New York is a city best seen from above; Paris is a city best seen on the streets. It’s a city of winding cobblestone streets and crumbling facades, flower shops and classic bistros, perfectly planned gardens and windows full of intricate pastries.
But that’s not to say that it’s impossible or undesirable to see Paris from above, to look down on the sprawl of centuries of urban living. There are plenty of gorgeous views: some that are paid for in Euros and others that are paid in the burn of your leg muscles the next day; some that give you a new perspective on the city and others that just reinforce what you already know. Here are a few of my favorite views in Paris, the ones that I seek out time and time again:
Arc de Triomphe
This is my number one recommendation for people traveling to Paris: go up the Arc de Triomphe instead of the Eiffel Tower. Not only are the lines always crazy busy at the Eiffel Tower, but you also are missing the most iconic part of the Paris skyline: the Eiffel Tower! What I love about the Arc de Triomphe is that not only do you get a killer view of the Eiffel Tower and the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, but you also get this peek into the “rest” of Paris. You can see La Defense and the skyscrapers business district, the rooftop gardens and the typical Parisian architecture, and the cars and motorbikes swirling around in a constant almost-accident in the roundabout below.
The caveat: You have to climb up and down on a narrow circular staircase.
Cost: 8 Euros
Let’s just get this out of the way: Montparnasse Tower is a hideous blight on the Paris skyline. That said, it provides an interesting and unique perspective over the city. Because most buildings in Paris top out at about five or six stories, you’re generally just looking over rooftops. From 56 stories, you get to peek down into private courtyards and see the crazy layout of streets. There’s also an open terrace at the top that would be a killer place to splurge on a glass of champagne in the summer.
The caveat: If it’s cloudy or foggy, you will absolutely have a tough time with visibility.
Cost: 15 Euros
The interior view of Galeries Lafayette is actually one of my favorites in Paris: the sumptuous stained glass domed ceiling, the circular balconies stack up like a sparkly layer cake, people buzzing around the glossy cosmetics center on the ground floor. Bonus! The sprawling Galeries Lafayette rooftop features up-close views of the fancy gold Opera Building and overlooks the wide Haussman grand boulevards. EXTRA BONUS: the bathroom is recently renovated, completely free and has huge windows that overlook the rooftops leading up to Sacre Coeur.
Pro tip: get lunch at the Galeries Lafayette Gourmet food store in the basement across the street, and then have a shopping break of macarons and espresso on the second-floor balcony cafe.
The caveat:It can be crowded, especially during les soldes or weekends.
Another option is the BHV in the Marais: while it doesn’t have quite the same sparkle of Galeries Lafayette, it does have a recently renovated bathroom (seriously, these bathroom renos were the best surprise this trip!) and a food court with great views of Hotel de Ville. And it’s my favorite department store to shop!
Cost: Free, although you will likely be tempted to splurge on fancy French clothes!
Centre Pompidou was my first real introduction to modern art, and I think that I fell in love with the crazy modern building and functional architecture as much as the art inside. The escalator ride up to the top is always one of my favorite parts of visiting! You can see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, as well as Sacre Coeur in the distance–and, of course, plenty of rooftops. It is also an amazing place to see the sunset, and I have occasionally been able to talk a guard into letting me ride the escalator to the top to take a photo without paying for an exhibit ticket (and if that’s not incentive to work on your French, I don’t know what it).
The caveat:Enjoying modern art definitely makes paying the ticket fee and the view much more palatable.
Cost: 13 Euros
Champs du Mars
Even though I don’t like going up the Eiffel Tower, I do adore the lawn that stretches out underneath it. It’s a wonderful place to take that cliche photo with the Eiffel Tower (see above!), but also a fantastic place for an afternoon summer picnic or a late-night (plastic) glass of wine while the Eiffel Tower twinkles. My personal favorite is to grab lunch at Café du Marché on Rue Cler (the Caesar salad is actually tandoori chicken and it’s amazing), and then wander over to the Champs du Mars.
The caveat: Can be crowded in the summer, and when that happens: watch your bags for pickpockets.
The banks of the Seine
It’s been a while since I took a boat tour around the Seine, but I do think that it’s a fun way to see the city from the water and get a basic feel for the layout of the city with some historical fun facts thrown in. Even if you don’t want to take one of the tourist boat tours, I love popping down to the banks of the Seine to watch the boats go by or simply get away from the chaos of the city streets. I especially like going down to the western tip of Ile St-Louis on Quai de Bourbon to watch the sunset–bring a 2 Euro bottle of wine and some plastic cups, and it’s the best party in town.
The caveat: None, because this is the best.
What’s your favorite view in Paris?