Paris: the City of Lights, the City of Love. The French capital is known across the globe, and holds prime spot on the bucket list of many travelers. But why is Paris so revered?
Paris is famous for its bustling museums and galleries, its top cuisine, its beautiful architecture, and its chic fashion. Paris’ landmarks are among the most recognizable in the world: the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, Versailles, the Louvre. From its iconic cafés to famous monuments, the city has so much to offer!
Whether you are a loved-up young couple looking for your first trip, or a seasoned traveler, Paris has something for you.
So, allez, let’s dive into this list of Paris’s most famous things!
1. Eiffel Tower
Of course, we start with the Eiffel Tower, or the Tour d’Eiffel as it is known by the French. One of the most famous and recognizable landmarks worldwide, the Eiffel Tower really is a symbol of Paris and France.
Constructed between 1887 and 1889 for the 1889 World Fair, it was originally meant to be a temporary structure. It was not initially popular with France’s intellectuals and artists, who attacked it for being ugly and too industrial. After all, Gustave Eiffel was actually a railroad bridge engineer, and not an architect! But luckily it hung around, and today it is one of the most popular symbols of the city.
Be sure to visit the tower after dark, when it lights up. At every hour between 8pm and 1am, the tower sparkles magnificently from top to bottom.
Though many people are unaware, it is actually illegal to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower when it is sparkling, as it is protected under Copyright. It is for this reason that it is much rarer to find pictures of the tower at night than during the day.
France in general may be known for its cafés, but it is in Paris that café culture is the most exciting and bustling. They are in many ways the center of life and society in Paris, as a place for socializing, for business, for meeting new people, for relaxing, and more!
But Paris’s cafés serve much more than just coffee. Many serve meals throughout the day, as well as offer a full bar and wine selection. Like many locals, I would often spend my weekend afternoons watching the world go by as I sipped on my glass of – of course – French wine. Give this common Parisian activity a go if you get the chance!
Paris and France are also known for their particularity over how to make coffee. If you want to fit in with the locals, order ‘un café’ (literally just ‘a coffee’). This is a black coffee without milk or sugar.
Before COVID-19 impacted tourism levels, Paris saw an insane 38 million visitors in 2019! It was the second most visited city in the world, after Bangkok. It is estimated that around 20% of Paris workers are engaged in tourism sectors, such as hotels, transport, or leisure.
Paris’s top attractions include Disneyland Paris, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Versailles.
4. Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is one of Paris’s most known landmarks. Its full name is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, which refers to the twelve avenues that surround it in a star-like shape (the most famous being the Champs-Élysées).
The arch is modeled on Rome’s Arch of Titus, and commemorates the soldiers who died in France’s Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It also holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which commemorates all soldiers who died unidentified in both World Wars.
Though the Eiffel Tower is famed for its views, the top of the Arc de Triomphe is also magnificent. You can get some perfect shots of the Eiffel Tower and Paris’s skyline from here.
And naturally from the Arc de Triomphe to the… Champs Élysées! This avenue, which connects the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, is Paris’ most famous and beautiful street.
Nearly two kilometers long, it is known as the home to numerous theatres, luxury shops, and cafés. It also hosts the annual Bastille parade and the final stretch of the Tour de France cycling race. Be sure to drop into the stores of famous fashion brands here, from Dior to Louis Vuitton.
The avenue is recently known by locals for its considerable transport congestion and air pollution. Plans from current mayor, Anne Hidalgo, aim to redesign the avenue in order to reduce space for traffic by half and add more pedestrian space. Pop back in 2030 to see if it’s a success!
Paris is renowned worldwide for its chic fashion, making it the world’s fashion capital. Often simplistic, the Parisians are well envied for their ability to effortlessly pull off the most classic fashion trends.
Paris is also home to a variety of huge fashion brands, from Dior to Givenchy, Louis Vuitton to Chanel.
The most important time for these brands is Paris Fashion Week, which takes place twice a year in illustrious venues such as the Grand Palais. As the final Fashion Week of the Big Four (New York, London, Milan), it is followed by people across the globe.
The cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris (‘Our Lady of Paris’ in English) made headlines in 2019 when it caught on fire. 15 hours of burning brought significant structural and aesthetic damage. But, even now, the cathedral remains one of Paris’ most famous and symbolic landmarks.
Notre Dame cathedral was constructed between 1163 and 1260, and the hundred years’ worth of effort shows! The cathedral towers over the Ile de la Cité, the small island which is located in Paris’ center and completely surrounded by the Seine river.
The cathedral was especially popularized by Victor Hugo’s book Notre-Dame de Paris (translated into English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), which made the cathedral a national icon. Though nearly 1000 pages long, it is one of my favorite books and I would recommend it to anyone seeking to learn more about French literature or Notre-Dame.
Even though the cathedral is not currently open to the public, it is still worth a visit to glimpse its magnificent façade. The French government hopes to have Notre-Dame restored by 2024, in time for the Paris Olympics.
From Victor Hugo to Marcel Proust, Paris is famous for its contributions to worldwide literature.
During the 19th-century especially, it was the center of European culture and literature. Influential literary movements from Naturalism to Surrealism were established and developed in Paris.
But it is not just French writers that made a name for themselves in Paris. The city was also home to writers such as Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and James Baldwin, who were drawn to its burgeoning literary scene and charm.
9. French Revolution
Paris was the center of the French Revolution. Its significance on the city is clear from the Place de la Bastille to the Place de la République.
The Revolution is commonly agreed to have begun on 14 July 1789, when protestors from the city attacked the Bastille, a royal fortress that stored arms and political prisoners. 14 July is now celebrated every year as Bastille Day in France.
If you travel to the site of the Bastille today, you will find no building resembling a fortress, since it was destroyed by revolutionaries that same year. However, the Place commemorates the revolutionary era, and the original perimeter of the fortress can be found on the floor of the Boulevard Henri IV.
The French Republic was declared on 22 Sep 1972, and King Louis XVI was famously executed by guillotine a few months later. The Republic is important to France, and commemorated at the Place de la République.
The symbol of Marianne came to symbolize the Revolution. She can be found across French and Parisian culture, from her statue on the Place de la République, to her depiction in Eugène Delacroix’s La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty Leading the People), which can be found in the Louvre.
French food is famous across the planet, and you can surely find the best of it in Paris. If croissants or pastries are your thing, head to a local boulangerie, where you are also sure to find an assortment of baguettes.
If you want to taste the best crêpes Paris has to offer, Rue du Montparnasse is an amazing street lined with crêperies on both sides. Many people moved to Montparnasse from Brittany, the home of the crêpe, thus creating this crêpe center.
For a taste of France’s most traditional dishes, you could head to just about any brasserie. There will be one on every street corner or so.
For the most traditional experience, head to Le Bouillon Chartier in the hills of Montmarte. Located in a beautiful 19th-century high-ceiling dining room, the restaurant has been classified as a monument historique and serves the most delicious and traditional French food.
However, as a cosmopolitan hub, Paris is not just great for traditional French food. Food from the Maghreb (principally Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco) or the Middle East is also incredibly popular! Popular hubs include the 19th and 20th arrondissements, where many foreign citizens have settled.
11. Galleries and museums
Paris has some of the best galleries and museums in the world. The Louvre is known across the world as the globe’s largest and most-visited gallery. It is famously home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
In 2018, the Louvre attracted an impressive 10.2 million visitors, and remained the world’s most visited gallery in 2020, even despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a 70% fall in visitors.
But it is not just the Louvre that Paris has to offer. The city is also famous for the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou, among countless others.
The Musée d’Orsay is located in one of Paris’s old train stations, the Gare d’Orsay. The gallery’s art collection fits with the building’s Belle Époque architecture, displaying principally French art from 1848 to 1914.
The Centre Pompidou is especially famous for its bizarre modern architecture. Named after former French President, Georges Pompidou, it is easily identifiable by its exterior of mechanical structuring and scaffolding. It is home to Paris’s modern art collection, displaying work by the Surrealists and Cubists, among many others.
Paris is the founding place of cabaret. The cabaret can be traced back to at least 1400s Paris, when cabaret venues were distinguished from taverns because they served food as well as wine.
Our modern form of cabaret developed in the 1880s. The first modern cabaret venue, Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), combined sit-down food and drink with music and political commentary.
The most famous location in Paris for cabaret today is the Moulin Rouge. It is known for the large red windmill on its roof and the can-can dance, which was created here. Édith Piaf also began her career here.
Today, you can still visit the Moulin Rouge to appreciate its entertainment of musical dance and its 19th-century décor.
Paris’s métro is the second busiest in Europe, and the busiest in the EU. It has an estimated 5.23 million passengers a day.
It is rumored that within the boundaries of Paris, you are never more than 500 meters away from a metro station! This makes for great sightseeing if you get exhausted from the city’s very walkable streets.
Métro stations that are particularly interesting include ‘Concorde’ and ‘Arts et Métiers’. ‘Concorde’ features words from the Declaration of the Rights of Man across its walls. The number 11 platform of ‘Arts et Métiers’ is designed in the style of a Steampunk novel, and draws on the fantasy of French writer Jules Verne.
14. Paris Saint-Germain
Paris is home to the most popular and successful football club in France, Paris Saint-Germain. Often referred to as PSG (pronounced Pay-S-Jay by the local French-speakers), the team has won more than 40 titles since its founding in 1970. The club reached its first UEFA Champions League Final in 2020.
The team’s main and long-established rival is Olympique Marseille, the team of France’s second-largest city. The match between the two, known as Le Classique, is one of the largest and most-watched in the world. PSG won the last encounter 2-0 in February 2021.
Paris is famous for its open-minded cosmopolitan nature and its large international community. It is estimated that over 20% of the city’s population were born outside of France and 37% of France’s immigrants live in the Paris region.
Large populations in France include those from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (former colonies) and Portugal, Italy, and Romania (members of the European Union). This makes for a generally very accepting population and a thriving city community.
The contributions of those who have moved to France are perhaps most obvious in the city’s Grand Mosque (Grande Mosquée). The country also has a wide range of cultural figures from non-French backgrounds, from Albert Camus and Jacques Derrida to Zinédine Zidane and Kylian Mbappé.
Paris is well known for being one of the most pretty and aesthetic cities in the world! Modern Paris owes much of its beauty to Eugène Haussmann. Under the direction of Napoleon III in the mid-1800s, he completely redesigned the city center.
Paris’s wide boulevards that make it famous today were originally designed to prevent protestors from barricading its formerly narrow streets, a common practice since the French Revolution.
Haussmann also insisted that all buildings be built from “Paris stone”, which gives the city’s buildings their distinctive color and texture. Whole buildings were torn down over a twenty-year period to integrate his designs.
Modern Paris is also well-known for its lack of skyscrapers. Other than the Eiffel Tower and the Tour Montparnasse, it is hard to find a building within Paris taller than 30 meters high. After the building of the Tour Montparnasse and the significant negative reaction towards it, a law was introduced to prohibit the building of new skyscrapers.
However, just outside of Paris’s boundary (known as the périphérique) can be found a hub of skyscrapers in the business district of La Défense, where height rules are more relaxed.
Technically just outside of Paris, the Versailles Palace is an excellent day trip for those staying in the city. It was formerly home to the Kings of France for over 100 years, until Louis XVI was guillotined during the French Revolution and the monarchy abolished.
It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also gives its name to the famous Treaty of Versailles signed between European powers after World War I.
The most intriguing parts of the palace include the famed Hall of Mirrors, which holds 357 mirrors, and the gardens, which are home to over 1400 fountains and 400 sculptures.
Paris isn’t called the City of Love for no reason! Though many may find this label cliché or stereotypical, it is hard to avoid the romantic fervor of the city.
Until 2015, the Pont des Arts bridge was famous for the over a million locks that had been attached to its structure by tourists. The 45 tons of locks became so heavy that there were serious concerns about the bridge’s collapse, and they were removed by the Mayor’s office.
The city is also renowned for being the setting of countless rom-coms: Amélie, Before Sunset, Midnight in Paris, to name a few.
Well, there we are: 18 things Paris is known and famous for. With too much to explore and research in one trip, you’ll be coming back for more and more.