In this article I will explain how I explored Paris in two days and visited the top photo locations you shouldn’t miss. I’ll also give you the times I was there, so you’ll get more interesting shots and avoid crowds as much as possible. My friends actually always tease me, because there are rarely people in my shots, so they want to know how I scare them away. I have to admit, sometimes a little Photoshop trick is needed for that too ;). If you love photography and aim for quality shots, you have to beat the crowds. This means you either get up super early or you go to sleep very late. Also know that the quality of light is much better around the sunset and sunrise hours. Unfortunately this leaves us not much of a choice.
If you are planning a trip to Paris, this article maybe useful to you. Especially if you are visiting this city for the first time, you want to cover the main spots and have those photos in your collection and checked off your list.
Wednesday: Day of Arrival
It was towards the end of November in 2016 when I arrived in Paris by train. I took the Metro to get to my hotel. The Metro is a great and easy way to get around the city. Besides the single fair ticket you can also buy 10 tickets for € 13.30 as well as a 3 day pass for €24.40 . My 10 ticket bundle work out perfectly. At the hotel, I quickly checked in, put my luggage in my room and headed out again to collect my permit to photograph the inside of the Basilica Sacré Coure. I requested this permit a few weeks before my trip trough the official website of the Sacré Coure. In my request I told them that I like history, architecture and that I am a travel photographer. I also mentioned that I’d be happy to mention and feature the Basilica in an article.
I went to the back of the church to obtain my permit and enter the Basilica. Inside the church I was able to take pictures using my tripod. I only had about 30 min because I wanted to get up to the tower for some sunset and cityscape photos as well. The winter (Oct. – Apr) access times for the tower are from 9:00 – 17:00. I managed to get to the top about 20 min before closing. I knew that wouldn’t be enough time for the different things I wanted to try. There wasn’t much I could do about it and worst case I could come back the next day. The good thing about the time was that there was almost nobody up there anymore. The fact that it wasn’t main season and that it was quite cold helped the situation too. There is a narrow ally going around the cupola. After putting up my tripod, the space to get by got very narrow. From this location you’ll have an amazing view over the city and if you can manage (my shot below was taken at 24mm) to incorporate the beautiful arched windows in to your shot, you’ll have the recipe for a unique photo. Meanwhile it was passed 17:00. I continued shooting and expected to get thrown out any minute. Shortly before 18:00 I started to pack up. Right at that time security showed up and told me that I really should leave now. I went down the narrow stairs and got outside where it was pouring down. I decided to get some dinner before I’d continue to the other three locations to be photographed that night. This was also a good opportunity to get some heat back in to my body.
1 Sacré-Coeur Basilica
With a full stomach and warmed up again I continued my journey trough Paris. I even got lucky, because the rain had stopped now. My next stop was the famous Moulin Rouge. It’s within walking distance from the Basilica. I just wanted to get some outside shots. It was about 21:00 when I got there. The entire area was pretty crowded, but finding a spot to setup my equipment wasn’t a big problem.
2 Moulin Rouge
My next item on my list was a train station that I had checked out on Goggle Street View. By the way this is a great tool to utilize when planning for photo shoots of areas you are not familiar with. It can be extremely helpful for your location assessment. I still wasn’t sure if this location would work out the way I wanted. Nevertheless I thought I’d have a look at it anyway, because it was on the way to the Arc de Triomphe where I was heading afterwards. Sadly that location didn’t work out. What I wanted was to shoot from an overpass down to the tracks and in to the station concourse. Unfortunately the huge fence did not allow me to get a clear shot of the area I wanted. I decided to continue my walk to the Arc de Triomphe, which I reached at around 22:30. I took photos from various angles, including the backside. The Avenue de la Grande Armée is opposite the Av. des Champs Elysées and much less crowded. I positioned myself there between the two lanes on the little traffic island. That way I could capture the car light trails left and right of me and have the arch in the middle. The photo below if from the Champs Elysées side.
3 L’Arc de Triomphe
It was about midnight by the time I was finished. I decided to take the Metro to my last location for that day. It was a Metro station and conveniently it was on the way to my hotel. Paris has some very nice and old stations with a lot of character. This station “Arts et Métiers” was built in 1904 and redesigned in 1994. I am a techie, which is why I wanted a shot of this intriguing station in its copper design based on Jules Verne submarine Nautilus.
I purposely chose this location to be my last that night, because I wanted it to be as less crowded as possible. During weekdays the Metro operates until 0:30, so my timing worked out great.
4 Metro Station: Arts et Métiers
Thursday: Day 1
The nice thing about wintertime in the northern hemisphere is, that sunrise is relatively late (that day 8:15). So I was able to sleep in and got up shortly before 7:00. Yes I know, but that’s sleeping in for landscape, travel, and cityscape etc. photographers ;).
First stop that day, Eiffel Tower fore some sunrise shots. I took the Metro, because it was about a 20 min ride away from my hotel. I got there roughly half an hour before sunrise. That gave me enough time to get ready. By the way, the Metro is really an easy and fast way to get around Paris, although you should not miss exploring the city on foot. You will want to feel the metropolitan life and use that for the countless opportunities for street photography.
5 Street Photography
After a very tranquil sunrise at the Eiffel Tower, I took a beautiful morning walk along the Seine River down to the Notre Dame. Of course there are many picturesque subjects (boats, bridges, parks, lanterns etc.) along the way, so it took me some time to get to the Church. The opening hours for the Cathedral towers during the winter season are from 10:00 to 17:30 (church 8:00 – 18:45). I got there a little after 10:00 o’clock. There was a line already for the tower visit, but it wasn’t to long and about 30 min later I was on the first level. You will come up trough one of the two towers and reach a terrace going around and connecting both towers. You’ll just walk all around to get to the other tower in which you will be able to get to the top. It was a beautiful winter’s day with the sun out. From up there I had an amazing view over the entire city of Paris.
6 Notre Dame
This cathedral was built in French Gothic architecture and is over 850 years old. If you like stained glass you will not be disappointed when stepping inside.
The area around the Notre Dame has a few more places that are worth visiting. One would be the Sainte Chapelle with its amazing gigantic stained glass windows. This Church with its beautiful interior is almost 770 years old.
Close by is La Conciergerie with its beautifully arched ceiling in the basement.
Bonus: La Conciergerie
Next location on my list was the Tour Montparnasse. It’s the second tallest skyscraper in Paris. You can buy a ticket for 11€ to go up to the rooftop terrace and overlook the city at 210m.
I was planning to get there about one hour before sunset, because I wanted to make sure to get a good spot where I could put up my tripod and wait for the sunset at 17:00. This gave me a few hours to stroll trough the city, do some street photography, grab a bite and relax in a café.
I got to the top of the building about 45 min before sunset and there were already many photographers with their equipment in place, waiting for the sun to go down. I still was able to get a good spot too. The whole terrace has glass panels all around, which is very nice and helps protecting you from the wind. This place must like photographer, because there are many slots in the panels to put the camera trough. Also when you get up there you can stay as long as you want. There is no time limit with the ticket. It was the end of November so it was fairly cold and windy, especially after the sun went down.
7 Tour Montparnasse
I had a few more sites I wanted to photograph that night. First the Eiffel Tower with its lights and beacon. Of course when visiting Paris, you can’t miss photographing this iconic and elegant tower. I wanted to do this from the iron Pont de Bir-Hakeim bridge. I find steel constructions very intriguing and this bridge would make a great foreground. I though with that location I could feature the Tower worthy.
Keep in mind that in photography you always wan to get unusual, or even better, unseen perspectives. This simple yet effective approach will quickly transform you photographs to more visually appealing images.
The photo from that location is further down. I actually went back the next day, so you’ll get to see the daytime shot.
Next up the Louvre. After a short Metro ride and a few minutes walk, I reached this famous museum. During daytime you probably want to visit the museum as well. As you may know Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is exhibited here. I reached the area at about 23:00. There wasn’t much activity anymore. It’s always a good idea to really explore the area and checkout various views and angles. Don’t just pick a spot and be happy with it. Eventually I found a location to frame my scene. The very few people there were walking around, which was a good thing. This way I could take one picture, then wait till they had moved and take another one. Later in Photoshop it will be very easy to remove those people, by simple covering them with the areas they revealed by moving.
Time passed quickly and it was time to catch the Metro to get to the last location that night. The Cité subway station station is juts a few stops way from the Louvre and also on the same line as my hotel. Cité is also a very character rich station and therefore I wanted a photo of it. Passed midnight I setup my tripod and started taking pictures. Trains would come and leave. The few people getting in and out of the train would disappear quickly. I had a few moments where nobody was around and I could take pictures of the empty station. All of a sudden security showed up and asked me if I had a permission to photograph here. I explained that I didn’t and that I wasn’t aware that I’d need one. I then was informed that a permit was required for photographing Metro stations. I was instructed to pack up my belongings. While I was doing so the man told me, that one of the train chauffeurs saw and reported me. After everything, incl. the camera, was stored away, he left. I was lucky and got to keep the photos I already took.
It was time now to catch the last Metro to get back to the hotel and finally get some sleep.
4.1 Metro Station: Cité
Friday: Day 2
Again I got up at around 7:00 o’clock. The plan for that day was to go down southwest and visit the Palace of Versailles. It’s a little outside of the city but absolutely worth visiting. From the area around the Eiffel Tower it will take you no longer than about 30 min to get to it. That would be the yellow RER C line.
I managed to get to it right around the opening time, which was 9:00 o’clock (winter opening hours: 9:00 – 17:00). This is also a very popular place, so it is busy all year around. However, early risers should have an advantage. After buying the ticket and before entering the palace, I had to deposit my tripod. This certainly made sense and did not come as a surprise. This 17th century structure has a lot to show. Some of the well known areas are: the Hall of Mirrors, the Galerie des Batailles, the Chapel and the Marble Court Yard. You literarily could spend hours and hours here, especially during summertime, when you really get to enjoy the vast Gardens of Versailles.
Hours had passed and it was time to get some lunch. I wanted to do this in downtown Versailles. This would give me the opportunity get to see and experience this beautiful city as well.
9 Palace of Versailles
On the way back to Paris I got off the train at the Gare du Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel. This station is right at the Pont de Bir-Hakeim bridge that I visited last night. I also wanted some shots of the bridge during daytime. I like to visit the same location a couple of times (day / night) and experience their different moods. It was cloudy that day and I though this could be beneficiary to my pictures.
10 Pont de Bir-Hakeim / Eiffel Tower
This concludes my top 10 photography location tips for Paris. I hope this article will help you if you are planning a visit to this inspiring city. Even if you are not that much into photography, I think those locations still should be crossed off your Paris checklist.
Tool: Map Location Overview
I marked all the locations I mentioned above, plus some additional ones in the below map:
- Green: Main locations
- Orang: Bonus locations mentioned
- Blue: Some more locations worth visiting
Of course this list is far from complete and represent my personal opinion. There is so much more to see and explore in Paris, but this may get you started.
You are most welcome to leave comments and suggestions.