let’s just pray it’ll be back up and wowing tourists and locals soon.

1.) Musée du Louvre

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Yes, yes, Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa (La Jaconde) is here, and if you really want, you can join the hordes of tourists who all but riot to see her. There’s so much more to the Louvre, though, if you care to find it. The museum boasts one of the most extensive collections of ancient Egyptian art in the world; impressive Greek, Roman and Etruscan galleries, and stunning Mesopotamian artifacts, including the Code of Hammurabi.

You can even explore the foundations of the medieval fortress below the current structure. Oh, and the Louvre has several other works by Leonardo, as well as pieces by Michelangelo, Caravaggio, David, and Canova, among others… and since everyone’s over in the Mona Lisa room, you won’t have to fight through a mosh pit to see them. So yes, the Louvre should definitely a nonnegotiable must-see in Paris.

The top 5 attractions in Paris will take you high above the city, underground, through winding corridors filled with art and ancient ruins, and among everyday Parisians. Can you visit Paris without seeing them? Sure, but perhaps you shouldn’t.