Ah, France! It’s one of the most romantic tourist destinations in the world. The population consumes 25,000 tons of escargot and 11 million glasses of wine every year!
Yes, we’re talking about France! It’s a country famous for its cuisine, wine, art, history, architecture, and much more. There’s so much to love about this country.
When it comes to famous buildings, France has no shortage of amazing structures to see. From the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame Cathedral, there are plenty of options for those looking to explore some of the best architecture in the world.
Its numerous famous buildings are steeped in centuries of French history and are 100% worth traveling for.
And, luckily, many of these famous buildings are located in some of the most beautiful spots in the country, making them a complete pleasure to explore.
Here are some of the most famous buildings in France where you’ll be able to enjoy some of the country’s most iconic landmarks steeped in history, beauty, and allure!
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10 Famous Buildings In France You Need To Visit
1. The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most famous buildings in France. You can’t say you’ve visited Paris without viewing the Eiffel Tower in all its glory!
The tower, built in 1889, is now one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. The tower is 324 meters tall, and it has three levels that visitors can explore.
First, a little bit of history. It was built in a little over two years by an engineering firm owned by Gustave Eiffel. It consists of 7500 tons of iron and, among other things, 2.5 million rivets!
Although it was named after him, Eiffel did not design the enormous structure. Two of his employees, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, drew up the original plans. The tower was built to be the centerpiece of Paris’s World Fair of 1889 and was supposed to be broken down after 20 years.
During WW2, Germany occupied France for a time, and Hitler ordered the tower’s destruction. It never happened, but French resistance fighters cut the cables to the elevator so that the Germans had to walk all the way up and down to hoist their flag!
Today, the Eiffel Tower is an extremely popular tourist destination, and it is one of the most photographed landmarks in the world.
The Eiffel Tower also has some interesting places inside, including a champagne bar at the top, a secret apartment where Gustave Eiffel entertained guests, and a military bunker underneath. Today there is also a post office there.
2. The Louvre Museum
The Louvre is the largest museum on the planet and is visited by 10 million tourists annually. It is so massive that a visitor wouldn’t know that there could be 15,000 other people in the building.
Truly, if you wanted to see all the art in the Louvre, it would take you about 100 days to do so! The galleries are spread over fifteen acres, and the glass tower is over 68 feet high.
When the Louvre was built, it was intended to be a grand Parisian fortress but became a palace in the 16th century. But in 1793, it became a museum, housing some of the most famous paintings and sculptures in history, including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.
During WW2, the Nazis raided businesses and homes alike, thieving artwork as they pleased. They emptied the Louvre and used it as a store room for their loot.
Interestingly, the museum is said to also have some resident ghosts! Legend has it that a mummy called Belphegor haunts the passages at night. Since the building has been around since the late 12th century, a ghost or two can be expected.
Another friendly apparition who wears red strolls through the Tuileries Gardens, the grounds on which the Louvre is built.
3. The Palace Of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles, located 12.5 miles south of Paris, is hands down one of the most opulent palaces in all of France.
Historically, it was the home of the kings of France for over 200 years. This impressively large palace has more than 2,000 rooms and covers an area of about 63 hectares.
The Palace of Versailles was the site of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which ended World War I. It was also the scene of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.
The palace is now a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Palace of Versailles interestingly started as a hunting lodge. Louis XIII was an avid hunter and needed a place to stay when he didn’t have time to return to Paris before dark. Over time, he purchased more land and expanded his chateau. Louis XIV turned it into a palace in the late 17th century.
Do not miss the Hall of Mirrors, one of the most awe-inspiring features of the palace. It contains 357 mirrors crafted by Venetian mirror makers. These craftsmen had to be poached by France because the Venetian government wanted to protect their monopoly of the craft, punishing mirror makers with death if they left the country!
But the palace itself is not all there is to marvel at. The gardens of Versailles are some of the most impressive in the world, with fountains, water features, statues, and thousands of trees.
These outdoor areas were by far my favorite areas to explore on the grounds!
Some other fun facts about the palace:
- The king’s food was always cold because the kitchens were far from the dining room.
- Marie-Antoinette had a secret romantic hideaway and grotto on the grounds. You must make time to explore these areas!
- Louis XV’s favorite drink was hot chocolate, which became the palace’s drink of choice.
- The royals used silver chamber pots in cupboards in their bedrooms.
4. The Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe, located in Paris, is one of the most famous buildings in France. The arch was built to commemorate the French soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.
The Arc de Triomphe is a popular tourist destination, with over six million visitors each year.
Thirty years after Napoleon commissioned the Arc de Triomphe, Paris celebrated its inauguration on 29 July 1836. Unfortunately, Napoleon never got to see this massive monument. Still, he succeeded in preventing the construction of a giant elephant in its place.
Until 1982 it was the world’s largest triumphal arch, standing at 164 feet tall and 148 feet wide. North Korea then one-upped the French and built a larger one.
From an aerial point of view, the Arc is super cool. It has 12 main roads meeting at its center, including the well-known Champs Elysee.
It also has an eternal flame at the top of the Arc, burning for 100 years. Veterans lay wreaths into the flame every evening at 6:30 pm to keep it going.
The four pillars of the Arc each display sculptures by different artists.
- The first honors Le Départ de 1792 and was created by Francois Rude.
- Jean-Pierre Cortot designed the second sculpture, Le Triomphe de 1810, which shows the coronation of Napoleon at the Treaty of Schönbrunn.
- Antoine Etex designed the third pillar, which displays the Résistance de 1814, honoring the French resistance in the War of the Sixth Coalition.
- The fourth pillar, also designed by Etex, is a commemoration of the Treaty of Paris and represents the Paix de 1815.
5. Notre Dame de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris, one of the most famous buildings in France, is a Catholic cathedral located on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité.
The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and most popular tourist attractions in Paris. Over the centuries, the Notre Dame Cathedral has been the site of many important events in French history.
The construction of Notre Dame de Paris began in 1163 under the direction of Bishop Maurice de Sully, and was completed not long before the turn of the 14th century.
The exterior walls of the church are decorated with carved stone figures representing Biblical scenes and Catholic saints. The interior is no less impressive, with its large stained glass windows and soaring Gothic arches.
Its 18th-century organ has nearly 8000 pipes and is likely the largest of its kind in France.
The Notre Dame has one of the oldest timber roof frames in the French capital, consisting of wood gathered from 52 acres of trees that felled in the 12th century. This is how it earned its nickname, “the Forest.”
Another interesting feature of Notre Dame is a small marker with an eight-pointed star set in the ancient cobblestones. The inscriptions “Point zero des routes de France” are written on the marker. From this point, they measure distances to other cities in the country.
Some historical events related to the Notre Dame Cathedral include:
- During the French Revolution, an angry mob pulled down 28 statues of Biblical kings and chopped off their heads. The mob threw their heads on a trash heap and in 1977, construction workers rediscovered them, and they are now housed at the Musee de Cluny.
- The cathedral went into disrepair when it was turned into the Cult of Reason in the 18th century. The people melted down 19 of the 20 bells and made cannons from them. Only the massive bell called Emmanuel was left intact. The bells were finally replaced in the 19th century but didn’t have the same sound. Finally, in 2013 they were restored to their former glory.
- When Napoleon decided to crown himself as king, it brought Notre Dame de Paris new prominence, although it didn’t fix the structural decay.
- The restoration began when Victor Hugo used the cathedral to represent France in his 1831 novel. Its success led to a complete revamp, headed by two architects, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
6. The Sacré-Coeur Basilica
This iconic Sacré-Coeur Basilica is another one of the most visited tourist spots in Paris. It sits atop Montmartre Hill and bears a strange similarity to the Taj Mahal in its architectural style.
Architect Paul Abadie constructed this church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Romanesque-Byzantine style between 1875 and 1914.
Its snow-white color gives it an appearance of whipped cream, which is due to the stone derived from the Château-Landon quarries.
Before becoming the first Christian sanctuary, it is thought that the Druids worshiped their gods on Montmartre hill. In addition, Roman temples honoring Mercury and Mars were also built there.
The first Christian chapel was erected in about 270 AD to honor Paris’ St. Denis, their first bishop. Legend says that the Romans beheaded St. Denis on that hill. The saint then picked up his fallen head, and the mouth preached a complete sermon before dropping dead mid-stroll. A shrine was set up here in his honor, the St. Denys-la-Chapelle.
Today, visitors can climb to the top of the basilica’s dome via many, many stairs for an awe-inspiring view of the French capital.
Being the second-highest point in Paris, most of the Parisian monuments are visible from here with binoculars!
7. Chateau du Chambord
When I first saw this French castle, the only word that popped into my mind was “wow.” That’s right–I was mindblown and at a loss for any real words.
This Renaissance castle is tucked away in Loire Valley, a few hours away from Paris, and sits surrounded by lush greenery.
The Chateau du Chambord was constructed as a hunting lodge for Francis 1 in the 1500s. It is the Loire Valley’s largest castle, built in the French Renaissance style, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This famous French castle (the largest in the valley), though commissioned in the 16th century by King Francis 1, was not completed until the 17th century. It has undergone many interior changes through the years as different royals have lived in this marvelous castle.
One of its notable features is the double helix stairway inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, which allows two individuals to go to the different floors without seeing each other.
The Chateau has 426 rooms, and tourists are permitted to explore 60 of them. Chambord has everything from exquisitely kept French gardens to a vegetable garden, stables, and an enclosed park where you’re likely to see deer grazing.
Multiple tours are available, from full-day opportunities to a castle and garden tour with a horse show on the grounds.
Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most picturesque historical monuments to see in France. While technically more of an abbey than a castle, I had to mention Mont-Saint-Michel given its undeniable beauty and glory.
If you’re looking to witness a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey, this is the ideal one to visit. Today, Mont-Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Positioned on the border of Normandy and Brittany, the island abbey Mont-Saint-Michel was both a place of passage and a fortress. The difficult location of this sanctuary is what makes it so majestic and mysterious. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, this massive fortress is perched on a rocky islet in the middle of sandbanks exposed to powerful tides.
The most prominent part of the Mont-Saint-Michel is the abbey at the top of the mount. Founded in 966, it is well worth taking a guided tour through the sanctuary.
An evening tour makes for a magical end to the day in the summertime. The statue of Saint Michel can be found at the topmost point of the mount, so keep a lookout for it.
All visitors can access the island either by walking or by hopping on the free shuttle buses. Advance tickets are required.
After you’ve completed touring the abbey complex, explore the little village or hike around the island on the mudflats for more fantastic views.
9. The Pantheon
The Pantheon is a large round building with a portico supported by columns, built in the 18th century as a church, but is now used as a secular monument.
You can find the Pantheon in the 5th Arrondissement in Paris. In fact, it’s impossible to miss this famous building.
Jacques-German Soufflot designed the building, with the exterior representing old Roman architecture and the interiors drawing much inspiration from the French Gothic style.
The interior of the Pantheon is also very impressive. The dome is almost as high as the exterior of the building, and it houses beautifully painted frescoes, paintings, and mosaics picturing St Genevieve, along with dramatic scenes from French history.
Some interesting facts about this famous French building:
- The Pantheon was originally a mark of royalty. Still, after the French Revolution, it became the place to honor fallen French soldiers.
- Women were not permitted to be buried in the Pantheon until 1995. Marie Curie was awarded this honor for her contribution to studies in radioactivity.
- Prominent French authors such as Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau and Emile Zola were all laid to rest there.
You will get a spectacular view of Paris if you climb to the top of the Pantheon’s dome. But leave your heels at home because it’s a steep climb to the top!
The Pantheon is located in the Latin Quarter of Paris, near other famous landmarks such as Notre Dame Cathedral and Sorbonne University. If you are visiting Paris, be sure to add the Pantheon to your list of places to see!
10. Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainbleau is not just another castle on the list; this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the largest châteaus in France.
This castle, built in the 12th century in Fontainebleau, has housed many royals (specifically all of them) through the years. Each royal who lived in this château added their spin, turning it into the majestic presence found today.
Here’s a fun fact for you: Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI used Fontainebleau Castle to escape during the French Revolution when they fled Versailles.
This château offers a renaissance-style exterior along with renaissance artwork spread throughout the fully furnished castle. Book lovers can enjoy the Gallery of Diana, featuring an exquisite library from Napoleon’s personal collection.
Stroll through the three distinct gardens and park spread through the estate of the castle. This is a really unique experience as each garden allows a peek into the style of whichever monarch owned the castle at that time.
It’s common for visitors to see this castle along with the gardens and notice how, somehow, through many castle owners, everything meshes perfectly!
- Château de Fontainebleau: Priority Entrance Ticket
- Fontainebleau & Vaux-le-Vicomte Châteaux Day Tour from Paris
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