The Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame Cathedral. The Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe. The Champs-Elysees. There’s no doubt that Paris has more than a fair share of world-famous landmarks. But it almost seems as though any first-time visitor to France’s capital city is contractually obliged to see these attractions and tick them off a list, at which point they can officially say they have ‘done’ Paris. But the truth is that Paris has many more historic and cultural sights, landmarks and experiences to offer than the ‘ been there, done that big name attractions’ alone. Here are 10 less famous but equally unmissable Paris landmarks.
1. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, 16 rue du Repos
A cemetery might seem an unlikely visitor attraction but wander the cobblestone pathways and you’ll be among the illustrious company of Oscar Wilde, Stéphane Grappelli, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Maria Callas and the host of other notable names from the world of the arts and literature who chose this Parisian cemetery as their final resting place.
2. The Tuileries Garden, 1st arrondissement
Just steps away from the luxurious Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme Hotel is one of the oldest and most beautiful public parks in Paris. Originally a private garden created in 1564 by Catherine de’ Medici, wife of King Henry II of France the Tuileries Garden first opened to the public in 1667 and has changed little in the intervening centuries, retaining its immaculate lawns, colourful plantings and fine collection of sculputures.
3. Musee Jacquemart-Andre, 158 Boulevard Haussmann
For those who never tire of spectacular architecture and exquisite period décor, the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, housed in a nineteenth-century mansion in the Classical style, is unmissable. Slightly off the beaten tourist track in Paris’ 8th arrondissement this magnificent museum and gallery houses masterpieces by Flemish, Dutch, French and Italian painters along with many fine sculptures and fine antique furnishings.
4. St. Etienne du Mont, Place Ste. Genevieve
Often unfairly overlooked by visitors in their haste to see the better-known and neighbouring Pantheon, the sixteenth century St. Etienne du Mont cathedral which combines Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architecture to breath-taking effect and contains many beautiful internal features, artworks and religious artefacts.
5. Tomb of Napoleon I, Dôme des Invalides
Housed within a seventeenth-century former hospital and retirement home for soldiers, featuring architecture and decoration inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is the tomb of Napoleon. At the heart of the building, now a museum, the emperor’s tomb, sculpted from blocks of red quartzite and placed on a green Vosges granite base takes centre stage between a spectacularly ornate dome and is surrounded by a circular gallery of alabaster bas-relief sculptures.
6. Les Catacombes, 1 avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy
Running beneath the streets of Paris a network of catacombs linked by narrow passages and tunnels houses the skeletons of six million Parisians, placed there between 1786 and 1788 in order to alleviate the insanitary conditions arising from the overcrowding of Parisian cemeteries. Attracting the curiosity of locals and visitors alike from the very first day, the catacombs of Paris remain an unmissable and unforgettable attraction.
7. Place des Vosges, 4th arrondissement
Completed in 1612, Place des Vosges is the oldest public square in Paris and was commissioned by King Henry IV of France. Neatly manicured lawns surround an ornate and beautiful centrepiece fountain, and the square is bordered by stunning seventeenth-century houses including the Maison de Victor Hugo in which the author of Les Misérables lived between 1832 and 1848.
8. Pont des Arts, River Seine
Many fabulous bridges span the River Seine, but the Pont des Arts is worth visiting since firstly, it is the oldest metal bridge in Paris, built in the time of Napoleon between 1802 and 1804, and secondly because over the last decade romantic couples visiting the bridge have taken to attaching padlocks inscribed with their names to it before throwing the keys into the river below.
9. La Grande Arche de La Defense, place du parvis de La Defense
This awe-inspiring work of modern architecture was created in 1989 to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution. Built from concrete, marble and glass the Grande Arche stands 110 metres high. A climb to the thirty-fifth floor offers spectacular panoramic views of the city and the distant Arc de Triomphe with which this monument is precisely aligned.
10. Luxor Obelisk, Place de la Concorde
It’s easy to pay the Luxor Obelisk less attention than it deserves thanks to its location in the magnificent Place de la Concorde, but this is no modern man-made monument. It is one of two ancient Egyptian obelisks that stood the entrance to the Luxor Temple more than three thousand years ago. Given as a gift to France by Egypt’s ruler in 1829, King Louis-Philippe of France later arranged for the obelisk to be sited in the centre of Place de la Concorde in the spot previously occupied by the guillotine used for public executions.