Are you looking for architectural wonders to visit in Paris? From the Louvre to Centre Pompidou, here is a list of the most famous buildings in Paris not to miss.
One of the many things Paris is known for is its impressive architecture! From the ancient Notre Dame, and the opulent Palais Garnier, to the futuristic Foundation Louis Vuttion, Paris is a treasure trove of well-known buildings ripe for exploration.
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These innovative and unique structures dating as far back as the 12th century tell tales of the city’s past, present, and future and shine a spotlight on Paris’s historical and cultural legacy.
But with hundreds of buildings like that, where exactly should you start? In this article, I will highlight 17 of the most famous buildings in Paris you shouldn’t miss while in the city of love.
Before You Go, Here’s How to Plan Your Visit To Paris: Practical Quick Tips
WHERE TO STAY
Best Eiffel Tower Views: Hôtel Le Walt (9.0)
Luxury stay: Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel (8.2)
Mid-range stay: Hôtel Eiffel (8.7)
Budget Stay: People – Paris Bercy (8.9)
Apartment Rental: Résidence Charles Floquet (9.1)
- Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and more.
- Prepare your trip extensively with this Paris Travel guidebook.
- Don’t forget a universal travel adapter, a travel neck pouch, and comfortable walking shoes.
- Consider getting either the museum pass or the Paris city pass if you plan to visit a lot of attractions. The city pass comes with free transportation and access to the hop-on-hop-off bus. You can read my Paris museum pass review to see if it’s right for you.
- Book this private transfer from CDG airport to Paris to avoid the hustle of figuring out how to get to Paris.
Famous Buildings in Paris
1. Notre Dame Cathedral
It is almost impossible to think of a cathedral more widely recognized than the captivating Notre Dame De Cathedral located on the island of Île de la Cité.
Built between 1163–1345 on the ruins of two earlier churches, this medieval Catholic cathedral was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and it is considered the best example of French Gothic architecture.
For years, Notre Dame was one of the most visited churches in Paris but due to a fire that burnt part of its roof in 2019, it was closed for renovation, but its closure doesn’t take away the fact that it’s one of the most iconic buildings in Paris.
Though you can’t visit its interior today, you can still wander around the outside to admire what’s left of it or take this outdoor guided tour of Notre Dame to learn more history about it, what the 2019 fire burnt, and what was saved and also get access to its crypt.
But as we all wait for its reopening, we can expect to be dazzled again by its high-rising towers, magnificent and colorful rose windows, big church bells, pipe organs, and vast valuables on display in the cathedral.
2. Louvre Museum
Beyond the glass pyramid entrance lies a chock-full of incredible world art collections and contemporary works.
Once a 12th-century fortress, the Louvre was extended many times to become a 16th-century palace and eventually an 18th-century museum that only started as a display for the royal collection but was later opened to the general public in 1793.
Amidst 35,000 extraordinary artworks spread across eight departments, the museum tells an artistic story of prehistory to the 21st century through paintings, sculptures, and archaeological finds.
Some awe-inspiring paintings in the Louvre museum not to miss include the Mona Lisa (you can learn more about her by reading these Mona Lisa facts), Liberty Leading the People, the coronation of Napoleon, and more.
Admire these astonishing masterpieces and see why this famous building in Paris is the world’s most-visited museum.
Being a famous museum, it’s no surprise that it’s always crowded! If you want to skip the long lines, I recommend purchasing this timed Louvre museum entry ticket in advance.
And if you want to learn more about the history and stories of the artwork on display without getting overwhelmed by the museum’s size, then I recommend booking this Louvre guided tour to go with a knowledgeable guide.
3. Sacré-Cœur Basilica
Sacré-Cœur Basilica is fascinating, not least for its architectural distinctiveness. Think Roman-Byzantine style, pristine white walls that clean themselves, and iconic luminous domes! This is indeed a timeless iconic Paris building.
Located at the top of the Butte Montmartre, this Roman Catholic church is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Inside, take note of the largest mosaic in France above the choir depicting the risen Christ encircled by adorers. Also, look out for a vast Cavaillé-Coll pipe organ which is considered a French landmark.
However, the true highlight of a visit to Sacré-Cœur Basilica is the unforgettable views of Paris’s skyline from the top of the enormous Dome.
Also, don’t forget to visit its crypt since most people usually skip it.
You can learn more about this Parisian building by reading these facts about Sacre Coeur.
4. Hôtel de Ville
Hôtel de Ville is one of the city’s most imposing and attractive structures and has seen a lot in its time.
This epicenter of Paris governance was the seat of the Paris City Council since 1357 but was gutted by a fire outbreak during the Paris Commune in 1871.
Neo-renaissance in style, the building was revitalized on its original site and has been housing the office of the Mayor of Paris since 1977.
Occasionally, temporary exhibits and guided tours are organized (usually during European heritage week, every 3rd week of September) but a mere look at its breathtaking exterior architecture is all you need to be drawn into its extensive past life.
So as you stroll the 4th arrondissement, be sure to stop at Hotel de Ville as it’s one of the best places to visit in Le Marais.
Located in the historic neighborhood of the Latin Quarter, this famous architecture in Paris was completed in 1790 as a church to honor St Genevieve and her remaining relics.
However, during the French Revolution, it was converted into the resting place for the most prominent French people who significantly impacted France’s history.
Over the years, it changed back to being a church and it was only in 1881 that it was converted back into a mausoleum again, and it still remains so.
Besides the historical significance, the Panthéon stands out for its ancient Roman pillars and towering dome.
Inside, the remarkable structure stuns in size with beautiful art collections and paintings portraying St. Genevieve and other defining moments in French history.
The highlight, however, is the crypt containing tombs of prominent figures, from famous French writers like Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, and Voltaire, to some of the most famous French women like Marie Curie and Simone Veil, and many others.
You will also find a copy of the gigantic iron pendulum that Foucault used in 1851 to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation.
6. Centre Pompidou
This groundbreaking and state-of-the-art building starts out with a bang: huge, brightly colored tubings, exterior escalators, and a unique inside-out kind of architecture that is hard to miss! No doubt this is one of the most unique buildings in Paris.
It gets even better inside where a haven of modern and contemporary art awaits!
Centre Pompidou holds a notable place in the city’s art scene and is the premier destination to view the over 120,000 works of the modern and contemporary period dating from 1905 to the present, making it the largest collection of modern art in Europe and the second-largest in the world.
You will have a great time whether you are browsing the public information library or wandering the industrial design shop.
And when you build up an appetite, visit Le Georges, a Parisian rooftop restaurant on the 6th floor of the building which serves delicious meals with striking views of the city and its most famous landmarks.
Beyond the views, the museum also hosts various exhibitions on the same floor for renowned artists.
If you want to visit the museum and also enjoy the views from its observation deck, you’ll need to purchase this Centre Pompidou entry ticket or better yet book this private guided tour to learn more about its collection.
7. Palais Garnier
Nothing signifies opulence, splendor, and elegance quite like Palais Garnier or Opéra Garnier as sometimes called but it is only fitting since it was built at the request of Emperor Napoleon III in 1861.
This opera house has continued to grow and gain attention thanks to its breathtaking architecture and even more enchanting and intricate interior design.
From the white marble Grand staircase to the gilded Grand Foyer furnished with stunning mosaics and the 1,900-seat Auditorium illuminated by a large chandelier, every nook and cranny of this masterpiece has a bewitching decor. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful buildings of Paris.
Whether you are self-exploring or seeking the expertise of a tour guide, a stroll through this building will show you why it has heavily influenced many plays and books, including “The Phantom of the Opera.”
And as an opera house, it still holds a number of shows from operas, and ballets to popular plays if you’ll looking for a unique activity in Paris.
If a show is above your budget, be sure to grab this Opera entry ticket to go on a self-guided tour.
You can also learn more about this stunning building before your visit by reading these fun facts about Opera Garnier.
Visitors stop by this Gothic-style architectural masterpiece for mostly its 13th-century stained glass collections.
Easily one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris, Sainte Chapelle was built to house the precious 22 Passion relics including Christ’s Crown of Thorns that were acquired by Saint Louis, King Louis IX of France.
The 1,113 stained glasses arranged across 15 windows tells the bible story from Genesis till the resurrection of Jesus.
But that’s not all that catches the eye at this edifice. The 15th-century rose window with 87 petals is also a marvel to behold.
Split into two chapels, the lower chapel is designed to recreate the original medieval decoration and houses the statue of the Virgin Mary.
Make sure you buy this Sainte Chapelle ticket online to avoid wasting time in queues at the entrance if you decide to visit it.
9. La Conciergerie
Just right next to Sainte-Chapelle, La Conciergerie is one of the most famous buildings in Paris not to miss.
Formerly a medieval royal palace and courthouse, La Conciergerie became a prison that once held French revolutionary court defendants, including Queen Marie-Antoinette. This Gothic-style edifice is now a museum and offers evoking scenery.
Stroll through reconstructions of the revolutionary prisons showcasing the poor living conditions of the prisoners including the regenerated cell where Marie-Antoinette was held after her escape attempt.
Also, The Guards’ Room, the enormous Hall of the soldiers, and the kitchens all retain their original design and will definitely take you down memory lane.
Since Sante-Chapelle and La Conciergerie are right next to each other, I recommend visiting them at once by buying this combined Sante-Chapelle and La Conciergerie skip-the-line entry ticket which is much cheaper and more convenient than buying individual tickets.
10. Grand Palais
Today’s majestic stone-steel-and-glass building was constructed from 1897 to 1900 just in time for the 1900 Universal Exhibition.
However, during the First World War, the Grand Palais, located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, was turned into a military hospital but has now returned to its original purpose: a large-scale event venue hosting art and culture enthusiasts to a slew of events.
Divided into three sections, Grand Palais’ reputation has rested primarily on the majestic Nave with the largest glass roof in Europe, the Palais de la Découverte museum dedicated to the sciences, and the art exhibitions organized at the National Galleries.
Although it is currently closed due to renovation work and set to reopen in 2024 for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, it’s still one of the famous Paris buildings worth strolling by.
While there, be sure to pop inside the smaller version just opposite, Petit Palais which is open to visitors to admire some art. Also, entrance is free making it one of the best free museums in Paris.
And if you’re wondering what happened to what Grand Palais used to house and host, everything was moved to Grand Palais Éphémère, a temporary exhibition hall in the Champ de Mars, a park where the Eiffel Tower sits.
11. Les Invalides
The buildings in Paris are known for the stories they tell, and this spectacular masterpiece tells a fascinating one.
In the 17th century, Louis XIV thought it wise to build a hospital and retirement home for his wounded soldiers. Over the next few years, a church-and-chapel complex was added.
Today, this extensive complex is home to an Army Museum housing a large collection of French arms, The Order of the Liberation Museum dedicated to France’s heroes of World War II, the Relief Map museum housing a collection of 17th and 19th-century relief models, and the gilded Dôme des Invalides (the tallest Church building in Paris) now serving as the resting place of Napoleon I and other France’s leading military figures.
If you’re a fan of French military history, this is one of the historic buildings in Paris not to miss.
And when you need a break from the extensive network of buildings, peruse the gift store, bookstore, and restaurant at the south entrance of the complex.
To visit the entire complex, you will need to purchase this entry ticket.
12. The Elysée Palace
At first glance, you can tell that this building is an architectural sensation, and once inside, every room tells a story and holds significant history.
Originally built for then Governor of Île-de-France and army officer, Louis Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne in 1722, the Presidents of the French Republic have been calling this place home since 1873.
The design of this building might have evolved over the years but it has maintained its uniqueness and continues to ooze artistic excellence from its landscape.
During European Heritage Days in September (the only time when the palace is open to the general public), you can wander around the dining rooms, reception rooms, library, and beautiful garden.
Some must-see rooms include The Hall of Honour where the President of France meets visiting officials and world leaders, The Silver Room which still retains fabrics from 1813, The Palace’s Garden, and many others.
13. Foundation Louis Vuitton
Next on this list of Paris’s famous buildings is none other than the unique structure of Fondation Louis Vuitton.
This building will make you pause and ponder the level of intricacy and creativity that went into its construction.
Sponsored by LVMH, this French art museum and cultural center was designed by Frank Gehry and has made a distinct presence on the city’s identity.
Since it opened its doors in 2014, words have been spreading about this futuristic space, and for good reasons.
Also, all year long, temporary art exhibitions and artwork commissions are held alongside multi-disciplinary events in the Auditorium. This innovative masterpiece also allows for panoramic views from its many terraces.
So, if you’re visiting Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, be sure to stop by this iconic Parisian building since they’re near each other.
But before you go, make sure that you purchase your ticket in advance here to skip the long lines.
14. Orsay museum
A former train station turned museum? Now that’s one for the books. Originally Gare d’Orsay (Orsay railway station) designed to transport crowds to the 1900 Universal Exposition, Orsay Museum is one of the most unique buildings in Paris.
Perched next to the River Seine, this museum houses an extensive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art with works by popular French painters like Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, etc spread across its halls.
Besides admiring artworks from 1848 to 1914, also take in the beauty of the many Art Nouveau Decorative Arts collections on display and various sculptures.
Before leaving, do not miss a chance to take a picture of the large golden clock — an original of the train station it was built on near the entrance. Also head to the upper floor to see the giant clock!
You can alternatively book this guided tour to learn more about the paintings, their history, and that of the painters.
15. Palace of Versailles
If “make something out of nothing” was a place, it would be this iconic building in Paris. Though technically outside of Paris, about 19km (12 miles) away, it still deserves to be on this list.
The Palace of Versailles was a swampy village used as a hunting ground by King Henry IV and his son Louis XIII.
It then became a hunting lodge, a palatial home for French royals, and later part of it turned into a museum of French history that can be visited today.
Having undergone several enhancements under different kings, the palace stuns with its enormity and architectural glory. There are endless places to see at this palace considering that it houses 2,300 rooms.
From the dazzling Hall of Mirrors with 30 paintings on its ceilings to the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments dripping in elegance, visiting the Palace of Versailles will make you feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of royals.
Other prominent features of the palace to see include the Grand Canal and the expansive and beautiful garden which hosts water fountain shows in the spring and summer.
You can easily spend an entire afternoon strolling the various rooms and complex but to do that, you’ll need to purchase this Versailles palace ticket in advance.
And if you want to learn more about its history, then I recommend booking this Versailles palace guided tour.
Not sure how to get there? I have a post on how to get from Paris to Versailles palace that will help you.
16. Luxembourg Palace
The Luxembourg Palace is a must-see on any tour of Paris’ famous buildings.
Originally built in the 17th century to be the royal residence of regent Queen Marie de Medici, the building was shortly used as a prison during the French Revolution and is now the seat of the French Senate.
Art and history lovers can enjoy temporary exhibitions at the Musée du Luxembourg but the crown of the experience is a visit to the palace’s garden commonly known as Luxembourg gardens which is one of the most beautiful gardens in Paris.
Experience firsthand the serenity and calmness it is known for, and marvel at its tree-lined walkways, flower beds, octagonal Bassin, and lawns that always leave visitors in awe.
You are can sit on the strategically placed chairs and take in the fresh air while scanning the statues spread across the park. You can also play chess or tennis and learn about bee-keeping at the apiary.
The little ones will also enjoy sailing model boats in the duck pond, watching puppet shows, riding in the vintage carousel, or just running around the large fenced-in playground.
The gardens are free to visit but you’ll need to purchase this ticket to visit the Luxembourg museum.
17. Palais Royal
Last on this list of famous buildings in Paris is Palais Royal. It was initially built to be the palace of Cardinal Richelieu in the 17th century, but it now houses the Ministry of Culture and France’s Constitutional Council.
Palais Royal has undergone tremendous renovation over the years and currently boasts an haute-cuisine restaurant and a collection of opulent stores, but its charming garden and courtyard take center stage.
Wander around the Palais-Royal Garden (Jardin du Palais-Royal) and explore the galleries that surround it. Then continue your exploration through the courtyard.
The courtyard was transformed into a remarkable beauty adorned with 260 Buren columns that have become popular Instagram spots in Paris and a pleasant fountain on the lower end.
And if you visit in spring, you’ll be treated to a beautiful display of cherry blossoms in the garden.
Final Thoughts on the Famous Buildings in Paris
There is no doubt these famous buildings in Paris will help you learn more about Paris’s deep history and France in general, so I hope the article was helpful.
Though it was no easy task narrowing it down to these 17 masterpieces, I am sure they will keep you spellbound with their spectacular details that are even observable from the outside.
Check out these posts to help you plan your trip to Paris
- Fun things to do in Paris on a Rainy day
- Famous Paintings in Paris
- Where to Find the Best Macarons in Paris
- Famous Paintings at the Louvre Museum
- Best Covered Passages of Paris
- Most beautiful neighborhoods of Paris
- Fun free things to do in Paris
- Famous Churches to Visit in Paris
- Best Museums in Paris
- Tips for Visiting the Eiffel Tower
- How to spend One day In Paris