Palace of Versailles
The largest and maybe the most famous palace in the world isn’t something to take lightly.
A testament to the opulence and excess of the ancient régime, Versailles grew from a hunting lodge in the 17th century to the ultimate statement of power in the century that followed.
André Le Nôtre, who perfected the French formal garden style, and the virtuoso artist and decorator Charles Le Brun are just two of the masters to leave their mark at Versailles.
You need a lot of time to get the most from the palace, its opulent apartments and the historic Hall of Mirrors that links them.
And the main palace is only one element, along with the bewilderingly large grounds, the Royal Opera House, Grand Canal, Neptune Basin, Grand and Petit Trianon, and not to forget Marie Antoinette’s own idyllic village, the Hameau de la Reine.
In the astonishing confines of a Beaux-Arts railway station is a compendium of French art and culture from the mid-19th century to 1914. The Gare d’Orsay is on the left bank of the Seine and was completed in 1900 for the Exposition Universelle.
After becoming obsolete for modern rail travel the building sat idle before being listed and turned into one of the largest art museums in the world, filling the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Centre.
In this unforgettable environment are scores of iconic works of art by Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Renoir (Bal du Moulin de la Galette), Cézanne (The Card Players and Apples and Oranges), van Gogh (Starry Night Over the Rhône) and Manet (Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe).
Even taking on board the queues and safety measures, how could you possibly come to Paris and not go up one of the world’s most famous landmarks? Built in time for the 1889 World’s Fair, the tower stands at 324 metres and was the tallest structure in the country until the Millau Viaduct was completed in 2004. As an attraction it hardly needs introduction.
If you’re in the city for the first time then it needs to be a priority, but if you’re returning after a few years you can spot the city’s new landmarks, like the Fondation Louis Vuitton, from the observation decks.
Close to 7 million people ascend the Eiffel Tower every year; most go up to the first two levels where there are shops and restaurants, while the third level is still the highest accessible observation deck in Europe at 276 metres.
The world’s largest and most visited art museum has more than enough material for an article of its own.
The Louvre Palace started out as a medieval fortress, before becoming a gallery for artists to study antiquities and the works of Old Masters in the 1700s.
Fast forward 230 years and you have a museum that you’d need weeks to fully appreciate.
There are antiquities from scores of world cultures and a collection of Renaissance and Baroque art that puts every other museum in the world to shame.
If you are pressed for time, see the crème de la crème like the 2,200-year-old Winged Victory of Samothrace, Liberty Leading the People (Delacroix), the Portrait of François I (Jean Clouet), the enigmatic Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her sisters (Unknown) and of course the Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci).