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What do you see when you look at Paris? One of the reasons that the Paris skyline is so attractive is that it's human scale. Unlike almost any other major city, there is almost nothing over five storeys high to block the view of the Paris skyline.
Other than the skyscraper above the Montparnasse train station, Tour Montparnasse, it's not until you get to the periphery of Paris that tall buildings start to appear. The business center La Défense to the west of the central city is an example.
So if you get up just a little bit, the view is tremendous. We prefer the lower views (as from Notre Dame) over the higher views (Tour Montparnasse) because you get a real sense of the human scale of the city. In fact, you're able to trace the history of the city in the streets and buildings you can see.
Our favorite place to view Paris is from the top of the bell towers at Notre Dame Cathedral. You're high enough above the street (about 387 steps high!) to see over the surrounding buildings easily, yet low enough that you get a real sense of the silhouette of the Paris skyline.
From Notre Dame you get a 360° view. Look upstream and downstream at the Seine and understand the Paris geography, noting especially the hills of Montmartre and of the Pantheon.
Annotated view of Paris from Notre Dame — looking west
View of Paris from Notre Dame — looking northwest towards Sacre-Coeur
We also love the view of Paris from the top of Parc de Belleville in the 20th Arrondissement. It's quite a different view (and Belleville is quite a different place) from the rest of Paris.
You can spot the Eiffel Tower and get a real sense of its height, of course. But in front of it, between you and the Tower, you can see the Ferris wheel set up in the Tuileries and a bit of the roof of the Hotel de Ville.
Perfect for seeing the area around Champs-Elysées and, as in the photo below, the modern architecture of La Defense. By the way, you get free entrance to the top of the Arc de Triomphe with a Paris Pass.
From up on the hill of Montmartre (where the big white church, Sacre Coeur, is located) is another panoramic view of Paris from the north.
For most visitors, this may be the ultimate view of Paris, although it's so high you don't really see the city skyline, you're looking down at the city. Entrance to the 56th floor viewing level of Tour Montparnasse is free with a ParisPass.
Can't forget this viewing platform! Great for views on the Seine and the entire west side of the city. The line-ups can be long (usually over 2 hours), so we recommend booking a skip-the-line Eiffel Tower tour in advance. We think the best views of Paris are from teh second level, like the photo above.
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