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Paris’ must-see architecture

  • Paris, IIe-de-France, France

Last updated: 12 March, 2024

At first sight, Paris’s gorgeous golden stone gives the city an apparently uniform classical image. But beneath the illusion are numerous distinct periods of Parisian history – centuries of grandiose urban planning schemes, when kings and presidents left their mark on the city’s look and landscape.

Today Paris stands out for its elegant squares and broad boulevards, peppered with Gothic churches, Baroque palaces and mansions, strings of prim, balconied Hausmann-style apartment buildings and adventurous modern icons.

Who to go with: tour operators

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  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

There couldn’t be a more appropriate setting for Paris’ official museum of the Middle Ages than the Gothic townhouse – known as Hotel de Cluny. It was originally built by the Abbot of Cluny in 1330, and now stands as one of the oldest (former) private residences, and arguably the finest example of medieval civil architecture, in Paris.

Weapons, objets d’art, furnishings, stained-glass windows and manuscripts abound, but the star of the show is the celebrated late 15th-century La Dame a la Licorne (Lady and the Unicorn) tapestry cycle.

Interestingly, there are almost two museums here in one. The Hotel de Cluny is housed in the remains of a Roman thermal bathing complex. The baths, with 15m-high vaulted ceilings, have been restored and also now house the Pillar of the Nauti (Pillar of the Boatmen), the city’s oldest sculpture, dating back to 1349 AD.

Adult price: £4

Good for age: 13+

Hotel de Sully

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

Front view of Hotel de Sully with the structured garden square in the centre on a cloudy day

Experience

A fine example of a Marais mansion, built in the 1620s, with sculpted allegorical figures of the seasons and the elements. 

Good for age: 18+

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, United Kingdom (UK)

Landscape view of the Eiffel Tower from across the river on a sunny blue day with large clouds

Bucket List Experience

Eiffel Tower

When French civil engineer Gustave Eiffel won a competition to design a building that would be unveiled at the 1889 World Fair in Paris, no-one could have foreseen that it would become one of the most iconic structures on the planet. Eiffel’s design won out against 106 other entries, with digging begun in January 1887, and the tower completed in time for the Exposition Universale two years later, held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Much derided at the time – in spite of being the tallest building in the world – it was only meant to stand for twenty years. More than a century later it remains a much-loved and iconic symbol of Paris; if you can stomach the crowds and the ride up in the vintage lift, the view from the top remains an enchanting treat.

Adult price: £23

Good for age: 4+

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

Landscape view of Louvre Museum outside building with the famous glass pyramid structure against a sunny blue day

Bucket List Experience

Louvre Museum

The world’s most visited museum, the Louvre dates back to the 13th century, and was the primary residence of the French Royal family until Louis XVI moved the household to the Palais of Versailles in 1682. It opened as a museum in 1793 with 537 paintings – mainly from the Royal collection; today it houses 35,000 works of art and 380,000 objects.

The building is almost as much of an attraction as the exhibits; explore the grand galleries with ornately painted ceilings, opulent stairways and remnants of a medieval Parisian palace. Let yourself wander – and wonder – your way through the museum’s beautifully laid out, labyrinthine halls and discover world-class Italian Renaissance and French Neoclassical and Romantic painting, antique sculpture, treasures from Ancient Egypt and Assyria, or medieval gold and silverwares.

The sheer wealth of exhibits in the Louvre can be intimidating on the one hand; on the other, it means there’s always something fascinating to discover.

Adult price: £15

Good for age: 13+

Institut du Monde Arabe

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

Outside view of Institut du Monde Arabe where the smooth white and grey square appearance, plays with the transparency of the structure.

Experience

Designed by Jean Nouvel in the 1980s, this eye-catching cultural centre pays homage to Arab architecture with a facade inspired by carved wooden screens.

Adult price: £4

Good for age: 18+

Georges Pompidou Centre

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

Outside view of Centre Pompidou, where it was designed in the style of high-tech architecture. The use of aluminium, steel and glass.

Experience

Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s iconic inside-out building has a glass- and steel-frame, colour-coded exposed pipes, ducts and escalators.

Good for age: 18+

Vosges Square

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

A fountain in Vosges square (Place des Vosges) surrounded by trees and buildings. The square was created in Louis XIII style architecture.

Experience

The beautiful arcaded Place des Vosges was Paris’s first planned square, laid out by Henri IV in 1605.

Good for age: 18+

Garnier Palace

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

The Grand Foyer in Palais Garnier, where there are large black and gold podiums lined across the perimeter of the hall.

Experience

Charles Garnier’s opera house oozes Second Empire style, with its green copper dome, florid marble, bronze sculptures, chandeliers and painted ceilings. A lavish blend of Baroque, Renaissance, and Classical styles.

Good for age: 18+

National Library of France Francois-Mitterrand

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

Unidentified people visiting the National Library of France. There are tall skinny podiums reaching the high ceilings, where there are round circular windows in the ceiling.

Experience

Four L-shaped glass towers symbolise open books, while two levels of reading rooms overlook a central courtyard beneath a stepped wooden deck.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 1 hour

Grand Palais

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

Inside view of Grand Palais ceiling that has enormous conservatory style glass roof.

Experience

A brilliant example of glass and steel architecture, the Grand Palais mixes Classicism and Art Nouveau, colonnades and bravura sculptural groups.

Good for age: 18+

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: 3 hours

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

  • Paris

Discover the mesmerising district of Bastille in Paris, renowned for its architecture, secret treasures and beautiful photo stops! On this immersive audio tour narrated by a local historian, you will walk through the intriguing street of Rue Fbg. Saint Antoine, explore Passage du Chantier and finish in front of the magnificent Square Trousseau.  Wander through the 12th arrondissement and unveil its history, artisanal roots, its role in the 1789 Revolution, and the architectural jewels that define this neighbourhood. Here, you'll learn how this neighbourhood inspired the French Revolution as you get a deeper insight into its architectural style. Venture off the tourist trail, and discover a mix of crazy stories, famous residents, hidden streets, and great food, as you get a more intimate and local feel for the area. Note: This is a self-guided audio walking tour and does not include entrance tickets

Price £13

Min age 0

Rating 4.75 / 5 [16 ratings]

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  • Paris

Gaze up at Paris' stunning Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture on this 2-hour walking tour of the 8th and 9th arrondissements. Admire some of the most beautiful buildings in Paris, including Gare St Lazare, the Palais Garnier opera house and the famous Galeries Lafayette department store. Stop en route for a drink at a traditional Parisian brasserie with an Art Nouveau interior, and learn from your guide about the architectural styles that have shaped modern Paris. This tour is held in private only.

Price €130

Min age 0

Rating 4.93 / 5 [15 ratings]

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  • Paris

Have you ever thought of Paris as of a copy of another, older place? While being the most beautiful city in the world it is modeled after another, much older city. This private guided walking tour of neoclassical Paris takes you through an area that changed dramatically in the years prior to the French Revolution and makes you understand how the city of Paris is a reflection of the city of Rome. Explore the strict and sober elegance of the neoclassical style at Palais Royal, the Tuileries,  the Cour Carré and other important sites.

Price €300

Min age 0

Rating 5 / 5 [7 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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