Traveler's Guide to
Historic Paris Landmarks

Walking in Paris is like walking through history and we're always in awe of the 2000 years worth of artifacts and monuments to be found in virtually every part of the city. Some are more well-known than others — the Arcs and the churches — but we also love the unexpected artifacts from the past encountered while walking the city.

In the Latin Quarter you might come across vestiges of Roman walls and streets. Across the rivert stretches of the walls of Philippe Augustus can be seen. There are the medieval churches and archaeological crypts and the grand royal city developments like the Louvre. Paris landmarks cover an amazing scope of history, architectural styles and uses.

You might also want to read some of our other articles on landmarks of paris, with specific articles about the history of the Eiffel Tower, Paris churches & cathedrals, and the city hall — Hotel de Ville.

There's so much of interest that it's hard to walk down a street in Paris and not see something of historic value. In this article we look at some of the less-well-known and perhaps unexpected historic Paris landmarks, and tell where to find them and where they came from

The Catacombs

Historic Paris Landmarks

Paris Catacombs

If you're looking for something a little different in Paris landmarks, consider a trip to the underworld.

Over the centuries millions of the dead were buried in cemeteries in various spots of the city. By the late 1700s Paris was overcrowded with burials and, when corpses from adjacent cemeteries started to tumble into the cellars of houses, something had to be done.

That's when the city began to evacuate many of the burial grounds and move the bones to the 14th Arrondissement, using the caverns that had been created by limestone mines as their new resting place.

Nowadays you can explore these labyrinths beneath the city that are the final resting place of perhaps six million of Parisian. A tour through the Paris Catacombs is an eerie reminder of the long and sometimes bizarre history of Paris.

Archaeological Crypt of Notre-Dame

Archaeological Crypt of Notre-Dame

Not many visitors are aware that just in front of Notre Dame is an underground archaeological site that contains remnants of Roman Paris from the first to the third centuries.

The remains were discovered during excavations of the place in front of Notre Dame starting in 1965. The archaeological crypt itself was built in to protect the ruins and was opened to the public in 1980. It's a fascinating trip into the twenty centuries of history of Île de la Cité.

We love the sense of history and human time we get when we discover things like this.

Palais Royal

Historic Paris Landmarks

Palais Royal

The Palais Royal is located pretty much in the center of Paris, just across from the Louvre.

It was built as the home of the famous Cardinal Richelieu in the 1630s and was orginally named after him, Palais-Cardinal, but he only enjoyed it for three years before he died in 1642.

It has housed many notable royals, including the wife and daughter of Charles I of England after he was deposed and executed in 1649. Henrietta Anne, his daughter, married Louis XIV's brother and it was she who created the famed gardens of the Palais Royal. During her lifetime the Palace was famous throughout France for its grand parties and royal affairs.

In the next century shops were added and the gardens were open to the public. Also added at that time were the two most important French theatres — Théâtre du Palais-Royal and Comédie Francais, which is still there today.

Travel Tip

The Heart of Paris Bike Tour takes you to Palais Royal and many other historic landmarks.

During the French Revolution Palais Royal was temporarily renamed Palais de l'Égalité, Palace of Equality. After the Revolution the palace regained its place in the centre of Paris social life and the most popular cafés were to be found around it.

Today it's the home of France's Constitutional Council and of the Ministry of Culture. The gardens remain open to the public and are a great place to spend a perfect spring day.

Located across from the north west wing of the Louvre, on Rue Saint-Honoré.

Place des Vosges, The Marais

Place des Vosges

This historic Paris square or place was first called Place Royale, not to be confused with Palais Royal !

It actually is a square, the oldest one in Paris, and perhaps the prettiest. It's the model and predecessor of all the squares that were to be built in the cities of Europe. It was an early model of urban planning, where one design was used for the facades of all the buildings surrounding the place.

Travel Tip

Guided Walking Tour of the Marais, including Place de VosgesInformation & Booking

Like many Paris landmarks, Place des Vosges had a royal beginning. It was opened in 1612 (400 years ago) with a regal bash to celebrate the wedding of Louis XII. Today it's also known for the house of Victor Hugo, which is now a museum dedicated to this famous French writer.

It's also a great place to start your walking tour of the Marais. Explore the shops along Rue des Francs Bourgeois and stop for a Jewish pastry on Rue des Rosiers.

Historic Paris Landmarks: Place Dauphine

Place Dauphine

One of our favorite spots in Paris, Place Dauphine is an oasis of calm in the middle of the activity of Paris. It's located near the western end of Île de la Cité.

This triangular-shaped "square" was built at the same time as Place des Vosges and was one of the projects of Henry IV, the French king who was the first to really start beautifying Paris. In 1609, when the work started, the site was three small, muddy islands, but you wouldn't know it to see Place Dauphine today.

The place started out shaped like a rectangle with tapered ends, with the western gates facing the statue of Henri IV, which still stands there today. In the Haussmannian renovation of Paris during the mid-19th century, the eastern end of Place Dauphine was demolished to make way for the Palais de Justice.

Today, Place Dauphine is an ideal spot to take a break and enjoy a glass of wine and a light snack at Le Bar du Caveau or one of the restaurants surrounding the place. You can watch boules games or the occassional art show held in the place.

Historic Paris Landmarks: Conciergerie

Conciergerie

La Conciergerie is the oldest remaining part of the Palais de la Cité, the seat of the kings of France from the 10th through the 14th centuries.

In fact, the history of the site goes back even farther, to the 6th century when Clovis established his royal residence on Île de la Cité. It wasn't until 1358 that Charles V moved the royal residence to the Louvre on the right bank of the Seine.

La Conciergerie was converted to a prison and that's when it got its name, the Concierge being the person appointed by the king to maintain order and oversee prisoner records.

The place already had a bad reputation by the time the French Revolution began in 1789, when its reputation sank even lower. Over a thousand "enemies of the Revolution" at a timewere housed there, and 2,500 were sent to the guillotine. Famous names from that period of history ended their lives here: Marie Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, Madame du Barry.

Today La Conciergerie is a National Historic Monument and is part of the complex of the Palais de Justice (as is Saint-Chapelle). Parts of it are open to public visits, including the magnificent Hall of the Guards.

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