Ascending the Eiffel Tower for its breathtaking views is one of Paris's undisputed thrills—just ask the 7 million visitors who do it each year. Though a sweeping view of Paris from one of the city's emblematic sites—the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré Coeur, the towers of Notre Dame—is a must for a vast majority of tourists, oppressive crowds and ridiculously long waits can diminish the experience and squander valuable vacation hours. If you're willing to try something new, or push a little farther afield, there are spectacular views to be had with fewer (or no) crowds, and unparalleled cultural or dining experiences thrown in as well.
by Jennifer Ladonne
43 Up the Roof bar
Who would think that a prosaic Holiday Inn would harbor such a gem? Set in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you'll find views here to rival the best in Paris. Open from 5 pm to midnight seven days a week, 43 Up the Roof is full of locals and hotel guests on weekends, but at opening time on a weekday, you might very well have the place to yourself. Reservations are essential.
Insider Tip: Another exceptional view can be had a few minutes away: Take Rue Danton to the Quai des Augustins and walk along the Seine to the Pont Neuf. At the center of the bridge you'll find a staircase leading down to the Square du Vert-Galant, at the tip of Île de la Cité. This beautiful park offers a breathtaking perspective from the water's edge, and it's a great place for a picnic.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Complete with Elysian fields, a reflecting lake, and an Italianate temple perched atop picturesque cliffs, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is Paris's fifth largest park, and arguably its most dramatic. Built during the reign of Napoleon III, the park's sinuous paths, majestic trees, and numerous water features form a picture-perfect landscape, complemented by scenic views of the city. Grab a picnic lunch and sprawl out on the grassy lawn, or head to the Rosa Bonheur Guinguette—Paris's last traditional dance halls, dating from 1867—for a snack.
Insider Tip: Down narrow cobbled passageways, the charming rose-clad cottages of the Quartier de la Mouzaïa—an authentic 19th-century workers' neighborhood—have authentic Old World charm.
Les Ombres, Musée du Quai Branly
Both inside and outdoors, the airy Les Ombres delivers heart-stopping, 360-degree views of Paris with the Eiffel Tower front and center. The restaurant's minimalist, glassed-in dining room and stark white linens work to stunning effect in the daytime, no matter what the weather. Although you can easily run up a tab here, you don't have to: the €32 menu de saison for lunch offers gourmet dishes, such as Carpaccio of Daurade, asparagus with a chervil vinaigrette, tender squab in an herb risotto, and sinful desserts.
Insider Tip: A spectacular building designed by star architect Jean Nouvel, the Musée du quai Branly brings together three of Paris's best collections of traditional art and artifacts from Asia, Oceana, Africa and the Americas, with acclaimed temporary exhibitions. Until Oct. 18, 2014, “Tattooists, Tattooed” returns to the sources of tattoos and takes a look at tattoo art around the world.
Standing over 170 feet high, this immaculate Gothic tower, built between 1509 and 1523, was a gift to the city from the butchers of Les Halles market. Saint-Jacques Tower was recently cleaned, refurbished, and opened to the public after many years of disuse. Now a favorite spot for view-hunters, the lookout at the top is well-worth the 16-story journey. However, take note that the tower is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and visits are limited to 136 people per day, so your best bet is to get there at opening time (9:30 am) for tickets.
Insider Tip: Many tourists head to Galeries Lafayette or Printemps for their one-stop shopping, but Parisians often forego the congestion and crowds in favor of Paris institution BHV (Bazar Hôtel de Ville), a two-minute walk from the tower.
A radical expansion of the Palais de Tokyo contemporary arts center in 2012 opened up the building's spectacular Seine-side vistas and paved the way for the stylish Monsieur Bleu restaurant. On nice days between May and September, dining in al fresco elegance on the restaurant's terrace, with matchless views of the Seine and Eiffel Tower, is not to be missed. Best of all, it's open every day from noon until 2 am, so you can come for a meal, tea time, a cocktail, or to watch the lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkle every hour on the hour.
Insider Tip: One of Europe's largest and most exciting contemporary arts centers, the Palais de Tokyo celebrates all manner of creativity, from interactive installations and video art, to sculpture and fashion retrospectives, all in a spirit of delirious irreverence.
Le Georges au Centre Pompidou
The superb view of Les Halles, the Marais, and Notre Dame is Le Georges' biggest claim to fame. This bird's-eye perch offers an unparalleled perspective of Paris's winding streets and the colorful, vivacious neighborhood that was Paris's central food market from medieval times until the early 1960s. Savoring a cappuccino or a nice glass of wine with your view is a delicious way to while away an hour or two.
Insider Tip: The Centre Pompidou needs no introduction. Spend a few hours among the stars of modern art or simply pay €3 to access the views.
Palais de Chaillot (Trocadero)
This monumental structure, originally constructed for the 1878 World's Fair, houses several under-the radar museums and cultural spaces. Built on the summit of the Chaillot hill, the Palais also offers majestic views of the Eiffel Tower just across the Seine. Begin your walk at the Palais de Chaillot steps, traverse the gardens, and cross the Pont d'Iéna to the Champs-de-Mars, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
Insider Tip: To see Paris by water is a thrill not to be missed. With a stop just opposite the Trocadero, the Bateau Bus is one of the best ways to traverse the city by water. With a day ticket (€16) you can ride all day stopping at any of eight stops, all at major tourist sites—the Louvre, Saint-Germain, Musée d'Orsay, Champs-Élysées, and Notre-Dame.
Parc de Belleville
While crowds flock to Montmartre's notorious Place des Ternes for views of the city, make a beeline to the beautiful Parc de Belleville—Paris's highest park—where you'll find space to breath among lush gardens and one of the city's last remaining vineyards. In the heart of the park, the welcoming Maison de l'Air offers visitors an original take on Paris, with exhibits on that most essential of elements—the air. Learn about how native plants, insects, and birds use it, and how air transmits sound.
Insider Tip: Although cafés with a view are easily found along the Rue Piat at the top of the hill, Paris institution Le Baratin Bistro (3 rue Jouye-Rouve), within easy walking distance of the park, is a legendary foodie destination.
Deli-Cieux at Printemps
All of Paris unfolds before you in 360-degree panoramic splendor from the Deli-Cieux café on the ninth floor of Printemps' home store. This self-service café is the place to enjoy a snack, pose for a photo op, or play a game of “spot the monument” with the kids. With continuous service from Monday through Saturday during store hours (9:35 am to 8 pm; 10 pm on Thursdays), you can come any time of day, rain or shine.
Insider Tip: Around the corner from Printemps, the Paris Story movie offers an overview of 2,000 years of Paris history in all its cinematic glory. The movie features fascinating anecdotes (in your language of choice) of the city's most beloved monuments.
Restaurant Le Zyriab, Institut du Monde Arabe
On the ninth floor of the superb Institut du Monde Arabe—designed by Jean Nouvel—in Paris's leafy fifth arrondissement, Le Zyriab offers gourmet Lebanese fare for lunch and dinner. Stop in for a peaceful mid-afternoon cup of sweet mint tea and a plate of delectable pastries to enjoy a view stretching over Notre Dame and Ile de la Cité, the Marais, and the Seine (teatime from 3–6 pm). Admission to the ninth floor is free.
Insider Tip: Founded by Louis XIII in 1635, the lovely Jardin des Plantes botanic gardens, next to the Institut, feature beautiful flowerbeds, exotic plants, ancient trees, and foliage from all over the world.