14 Famous Landmarks in France

Get to know the most famous landmarks in France that are much loved by the locals and visitors alike.
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Dome of the Invalides in Paris, France
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France is a country known for its architecture and landmarks. Many of the country’s most famous landmarks having stood for centuries, while others are more recent.

They are a part of the country’s rich history, but they are also a part of its current essence. So let’s have a look at some of the top landmarks in France, shall we? Allons-y!

☞ READ MORE: French travel phrases you need for a trip to France

1. Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most symbolic buildings in France. With the unknown soldier buried at its base, along with the eternal flame this is a monument to the France’s past and a major landmark in the city.

It was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806, but his defeat by the British meant that he never saw it finished. It was completed in 1836, and become a rallying point for both French and foreign armies.

Arc de triomphe with french flag
Arc de Triomphe at the west end of the Champs Elysées, with French flag under the arch

Famous victory marches around or under the Arc de Triomphe include:

  • the Germans in 1871 – Franco-Prussian war
  • the French in 1919 – WWI
  • the Germans in 1940 – the invasion of France at start of WWII
  • French and Allied Forces in 1944-45 – end of WWII

Nowadays, there are military marches every 14 Juillet (Bastille Day) and 11 November (Armistice day) where the President of France and other dignatories gather to pay tribute to those who have fought for the country’s freedoms.

It is located at the corner of the 8th and 17th arrondissements in Paris. You can buy your tickets to the Arc de Triomphe here.

2. Eiffel Tower

Known as the La Tour Eiffel or la Dame de Fer (“The Iron Lady”) in French, it is of course called the Eiffel Tower by the rest of the world. This is a landmark that has become the symbol of not only Paris, but also all of France.

Eiffel tower at night

Construction of the Eiffel Tower started on 26th January 1887, and was completed in 2 years, 2 months and 5 days, a massive technological feat.

Today, tourists the world over flock to the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement to take in the views from all around and its observation decks. With expansive views stretching across the city, millions of visitors put it on their bucket list every year.

If you are visiting Paris and would like to visit the Eiffel Tower, I highly recommend buying tickets in advance.

3. Mont Saint Michel

One of the most beautiful and unique sights in the world, Mont Saint Michel is a sight to behold. Legend has it that the archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert of Avranches in 708 and instructed him to build a church on a large rock.

Mont Saint Michel in France
Mont Saint Michel

Surrounded by marshland that turns the UNESCO World heritage site into an island when the tide comes in. It is officially located in Normandy, although the locals in Brittany woudl disagree.

It takes about 4 hours to get there from Paris, although it is a bit of an adventure though, so this one day trip that I strongly recommend going with a tour company.

4. Louvre Pyramid

Instantly recognizable, a large glass pyramid stands as a landmark in the center the square of the Louvre museum. This former castle, turned palace, turned zoo, turned museum is a must for lovers of art and history.

It is said the Louvre Museum’s collection is so big only 5-10% of its artwork is actually on display.

Pyramid of the Louvre museum

In fact, there is so much art at the Louvre, so you have to pick and choose. For those keen to get clear shot of the Mona Lisa, relax afterward in the peaceful inner courtyard that is filled with ancient Greek statues. You can read more about visiting the Louvre here.

Note: During the busy summer season, tickets often are only sold online for timed entrances. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.

5. Carcassone

Moving to the south of France, one of the most popular landmarks and tourist attractions in France has to be the in town of Carcassonne.

La Cité de Carcassonne and its Château Comtal, with its enormous walls, look and feel like they belong in another time. And indeed they do, dating back to the Middle ages, when wars were waged on horseback and moats were enough to keep invaders out.

carcassonne

A UNESCO world-heritage site, the Cité de Carcassone is one of the largest of its kind with two outer walls and 53 towers.

The impressive citadel towers on a hilltop, surrounded by wide, stone ramparts that you can walk along and explore. There is quite a lot of see, so to make the most of your day, I suggest taking a guided tour when you arrive at Carcassonne.

6. Place de la Bastille

The epicenter of the French Revolution, Place de la Bastille is where the ancient prison called Bastille Saint-Antoine was located before it was destroyed.

Today a tall pillar stands as landmark where the prison once stood. Called the Colonne de Juillet (July Column), it was inaugurated in 1840.

Bastille in Paris
Place de la Bastille, Paris

There are no remnants left of the prison today, it was dismantled during the revolution. Some of the stones were used to build to the Pont de la Concorde bridge that leads from the Place de la Concorde, the site of the executions of the French Royals, to the Assemblée Nationale which is France’s House of Representatives.

7. Château de Fontainebleau

In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, Château de Fontainebleau was “the true home of kings, the house of ages.” 

While the glamorous Château de Versailles was a bit of a party palace, Château de Fontainebleau was the original working royal palace and notable landmark that was constructed centuries earlier.

Inside Chateau de Fontainebleau
Inside Chateau de Fontainebleau

Further away from Paris than Versailles, Fontainebleau was originally constructed as a hunting lodge.

Today it houses two exhibitions, both on larger-than-life French Kings: François I and Napoleon Bonaparte. You can find recommended tours to Fontainebleau from Paris here.

8. Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral

Standing majestically on the banks of the River Seine, Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral has been a landmark and focal point of Parisian life for centuries. Like other cathedrals in France from that era, it is a Roman catholic church built in a gothic-style.

Notre dame de Paris Cathedral
Front of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral

The building which began construction in the 9th century, suffered a significant fire in 2019 and is currently under reconstruction. It is still a beauty however, even with a few scars!

The site of the first Gallic and Roman civilisation here was called Lutece, and there are plenty of sights and history in the area. You can book a guided tour around the area here.

9. Palais des Papes

At the top of the list for visitors in Avignon is the former Papal Palace. Given the controversy over the papal move to Avignon, it is no surprise that this landmark palace was built as a fortress on a small hill, with high walls surrounding it and the city.

Palais des Papes, Avignon
Palais des Papes, Avignon

Constructed in the 13th century, the Palace is still one of the largest gothic medieval buildings in Europe.

The palace gradually deteriorated after the popes left in 1377, and was even used as military barracks and a prison by Napoleon Bonaparte as he went around conquering Europe.

Today, it is an exhibition center holding concerts and performances all throughout the year, as well as remaining a museum that tourists can visit.

If you are visiting, do check that there are no special events going on that restrict access to visitors. The inside is rather sparse in terms of furniture, but its large halls and 24 rooms are impressive nonetheless.

There is also a beautiful church to visit in the palace, as well as expansive views across to the Rhône river which is right next door. You can read more about visiting Avignon here.

11. Place de la République

Known as the Place du Château d’Eau until 1879, Place de la République is a landmark located on the border between the 3rd, 10th, and 11th arrondissements in Paris.

Place de la Republique at night
Place de la Republique at night

At the center of the Place de la République is a large bronze statue of Marianne holding an olive branch in her right hand and a tablet engraved with the “Droits de l’homme” (the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”) in her left hand.

This highly symbolic square is the place you see on TV where protesters usually gather. Most of the square is pedestrianized, and surrounded by small shops and hotels.

11. Pont du Gard

About 72 miles (117 km) away from Aix-en-Provence in the region of Provence, is an ancient Roman aqueduct known as Pont du Gard.

Built over a period of 5 years in the 1st century, the aqueduct was built to carry water to over 50 km (31 miles) to what was then the Roman colony of Nimes.

Pont du Gard in Provence, South of France
Pont du Gard in Provence, South of France

With 3 tiers of arches, it crosses the river Gardon and is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges, as well as being one of the best-preserved.

After the Roman empire collapsed, the Pont du Gard remained in use as it also served as a toll bridge for people looking to cross the river. The bridge remained mostly intact, with the Ducs of nearby Uzès being responsible for maintaining the bridge.

Rather than delivering water, the bridge instead became a landmark and tourist attraction, with everyone from French Kings to apprentice masons making their way to the bridge to admire its architecture.

In the early 2000s, traffic around the area was rerouted to preserve this UNESCO world heritage site and from pollution and maintain the tranquil nature of the area. Today, it is one of the most popular destinations in France after the Palace of Versailles and Mont Saint Michel.

You will need a rental car to visit, or alternatively you can book a tour from Aix-en-Provence.

12. Vieux Port of Marseille

Marseille is the oldest city in France, and if you are looking at landmarks in France, you cannot miss out on the Vieux Port of Marseille. Located in the heart of the city, this natural harbor has been the heart of the city since 6 BC.

Vieux Port in Marseille
Vieux Port

As such, the ancient greek harbor, the Old Port in Marseille was completely renovated in 2012 with improved traffic circulation and a new metro station underneath. 

This area is the historical heart of the city, where the Greeks and the Romans first landed, and where the Marseillais themselves gather for any big occasion.

There’s plenty of restaurants and bars around, so this is always where I recommend friends stay for a nice night out and an easy walk back to the hotel.

Depending on what time of the year you go, there are all sorts of attractions, such as a large ferris wheel in the center, a weird mirror art installation, the Christmas market, boats galore, and a ton of bars and restaurants.

13. Les Invalides

Les Invalides in the 7th arrondissement of Paris is a large complex of buildings has a very interesting permanent resident: the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.  With a large dome acting as a landmark for miles around, his body lies in an elaborate monument surrounded by reliefs of his accomplishments. 

Napoleon's tomb in the Invalides in Paris
Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides in Paris

There is also an in-depth museum, Musée de l’Armée dedicated to the military history of France in one of the other buildings of the complex. 

It is still today a military base in the center of the city, and many important and symbolic events take place in its courtyards. Lines are long, so book your tickets in advance here.

14. Sacre Coeur Basilica

Consecrated in 1919, Sacré-Cœur Basilica is located at top of a hill called butte Montmartre. This Parisian landmark is the highest point in the city (except for the Eiffel tower).

It was built as a penance for the local riots and troubles that happened during the Paris Commune of 1871 right here in Montmartre.

sacre coeur cathedral in montmartre

The Basilica is free to enter and certainly quite impressive to explore. However, it is in coming back out of the Basilica, that you notice the views.

Have a seat on the stairs of Sacre Coeur Cathedral and admire the panorama of the whole city. The best views are at sunset from this northern point of the city.

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If you enjoyed this article, you may like to read more about the top tourist attractions in France. A bientôt!

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