For more than two decades, France has reigned as the world’s most popular tourist destination, receiving 82 million foreign tourists annual. People from all over the world are drawn to France’s sophisticated culture, dazzling landmarks, exquisite cuisine, fine wines, romantic chateaux and picturesque countryside.
Located in the central region of Ile-de-France is the capital city, Paris, known for its world famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and Notre Dame Cathedral. Paris is a compact city overflowing with museums, art galleries, boutiques and attractive cafes and bars.
Exploring the outer regions of France is a must-do to experience the country’s best treasures. For example, a trip to Carcassonne offers strolls through a walled medieval city while an excursion to the Verdon Gorge offers outdoor adventures like rock climbing, kayaking and rafting. The Chamonix Valley presents breathtaking views of the Alps. The French Riviera offers swimming and sunbathing on beautiful, upscale beaches while the Atlantic coast and the island of Corsica also offer some excellent beaches. The beautiful Loire Valley is favored for its many beautiful French chateaux.
As the capital city of France, Paris has endured as an important city for more than 2,000 years. Often called by nicknames like the “city of love” and “city of lights,” Paris is today one of the world’s leading centers for business, fashion, entertainment, art and culture. Just the mere mention of Paris conjures up images of the city’s world famous landmarks, museums and cathedrals.
Also called the Capital of Fashion, Paris is home to some of the world’s finest designer names including Yves Saint-Laurent, Lancôme, L’Oréal and Christian Dior. The city’s shopping scene ranges from shopping centers to open-air markets, boutiques and flea markets. An overview of the top tourist attractions in Paris:
Moulin Rouge: The year 1889 is known as the year when France’s most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, was constructed. It’s also the year the Moulin Rouge opened its doors as an entertainment venue. When it opened, it catered to the rich who wanted to “slum” it. Courtesans worked there and were responsible for inventing the can-can, a dance considered racy for the era. The Moulin Rouge is still considered Paris’s premier entertainment venue and has been the subject of numerous films.
Conciergerie: The Conciergerie was built in the 10th century to be the main palace for French kings who, over the centuries, enlarged it. Its Great Hall was one of the largest in Europe; another hall was where the palace’s 2,000 workers ate. Some buildings were converted into a prison in the 14th century. The palace later became a revolutionary tribunal and prison during the Reign of Terror, with famous prisoners including Marie Antoinette and Madame du Barry. Today the Conciergerie is a popular tourist attraction in Paris but also still serves as courts.
Pantheon: The Pantheon is where famous French citizens are buried. Modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, it was originally a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, and her relics. The church was rebuilt in the neoclassical style by King Louis XV to thank God for his recovery from serious illness. It was changed to a mausoleum during the French Revolution to honor revolutionary martyrs. Famous people buried here include Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Marie Curie.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery: The world’s most visited cemetery, Pere Lachaise became a municipal cemetery in 1804 under Napoleon. It is the final resting place for many famous people, including the Doors’ Jim Morrison, author Oscar Wilde and chanteuse Edith Piaf. The cemetery contains many sculptures, as each family of the deceased tried to out-do the monuments placed by the other wealthy families. The result is many spectacular works of art that are equally as interesting as the various gravesites of famous individuals.
Disneyland Paris: When Europeans can’t get to Los Angeles to see the original Disneyland, they head to Disneyland Paris, the most visited theme park in Europe. Just like its namesake, Disneyland Paris is more than just a theme park with spectacular rides. It’s a resort with hotels, shopping and golf among its varied activities. In 1992, it became the second Disney park to open outside of the United States. It’s located about 30 km (20 miles) from central Paris. A companion park, Walt Disney Studios Park, opened in 2002.
Musee de l'Orangerie: Travelers who appreciate impressionist and post-impressionist art need to check out the Musee de l’Orangerie. The museum, located in a corner of the Tuilries Garden, is home to eight Water Lilies murals by Claude Monet; these murals are considered the museum’s centerpiece. It also contains works by other impressionist artists, including Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse and Modigliani. The orangerie was originally built in 1852 to protect the Tuileries Palace’s orange trees.
Seine Cruise: The River Seine runs nearly 800 km (500 miles) through France on its way to the English Channel. Cruising the river as it winds through Paris is one of the most romantic things visitors can do. Seine cruises pass under numerous bridges in Paris, going by such sights as the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower. A Seine cruise lasts about an hour, but what a magic hour it is! A Seine cruise also is a good way to experience Paris at night.
Les Catacombes: In contrast with the City of Lights, Les Catacombes represents the dark side of Paris. Just under a mile long beneath the streets of Paris, this tourist attraction presents a gruesome side: the remains of millions of Parisians who were moved there when old cemeteries started closing years ago. Bones are arranged artistically; poems and other passages can be found throughout. Some bodies, such as those killed in the French Revolution, came directly here, bypassing the cemeteries.
Champs-Elysées: The tree-lined Avenue des Champs-Elysees is Paris’s most famous street and has even been described as the most beautiful avenue in the world. Just over a mile long, the boulevard connects the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde. Life in Paris centers around the Champs-Elysees. It’s an avenue lined with restaurants, upscale boutiques, museums and night clubs. It’s home to the Bastille Day military parade and the end of the Tour de France.
Palace of Versailles: The Palace of Versailles started out life as a royal hunting lodge, but later became a palace housing the king’s court. The mammoth structure is ornate, opulent and over the top in its richness. It is one of Paris’s most visited landmarks, with visitors coming to see its magnificent gardens and the Hall of Mirrors with its 357 mirrors decorating 17 arches. The Palace of Versailles ceased being a royal residence during the French Revolution and today houses a museum of French history.
Notre Dame de Paris : No trip to Paris could be complete without a visit to the world famous Notre Dame cathedral. Standing more than 400 feet (120 meters) high with two lofty towers and a spire, this marvelous church is considered a supreme example of French Gothic architecture. A tour of this 13th century masterpiece allows visitors to admire the awe-inspiring rose windows, Gothic carvings, beautiful sculptures and a collection of relics.
Arc de Triomphe: One of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe was constructed in 1806 to memorialize the triumphal battles of Napoleon Bonaparte. Standing 164 feet high and 148 feet (50 by 45 meters) wide, the arch features intricate reliefs depicting victorious battles and engraved names of many who died fighting for the emperor. Beneath the arch is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the first world war.
Louvre: Topping the list of the world’s most visited museums, the Louvre Museum is located in the Louvre Palace with its signature glass pyramid marking its entrance. Housing a collection of more than 1 million objects, the Louvre boasts some of the world’s most famous art works such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave” and the Greek statue, “Venus of Milo.” Other popular exhibits include the extravagant apartments of Napoleon III, the ancient Code of Hammurabi, Egyptian antiquities and paintings by masters like Rembrandt and Rubens.
Eiffel Tower : Visiting the iconic symbol of Paris usually ranks as the number one thing to do for most tourists. Towering more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) high in the Champ de Mars park, this iron structure was constructed for the 1889 World Exposition. One of the world’s most photographed tourist attractions, the Eiffel Tower presents an excellent photography opportunity for both day and night times. Visitors can ride the elevator to see incredible views of the city or dine in one of the two fine restaurants that are situated within the tower.
Top Restaurants to Dine
Comice: The bulk of Paris’s famed haute cuisine is fiscally out of reach for many. However the year-old Comice, headed by Canadian chef Noam Gedalof and sommelier Etheliya Hananova (the two are married), is an indulgence that won’t completely melt your credit card. The look strikes a similar balance: elegant but relaxed, with striking arrangements from a renowned local florist. Hananova’s wine list — which features lesser-known wines from around the world — is terrific, as is Gedalof’s light, inventive contemporary French cooking. Try the duck foie gras with hazelnuts, strawberries, balsamic, and black pepper or the butter-poached lobster with sweet pea and mascarpone ravioli.
L'Astrance: The one haute-cuisine restaurant in Paris that’s really, truly worth it? L’Astrance. Chef Pascal Barbot has the most elegantly lyrical gastronomic imagination of any chef working in Paris today, and it’s expressed by dishes that are often spectacularly simple, like his buttermilk and burnt toast crumb soup. The dish is not always on the menu, but if you tell them you’re desperate for it when you make your reservation, Barbot and maitre d’hotel Christophe Rohat are such nice guys, they might make it for you. Otherwise, you should beg for the mille-feuille of white mushrooms, apple, and foie gras.
Au Petit Tonneau: Of course you want to discover a fabulous little bistro in Paris none of your friends have ever heard of. This is the place, and the blanquette de veau — a homey classic of veal in cream sauce with mushrooms, onions, and carrots — is the reason you'll never forget it. At 22 euros, it's a great buy, too.
Restaurant David Toutain: After working with Alain Passard and Marc Veyrat, Toutain first wowed Paris at Agapé Substance, a hole in the wall in Saint-Germain. Now he has his own place, and his constantly changing tasting menus (55 euros at lunch, 80 euros or 110 euros at dinner) deliver the boldest and most interesting food in Paris. Think dishes like seared foie gras in baked potato bouillon with black truffles; a monochromatic white composition of cuttlefish with yuba; and nearly translucent Parmesan gnocchi, seasoned with the juice extracted from cooking the cheese at very low temperatures for hours.