What do you see when you look at Paris? Pretty much everything. One of the reasons that the Paris skyline is so attractive is that the city is built to a human scale. Unlike almost any other major city, there is very little over five stories high to block the view of the city skyline. Other than the unfortunate 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 can get up just a little bit, the view is tremendous. We prefer the lower views (as from the Notre Dame bell towers) over the higher views (Tour Montparnasse) because that's where 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 the buildings you are able to see.
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Probably 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 and how it must have felt 200, 500, 700 years ago.
The Notre Dame towers afford a 360° view. Look upstream and downstream at the river Seine and understand the Paris geography, noting especially the hills of Montmartre in the north and of the Pantheon in the 5th Arrondissement.
Of course, since the fire of April 2019 few of us have been able to enjoy that view. But, we're hoping for the best and looking forward to the re-opening of the bell towers and the best view in central Paris.
Another view of Paris you're going to like — but one that few tourists ever see, because they don't make it out to Belleville — is 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 of course, but from here you get a real sense of its height. In front of the Tower you can see the Ferris wheel set up in the Tuileries and a bit of the roof of the Hotel de Ville. To the far left is the golden dome of the church of Les Invalides, which holds the tomb of Napoleon.
The viewing platform at the top of the Arc de Triomphe is the perfect place to take in the area around Champs-Elysées to the east and, as in the photo, the modern architecture of La Defense to the west. Every time we're up here we give silent thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte, who built this triumphal viewpoint.
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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. Back in 1870, this commanding viewpoint is where the Prussians set up their cannons to rain shells on Paris. While the most panoramic view is from the top of the dome of Sacre Coeur, we prefer the view from the top of the stairs that run immediately down from the church.
The one good thing about the futuristic eyesore that rises 56 stories above Gare Montparnasse is the view of the rest of the city it affords. For some 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. Nonetheless, worth experiencing.
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We saved this one for last — and who could forget this viewing platform! Great for views on the Seine and the entire west side of the city. The downside is the line-ups are always long (usually over 2 hours), so we bypass them by booking a skip-the-line Eiffel Tower tour in advance. In our opinion, though, the best views are not from the tippy-top (third level), but from the second level, like the photo above that also shows the shadow of the Tower itself.
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• Montmartre Cemetery…
• The Paris Skyline…
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