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Iconic Sites and Hidden Gems

A guide to must-see sites and some fantastic less-visited places
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Rating: 4 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 12 miles
Duration: Multiple days
Family Friendly

Overview:  The "hidden" gems in this guide aren't exactly hidden but they tend to get overshadowed by Paris' big-ticket attractions,... more »

Tips:  This route takes you on a mixture of Paris' grand boulevards and smaller colorful streets but if that's too much walking, use the... more »

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Points of Interest

The island in the middle of the Seine, the Île de la Cité, has been the center of Paris since there was a Paris and it has been dominated by Notre Dame Cathedral for nearly 700 years. It seems like a fitting place to start the tour.

The huge Gothic masterpiece has survived the French Revolution, housed the Crown of Thorns, seen an... More

This royal chapel sharing Île de la Cité with Notre Dame has a history that is even more incredible than its stunning Gothic stained glass windows.

It was originally built in the 1200s to house religious relics from the crucifixion of Jesus, including the Crown of Thorns and pieces of the cross. The relics were brought to France by... More

This is Paris' bold statement that art should not be an elite cultural experience. The fountain is probably better described as a water sculpture garden with numerous whimsical, colorful mechanical structures spraying water about in a way that is supposed to represent the music of Igor Stravinsky.

You can ponder the meaning of that or just enjoy ... More

This art lovers' mecca is arguably the most famous museum in the world--it is certainly the most popular, attracting more than 8 million visitors each year. Most of them seem to be permanently gathered around the "Mona Lisa" or the "Venus de Milo."

The former royal palace was transformed into a museum during the French... More

If travelers to Paris choose to visit just one art gallery, it is usually the Louvre, but it should be this one. You can leave the Louvre drained; most exit Musee d'Orsay exhilarated.

The Louvre was developed at a time when museums tried to capture all knowledge and achievement in one place, resulting in a collection spanning 4,000 years that's ... More

Musee d'Orsay (POI 5) has some of Monet's work, but this is the place to visit if you want to experience the full impact of his gigantic "water lily" paintings. They stretch along entire walls of galleries especially designed to exhibit his huge canvases.

The small Musee de l'Orangerie also displays work by other Impressionists,... More

This grand Beaux Arts building (officially known as the Palais Garnier) was the home of the Paris Opera for more than a century, until the company moved to a modern theater at the Bastille in 1989. While no longer a major venue, it still hosts its share of operas, ballet and concerts.

Even if you don't go for a performance, it's worth visiting... More

8. Shopping (highlight) and Paris from the rooftops (hidden gem)

Paris shopping is a summer sale pilgrimage for millions of international visitors every year, but in the blur of credit card activity most will miss some of the best city views.

Several of the major department stores, including Galeries Lafayette opposite the Opera House, have rooftop cafes offering birds-eye outlooks across Paris.

It's a useful... More

This is the most elaborately decorated bridge across the Seine (and possibly in the world). Named after a Russian tsar who formed an alliance with France in the late 1800s, its cherubs and nymphs would not be out of place on a camp theater set. Indeed, it has been a well-used film location over many decades.

On a more practical side, it was... More

This iconic military memorial was built over 30 years in the early 1800s to honor the French killed in Napoleon's campaigns. Since then, the eternal flame underneath was added to mark the tomb of an unknown soldier from WWI, and it has served as a propaganda backdrop for every subsequent military victory by the French or armies invading them. The ... More

It's hard to think of any place that has created a symbol so synonymous with their city. Nothing says "Paris" more than this steel lattice tower built as a temporary entrance arch to the 1889 World Fair.

It was supposed to be torn down after 20 years--none too soon for many Parisians who were outraged by its ugliness--but it quickly... More

12. Paris in Winter (hidden gem)

Paris, for good reason, is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations and it absolutely heaves with visitors in the summer heat. After centuries of practice, the city copes pretty well with the influx but it should be regarded as a top destination in any season.

Winter is a great time to visit, with fewer crowds and cafe lounging... More

Perhaps the world's most famous Romantic sculptor, Auguste Rodin moved into this former hotel in 1908, making it his home, studio and finally leaving it and his sculpture to the state on condition it be preserved as a museum dedicated to his work.

Fortunately, the state was more than happy to oblige and visitors can wander the house and grounds... More

This is easily Paris' most bizarre tourist destination, but it has been attracting visitors for more than a century. You are either going to find it humorous, shocking or frightening.

Essentially you walk through a series of underground streets, decorated on all sides by human bones precisely stacked by workers with a macabre sense of interior... More

This lily-white basilica stands out like a beacon at the highest point in Paris, attracting tourists in the thousands every day and late into the night. I haven't put it on the trail because, unless you have a particular interest in Franco Catholic architecture, its hilltop setting makes it more spectacular to view from a distance.

If you are not... More

If you were inspired by Monet's huge water-lily paintings at Musee de l'Orangerie, why not take a day trip out of Paris to where they were created?

Monet's house and garden outside the village of Giverny, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Paris, is a monument to the famous Impressionist painter. The house and studio are OK for a glance but the real... More