Thanks to swift transportation and uniform Haussmann design, it’s rather easy to forget the true size of the French capital. These five vantage points, though not a complete list, are perfect ways to see the city in its full size and glory.
Known as the Beaubourg by many locals, the Pompidou Museum is one of the city’s best known modern art centers, however beyond its art, the building offers a dazzling city view via its escalator ride on the outside edge of the building. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and call it – this is the best escalator ride in the world. Gradually inching up in the skyline, you’ll first reach Paris’ rooftops to only continue past them up to a bird’s eye view and eventually to what feels like an eye to eye leveling with the city’s tallest monuments. From the top floor of the museum as well as covered decks on lower floors, you have nearly a nearly 360 degree view of the city and at 3 euros, it’s a bargain for sure. Open until 11 pm on Thursdays, it is an excellent way to see the city full of blinding lights from a view point high up in the night sky.
Called “beautifully balanced parts of a magnificent whole,” by Victor Hugo, the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral are a historic way to see the city. Situated at the geographic center of Paris, the view from Notre Dame is ideal. You’ll see how the Seine River cuts through the city, tracing out the Ile de la Cité and Ile St. Louis. While the spiral stair climb certainly gives you an appreciation for what living or working in old-world buildings must have been like, if small spaces or stair-master climbs are not your strength, this may not be the right experience for you. However, if you can muster the energy to climb, the chance to see Paris next to Victor Hugo’s famous gargoyles is très cool indeed.
This modern tower is perhaps the only view that can vertically beat the Pompidou Museum. Topping out at 56 floors, it only takes 38 seconds to reach the top in Europe’s fastest elevator. And the view that you’ll encounter upon exiting will most certainly leave an impression and appreciation for the sheer size of Paris – on a clear day, you can see 25 miles. The 360 view also ensures you’ll be able to see everything – as long as you can discern what’s what, that is. Unfortunately, being this high, means nearly everything grey and cream, which is well, nearly everything in this city, tends to blend together. Open late, the Montparnasse Tower is another excellent option for seeing the scope of the city after dark. A final plus, the Montparnasse Tower, which many consider a modern eye sore imposing itself on the historically city-chic skyline, is the one place in the city where you of course can’t see the Montparnasse Tower.
Practically a Paris institution, the Galeries Lafayette department store has one of the best kept secret views in the entire city. Lucky for you, you’re now in the know. Taking in the Lafayette’s beautiful dome ceiling, ride the store’s central escalators to the top floor. Coming out onto the roof, you’ll realize you have an intimate view of the Garnier Opera House and the foot traffic of busy Haussmann Boulevard. From here, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the Pompidou Museum, Eiffel Tower and Invalides are all prominent points in the skyline view. Maybe best of all, it’s free and relatively uncrowded. You’re just high enough to capture the scale of the city but still see the comings and goings of its people several stories below.
It’s true that here, at the French Revolution’s guillotine site, you’re not high above anything, but you’re at the center of practically everything. On the edge of the 7th, 8th, and 1st arrondisemens, this spot offers a dazzling sight that is kind of like the Parisian Holy Grail: in a single spin, behold the Louvre Museum, the Tuileries Gardens, the magnificent Place de la Concorde fountains and obelisk, the Assemblé Nationale, the luxe Hôtel de Crillon, a stone’s throw from the American Embassy, the Eiffel Tower and the stretch of street leading to the Arc de Triomphe also known as the Champs-Élysées and all while Paris traffic whirls around you. It’s a dazzling site to behold to say the least and one that becomes even cooler when you realize the that a straight line can be drawn from the center of the Arc de Triomphe all the way through the center of Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Gardens to finally end at the Louvre Pyramids. A magnificent view only gets better when a ferris wheel is mounted on the Place’s edge each fall.
Tell us, which of these have you been to? And do you have a favorite view that isn’t on the list? Do share!
Caitlin Rodgers’ roots are deep in the heart of Texas, but she happily traded them for the chance to know Paris. Currently a graduate student studying global communications, she loves getting lost in the city’s many sides and side streets which she often regales in her blog, Porch Swings and Sunsets.