Just take a 20-minute walk in Paris and you’re likely to glimpse a handful of major landmarks. The Eiffel Tower shoots up from one end. The gilded cap of the Les Invalides gleams just a few blocks away. The Louvre stretches across its waterfront plot, just across the Seine. But in between the staple Paris attractions—or in some cases, a short RER ride away—you’re in close quarters with dozens more significant sites, like the recently renovated Picasso Museum, situated in a 17th-century mansion in the Marais, or Oscar Niemeyer’s slick, undulating design for the Communist Party headquarters, out in the 19th arrondissement.
The City of Light is filled with dozens of historic wonders. But what sites are truly must-see? Check out Architectural Digest's favorite Parisian landmarks that you can't miss on your next trip.
1. Notre Dame de Paris
Located on the Île de la Cité, a thin island in the Seine, Notre Dame de Paris is perhaps the most famous cathedral in the world. Characterized by its classic French Gothic architecture, the structure was one of the first to use a flying buttress.
2. Arc de Triomphe
In 1806 Napoléon ordered the construction of the Arc de Triomphe to honor those who fought in the Napoleonic wars. The massive archway, which wasn’t completed until 1836, anchors the Place Charles de Gaulle at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. Architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin modeled the monument after the ancient Roman Arch of Constantine, which he doubled in size.
3. The Centre Pompidou
The Centre Pompidou—designed in the 1970s by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Gianfranco Franchini—garnered much attention upon completion for its high-tech style. Its color-coded, tubular façade (green pipes are plumbing, blue ducts are climate control, electrical wires are yellow), with an elevator that climbs in diagonals up the front, looks straight out of Super Mario Land.
4. Sacré-Cœur Basilica
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica, designed by Paul Abadie between 1875 and 1914, crowns the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in the city.
5. The Eiffel Tower
Devised by Gustave Eiffel in 1889 as the entrance to the World’s Fair, the iron lattice Eiffel Tower that was originally viewed as an eyesore has become an emblem of the City of Light. At the top of the tower visitors can now glimpse the petite apartment—complete with paisley wallpaper and oil paintings—that Eiffel kept for himself and his most prominent friends.
6. French Communist Party Center by Oscar Niemeyer
A dramatic contrast to Paris’ majestic palaces and cathedrals, Oscar Niemeyer’s command center for the Communist Party in Paris—completed in 1972 when it was still a major political force—makes quite a statement with its undulating glazed facade. Niemeyer, a staunch Communist himself, built the structure free of charge.
7. The Louvre Museum
A central landmark in Paris, the Louvre is a must for anyone visiting France. Originally built to house the royal family in the late 12th century (it officially opened as a museum in 1793), the palace has undergone countless renovations and extensions since, including the installation of I. M. Pei’s iconic glass pyramids—which topped the museum’s new entrance—in 1989.
8. La Grande Arche
Located in Paris’s business district, La Défense, La Grande Arche—the 20th-century counterpart to the Arc de Triomphe—was conceived by Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and completed by French architect Paul Andreu. Shaped like a cube with its middle cut out, the structure is made from a concrete frame encased in glass and Carrara marble.
9. Les Invalides
With its gleaming, gilded dome, Les Invalides is easy to spot from anywhere in the city. Established by Louis XIV in 1670 for old or unwell soldiers, the complex of buildings now houses several museums, a church, and—staying true to its origins—a hospital and home for retired soldiers.
10. Fondation Louis Vuitton
Frank Gehry’s striking Fondation Louis Vuitton, an art museum located on the outer rim of Paris in the 16th arrondissement, resembles a futuristic ship with its overlapping glass sails. Be sure to explore its verdant grounds, adjacent to the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne.
Check out more iconic Parisian landmarks and museum you can't miss.
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