The best views in Paris

February 3, 2015 in Europe,France,Places

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.

View of Paris from the Grand Roue

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:

View of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe View of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe View of Paris from the Arc de TriompheChristine Amorose on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

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

The view of Paris from the Montparnasse TowerThe view of Paris from the Montparnasse Tower

Montparnasse Tower

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 of Galeries Lafayette in Paris, FranceMacarons in Galeries Lafayette in Paris, FranceGaleries Lafayette rooftop views in Paris, FranceChristine Amorose on the Galeries Lafayette rooftop in Paris, France

Galeries Lafayette

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!

The view of Paris from Centre Pompidou The view of Paris from Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou

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

The Eiffel Tower on the Champs du Mars in ParisChristine Amorose on Champs du Mars in Paris

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.

Cost: Free!

The Seine River in Paris, FranceSunset on the Seine River in ParisSunset on the Seine River in Paris

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.

Cost: Free!

What’s your favorite view in Paris? 

  • Elora

    Oh my gosh, that last pic is so stunning! I loved all your photography, but that one of the Seine is really spectacular! Wow! I’ve been wanting to go to Paris for a long time–one of the places at the top of my list. Hoping to go with a friend of mine. I’ve been fascinated by the history, the culture, the stunning landscape–and of course, I’m DYING to try the lovely yum-yums!! Especially a chocolate macaron.

    I’ve been hearing a lot about the bad things that are happening over there, and I hope that smooths over soon. It was really sad what I read about how Jews are being treated. Perhaps with the attention on what’s going on, things will change for the better….

    http://outmyfrontdoorlife.blogspot.com/2015/01/8-questions-for-alex-of-lone-wolfe.html

  • Jessica

    Great photos, Christine. My husband and I just bought plane tickets to Paris – first time visit for both of us! – and I am definitely bookmarking this post to come back to while we are planning some things to do. 🙂

  • Jane

    Ahhh I am obsessed with your blog! Can I ask how much you budgeted/would recommend for the trip you just took? I know you’re no longer in hostels and probably more towards upscale restaurants/ events.

  • Briel79

    Love the views you got from the Arc de Triomphe but my fave pics on this post have got to be the last two. So beautiful!

    When I was in Paris I didn’t go up in anything to see any views. Truthfully it wasn’t my favorite place that I visited on that trip (Cinque Terre in Italy wins) but your posts always make me want to give Paris a second chance!

  • Dana

    I agree with all of these! The Arc de Triomphe is also my favorite view of Paris 🙂

  • Lauren @BonVoyageLauren

    I’ve been up the Arc before and loved it. I’ll definitely go to the top of Galeries Lafayette! Didn’t know that was possible so thanks for the tip!

    Happy travels 🙂

  • Banks of the Seine = THE BEST. When my boyfriend and I first started dating we were there every day for two months straight with a bottle of wine, cheese, meat and a baguette. Great bonding times.

  • LostInCheeseland

    Agree wholeheartedly with all of these!

  • Pat

    Thanks for all the interesting tips! I’m definitely coming back to this post in July when I’m wandering around the city with my sisters. Arc de Triomphe and Centre Pompidou are already on my list 🙂

  • camorose

    Thanks for the sweet note, Elora! We actually stayed in a traditionally Jewish neighborhood and there was certainly a heightened police presence, but we felt very safe during our entire trip to Paris. It’s a gorgeous city that is certainly worth visiting!

  • camorose

    Amazing! I have quite a few friends who are traveling to Paris for their first time this spring and summer, so I’m working on putting together some helpful posts 🙂

  • camorose

    Eek! It’s tough to say budget wise since I did plenty of shopping and things that aren’t necessarily part of the trip. I’m also fairly terrible about tracking these things 🙁

  • camorose

    Yes! I feel like Paris is a city that can definitely get better on subsequent visits once you get a feel for the layout and the culture 🙂

  • camorose

    Yay! Glad I’m not the only one!

  • camorose

    Yes! It just opened a few years ago–definitely one of my favorite new finds in Paris!

  • camorose

    Yes! Such a fun date night tradition in Paris!

  • camorose

    Yay! Seriously means so much that you approve 🙂

  • camorose

    Hooray! You’ll have the best time!

  • Jessica

    Yay! I will be keeping an eagle eye out for those. And probably taking copious notes. 🙂

  • camorose

    Hooray! 🙂

  • Heather

    I’m heading to Paris soon and can’t wait to check out some, if not all, of these views! Thanks for the tips!!

  • totally agree with all of them…my favorites being the Arc + Galeries Lafayette!

  • camorose

    Great! Have the best trip!

  • camorose

    Yes! The Arc is my absolute fave!

  • I love all your photos!

  • Pingback: Perfect (first) weekend in Paris itinerary | C'est Christine()

  • camorose

    Merci merci!

  • Pingback: The 10 Things I Always Do In Paris | C'est Christine()

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