Oh Paris, so many people long to visit you soon.
But then, once people have the plane ticket and arrive in the city, they limit themselves to visit the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame (included in this list by the way). Kind of sad, isn’t it?
Paris has so much to offer, and you know it. That’s why you are reading this article. You’re reading this article because you want to visit Paris’ newest buildings but also the old jewels, because you love wandering around but also want to find its beautiful hidden spots.
The truth is that people who love architecture tend to travel in a different way.
Want to discover Paris’ architecture? Continue reading!
1. Centre Georges Pompidou
Architect: Renzo Piano
Location: 19 Rue Beaubourg (Google)
Description: This is one of the most iconic buildings in Paris and houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne which is the largest museum for modern art in Europe. Its exposed skeleton of brightly coloured tubes for mechanical systems was the beginning of a new era of architecture and it’s a must visit. Oh and don’t miss the views from the top floor, which has free admission the first Sunday of each month. Read more here.
2. Palais de Tokyo Expansion
Architect: Lacaton & Vassal
Location: 13 Avenue du Président Wilson (Google)
Description: Built in 1937 for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology of 1937. Now is a building dedicated to modern and contemporary art. The Pavilion was established in 2001 and intended as a studio and laboratory space. The new Café, located on top of the Palais, has one of the best skyline views of Paris although it is a bit pricey. Read more here.
3. L’Institut du Monde Arabe
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Location: 1 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard (Google)
Description: The purpose of this cultural center is to foster knowledge of Arab world culture by the exchange of information on the arts, sciences and modern technologies. It incorporates some well-lit exhibition areas, a museum, library, a 300-seat hall and a restaurant, as well as offices and car parking. Internally a superb feature is the glass and steel stairs and lift enclosure, which can be seen from most parts of the building. Amazing view from its rooftop too. Read more here.
4. Maison de Verre
Architect: Pierre Chareau (a furniture and interiors designer), Bernard Bijvoet (a Dutch architect) and Louis Dalbet (craftsman metalworker).
Location: 31 Rue Saint-Guillaume (Google)
Description: Built as a modern house for Dr. Dalsace, a member of the French Communist Party who played a significant role in both anti-fascist and cultural affairs. Jean Cocteau, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró and Max Jacob, among others, regularly frequented his salon. It’s built out of steel and glass to achieve an approach of three targets “honesty of materials, variable transparency of forms, and juxtaposition of “industrial” materials”. Although it’s a private building, one can appreciate some of this elements from the exterior. Read more here.
5. Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Architect: Dominique Perrault
Location: Quai François Mauria (Google)
Description: This public library began as the most ambitious in a long line of architectural undertakings – the Grands Projets – spearheaded by President François Mitterand in the 1980s and early 90s, which included the Arab World Institute, the Parc de la Villette, the famously controversial Pyramide at the Louvre, and others. Made up by four towers which resemble four open books, all facing one another. They define a symbolic and mythical place which imposes the library’s presence and identity on the urban landmarks and enhance the idea of the “book”. Very nice walk across the footbridges. Read more here.
6. Le Grande Louvre
Architect: I.M. Pei
Location: Place du Carrousel (Google)
Description: As mentioned in #5, in 1981, the newly elected French president, Francois Mitterrand, launched a campaign to renovate cultural institutions throughout France and one of the most advantageous of those projects was the renovation and reorganization of the Louvre. Built in the same proportions of the famous Pyramid of Giza, it alleviated the congestion from the thousands of daily visitors. Sunset is the best time to visit. Read more here.
7. Maison du Brésil and Pavillon Suisse
Architect: Le Corbusier
Location: 7 L Boulevard Jourdan (Google)
Description: I am doing a combo here because these two buildings, both by Le Corbusier, are one in front of the other, and it would be stupid not to visit them at the same time. The Swiss Pavilion was built in 1930 as a dormitory that would house Swiss students at the Cité Internationale Universitaire in Paris. On the other hand, La Maison du Brésil, was built in 1959 as both a residence hall for Brazilian academics, students, teachers, and artists, and as a hub for Brazilian culture, providing exhibition spaces and archival resources. Both employed the architect’s five points of architecture. Read more here and here.
8. Meditation Space
Architect: Tadao Ando
Location: Place de Fontenoy 7 (Inside UNESCO HQ) (Google)
Description: You may have heard about the UNESCO headquarters by Marcel Breuer and Pier Luigi Nervi, but you may have not heard about Tadao Ando’s secret place inside. Built in 1995 as a place to pray to symbolize peace and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the adoption of UNESCO’s Constitution, this concrete cylinder is six meters in diameter and height. Light enters this space for just a slit between the wall and the roof floating circularly. Also, don’t miss the stones on the ground and the pond, they are stones that have suffered the effects of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Read more here.
9. Sacré-Cœur Basilica
Architect: Paul Abadie
Location: 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre (Google)
Description: You may think this Romano-Byzantine church is older than it looks, but it was actually built after the Eiffel Tower (19889). The inspiration for Sacré Cœur’s design originated on September 4, 1870, the day of the proclamation of the Third Republic. The apse mosaic Christ in Majesty, created by Luc-Olivier Merson, is among the largest in the world. Amazing skyline views from the dome (accessible through the exterior left side of the basilica). Don’t miss the Moulin Rouge Cabaret by Josep Oller close by. Read more here.
10. Espace Citroën
Architect: Manuelle Gautrand
Location: Avenue des Champs-Elysées 42 (Google)
Description: Located just a few streets away from the Arc de Triomphe, this building is dedicated to the Citroën C42 showroom. Its shape is quite different compared to the traditional buildings that fill up the Champs-Elysées. Gautrand used the glass of the faceted window as a symbol of the marque’s creativity and innovativeness. She fused the corporate logo with the (beautiful) façade structure: the frame is made up of inverted V-shapes. Read more here.
11. Notre Dame Cathedral
Architect: Manuelle Gautrand
Location: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II (Google)
Description: This Catholic cathedral, featured in countless movies, is located on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. Over the construction period, numerous architects worked on the site, as is evidenced by the differing styles at different heights of the west front and towers. Don’t miss the tower, which can be visited, and contemplate the gargoyles and chimera built by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. The Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation is just behind it, don’t miss it either. Read more here.
12. Cinémathèque Française
Architect: Frank Gehry
Location: 51 Rue de Bercy (Google)
Description: You may have noticed that Gehry has such a defined style that all his buildings almost look like replicas. However, this building is quite unique providing the fact that it was built before the Stata center at MIT (2004), Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003) and even The Guggenheim (1997). Originally built in 1994 as the American Center in Paris but since 2005 it’s home to France’s national library/museum/theater celebrating the history of film. Sculptural as it was, his proposal respected the urban context in its scale, its limestone cladding, and the way it hugged its property lines. Read more here.
13. Eiffel Tower
Architect: Gustave Eiffel
Location: Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France (Google)
Description: Time for a big classic. Despite being such a cliché, this spot is one of my favorites as an architect. Built in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, which was located in the Trocadéro area in front. It is 324 metres (1,063 ft) tall. In 1920 the tower lost the title of the world’s tallest structure when the Chrysler Building was completed in New York. There’s a magical atmosphere around the Eiffel Tower, don’t miss it. Read more here.
14. Docks de Paris
Architect: Jakob + MacFarlane
Location: 34 Quai d’Austerlitz (Google)
Description: The wonderful job of the architects transformed a concrete shipping depot originally built in 1907 to a shinny museum of fashion and design. The architects are calling their design a ‘plug-over’ as the new structure is a new external skin that enveloped the existing site on the sides and on top. The roof has also been developed using wooden decks and grassed areas. Read more here.
15. Hôtel Guimard
Architect: Hector Guimard
Location: 122 Avenue Mozart (Google)
Description: This little building is a hidden jewel of the city. Built as an Art Nouveau house the architect designed for himself and his wife after visiting the Hôtel Tassel in Brussels, designed by the über famous Victor Horta. Guimard was known for designing the now famous subway entrances (Pasteur, Porte Dauphine…) and also the Castel Béranger door at Rue Jean de la Fontaine which is worth a visit too. Read more here.
16. Maison-Atelier Ozenfant, Immeuble Porte Molitor, Fondation Le Corbusier and Villa Stein-de-Monzie Architect: Le Corbusier
Location: (Fondation Le Corbusier) 8-10 Square du Docteur Blanche (Google)
Description: Of the countless buildings Le Corbusier designed in France, most of his housing examples are located in Paris. It would be unfair to just list one of them and that’s why I included some of his most representative works. Where to start? Definitely at Maison La Roche and Maison Jeanneret (1923–24), a pair of semi-detached houses that were Le Corbusier’s third commission in Paris. Now used as a museum containing about 8,000 original drawings, studies and plans by Le Corbusier. Read more here.
17. Le Cylindre Sonore
Architect: Bernard Leitner
Location: Allée du Belvédère and Allée du Zenith (Google)
Description: In general, the “Parc de la Villette” park (Bernard Tschumi) is a point of interest for architects -including the controversial Philharmonie de Paris by Jean Nouvel. However, this little spot by Bernard Leitner is definitely the best point of the park. Partially hidden from the bamboos, Le Cylindre Sonore stands with his concrete double walls in a lower level respect of the bordering alleys, as an excavated hole voluntary delimiting the rest of the park. Once descended with a long staircase, one can experience a contemplative listening in a true resonating chamber, potentiated by three loudspeakers hidden behind eight perforated concrete walls. Read more here.
18. Musée d’Orsay
Architect: Victor Laloux, Lucien Magne and Émile Bénard
Location: 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur (Google)
Description: Built in 1900 as the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station and although its function was transformed, it does look like a railway station. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh. This and Marmottan Monet Museum are my favorites in Paris. Read more here.
19. Musée du quai Branly
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Description: Many people (tourists) reach this spot by accident when trying to find the Eiffel Tower. However, this museum is quite important itself. Hybrid, composite, coloured, mysterious and joyous, Jean Nouvel’s building has in effect set itself beyond the usual time and canons of contemporary architecture. The “green wall” on the exterior was designed and planted by Gilles Clément and Patrick Blanc and it’s worth a visit too. Read more here.
20. Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris
Architect: Frank Gehry
Location: 8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi (Google)
Description: One of the most recent buildings of Paris, it was constructed on the edge of a water garden created especially for the project and comprises an assemblage of white blocks (known as “the icebergs”) clad in panels of fiber-reinforced concrete, surrounded by twelve immense glass “sails” supported by wooden beams. The sails give Fondation Louis Vuitton its transparency and sense of movement, while allowing the building to reflect the water, woods and garden and continually change with the light. What do you think of this one? Read more here.
21. Eglise Notre Dame de Pentecôte
Architect: Franck Hammoutène
Location: 1 Avenue de la Division Leclerc (Google)
Description: Hidden in between La Défense’s towers, this little Catholic church breaks the high-rise style of the area in a quite futuristic way. Check out the flame-shaped pulpit, the image of the Virgin Mary that looks uncannily like the Buddha, and the individual chairs that unfold to create benches. Read more here.
22. Palace of Versailles
Architect: Louis Le Vau, Andre Le Notre and Charles Lebrun
Location: Place d’Armes, 78000 Versailles (Google)
Description: The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful. This is a classic that everyone should visit once in a lifetime. Read more here.
23. Villa Savoye
Architect: Le Corbusier
Location: 82 Rue de Villiers (Poissy) (Google)
Description: This may be the one house that every architect knows in the world and with no doubt it is one of the most significant contributions to modern architecture in the 20th century. The house single handedly transformed Le Corbusier’s career as well as the principles of the International Style; becoming one of the most important architectural precedents in the history. Originally built as a country retreat on behest of the Savoye family but it now belongs to the French state and therefore it can be visited. Read more here.
[BONUS]- Villa Dall’Ava
Architect: Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)
Location: Avenue Clodoald, 92210 Saint-Cloud (Google)
Description: Although it can’t be visited by any means, I felt this house had to be on the list. Built in 1991 as a modern-expressionist house with two distinct apartments—one for the house owners and another for their daughter—and requested a swimming pool on the roof with a view of the Eiffel Tower. The strip windows and thin, repeated columns recall Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. Read more here.
This list could keep going forever, so if you want more amazing architecture check these and other amazing buildings of Paris on the map below or download The Free Architecture Guide of Paris.