Paris, the city that was born on the banks of the Seine, grew from a small island – Île de la Cité – to the vast metropolis that nowadays extends beyond Ménilmontant, the vingtième arrondissement.
The French capital has so much to offer. Centuries of history have left behind meaningful structures which also have been the background of love stories, wars and revolutions. Whether you are seeking to admire hidden spots, the well-known landmarks and jewels soon to be opened, or filling your personal story with them, you'll find everything you want in this city.
This list, in no particular order, aims to provide some guidance and inspiration for your next trip to Paris. If you love architecture, dear friend, look no further.
Want to discover Paris' architecture? Continue reading!
1. Centre Georges Pompidou
Architect: Renzo Piano
Location:19 Rue Beaubourg (Google)
Description: This is one of the most iconic buildings in Paris and houses the Musée National d'Art Moderne which is the largest museum for modern art in Europe. Its exposed skeleton of brightly coloured tubes for mechanical systems was the beginning of a new era of architecture and it's a must visit. Oh and don't miss the views from the top floor, which has free admission the first Sunday of each month. Read more here.
2. Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris
Architect: Frank Gehry
Location:8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi (Google)
Description: Louis Vuitton, the luxury French fashion house founded in 1854, has recently been opening stunning stores around the world: Louis Vuitton Matsuya Ginza (Jun Aoki, 2013), Louis Vuitton in Singapore(FTL Design Engineering Studio, 2012) and The Shops at Crystals (Daniel Libeskind, 2009) are some of the most stunning. This art museum is even more exciting as there is a cultural aspect to it in the design – not just a formal approach. Built on the edge of a water garden created especially for the project, it comprises an assemblage of white blocks (known as “the icebergs”) clad in panels of fiber-reinforced concrete, surrounded by twelve immense glass “sails” supported by wooden beams. Read more here.
3. Palais de Tokyo Expansion
Architect: Lacaton & Vassal
Location:13 Avenue du Président Wilson (Google)
Description: The original Palais de Tokyo – built in 1937 for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology of 1937 – attracted over 30 million people. It was known as Palais des Musées d'art moderne. However, after the event was over, the structure became neglected and eventually deteriorated. In 2001, Lacaton & Vassal breathed new life into it, the new expansion injected extra space and it went from 7000 to 22,000 square meters. Palais de Tokyo is now a brand new building dedicated to modern and contemporary art. The new Café, located on top of the Palais, has one of the best skyline views of Paris. Read more here.
Architect: Jules Hardouin-Mansart
Location:8 Rue de Montpensier (Google)
Description: The Palais-Royal, originally the fancy home of Cardinal Richelieu, ended up in the King's hands after his death in 1642 – Henry VIII had a similar episode with York Place and Cardinal Wolseley in 1530. Since then, this palace became the home of kings and queens to follow until the late 18th century. Today, the Palais-Royal serves as the seat of the Ministry of Culture (closed to the public) but it's the southern end of the complex, polka-dotted with sculptor Daniel Buren's 260 black-and-white striped columns, that has become the garden's signature feature since 1986. Read more here.
5. Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Architect: Dominique Perrault
Location: Quai François Mauria (Google)
Description: Designed as four open books, all facing one another, this public library is part of an ambitious long-term project: The Grands Projets. President François Mitterand aimed to create a new set of modern monuments for a city long defined by its architecture. Some of the constructions in this plan include the Arab World Institute, the Parc de la Villette and Pyramide at the Louvre. The library buildings define a symbolic and mythical place that reinforce the cultural importance in the urban fabric. Don't miss the other Bibliothèque Nationale by Henri Labrouste(1875). Read more here.
6. Notre Dame Cathedral
Architect: Manuelle Gautrand
Location: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II (Google)
Description: While its interior is closed off to visitors following the devastating fire of April 2019, this masterpiece of French Gothic architecture remains a must visit place in Paris. Over its long construction period numerous architects worked on the site, as is evidenced by the differing styles at different heights of the west front and towers. The Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation is just behind it, don’t miss it either. Read more here.
7. Eiffel Tower
Architect: Gustave Eiffel
Location: Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France (Google)
Description: Time for a big classic. Despite being such a cliché, this spot is one of my favourites of the list as an architect. It was built in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, which was located in the nearby Trocadéro area. It is 324 metres (1,063 ft) tall and, at the time of its completion, the tallest man-made structure in the world – a title it held for 41 years. This monument represents the aspirations of a country and the technical skills of its creators, which I find inspiring. In addition, the atmosphere around the Eiffel Tower is magical. Read more here.
8. Sacré-Cœur Basilica
Architect: Paul Abadie
Location: 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre (Google)
Description: You may think this Romano-Byzantine church is older than it looks, but it was actually built after the Eiffel Tower (1889). The appearance of Sacré Cœur's design is a result of the conservative Catholic old guard and the secular, republican radicals. The apse mosaic Christ in Majesty, created by Luc-Olivier Merson, is among the largest in the world. Don't miss the amazing skyline views from the dome (accessible through the exterior left side of the basilica). Read more here.
9. Le Grand Louvre
Architect: I.M. Pei
Location: Place du Carrousel (Google)
Description: As mentioned in #5, in 1981, the newly elected French president, Francois Mitterrand, launched a campaign to renovate cultural institutions throughout France and one of the most advantageous of those projects was the renovation and reorganization of the Louvre. President Mitterrand commissioned the Chinese American architect I.M. Pei the task being the first time that a foreign architect was enlisted to work on the Louvre museum. The new structure – built in the same proportions of the famous Pyramid of Giza – alleviated the congestion from the thousands of daily visitors. Sunset is the best time to visit. Read more here.
10. Musée d'Orsay
Architect: Victor Laloux, Lucien Magne and Émile Bénard
Location:1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur (Google)
Description: This imposing museum was originally built in 1900 as the former Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station. And although its function was transformed, it does look like a railway station. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh. This and Marmottan Monet Museum are my favorites in Paris. Don’t miss the amazing skyline views from the clock tower. Read more here.
11. Fondation Le Corbusier
+Maison-Atelier Ozenfant, Immeuble Porte Molitor and Villa Stein-de-Monzie
Architect: Le Corbusier
Location: (Fondation Le Corbusier) 8-10 Square du Docteur Blanche (Google)
Description: Of the countless buildings Le Corbusier designed in France, most of his housing examples are located in Paris. It would be unfair to just list one of them and that’s why I included some of his most representative works. Where to start? Definitely at Maison La Roche and Maison Jeanneret (1923–24), a pair of semi-detached houses that were Le Corbusier’s third commission in Paris. Fondation Le Corbusier is now used as a museum containing about 8,000 original drawings, studies and plans by Le Corbusier. His Paris home, where he lived until 1965, is located at Immeuble Porte Molitor (Public tours only by appointment). Read more here.
12. Pigalle Basketball
Location:17 Rue Duperré (Google)
Description: This exciting urban intervention explores the relationship between sport, art and culture by changing the original primary colours with gradients of blue, pink, purple and orange. Blocks of red, yellow, blue and white from the last iteration have been painted over with brighter hues. The rubber court surface blends from blue at the ends to pink in the centre, while gradients have also been applied to the surrounding walls. The result? A fun place to play, watch and socialise. Read more here.
13. Musée du Quai Branly
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Description: Many people (tourists) reach this spot by accident when trying to find the Eiffel Tower. However, this museum is quite important itself. Hybrid, composite, coloured, mysterious and joyous, Jean Nouvel’s building has in effect repeated the success from his victorious Institut du Monde Arabe(1988). The “green wall” on the exterior was designed and planted by Gilles Clément and Patrick Blanc and it’s worth a visit too. Read more here.
14. Docks de Paris
Architect: Jakob + MacFarlane
Location: 34 Quai d’Austerlitz (Google)
Description: The wonderful job of Jakob + MacFarlane transformed a concrete shipping depot originally built in 1907 into a shinny museum of fashion and design. The architects are calling their design a "plug-over" as the new structure is a new external skin that enveloped the existing site on the sides and on top. The roof has also been developed using wooden decks and grassed areas. Read more here.
15. Philharmonie de Paris
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Location: 221 Avenue Jean Jaurès (Google)
Description: This highly controversial project, Paris' newest symphonic concert hall, is the home of Orchestre de Paris. It took a lot longer to build, at almost three times its original budget and, worst of all, on the day of the opening Jean Nouvel wasn't present as he angrily claimed it was "not finished". Though the exterior has received much criticism – aluminium panels in a basketweave design swirl tightly around the structure – the interior has been highly praised. Judge for yourself. Read more here.
16. La Seine Musical
Architect: Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines
Location: Île Seguin, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt (Google)
Description: Another structure dedicated to musical affairs – La Seine Musicale – which has received a wildly positive welcome by the general public. The facilities include an elevated egg-shaped auditorium for classical music, a larger modular concert hall, rehearsal rooms and an extensive roof garden. Much of the site's daytime energy needs are supplied by a large mobile curved solar panel array that covers the smaller auditorium. Read more here.
17. Bourse de Commerce / Collection Pinault
Architect: Tadao Ando
Location:2 Rue de Viarmes (Google)
Year: Opening predicted for spring 2020
Description: François Pinault, who previously teamed up with Tadao Ando to open Venice's Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, commissioned this exciting project which will soon open. Located at the Bourse de Commerce, an 18th-century rotunda that once held the city's grain market and stock exchange, Collection Pinault Paris will host exhibitions from painting, sculpture, photography and video to installations. Ando designed the ambitious interior, where a cylindrical gallery will form the main exhibition space which will be set into the centre of the plan below the building's domed ceiling. Read more here.
18. Galeries Lafayette Haussmann
Architect: Georges Chedanne and Ferdinand Chanut
Location:40 Boulevard Haussmann (Google)
Description: The first Galeries Lafayette (the Harrods of France), opened here in 1912. Théophile Bader and his cousin Alphonse Kahn commissioned the architect Georges Chedanne and his pupil Ferdinand Chanut a lavish fashion store with a glass and steel dome and stunning Art Nouveau staircases. More than a century later, the building is still used for the same purpose and its oozing with greatness. Don't miss the amazing views from its rooftop. If you liked this one, you might also want to visit the recently refurbished Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élyséesby BIG (2019). Read more here.
19. Hôtel Guimard
Architect: Hector Guimard
Location: 122 Avenue Mozart (Google)
Description: This little building is a hidden jewel of the city. It was built as an Art Nouveau house Hector Guimard designed for himself and his wife after visiting the Hôtel Tassel in Brussels, designed by the über famous Victor Horta. Guimard later became known for designing the famous subway entrances (Pasteur, Porte Dauphine…) and also the Castel Béranger door at Rue Jean de la Fontaine which is worth a visit too. Unfortunately, the interiors can't be visited but the original dining room suite can today be seen at the Petit Palais; the bedroom at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon; and the study at the Musée de l'École de Nancy. Read more here.
20. Les Orgues de Flandre
Architect: Martin van Trek
Location:24 Rue Archereau (Google)
Description: Paris is full of Brutalist masterpieces but this is, in my opinion, one of the best. The Orgues de Flandre, which can be translated as the "Organs of Flanders", are a group of residential buildings built from 1974 to 1980. What is really outstanding about this complex – and different to other residential houses of this kind around the world – is that Martin van Trek granted the private spaces (the apartments) a monumental status whilst leaving the public spaces in a secondary and more ordinary level. Controversial. Read more here.
21. Les Choux de Créteil
Architect: Gérard Grandval
Location:2 Boulevard Pablo Picasso (Google)
Description: Another housing project in the suburbs of Paris that is worth a visit: Les Choux de Créteil. This group of ten cylindrical buildings each 15 stories in height is called Les Choux (the cabbages). The project was initiated in 1966, in an area which had been used for a century to produce much of the vegetables for Parisian tables although the name makes reference to the unusual shape of their balconies. The buildings' unique shape is intended to be functional: the apartments' living spaces are closer to the windows and the 2-meter-tall balconies provide outdoor access and privacy at the same time. Read more here.
22. Palace of Versailles
Architect: Louis Le Vau, Andre Le Notre and Charles Lebrun
Location:Place d'Armes, 78000 Versailles (Google)
Description: The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful. Indeed it's one of the most stunning European palaces. This is a classic that everyone should visit once in a lifetime. Read more here.
23. Villa Savoye
Architect: Le Corbusier
Location: 82 Rue de Villiers (Poissy) (Google)
Description: This may be the one house that every architect knows in the world and with no doubt it is one of the most significant contributions to modern architecture in the 20th century. The house single handedly transformed Le Corbusier’s career as well as the principles of the International Style, becoming one of the most important architectural precedents in history. Originally built as a country retreat on behest of the Savoye family but it now belongs to the French state and therefore it can be visited. In fact, it's free to visit on the 1st Sunday of every month. Read more here.
[BONUS]- Villa Dall'Ava
Architect: Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)
Location:Avenue Clodoald, 92210 Saint-Cloud (Google)
Description: Although it can't be visited by any means, I felt this house had to be on the list. It was built in 1991 as a modern-expressionist house with two distinct apartments: One for the house owners and another for their daughter. There was an extra request: a swimming pool on the roof with a view of the Eiffel Tower. The strip windows and thin, repeated columns recall Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. Read more here.
Check these and other amazing buildings of Paris on the map below or download The Free Architecture Guide of Paris.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 14, 2019.