As someone who loves creating pictures based on wide views, I have spent an inordinate amount of time looking for the best overlooks of Paris. I suppose I do that in every city, but Paris in particular. That’s partly just because I have spent a lot of time there in recent years, and partially because there is just no question in my mind that it is the most beautiful city in the world.
So without further ado, here are my 10 favorite overlooks that you might want to take in on your next visit to Paris. I have ranked them in rough order of my least favorite to favorite.
One note: The view from the towers of Notre Dame is a very famous view but I’m not including it at present, due to the fire. Notre Dame is scheduled to reopen in 2024 (but we’ll see), and I may update this post then.
10. View from the Arab World Institute
The Arab World Institute is a nondescript office building along the Seine in central Paris. It is on the left bank, just across from the Ile Saint Louis. You can go to the top in an elevator and taken in the views looking along the Seine into central Paris.
I don’t think this was ever going to be one of my favorite views of Paris. It is nice, but not thrilling. In any case, the central feature of the view was Notre Dame cathedral, and at present that is a construction site covered with scaffolding. Therefore, this view is, at present, skippable.
Further, you won’t be able to take in sunrise or sunset here (or a night view, for that matter). It’s hours are limited to 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (7:00 pm on weekends, and closed Mondays). Therefore you won’t see Paris at its best here.
9. View from the Eiffel Tower
There is an old famous story about an old guy who despised the Eiffel Tower but ate lunch in the café there every day. When asked why, he said “it’s the only place in the city you can’t see it.” For much the same reason as this guy supposedly went to the Eiffel Tower every day, the Eiffel Tower actually ranks low for me as a place to view Paris.
Having the Eiffel Tower in your picture immediately identifies the picture as Paris. It almost always adds something to the picture. I love including it in shots of Paris, but it is impossible to do while standing on it.
Still, you are going to want to visit the Eiffel Tower. There are nice views of the city, but don’t expect the views to get better as you go higher. Things get smaller and smaller as you go up, obviously, and I find it is difficult to create an interesting shot from the very top. I like the shots from the second floor the best.
Buy your tickets well in advance to ensure you can go when you want. I recommend going around sunset and staying for an hour or more. That will allow you to take pictures of Paris at sunset, in twilight, and at night once the city is lit up. Tickets cost anywhere from 10.70 to 26.80 for adults depending on whether you want to go all the way to the top and whether you walk or take the elevator up to the second floor.
8. View from Printemps
Printemps is a large department store in central Paris. It is worth visiting in its own right, but a key feature is the balcony on the top floor. Take the escalators or elevators to the top.
Once there, you can go out on the north-facing balcony for free but views from that angle are limited. The views facing south are much better, but those balconies are taken up by cafes on the top floor. Therefore you will have to be seated and buy something. Just buy a cup of coffee and a pastry if it is early or a beer if it is late. It will likely take some time because that’s just the way French service works, but it will give you plenty of time to take a few pictures from the top.
It is located at 98 Rue de la Victoire, 75009 Paris. It is only open until 8:00, which may not get you a sunset picture in the summer.
7. View from Top of Galleries Lafayette
Only a block or two away from Printemps is Galleries Lafayette, another large French department store. This one is actually impressive on the inside too.
You don’t need a ticket and you don’t need to buy anything. Just take the elevators to the top floor and then go up the stairs to the overlook. There will be many other people up there. There is actually a restaurant up there as well, if you want to spend some time up there. But most people just go up, take some pictures, and move on.
What you will get is a view that overlooks the Opera Garnier with the Eiffel Tower in the background. There is plenty of room up there to walk around and try different angles.
It is located at 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris. It is only open until 8:30 pm (and 8:00 pm on Sundays), meaning you won’t be able to get sunset shots during the height of summer.
- Location: 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris.
- Hours: 10 – 8 (Mon – Sat); 11 – 8 (Sun)
- Website: www.gallerieslafayette.com
6. View from the Bir-Hakeim Bridge
Do bridges really qualify as overlooks? They elevate you over your surroundings so, I am going to say yes, but I recognize that it is debatable. In any event, since they are over water, that means that the surrounding area will generally be unobstructed, which is nice. You generally get good views.
The Pont de Bir-Hakeim (pont means bridge, by the way) gives you a great view because it is so close to the Eiffel Tower. It is just to the west of it, easy walking distance. You stand over the Seine and put the Eiffel Tower to either side of your shot.
Testimonial to what a great view it is, is the fact that you will doubtlessly be competing with wedding photographers for space while you are there. Thankfully, however, there is a lot of space on this bridge. There are wide sidewalks and even pull-outs seemingly custom made for you to spend some time taking pictures. Also, since it is a bridge, there are no opening hours, so you can come here whenever you think you might get the best conditions for a great picture.
- Location: Pont de Bir-Hakeim
- Hours: 24/7
5. View from the Pompidou Center
The Pompidou Center is a modern art museum located right in the heart of the Marais. The building itself is very odd, and was built in a sort of “inside-out” fashion with all the guts of the building visible on the outside. Speaking of the outside of the building, however, it is a great place to hang out. You will see all sorts of people there, and there are several cafes surrounding it,
But we are here to talk about views, and the view from the top here is nice. You will need tickets, of course, and you go up the escalators to the fifth floor. There is an overlook extending the length of the building. Just walk around and pick your shots.
There is also a café on the very top floor, which is very good but upscale and pricey. The views are actually better from the deck.
It is located at 1 Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris. As with other places, when you can go is limited by opening hours, but the Pompidou is open until 9:00 every night (but closed on Tuesdays).
4. View from Pont du Carrousel
Nothing beats a walk along the Seine at sunrise. There is nobody out and the conditions are usually quite calm. If you decide to do that, head down the the Pont du Carrousel. You get this great view toward Pont Royal, flanked by buildings that scream France on either side.
The view to the west is what you are after. In that regard, sunset should afford a nice view as well, although there will be a lot of people and traffic to contend with at that time.
What is great about this location as well is that you are in the heart of things. The Louvre and the Tuileries are nearby. There are a lot of other cool bridges and viewpoints in this area as well.
- Location: Pont du Carrousel
- Hours: 24/7
3. View from Pont de la Concorde
A view that has the Seine River, the Pont Alexandre III Bridge, and the Eiffel Tower in it? Come on. That’s too good to be true, isn’t it?
Nope, just head to Place Concord, which is in at the eastern end of the Champs Elysses, halfway between the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre. Then look for the bridge.
The bridge itself is pretty nondescript, but it has nice wide sidewalks, and of course the before-mentioned view to the west. As is always the case, sunrise and sunset work best. Also, if you can slow down the shutter speed on your camera, that will give the water a nice, smooth effect that makes the river look much better.
- Location: Pont du Carrousel
- Hours: 24/7
2. View from the Top of the Arc de Triomphe
Did you know you could go up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe? Many people don’t, but not only can you do it, you should! The views are great. In one direction you look right down the Champs Elysses toward the Louvre. In the other direction, you look toward the Eiffel Tower. You are high enough to get good views but not so high that everything looks like it is on Google Earth.
I love this view and make it a point to come up here at some point on every trip to Paris. Definitely come here. The Arc is in the center of a huge traffic circle, but there is a tunnel underneath that you take to it. Buy your tickets and walk to the top (there is no elevator, so stairs are the only way up).
The only downside is that they don’t allow tripods. They are very strict about this too, and I have seen them get after many people who tried to surreptitiously use one. That can be an issue if you are photographing at night or in low light.
It is located at Place Charles de Gualle, 75008 at the western end of the Champs Elyssees (there is a major Metro stop here too). The hours are generous, as they stay open until 10:30 pm at night, every day of the week. You can always get sunset and night shots here.
1. View from the Montparnasse Tower
The Montparnasse tower is a skyscraper in central Paris. What’s more, it is the only one. I’m told that the French hated it and banned all future skyscrapers in central Paris, but I’m not sure if that is true or not. In any case, as the only skyscraper in central Paris, you have amazing, unobstructed views of Paris.
There is an observation deck at the top. It costs 20 Euros to go up, but once you do you have the best view in Paris. You can spend as long as you like up there. The top floor is inside, which is nice, but you have to shoot through glass, but you can also go up to the roof. There are glass panels set up, which are nice because they cut down on the wind. What’s more, there are gaps between the panels that are large enough to fit a camera lens through.
It is open until 10:30 pm. I recommend you come about an hour before sunset and prepare to stay at least 2 hours. You can take in sunset, all the phases of twilight, and then get some night shots.
It is located at 33 Avenue du Maine, 75015 Paris. There is a Metro stop right there.