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.