10 Famous Landmarks and Buildings In France You Need To Visit

Ah, France! It’s one of the most grand, ornate, over-the-top, romantic destinations in the world.

You get it all: food (escargot and cheese galore), wine, cobblestoned streets, colorful flower gardens, art, history, architecture, rolling countryside hills, ritzy beach towns, and so much more. There’s so much to love about this country.

No matter what you love most about France, there’s one thing no one can deny. This country’s got some pretty amazing architecture. From the Eiffel Tower to Château de Chambord to Mont Saint-Michel, these impressive structures are dotted all throughout the country.

You are most certainly going to be in over your head if you’re aiming to visit ALL the iconic buildings in France. You’d have to be traveling through the country for years to see it all!

Instead of trying to see it all, you’re going to have to prioritize. We understand, not everyone has years of free time to travel and see it all.

Luckily, many of the famous landmarks worth your time are located in some of the most convenient and beautiful areas in the country (like Paris!), making them relatively easy to reach.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, I’ve pulled together some of the most famous landmarks and buildings in France — that are easy enough to get to — where you’ll be able to enjoy some of the country’s most iconic landmarks steeped in history, beauty, and allure!

This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!

10 Famous Buildings In France You Need To Visit

Here’s a map overview of all the buildings and landmarks we’re going to be covering:

Trip map created with Wanderlog, a trip planner on iOS and Android

1. Eiffel Tower

Paris, France - www.travelswithelle.com

The Eiffel Tower has to be listed first. You don’t think about France without having an image of the Eiffel Tower pop up in your head!

The Eiffel Tower was built as the entrance arch for the 1889 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle) held in Paris to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Designed by engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower was initially met with mixed reactions from the public and the artistic community — some people hated it and thought it was the ugliest thing in the world. Some people criticized its unconventional design and perceived it as an eyesore, while others appreciated its innovative engineering and monumental scale.

However, over time, the Eiffel Tower became an iconic symbol of Paris and one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. Everyone today is completely obsessed with it!

For the best views of the Eiffel Tower, head to Trocadéro Gardens, located across the Seine River. Here, you’ll find the perfect vantage point to admire the tower’s intricate design and towering presence against the Parisian skyline.

Another popular spot for front row views is from the Champ de Mars, where you can enjoy a leisurely picnic while gazing up at the Eiffel Tower in all its splendor.

If you’re looking to explore the Eiffel Tower on a deeper level, you can buy tickets to visit its upper levels.

The line to visit the Eiffel Tower can be incredibly long (we’re talking 2+ hours wait on the busiest days). Who wants to spend their time in line when they’re on vacation though???

You have two options to avoid this fiasco: booking your tickets in advance or opt for a skip-the-line tour.

The cheapest way to visit the Eiffel Tower is to purchase your tickets in advance online on the official website, but these tend to sell out almost as soon as they become available (60 days in advance). If they are sold out, get this skip-the-line tour instead, which costs just slightly more than the basic ticket cost. 

You can take the elevator or climb the stairs to the first and second levels, where you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Paris’s landmarks. On one side you’ll see the Arc de Triomphe, on the other you’ll see the Notre-Dame, and more!

👉 Pro Tip: The lines for the elevators are very long, while the lines for the stairs are much shorter. Online tickets for the elevator go on sale 60 days in advance. Online tickets for the stairs go on sale 14 days in advance. 

You could also venture to the tippy top of the Eiffel Tower, where you can step out onto the observation deck and marvel at the cityscape below. Enjoy a glass of either rosé or white champagne at the champagne bar located at the top before you continue wandering.

For a dose of history, visit the Gustave Eiffel Room to learn about the tower’s fascinating history and engineering marvels.

And if you’re celebrating something special and have the budget to splurge, you can dine in style at one of the tower’s acclaimed restaurants, such as the legendary Michelin-starred Le Jules Verne.

Read More: 7 Luxury Hotels In Paris With Views Of The Eiffel Tower

2. Louvre Museum

The Louvre - Famous Buildings In France

The Louvre is the largest museum on the entire 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 at the same time.

This place is massive and you literally could spend days here. 

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… acres!!

This building was once the home to French Kings, including Louis XIV. During the French Revolution in the 18th century, the Louvre was converted to a museum.

The Louvre - Paris Travel Itinerary

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. 

While the outside of The Louvre is certainly beautiful, the inside is worth a visit too. The main sites to visit in the Louvre are the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory.

To have a more enriching experience at the Louvre, here are some tips for ya:

  • Guided Tours: Opt for a guided tour led by an expert art historian or licensed guide. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time paying attention to art on my own. Guided tours provide valuable insights into the museum’s vast collection, helping you navigate through the highlights and uncover hidden gems.
  • Audio Guides: Rent an audio guide available at the museum’s entrance. Audio guides offer informative commentary on selected artworks and key highlights, allowing you to explore the museum at your own pace while also giving you some direction too.
  • Skip-the-Line Tickets: Purchase skip-the-line tickets to avoid long lines at the entrance. With priority access, you can spend more time exploring the museum’s galleries and less time waiting in line.
  • Go City Pass: Get yourself the Go City Paris Pass, which includes skip-the-line admission to the Louvre Museum, PLUS free access to other top attractions in Paris (Eiffel Tower, hop-on-hop-off-bus, etc). We absolutely love the value we get with Go City on all our big-city travels!

3. Palace Of Versailles

Palace of Versailles - Best Castles In France

Located just 17 km southwest of Paris just about a 35-minute train ride away, Versailles stands as one of the most popular, most opulent, and easiest day trips from Paris by train.

The Palace of Versailles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s most popular attractions. It would be a shame to come all this way to Europe and miss out on such a grand palace. Not only is it a total feast for the eyes, but it’s also got so much historical significance!

As a quick backstory, this palace had humble beginnings in the 16th century as it was intended to be a hunting lodge and a small countryside getaway. As the years progressed, King Louis XIII and the others in his family line continued building to create one of the greatest châteaus in France.

This royal residence became a museum in 1833 and now houses 60,000 pieces of art!

The Palace of Versailles has been featured in a long list of movies (mainly French), but if you watched the 2006 movie Marie Antoinette, you’ll recognize certain areas of the palace like The Hall of Mirrors — hands-down the most epic room in the entire palace.

The Hall of Mirrors 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!

Palace of Versailles - Best Castles In France - Paris, France - www.travelswithelle.com

If you plan for a full day, you can visit all the spots that make up the property, including the palace itself, the massive gardens, the Grand Trianon, and the Queen’s Hamlet. 

There’s so much to see and do in Versailles that being bored during your day trip just won’t be an issue. You’ll very likely need a full day to see it all.

👉 Pro Tip: Aim to arrive before the palace opens to beat the insane crowds–this is what I did on my last visit and I was able to capture photos of the palace and gardens with virtually no one in them (except for maybe the grounds gardener)! I’d recommend you purchase a skip-the-line ticket if you’re arriving after the park opens. Opt for a guided tour if you find audioguides too boring!

Recommended Tours:

👉 Pro Tip: Wear your most comfortable shoes during your day trip to Palace of Versailles! The property is truly MASSIVE. I walked over 30k steps during my day trip to Versailles, and even with my best walking shoes, my feet were throbbing after my visit to the palace and the palace grounds!

Some other fun facts about the palace:

  • The king’s food was always cold because the kitchens were so far away 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. Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe - Famous Buildings In France To Visit

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.

Arc de Triomphe - Famous Buildings In France

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 Paris - Famous Buildings In France

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the most famous and easily recognizable 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.

👉 NOTE:  In 2019, Notre Dame suffered a devastating fire. The cathedral and the towers have been closed while reconstruction work is being done. The cathedral is slotted to reopen by the end of 2024.

6. Sacré-Coeur Basilica

Paris, France - www.travelswithelle.com

This iconic Sacré-Coeur Basilica is another one of the most visited 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, due to the stone that came 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 views of Paris.

Being the second-highest point in Paris, most of the Parisian monuments are visible from here with binoculars!

Near Sacré-Cœur, do not miss:

  • The rest of Montmartre: This charming neighborhood is known for its artistic heritage, cobblestone streets, and picturesque squares. Visit Place du Tertre to see local artists at work, wander through hidden vineyards like Clos Montmartre, sit down for a coffee break, or have lunch at one of the many Parisian bistros.
  • Musée de Montmartre: Discover the history of Montmartre and its artistic community. Housed in a historic building once frequented by artists like Renoir and Modigliani, the museum features exhibitions on Montmartre’s bohemian past.
  • Place du Tertre: Don’t miss a stroll through this bustling square filled with street artists, outdoor cafes, and souvenir shops.
  • Moulin Rouge Cabaret: The most iconic cabaret show in Paris! Expect a glamorous and extravagant experience, featuring spectacular performances, dazzling costumes, and high-energy choreography set to lively music. It’s almost a rite of passage for people visiting Paris, but tickets can be pricey! You can view your ticket options here.

7. Chateau du Chambord

Château de Chambord - 9 Best Castles In France

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 I 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 I, was not completed until the 17th century. It has undergone many interior changes throughout the years as different royals have lived in the castle.

One of its notable features is the double helix stairway inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, which allows two individuals to go to 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.

Recommended Tours:

8. Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel - 10 Coolest Castles In France You Must See For Yourself

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.

Read More: 10 Best Castles in France You Must See For Yourself

9. Panthéon

Pantheon Paris - Famous Buildings In France

We’re back in Paris again with another famous landmark! The Panthéon is an 18th-century mausoleum with a colonnaded facade housing remains of notable French citizens including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, and Marie Curie. A lineup of truly important people!

You can find the Panthéon in the 5th Arrondissement in Paris (the Latin Quarter). If you just happen to be in the area, 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 Panthéon 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 Panthéon 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 Panthéon 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 Panthéon’s dome. But leave your heels at home because it’s a steep climb to the top!

10. Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau - 10 Must See Castles In France

Château de Fontainebleau 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 has 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.

Somehow, despite all the change of ownership throughout the centuries, everything just meshes together so well!

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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