Basilica of the Sacré Coeur in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides.
  • Toulouse-Lautrec painting at Musée d'Orsay. Photo by alphacityguides.
  • Les Arts Décoratif in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides.
  • Notre Dame in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides.
  • Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides.
  • Venus de Milo at the Louvre. Photo by alphacityguides.
  • Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides.

Best Attractions in Paris

Paris sights a first time visitor won't want to miss!

If you've been to Paris so many times that you navigate the arrondissements like a local, this article isn't for you. If you're in the city for your first time and need a rundown of the top attractions and why you should see em, read on.

Recently while having dinner with a friend who has never been to Paris, I was asked to recommend a few things for her first trip to the city of lights. Naturally I was excited to share my tips for the best places to eat, shop, and of course, to drink copious amounts of wine. After 20 full minutes of rattling off my favorite places I noticed my friend was looking a bit bewildered. That's when I realized I didn't mention one attraction in my entire list. No Eiffel Tower, no Arc de Triomphe, and not one museum! It's not because I don't love those things, it's simply that after you've been to the city a few times you tend to put less focus on the typical tourist attractions. But really, what first time trip to Paris would be complete without these touristy things? How can you say you've seen Paris if you've never been to the Notre Dame? So, in the spirit of friendship I've put together a list of the attractions that every first time visitor should check out.

Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides.

Arc de Triomphe

What's great about the Arc de Triomphe is the view! From the top you'll get a clear view straight down the center of Champ Elysee. This is also a fantastic place to take in the Eiffel Tower light show in the evenings. Photo ops aren't the only cool thing about the Arc de Triomphe—the place is filled with history. Having been built as a monument to honor those that fought in the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, the place has the names of all of the French victories, as well as generals inscribed on the inside. 

Les Arts Décoratif in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides.

Les Arts Décoratif

This is one museum I actually return to time and time again. If you're a fan of furniture, interior, costume, and fashion design, this is definitely one museum you want to make time for. Technically this is a wing in the Louvre, but there is a separate entrance (and entrance fee) so don't expect to just pop over here after you've seen the Mona Lisa. Les Arts Décoratifs has a fashion and costume collection that rivals the V&A and the special exhibits are fantastic. While the Louvre might be filled with the most famous paintings in the world, this is the museum that takes a look at the textiles, objects, and items that have shaped history—worth every penny of the €9.50.

Notre Dame in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides.

Notre Dame

This is one of the most iconic examples of Gothic architecture in the world, and easily one of the most interesting facades in Paris. Every angle you view Notre Dame from is different and unique, the flying buttresses, ghoulish gargoyles, and of course the beautiful south rose window. Whether venture inside or just take a stroll around the famous cathedral you'll be glad you made time for Notre Dame, or as the locals call her, 'Our Lady'.

Centre Georges Pompidou

If you're tired of trying to decipher ancient paintings and sculptures head over the the Pompidou Centre for something a bit more modern. This crazy looking structure has multi-colored industrial style tubes that make up the outer facade of the building, making it the antithesis of every other building style in the city. Inside is dedicated to all things modern including film, installation pieces and a ton of performance art. This is the largest collection of modern art from the 20th and 21st century in Europe, and not to be missed.

Venus de Milo at the Louvre. Photo by alphacityguides.

Musée du Louvre

Okay, I'm not going to lie—the Louvre isn't my favorite museum in Paris. It's really big, crowded, and it's impossible to see the whole thing. However, I'm glad I took the almost 2 full days the first time I visited the city to explore as much of it as I could. The world's most iconic artwork is housed in this massive, and beautiful building and there's just no way you can come all the way to France and not see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Do yourself a favor though and venture to some of the less famous exhibits and galleries, you'd be glad you did.

Basilica of the Sacré Coeur in Paris. Photo by alphacityguides

Basilica of the Sacré Coeur

My absolute favorite view in all of Paris is at the top of the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur stairs case. The basilica is located at the highest point in the city, which means you can look down on the entire city. The surrounding neighborhood is lovely too, so once you've had your photo fill, you can spend the rest of your afternoon exploring the small restaurants and shops that line the streets of Montmartre. 

Toulouse-Lautrec painting at Musée d'Orsay. Photo by alphacityguides.

Musée d'Orsay

I've never met a person who has visited the Musée d'Orsay who hasn't loved it. It's not as nearly as famous as the Louvre, but the artwork that's housed here is just as brilliant. Musée d'Orsay is located on the left bank and is located inside a former rail station circa 1898, and still retains some of the original details such as the main hall clock, (cool right?). You'll find a massive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings here people like Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and my personal favorite the bad-ass Toulouse-Lautrec.

The Tuileries Palace Garden

After you've had your fill of the Louvre's endless galleries make your way to the west wing and take a break in the Tuilerie gardens. This was formally the imperial Palace garden, and don't be fooled by the name 'garden' this is a massive public park where locals and tourist come to sit and take in the fountains, Arc du Carrousel, and of course, to people watch. 

Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is Paris. I mean seriously what kind of person comes to Paris and doesn't see the Eiffel Tower? Well, here's a quick fact for ya: the Eiffel Tower is friggin' huge and you can pretty much see if from any neighborhood in the city—in fact the best views of the tower are really no where near the tower itself. I know you'll want to see it up close, and it won't matter that the lines are long and everyone in the line is pushy and annoying, you'll want to do it anyway. I was also warned that a climb to the top would be under-whelming (it was), but just like you I couldn't resist finding out for myself. Would I ever do it again? No. I'd skip the going to the top and instead grab a snack from the market, find a spot on the grass in front, and hang out for a bit. Am I sorry I made the climb on my first trip to Paris? Nope, there are no regrets when it comes to travel.