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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Today a tall pillar stands as landmark where the prison once stood. Called the Colonne de Juillet (July Column), it was inaugurated in 1840.
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
Further away from Paris than Versailles, Fontainebleau was originally constructed as a hunting lodge.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
11. 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.
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.
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.
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.
14. Sacre Coeur Basilica
It was built as a penance for the local riots and troubles that happened during the Paris Commune of 1871 right here 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.
If you enjoyed this article, you may like to read more about the top tourist attractions in France. A bientôt!