Paris from Above

On my recent flight back from the US, I was seated next to a Texan school teacher visiting Paris for the first time. While discussing her trip I gave some recommendations, and after a while a pattern emerged: most of my favorite places in the city are either related to food or heights.

When the plane cleared for take-off, I suddenly cut our conversation short and turned to the window.

“This is my favorite part of flying,” I explained.

“Well, that explains it,” she smiled. I felt silly for never putting two and two together — she was right: my love of heights clearly comes 23 years of being glued to the window seat, bearing witness to the stunning panoramas of hundreds of take-offs and touchdowns.

When I moved to Paris, I traded my 44th-floor apartment in Singapore — with a breathtaking view over the southern tip of the island (where on a clear day you could almost see Indonesia) — for a second-floor studio that overlooks some half-dead trees and the downstairs neighbor’s tiny yard.

Luckily, Paris has several easily accessible outlook points, so I have a number of options when I start jonesing for a heights fix. Below are the recommendations I gave that teacher from Texas — five of the best places for a birds-eye view of Paris:

5. Arc de Triomphe (northwest Paris)

A tourist staple, many people prefer the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower because, well, when you’re standing on top of the Eiffel Tower obviously the iconic monument is not going to be in your skyline. Besides the tower, from here you also have a clear view to the west of the skyscrapers at La Defense, to the north towards the hills of Montmartre and the Sacre-Coeur, and a straight shot down the Champs-Élysées all the way to Concorde.

However, the Arc isn’t my absolute favorite because you have a make a special trip to get there — as in, you have to plan to climb the arch, you can’t just happen to be walking around the neighborhood and decide to check out the views — and you can’t linger for very long as it gets quite boring: once you’ve taken in the views and snapped your photos, there’s not much else to do up there.

4. Galeries Lafayette (central Paris)

I wonder how many tourists shopping along the Grands Boulevards realize that on top of Galeries Lafayette lies a large rooftop viewing deck with a front-and-center view of the Opera and some very Haussmannian architecture. I love this one because it’s convenient to access, not to mention great for taking a break when you’re shopping — and best of all, it’s free.

3. Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre (northern Paris)

Montmartre is one of my favorite areas of Paris (second only to the Marais), and that’s thanks to its hilltop location, which provides some of the best natural, non-manmade views the city. While the view from the steps of Sacré-Coeur is indeed marvelous, I’m just as much a fan of being able to catch heart-stopping peeks of the city spread out below while simply walking through Montmartre’s narrow sloped alleyways.

Cons here, however, include being crowded by tourists as well as those sneaky string-on-the-finger scammers, so keep your hands in your pockets and your eyes on your belongings here.

2. Eiffel Tower (western Paris)

Ah, la Tour Eiffel, la dame de fer. To be honest, I had no intention of going up the Eiffel Tower at all during my time here — I often walk past the long lines at the base of the pillars and just think, no thank you — but when my mom came to visit last November, I couldn’t say no to her simple request of going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, it’s a classic.

Was it worth it? Look: touristy attractions are popular for a reason. I could have stayed up there all day, even in the biting wind and cold, snapping photos until my fingers turned blue. The view from the top platform is unbeatable — you get a whole new sense of Paris at 324 meters up in the air.

1. Centre Pompidou (central Paris)

The Pompidou museum is my absolute favorite place to go for a view over Paris, for reasons of cost and convenience (as well as sheer beauty): as an EU resident under 26 I enjoy free entry, meaning I can just pop in for a few minutes if I feel like it — which I often do thanks to the museum’s central location in the Marais, the area where I spend most of my time in Paris. I never have to wait in long lines to enter, and I never have to fight with throngs of people to get that perfect aerial shot.

Put it this way: if I can tell there’s going to be a gorgeous sunset, I don’t have to rush over to the Arc de Triomphe or Eiffel Tower, I don’t have to climb stairs or wait in lines. I simply walk right into the Pompidou, take the escalator to the fifth floor, and five minutes later I’m snapping some million-dollar photos. Marvelous.

Anyone else have a favorite view of Paris? 

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  1. This post, more than any other you’ve written, nearly made me cry. It’s the blue rooftops and tall windows of Parisian apartment buildings, the geometry of the streets that make me miss it. I guess I’ll have to try for an internship with the AP in Paris when I go back to school next year.

    I loved that Centre Pompidou view when I was there. It was really intimate.

    • Oh no Hannah don’t cry! I really love the Pompidou view as well, I can’t believe it took me over a year to go up there. Good luck with your internship application!

  2. I had no idea that there was a lookout point at the top of Galeries Lafayette! and I was there with Parisiennes! nooooooooooooooooooo

  3. Um, I preferred the FOOD tour!! I tried making macarons, and while they were good, they were just NOT Pierre Herme! (That was his name, right?)

  4. I love that shot with the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on the ground!!! :)



    • Thanks M! And people say you can’t see the Eiffel Tower while you’re up there ;)

  5. I make a point of going to the rooftop of the Galeries Lafayettes everytime I’m in Paris – it’s my favorite spot to overlook the city! I’ve never actually been on the Arc de Triomphe, even though I’ve been in Paris so often. It’s just not something that really draws me in. I used to share your old feelings on the Eiffel Tower, though – it took me a while to start appreciating it. I particularly like to go up there at night – it’s less crowded, you don’t have to stand in line as long and the view of Paris by night in unbelievable!


    • I feel the same about the Arc. I’d love to go up the tower again at night but to be honest don’t feel like paying €12 to do so!

  6. I also love the view from Notre Dame too, but never heard of the one at Galleries! Thanks for the tip Edna!

  7. I’ve been to Paris several times but had no idea about the Galeries Lafayette rooftop! Will have to check it out next time I’m there. Great post!

    • Thanks Laura! Yeah, it’s a nice one that’s not as overcrowded since not too many people know about it.

  8. Yes! So many of my favorites. Centre Pompidou is one of my favorite spots to see the sunset–I’ve managed to charm the security guards a few times into letting me up for free even though I’m not an EU resident. Just discovered the Galeries Lafayette rooftop on my last visit–LOVE. Oh how I miss Paris :)

  9. nice post! i love that shot of the arc from the galleries lafayette. but can you please instill some of your love of heights in me? i could use some of that… the take-off part of a plane trip is not a favorite of mine.

    • Thanks Cynthia! Sorry you don’t share my love of heights…good excuse to take more flights?

  10. Just spectacular!!! Such great advice – most people just think going up the Eiffel Tower but there is so much more. And I always say my favorite thing to do while traveling is climb to the top of things for a view and eat :) We’d make great travel companions.

  11. I love the view from Galeries Lafayette as well; it’s great (when weather provides) to bring a book or study there. It’s a hidden treasure in Paris for sure! Have you checked out the view from Tour de Montparnasse? It’s pretty neat, instead of paying the entrance fee for the panorama, I go to their restaurant, Le Ciel de Paris and spend my euros on cocktails!

  12. Michelle says:

    Wow… I lived 10 minutes (on foot) from Galaries Lafayette and I had no idea there was a rooftop deck! Thanks for the tip… my favorite is the Arc because of those amazingly symmetrical grande boulevards that stem from it… I have never been to the Pompidou because I sort of loathe the outside.. never thought of going inside to ignore the eye sore though (it’s like what the French say about Montparnasse) ! :)

  13. So beautiful! I’ve taken two trips to Paris and sadly missed most of these incredible views. Won’t make that mistake again!

  14. Such gorgeous photos! I’m still so mad at myself for not getting gorgeous photos in Paris. It was the first European city I’ve ever visited and I was in so much awe that I didn’t pay enough attention to get good pictures. Maybe next time!

  15. Great photos Edna! Centre Pompidou is definitely on the list for my next visit! Have you ever been on top of Tour Montparnasse? I heard is awesome, because you have the Tour Eiffel in your skyline — and ugly Tour Montparnasse can’t ruin your photos since you’re on top of it.

    • I haven’t yet, but I really want to go to Montparnasse before I leave Paris! Maybe next time you’re in town we can go together?

  16. Your post made me realize I barely scratched the Parisian surface when I was there three years ago.. It´s definitely time to go back this summer! Lovely photos!

  17. Edna, if you haven’t already been go to the observation deck or bar at the top of the Tour Montparnasse. Beautiful panoramic views of Paris from there! I hate the Tour Montparnasse itself and hate looking at skyline pictures of paris with the building in it, but the views from it are great!

  18. love, love, love your photos and your tips for Paris. Hope to meet up with you in Paris for your next Pastry smack down! i’ll be there from July – March, 2014.

    • Thanks Connie! Unfortunately I won’t be in Paris next year, I’m leaving this summer — but who knows, maybe I’ll be back for a visit :)

  19. Galeries Lafayette- just had been able to capture a few shots, when it started raining! However proud of the view with he Eiffeltower at one end and the Opera infront of me! There were also some artists up there drawing the sklyline. Shopping in the Galeries Lafayette- no way! However, also liked the photos, I took of the Galeries roof top from inside. Also did some short from Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre (northern Paris). Climbing the Eiffel Tower is still on our Paris Bucket list- we want to climb up to the middle and then go up the lift. :)

    • You saw quite a bit then! I did the reverse in the Eiffel Tower — took the lifts up, then walked from the middle part down :)

  20. unicornfeathers says:

    Hi there,
    I have another couple to add to the list:
    The view from the terrace just above the Parc de Belleville in the 20th, the hidden gem, stunning at sunset and almost no tourists go here!
    The Buttes Chaumont, a lovely and very hilly park in the 20th with a little folly perched high up. The site used to be a quarry, apparently, and there are some lovely views to be had and you can picnic on the top of the hill.

    • Ooh I love hidden gems! I’ve been meaning to go to Buttes Chaumont but didn’t know Parc de Belleville had a terrace — thanks for the tip!

  21. perfect post
    i adore the pictures

    Coline ♡

  22. Beautiful shots. I like looking down from the Arc – part for the sculptural aspect of the streets lining up, but also because watching all the crazy traffic below is like a drug. It’s wild!

  23. Wow, these are some awesome photos! I think the highest point we visited in Paris last summer was probably the Sacre Coeur; will definitely have to check out more heights next time!

    • Thanks D — and definitely do, you get to see Paris from so many different angles this way!

  24. Love Paris. And this is one great series of photos, Edna!

  25. Hi Edna, what a beautiful photo series of Paris; made me miss one of my favorite cities. Thanks for taking me there. Lovely post.

  26. I love this post! So helpful and interesting, especially for a Europe/Paris first timer like me! Thanks!

  27. I just found your blog through Y Travel Blog and I love it. I am the same as you – always looking for amazing aerial views and food experiences. I love the Galeries Lafayette rooftop for a quick refreshing break between shopping trips.


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