Beautiful Architecture in Paris
If it is your first trip to the French capital, you will surely want to see the most famous buildings in Paris. These architectural wonders offer locals and visitors a glimpse into both the modern and historical side of the capital.
From the historical buildings that have been around for thousands of years to contemporary wonders, we’ve compiled a list of the most iconic architecture in Paris that you absolutely must check out when visiting the city.
Iconic Buildings in Paris
Arènes de Lutèce
The Arènes de Lutèce is the oldest building in Paris (1st century AD), and it’s located in the Latin Quarter. It dates back to Lutetia-Roman Paris and was originally a theater used to host big events like gladiatorial competitions.
The site features an oval arena surrounded by a terraced seating area, where people used to sit and watch the games. The arena is much quieter today, and it is used as a public park where people can enjoy a picnic or play the pétanque.
The Arènes de Lutèce is open from 8 am to 8.30 pm, depending on the season, and it is free to visit.
Notre Dame of Paris
Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) is Paris’ beating heart. The construction of this jewel of Gothic Architecture began in the 12th century and was finally completed in the 14th century, with later additions during the following centuries.
As you would no doubt be aware, Notre Dame was severely damaged during a fire in April 2019 and is currently closed to the public. During the fire, parts of the roof and the spire was destroyed forever; however, the main façade and its twin towers were saved, as were the Cathedral’s treasures.
Despite Notre Dame currently being closed, you can still admire its elegant main façade. The huge rose window is dedicated to Our Lady of Paris, who continues to watch over the city. The 28 sculptures below represent the kings of Judah and Israel, the ancestors of Christ. These sculptures lost their heads during the French Revolution and what you see today are replicas.
Located in the 5th Arrondissement, Sorbonne University is one of the oldest in the Western World. It was originally built back in 1257 at the direction of Robert de Sorbon, a chaplain who wanted poor children to have access to education. The current building was actually constructed in 1901 and was designed by architect Henri-Paul Nénot.
Sorbonne University is one of the best Paris buildings if you’re interested in seeing a mix of architectural styles. It has neo-Renaissance facades, a classical-style courtyard, antique peristyles, and other eclectic architectural features. And some parts of the building, including the amphitheater, vestibule, and the giant staircase, are classified as historic monuments.
The Sorbonne proposes guided tours open to all – Click here for more information, times, and prices
The Louvre Palace is one of the most famous buildings in Paris, and it is home to the Louvre Museum. Located on the Right Bank of the Seine River, in the 1st Arrondissement, the building was constructed in 1190 as a royal fortress for the Kings of France.
The Louvre Palace was built over centuries, so it’s a surprising mix of styles from throughout the years. The current buildings were constructed between the 17th and the 19th century, but there are older parts in the Gothic style, and the Louvre Pyramid, in the main courtyard, is contemporary.
To get the most from your visit, make sure that you check out this Louvre Guide. You should also prepare ahead of time if you want to experience the beauty of the Louvre without the lines – Click here to buy your tickets to the Louvre Museum
Hotel de Ville
Hotel de Ville (City Hall) is one of the Paris iconic buildings on the Seine’s Right Bank. It is located in the 4th Arrondissement of Paris, just across from the eastern end of the Île de la Cité.
The south wing of the building was constructed between 1535 and 1551 by King François I, and the north wing was built between 1605 and 1628 by King Henry IV and King Louis XIII.
Unfortunately, Hotel de Ville was burned by the Paris Commune and had to be rebuilt between 1874 and 1882. During the rebuild, the outside was enlarged (but is mostly the same as the older version), while the inside was made quite differently.
Hotel de Ville has been the headquarters of the municipality of Paris since 1357 and is a venue for large events. It’s a great example of Renaissance architecture in Paris, with beautiful sculptures and beautiful ceremonial rooms. The square right out the front is used for cultural events all year round. In December, it hosts one of the best Christmas markets in Paris.
The Elysée Palace is located on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré near the Champs-Élysées in the 8th Arrondissement of Paris. It was designed by architect Armand-Claude Molet, who later became King Louis XV’s architect. The building was completed in 1722 and was originally built for army officer Louis Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, the Governor of Île-de-France.
Today, it’s the residence of the President of the French Republic but throughout the years, it has played host to many famous residents like Madame de Pompadour, Bathilde d’Orléans, and Charles Ferdinand the Duke of Berry.
The Elysée Palace is an imposing building designed in the French classical style and has majestic courtyards and an overall sense of elegance and grandeur. It also has a beautiful French-style garden with lovely flower beds and green areas. It is possible to visit on special occasions like the Journées du Patrimoine (World Heritage Days) in September (free entrance).
The Palais Garnier Opera House is one of the most stunning buildings in Paris. It is located on the Right Bank of Paris, not far from the Grands Boulevards or Place Vendôme.
The glamorous Palais Garnier was built in the 19th century, and it is the largest Opera Hall in Europe. It was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III as part of his project of reconstruction of Paris. To build the new Opera House in Paris, a competition for the best design was conducted in 1860. The winner of the project was a young Charles Garnier.
The project borrows elements from many historical sources. The façade and the interior have no space without decoration and symbolize the opulence of the Second Empire. The Auditorium is the heart of the building, where the performances take place. It has a horseshoe shape, so-called for how the seats are arranged to see and be seen. The Grand Foyer (18 meters high, 154 meters long, and 13 meters wide) was inspired by the Hall of Mirrors inside the Palace of Versailles, with lots of natural light, gold, and mirrors.
It is possible to visit the Opera on a self-guided tour, with or without an audio guide – Click here to buy your tickets to the Opéra Garnier
Musée d’Orsay (Former Orsay Train Station)
The Musée d’Orsay is located on a picturesque spot by the Seine River on the Left Bank of Paris. One of the most iconic buildings in Paris, this was once a working train station.
The Orsay Train Station was designed by Victor Laloux, Émile Bénard, and Lucien Magne. The station was constructed in 1900 in Beaux-Arts style and opened in time for the 1900 Paris World Fair.
Orsay served as a terminus of the railway line Orléans-Paris and the western and southern sides of the building included the 370-room Hotel Palais d’Orsay. After its closure as a station, it opened as an art museum in 1986 to host an array of impressionist and post-impressionist artworks. The building still keeps its general layout, original clock, and stunning ceiling – Click here to buy your tickets to the Orsay Museum
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica is one of the main landmarks in Paris. It is located on the top of the hill of Montmartre, in the 18th Arrondissement. The Basilica is dedicated to Christ’s Sacred Heart and it welcomes more than 10 million visitors per year, making it the second most visited religious building in France, only after Notre Dame.
The Sacré-Coeur was built between 1873 and 1924 in Romano-Byzantine style, with a design inspired by models such as Saint Sophia in Constantinople and San Marco in Venice. The architecture is in the shape of a Greek cross with four domes, and it measures 85 meters long and 35 meters in width.
You will love the light and the details of this majestic place! The panorama from the dome, accessible to visitors, is one of the best views of Paris.
The Basilica is free to visit, but there’s an entrance fee for the dome. The entrance to the dome is on the left side of the Sacré-Coeur, outside. It’s an authentic experience that comes after climbing 300 steps!
Centre Georges Pompidou
The Centre Georges Pompidou is one of the most original Paris buildings. It is located in the Beaubourg area of the 4th Arrondissement and is one of the most iconic buildings in Paris. It is close to hot spots like Les Halles and the Marais and houses the Public Information Library, a center for music and acoustic research known as IRCAM, and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the largest modern art museum in Europe.
The Centre Georges Pompidou was commissioned by André Malraux, France’s first Minister of Cultural Affairs, in an attempt to decentralize art and culture. It was formally opened in 1977, and the architects were Renzo Piano from Italy and Richard Rogers from Britain.
The building is uncompromisingly modern, with an industrial exterior and high-tech architectural features. It hosts many cultural and artistic events, and the temporary exhibitions are always interesting – Click here to buy your tickets to the Centre Pompidou
Musée du Quai Branly
A visit to the Musée du Quai Branly is one of the top things to do near the Eiffel Tower, on the Left Bank of the Seine. One of the most eye-catching buildings by the Seine River, the museum was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and opened in 2006.
This is one of the newest and most popular museums in Paris. It was built to feature the indigenous art and cultures of Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Americas and contains an amazingly eclectic collection of works of art. The permanent collection is amazing, and it is always completed by interesting temporary exhibitions.
The museum has four buildings and is surrounded by a lovely garden. It also has the largest roof terrace in Paris, which looks like an enormous bridge suspended over the garden.
The Musée du Quai Branly is a surprising example of contemporary architecture in Paris, with huge windows, pillars that look like trees, and open spaces with lots of light. Its green wall, facing the Seine River, was for a long time without equivalent. It remains today one of the largest in the world, both in terms of its area and the number of plants that make it up – Click here to buy your tickets to the Musée du Quai Branly
Foundation Louis Vuitton
Located on Avenue Mahatma Gandhi, in Paris 16, the Foundation Louis Vuitton is an art museum and cultural center. The building was designed by architect Frank Gehry and was inaugurated in 2014.
The museum is a two-story structure with postmodern Deconstructivist design elements. This unique style makes it one of the most iconic buildings in Paris. There are also absolutely beautiful gardens around the building. And the inside of the museum is just as good as the outside, with artwork by famous artists like Sarah Morris, Jess Koons, Gilbert and George, and Janet Cardiff – Click here to buy your tickets to the Fondation Louis Vuitton