Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Paris & Île-de-France
A- Z of Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

The Île-de-France region is made up of those departments that both surround and make up the city of Paris. It has the best of both worlds: all the culture of Paris and a great many châteaux nearby, such as Versailles, as well as wide open spaces, woodland and charming villages. Paris, including the departments of Essone, Hauts-de-Seine, Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, Seine-et-Marne, Val-de-Marne, Val-d’Oise, Yvelines. The following is an A to Z directory of sites and museums in the Paris and Île-de-France region. For a more focussed guide, see our Paris City Guide.

Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. More correctly the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile as it stands in the centre of what was Place de l’Étoile — the star formed by twelve radiating avenues. Today this is Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. It is possible to enter the structure, and climb to the observation deck at the top, from which there are spectacular views of Paris. Emperor Napoleon ordered its construction in 1806 following his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.

Archaeological Crypt of the île de la Cité

Beneath the Notre Dame Cathedral are the remains of Paris’s Roman and medieval past, including the Roman port and a public bath house. Set amongst these exceptionally exhibited remains are informative displays that tell the history of this popular city, beginning with the Neolithic and Iron Age of the area, including an engaging recreation of the settlement of the Parisii, the Celtic tribe who settled in the area 2,000 years ago and from whom the city takes its name. This attraction is open.

Catacombs of Paris

Although named after the catacombs along Rome’s Appian Way, the catacombs in Paris are much younger. The first human remains were transferred from the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents to the quarries that lay beneath the streets in 1786. In all the bones of some six million individuals now lie in the largest ossuary in the world. Almost immediately the catacombs attracted attention, and notable visits by the future King Charles X in 1787, the Emperor of Austria in 1814, and Napoleon III in 1860 are recorded. The catacombs are one of the most popular attractions in Paris.

Château du Louvre

In the lower level of the Louvre Museum’s Sully Wing visitors can see substantial foundations of the original Louvre Castle. Built as a fortress by King Philip II of France, and completed in 1202, it was intended to reinforce the walls constructed to protect Paris against invasions. The threat then being from the English who were based in Normandy. In the 14th century the castle became a royal residence for King Charles V – the Louvre Palace.

Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie

Claiming to be the biggest science museum in Europe, the City of Science and Industry was established in the 1980s. Its educational displays focus on a wide range of scientific areas, from the human body and brain through to mathematics and sound. Alongside these displays, a planetarium offers visitors the chance to learn more about the wider universe. More heritage-minded visitors may appreciate the opportunity to explore the Argonaute, a Aréthuse-class submarine used by the French Navy between 1957 and 1982, in the midst of the Cold War.

Cité Nationale de l'Histoire de l'Immigration

Like all major metropolitan centres, Paris has a long history of immigration, having attracted people from all over the world. The story of these migrants can be explored at the National City of Immigration History, opened in 2007, which brings together historic artefacts, archival collections, and contemporary artworks. Focusing on the period from the late 17th century to the present, it looks at the experiences of migrants to France, examining their economic and cultural contributions to French society as well as the prejudice and discrimination they have faced.

Conciegerie - Palais de la Cité

On the Île de la Cité, this palace was the residence of French kings between the 6th and 14th centuries. From then until the French Revolution it housed financial and judicial offices of state. After the Revolution it was used as a prison, the most famous inmate being Marie-Antoinette. Part of the palace was Sainte-Chapelle, built by Louis IX for his passion relics. Although greatly developed over the centuries, many original features of the royal residence have survived.

French National Library Museum

At its Richelieu site, the Bibliothèque nationale de France (French National Library) showcases some of the highlights from its extensive collection of art, archaeological artefacts, and rare manuscripts. Initially bringing together some of the treasures of the French monarchy, the collection began to be assembled from the 17th century and was formerly known as the Cabinet des Médailles. Today, the museum’s displays range from the early medieval Throne of Dagobert, long associated with the Frankish and French monarchy, to a rare copy of Victor Hugo’s famed novel Notre-Dame de Paris.

Galerie de Paléontologie et d'Anatomie comparée

With over 4000 specimens in its collection, the Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy delves into the diverse wealth of animals that have lived on Earth. Many of these specimens, such as that of the marsupial wolf and Steller’s sea cow, are reminders of species now extinct, while others feature the skeletons of animals still with us. The collection is showcased within a purpose-built art nouveau structure completed in 1898. The gallery forms one of 14 sites around France that comprise the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (National Museum of Natural History).

Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume

Shortly after Paris was occupied, the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce set up its headquarters in the Grand Orient de France, the largest Masonic Lodge in France. Initially they only collected books and archives belonging to Jews and Masons who had fled Paris. By October 1940, under Göring’s orders, the Taskforce was charged with collecting Nazi looted art. Art came from around France and Belgium to the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries Gardens just off the Place de la Concorde. Rose Valland secretly documented this activity; her work features in the film Monuments Men.

German Army Headquarters – Saint Germain en Laye

From 14 June 1940 to 25 August 1944 around 20,000 German soldiers and officers were based in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The city was the headquarters of the German Army Command in the West (Oberbefehlshaber West), which under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was responsible for Operation Sea Lion – the planned Nazi invasion of Britain. Some 20 bunkers, erected to shelter soldiers in case of air attack, still exist today. One of these is alongside the Renaissance castle that today houses the National Archaeology Museum. Rundstedt set himself up in the Pavillon Henri VI, once a royal residence where Louis XIV was born, now a luxury 4* hotel.

Grand Palais

Today the Grand Palais is a large exhibition and museum complex on the Champs-Élysées, having being built for the Exposition Universalle of 1900. Architecturally, it is known for its glass barrel-vaulted roof – an innovative technique at the time of its construction. During WW1 it was used as a hospital, and during the occupation of Paris it was used by the Nazis as a truck depot and then to stage propaganda exhibitions.

Grande Galerie de l'Évolution

Exploring the complexities of how species adapt and change, the Grand Gallery of Evolution is part of the broader Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (National Museum of Natural History), which has 14 sites across France. The Grand Gallery is home to over 7000 specimens, showcasing the biological diversity and wonders of our planet. The museum also examines how scientists developed their theories regarding evolution, discussing prominent biologists like Lamarck, Darwin, and Mendel. Additional displays examine the role of conservation in helping to prevent the extinction of further species.

Institut du Monde Arabe

France has long had connections with the Arab world, with the French Empire having controlled much of North Africa from the early 19th to the mid 20th century. Opened in 1987, the Arab World Institute is a collaboration between France and several Arab states, established in the hope of improving French understanding and appreciation of Arab cultures. It occupies a purpose-built structure that subsequently won the 1989 Aga Khan Award for Architectural Excellence. As well as having a permanent museum and library, the Institute hosts cultural events and temporary exhibitions.

Le Musée en Herbe

A small museum that opened in 1975, the Museum of the Buds showcases temporary exhibitions of artworks aimed at entertaining and educating children. To this end, its exhibitions have often focused on characters from comic book strips, cartoons, and video games, with previous displays dealing with Tintin, Asterix, and the Mr Men and Little Miss series. Other exhibitions have explored the work of artists like Salvador Dalí, Hundertwasser, and Keith Haring. The museum also offers a range of special events intended to help get kids involved in the arts.

Luxor Obelisk, Place de la Concorde

At the bottom of the Champs Elysées and set in the centre of one of the most well known traffic circles in the world stands an Egyptian obelisk from the Luxor Temple. The so-called Luxor Obelisk is made of red granite, measures 22.5 metres in height and weighs an estimated 227 tonnes. This obelisk and its pair, that still stands in front of the first pylon of the temple in Luxor, were the largest obelisks to have been erected by Ramses II; others were set up at temples in Heliopolis and Tanis. The obelisk arrived in France on 10 May 1833. And on 25 October the obelisk was raised watched on by King Louis-Philippe I and an eager crowd.

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation

Behind Notre Dame Cathedral, at the very eastern tip of the Île de la Cité is the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation. Inaugurated by President Charles de Gaulle in 1962, this memorial pays tribute to 200,000 plus children, women and men who were Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, political opponents, and so deported from all over France to Nazi concentration camps between 1940 and 1944. A crypt contains the Tomb of the Unknown Deportee: an individual who died in the concentration camp of Neustadt. Each year on the last Sunday in April a memorial ceremony is held here to remember the Deportees from France.

Musée Carnavalet

Originally built in the 16th century as a home for Jacques de Ligneris, the president of the Parliament of Paris, the Musée Carnavalet has undergone various changes over the years, resulting in its present combination of Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles. In 1866 the Parisian authorities purchased the building and in 1880 opened it as a museum devoted to the city’s heritage. Today it contains a wealth of material, from archaeological artefacts exploring the region’s prehistoric and Gallo-Roman past through to artworks by some of France’s greatest painters.

Musée Cognacq-Jay

In the early 20th century, Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay were the owners of La Samaritaine, the largest department store in Paris. They were collectors of 18th-century art, amassing an impressive array of both paintings and interior furnishings. At his death in 1928, Cognacq left his collection to the Parisian authorities, who then used it as the basis for a public museum. Rather than being displayed in typical gallery style, today these artworks are hung in rooms decorated as they might have been in a bourgeois residence of the 18th century.

Musée Curie

One of the most important scientists of the modern era, the Polish-born Marie Curie later settled in France, becoming the first female professor at the University of Paris. It was there that she established the Radium Institute, conducting experiments that advanced understandings of chemistry and physics. The original Institute building today contains the Musée Curie (Curie Museum), which preserves both Curie’s office and her chemistry laboratory. Displays help visitors learn more about Curie’s pioneering research as well as the lives of her and her family – who collectively received five Nobel Prizes.