You’re coming to Paris, and you’re already dreaming of flaky croissants and sitting at the micro-sized café tables sipping red wine and people watching or having your first picnic in the Champ de Mars next to the Eiffel Tower and getting lost in the streets. Who could blame you? But before you do, consider seeing the city from above. No, not from the window of the airplane, but from inside the city walls.
One of my favourite memories when I first arrived in Paris was seeing the city from above after the sun had gone down and all the city lights were illuminated. It wasn’t my intent to get this great view, but after spending hours in the Pompidou, I headed up the escalator, fighting through sore feet and exhaustion, to see what was up at the top. As you may know, the escalators are on the outside of the building so as I ascended, the Eiffel Tower was coming into the landscape. It was the first I’d seen of it. Back then I was travelling all year without a data plan, which might be hard to imagine now, but it meant I had to pick up a “Paris par arrondissement” book which has a handy little map in the back with all the monuments on it. Now that I was looking over the moonlit city, I was able to identify all the landmarks because they were all lit up and on display. So if you were already planning a trip to the Pompidou, then you should include this in your itinerary.
But this isn’t one of the two views I’m talking about. No, there are many other high points where you can see the city, and of course, if you can see it day and night, all the better!
I never thought of this monument as making my list but I had a museum pass with a girlfriend who was visiting and it seemed like the moment to try something I wouldn’t do otherwise, we climbed the Arc de Triomphe. I was so surprised at how much I loved this view. It’s fascinating to see how all 12 streets lead to this famous roundabout and it’s a great view of the Eiffel Tower which isn’t too far away. I dare say, it might even make up for the misery of having to walk through the crowds on the Champs Elysée if you accidentally ended up there. There’s no time limit to the visit to you could easily make this work during sunset.
My absolute favourite view to date is one you’ll have to work for unless you book a tour and have skip-the-line access. Notre Dame’s bell towers are also included in the Paris Museum Pass (but this pass won’t get you up there any faster) and the view is second to none. You are high enough to have a great view and low enough to see it all up close. Best of all you’re on the little Île de la Cité with the Seine river on either side and bridge after bridge in view. Not only is the view great but the visit is just as fascinating. You’ll see inside the bell towers which are absolutely stunning and see many of the gargoyles up close. If you aren’t visiting with a tour group come really early and know you’ll likely wait at least an hour so grab coffee and croissants to make the line more bearable.
Honourable mention goes to the domes of Sacre Coeur. This is a beautiful view but from further away. I almost hesitated not including it but hey, if you want to stay well away from the Champs Elysée and you aren’t looking to wait at Notre Dame then this is both very affordable, there’s no wait and the architecture is incredible and you’ll enjoy wandering the tight spaces and beautiful domes.
Have you seen Paris from above? What did you love about it? Did you prefer a different view? Share with me in the comments.