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Paris: Where (else) to find the best views

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The view from Notre Dame. Photo by Liz Webber.
The view from Notre Dame. Photo by Liz Webber.

At some point while visiting Paris, you’ll probably want to take in a sweeping view of the city. Sure, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is great, but there’s one flaw – you can’t actually see the Eiffel Tower, the most iconic feature of the Paris skyline.

There are plenty of other places where you can see the city from above, and for cheaper than a ticket up the crowded tower. Here’s a list of my other favorite birdseye hot-spots that will allow you to take in the majesty of Paris.

Climb Notre Dame’s tower

Perhaps my favorite views of Paris are from the towers of Notre Dame. There’s something  serene about looking down on the surrounding waters of the Seine and watching all the tiny people scurrying around in front of the cathedral. There is one drawback: only a certain number of visitors are allowed up in the towers at a time, so the wait can be considerable. Also be prepared to climb the 387 stairs.

Access to the towers is outside the cathedral, around the corner to the left of the entrance (if you’re facing the cathedral). Tickets cost €8, and you must pay in cash. From October 1 to March 31, the towers are open every day from 10 AM to 5:30 PM. From April 1 to September 30, the towers stay open until 6:30 PM, and from June through August until 11:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. The last group enters 45 minutes before closing.

Romance and music in Montmartre

Many visitors to Paris rave about the views from outside Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, especially at sunset. My opinion: it’s really difficult to make out any of the landmarks from that high up, and the Eiffel Tower and setting sun are completely hidden from view by trees and buildings.

Still, you can’t beat the atmosphere, with a rotating set of semi-English-speaking musicians performing on the church steps nightly. This vantage point is free and thus worth taking a moment to enjoy after touring the basilica.

Institut du Monde Arabe: Freebie!

Okay, so from the top floor of the Institut du Monde Arabe you can only vaguely see the Eiffel Tower through the corner of the glass building. It is, however, a great place to gaze out over the Seine and Notre Dame. On a clear day you can see Sacré Coeur and the Arc de Triomphe. There’s also an outdoor café/restaurant, although it’s a little pricey.

The institute is located at 1 rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard; opening hours are 10 AM to 6 PM, every day except Monday. Entrance is free.

Commanding views from the Tour Montparnasse

The Tour Montparnasse, the blight of the Paris skyline, is actually one of the best places to see the rest of the city. Take Europe’s fastest elevator to the 56th floor, which has floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides of the building and offers spectacular views in all directions. From there, walk up to the roof on the 59th floor for outdoor viewing. At €10.50 it costs almost as much as going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but the expense is well worth it.

The Tour Montparnasse in located in the Fifteenth Arrondissement outside Montparnasse station. From October 1 to March 31, the tower is open Sunday to Thursday from 9:30 AM to 10:30 PM, and Friday and Saturday from 9:30 AM until 11:00 PM. From April 1 to September 30, the tower is open every day until11:00 PM. The last elevator leaves a half hour before closing.

Majesty (and a museum) at the Arc de Triomphe

For views of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe can’t be beat. It’s not a bad place to see the Grande Arche at La Defense or the Champs Elysées either. You can look all the way down Paris’s most famous avenue to the Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries beyond. If you decide to walk up, there are 284 stairs, with a small museum dedicated to the history of the monument about three quarters of the way up.

Tickets cost €9. From October 1 to March 31 the monument is open from 10 AM to 10:30 PM; closing time is 11 PM April 1 to September 30. The last entrance is 30 minutes before closing.

What do you think?

What is your favorite spot to view the City of Light? Tell us about it below!

About the author: Liz Webber is a freelance journalist living and working in Paris. She has previously worked for the International Herald Tribune and Budget Travel.

About the author

About the author: Liz Webber is a freelance journalist living and working in Paris. She has previously worked for the International Herald Tribune and Budget Travel.

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10 thoughts on “Paris: Where (else) to find the best views”

  1. Pingback: Paris: The museum is closed for renovations. Now what? | Budget Travel Tips - EuroCheapo

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  3. Indeed Pete Meyers is quite right. Department store La Samaritaine is closed and dark and empty since several years.
    Great to hear about a view from the roof outside the cafe of the Musée d´Orsay.

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  4. My fave is the view from the top of the Orsay – especially from the roof just outside the cafe. It has a wonderful view of the Seine & all the way up to the Sacre Coeur.

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  5. If tired and short of patience for standing in line to see the Louvre go directly to the Museum shop and get your DVD guide to the museum then have a happy time at the pearls of museums where you never stand in line such as the collection at the Jacquemart-André where apart from the sumptious collection you will be taken through a beautifully restored private palace from before the First world war, on Boulevard Haussmann several bus stops very close.
    If you like Impressionists and again see the long quieu outside the Musée Orsay do skip it but you might pop into its gorgeous MUSEUM SHOP FREE ENTRANCE and then get to the Musée
    Marmottan. You will bless me.
    At the Musée Orsay the one painting to look for is the porno one by Courbet which a mere ten years ago was strictly forbidden public exposure but now that it was bought by the state museum of Orsay hangs on the wall for everyone to see of all ages.Painting is called L´Origine du monde (The beginnings of the world)and first shown in public at the Brooklyn Museum in NYC actually. Plenty of postcards of painting in museum shop.

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  6. Quite agree with Curt why complicate life dear Liz when the most splendid view is had from the terrace of Les Galeries Lafayette PLUS adjacent Printemps department store on the Boulevard Haussmann. My favourite is the Printemps terrace for best pictures. Also if you really wish to see hilly Montmartre area do take the little green minibus leaving at place Jules Joffrin and terminus on place Clichy an absolute bliss for easy sightseeing.
    Another very romantic view of Paris is that pearl of a hidden treasure called the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. A picknic there on a hot day – unbeatable and no tourists just the Parisians themselves.
    ALSO remember Obama is THE icon in France.I carry a brooch on my coat with a picture of Obama surrounded by his device Yes we can and you cannot believe how people will approach you talk to you wave and smile.
    And I am not American.

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  7. Great tips, Liz. I agree with Curt too. I also like sitting on the deck of the Georges Pompidou Museum’s top floor restaurant/cafe. I know it’s not the most primo view, but it’s fun to get a glass of champagne (about 5 euros) and just take it all in. It’s relatively quiet up there too.

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  8. I’ve always enjoyed the view from the outdoor deck atop Les Galeries Lafayette, Haussmann. While not as stunning as some of the others mentioned, it is free.

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