Everyone knows a little something about the French capital, but we’re hoping to surprise you today with these fun facts about Paris! Whether you’re planning a trip to this destination or it’s on your bucket list, you may want to know more about Paris, its history, and its most famous attractions. With this in mind, we’ve compiled 18 interesting facts about Paris that you probably didn’t know. Keep reading this guide to learn some exciting truths about the City of Lights!
1. Notre Dame is normally the most visited monument in Paris.
According to the survey of cultural visitors, which the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau (PCVB) conducts each year, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is typically the city’s top tourist attraction. This statistic holds for most years, with Notre Dame drawing approximately 12 million visitors annually. The next most popular attractions include La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre, the Louvre museum, and finally, the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, this key figure changed in 2019 due to the Notre-Dame de Paris fire on April 15, 2019. Unfortunately, this event destroyed the cathedral’s roof and damaged many of its upper walls. Therefore, the cathedral is now undergoing major renovations and is not allowing visitors. So, at least for 2019, Sacré Cœur moved up to the #1 most visited monument in Paris. The government is currently working on reconstruction plans, which should be completed in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
2. The largest bell in Notre Dame has a name: Emmanuel.
Notre Dame possesses a total of 10 bells, each of which bears the name of a saint. The largest bell or “bourdon” is Emmanuel, and it was the only original bell to survive the French Revolution. Unfortunately, the others were looted during the uprising and melted down to be used as ammunition. Emmanuel was cast in 1681 and weighs a total of approximately 26,000 pounds (13 tons). Tuned to F sharp, you can hear him ring across the city to commemorate important events. The other “bourdon” bell is Marie, while the eight smaller bells carry the names of other saints: Gabriel, Anne Geneviève, Denis, Marcel, Étienne, Benoît-Joseph, Maurice, and Jean-Marie. The two largest bells are mounted in the south tower, and the eight smaller bells are located in the north tower. Thankfully, none of these 10 bells within Notre Dame was harmed in the 2019 fire.
3. The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world.
Over 9.6 million people visited the Louvre in 2019, making it the most visited museum in the world. The National Museum of China, the Vatican Museums, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art came in second, third, and fourth, respectively. Without a doubt, the numbers for 2020-2021 are drastically different across the globe. For example, we know that the figure for Louvre visitors plunged to 2.7 million in 2020. However, we believe the Louvre will continue to hold the #1 spot! Besides receiving the most visitors, the Louvre is also the largest art museum globally. In fact, its gallery space covers 782,910 square feet (72,735 m²), with 38,000 objects on display. Some of its most famous art pieces include the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and Liberty Leading the People.
4. The Mona Lisa, housed at the Louvre, is one of the world’s most valuable paintings.
The Mona Lisa may be small–30 inches by 21 inches (77 cm × 53 cm) to be exact–but it’s worth a lot of money. In fact, it holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation for a painting. In 1962, the Mona Lisa was moved from the Louvre to the U.S. for a special exhibition and needed to be assessed for insurance. This total amount came out to US$100 million! Another interesting tidbit is that this work of art has actually been stolen before–in 1911. Vincenzo Peruggia, a Louvre employee, felt strongly that the Mona Lisa should belong to his home country of Italy. So, he hid in the museum after it closed and snuck out with the painting under his coat! After two years of searching for the culprit, Peruggia was finally caught attempting to sell the Mona Lisa to the owner of the Uffizi Gallery.
5. Paris is called “The City of Light” for two reasons.
The City of Light (La Ville Lumière) is one of Paris’ most famous nicknames. It may even make you think about the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. However, the real reason Paris is “the City of Light” is twofold. First, it was one of the first cities to adopt gas lamp lighting on a grand scale. Gas lights were installed in heavily trafficked areas–on the Place du Carrousel, Rue de Rivoli, and Place Vendome–as early as 1829. By 1857, all of the grand boulevards had gas lighting, and Paris had installed over 56,000 gas lamps by the 1860s. The second reason Paris is called “the City of Light” has to do with the fact that Paris was a prominent location during the Age of Enlightenment. Moreover, intellectuals or “lights” have a history of flocking to this city as a source of inspiration and a center of learning.
6. Before Paris was “Paris,” it was a Roman city called “Lutetia.”
It may be hard to imagine, but Paris wasn’t always the city it is today! Beginning in the middle of the 3rd century BC, a Gallic tribe called the Parisii lived on the banks of the River Seine. However, the Romans came along and conquered this area in 52 BC. Subsequently, they settled Paris’ left bank and founded the flourishing city of Lutetia. Its full name was actually Lutetia Parisiorum or “Lutetia of the Parisii.” Shockingly, “Lutetia” translates to “place near a swamp,” meaning Paris might not have been as beautiful in the first century BC as it is now. Towards the end of the Roman Empire, people commonly referred to this city as “Parisius,” which translated to “Paris” in French.
7. Apparently, “Paris Syndrome” is a thing.
We’ve all heard about Paris, and maybe we’ve even hyped the city up in our heads. After all, isn’t it supposed to be the most beautiful and romantic city in the world? Unfortunately, not all tourists feel that Paris lives up to their dreams or fantasies about the city. In fact, Dr. Hiroaki Ota coined the term “Paris Syndrome” in the 1980s to describe a severe form of culture shock that some tourists experience. Individuals with this ailment feel extremely disappointed that Paris isn’t as “artistic” or as “aesthetic” as they expected. Additionally, they may even suffer from symptoms like anxiety, acute delusional states, hallucinations, and more. Thankfully, Paris syndrome is pretty rare, and most people feel that France’s capital lives up to the hype!
8. The Eiffel Tower was constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair and received mixed reviews.
The 1889 Exposition Universelle was a world fair marking the 100th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, which sparked the French Revolution. In preparation, the event’s organizers held a competition for architects to present a plan for “a tower of three hundred meters” with a base one hundred meters wide. As you may have guessed, Gustave Eiffel won this contest and went on to construct the Eiffel Tower. Although this attraction is now a symbol of Paris, many people didn’t like it when it was first built. In fact, famous French artists such as William Bouguereau, Ernest Meissonier, and architect Charles Garnier signed an “Artists against the Eiffel Tower” petition protesting its construction and claiming it was “useless and monstrous.” They then sent this appeal to the Minister of Works and the Exposition Commissioner, even going as far as publishing the petition in Le Temps on February 14, 1887.
9. The City of Paris was set to dismantle the Eiffel Tower in 1909.
Gustave Eiffel had a permit for the Tower to stand for 20 years, from the beginning of the 1889 World’s Fair until 1909. Then, the city of Paris would dismantle it. Nonetheless, Paris officials ended up preserving the Eiffel Tower since it proved useful as a radiotelegraph station. It actually gave the French army a strategic advantage in World War I because they could intercept German messages from the summit. Nowadays, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable structures globally! Therefore, I thought this fact about Paris was particularly shocking. I mean, can you imagine the city skyline without the Eiffel Tower?
10. The Eiffel Tower was originally a reddish-brown color.
The city of Paris is responsible for repainting this famous structure approximately every seven years to avoid rusting. Thus far, this number totals 19 re-paintings over the years. Moreover, the Eiffel Tower’s color has changed multiple times since its initial reveal. When architects first began assembling its parts, workers applied a “Venetian red” paint. Then, they added a thick, reddish-brown coat after piecing the structure together in 1889. Through the years, the Tower has sported “ochre brown,” “yellow-brown,” “brownish-red,” and ultimately, “Eiffel Tower Brown” since 1968.
11. Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris crossing the Seine River.
This is a bit quirky because “Pont Neuf” translates to “New Bridge” in French. So, funnily enough, the “new bridge” is the oldest standing bridge across the River Seine. It has this particular name because Pont Neuf was the first bridge in Paris without houses built on its sides. King Henry III ordered its construction in 1578, and the bridge began supporting traffic in 1604. The later King Henry IV’s decision against building houses on Pont Neuf was linked to the fact that he wanted the bridge to offer an unhindered view of the Louvre Palace.
12. Paris has its own Statue of Liberty.
You may be familiar with the famous Statue of Liberty, which sits on Liberty Island in New York City. This copper statue, created by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was given as a gift from the people of France to the United States in 1886. However, did you know that Paris has a Statue of Liberty too? In reality, it has four! The first is a smaller version of Liberty Enlightening the World, also created by Bartholdi, and it sits in Musée d’Orsay’s entrance hall. Additionally, you can find a replica of this smaller Statue of Liberty in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Moreover, the original plaster model used to make New York’s statue stands in the Musée des Arts et Métiers. However, the most famous version of this statue in Paris sits on the Île aux Cygnes, facing west towards its sister statue in America.
13. The Paris Metro is the second busiest metro system in Europe and the tenth busiest in the world.
The Paris Metro opened during the 1900 Exposition Universelle, making Paris one of the first cities with a metro system. Nowadays, it’s grown to encompass 304 stations on 16 lines. In 2015, this public transportation system saw 1.520 billion passengers in total, averaging approximately 4.16 million passengers per day. This statistic makes the Paris Metro the second busiest metro system in Europe, preceded by the Moscow Metro, and followed by the London Underground. Moreover, the Paris Metro is one of the densest metro systems globally, squeezing 244 of its stations into the 34 square miles (86.9 km2 ) of the City of Paris.
14. There are at least 6290 streets in Paris.
The most recent data I could find suggests that there are at least 6290 streets in Paris, if not more. Rue de Vaugirard is Paris’ longest street, spanning 2.7 miles (4.3 km) from the 6th to the 15th arrondissement. By contrast, Rue des Degrés, located in the 2nd arrondissement, is the shortest street in Paris. This road is only 18.86 feet (5.75 m) long, with fourteen steps connecting Rue de Clery to Rue Beauregard. Furthermore, the most expensive street in Paris is Avenue Montaigne, where you can find luxury real estate and upscale fashion houses. If you’d like to learn more about the most famous streets in Paris, click here.
15. There are no stop signs in Paris.
In a city as busy as Paris, you’d expect that the amount of traffic would require a few stop signs. Surprisingly, there are no stop signs to help direct traffic in Paris. In all reality, they just aren’t necessary for this city since there are plenty of traffic lights, roundabouts, and signs, including “Do Not Enter” and “No Left Turn.” In the past, there actually was one stop sign in the 16th arrondissement as part of a construction site; however, someone removed it from its place sometime between 2012 and 2014.
16. The French army keeps its carrier pigeons in Paris.
Although pigeons can be annoying on the streets of Paris, the French military considers them to be quite useful. Fort Mont-Valérien, a western Paris suburb, is home to 8th Signal Corps, the Pigeon House of the National Military, and the museum of war pigeons. When all other means of communication fail, carrier pigeons are reliable companions! These birds made a big difference in World War I and II, carrying important dispatches over long distances. Fort Mont-Valérien is actually the last war pigeon house in Europe.
17. Place de la Concorde was a major site during the French Revolution.
By major site, I mean that this public square hosted some of the most notable executions during the French Revolution. During this time, an angry mob tore down the statue of Louis XV of France in Place de la Concorde, and the square was renamed Place de la Révolution. Afterward, the new government built a guillotine here to carry out executions in front of cheering crowds. For example, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette met their unfortunate fates in Place de la Concorde. Nowadays, you would never know that this square has such a bloody past. In fact, it features two beautiful fountains and a giant Egyptian obelisk. You can find the last remaining remnants of guillotines in Paris in the 11th district, at the corner of Rue de la Croix-Faubin and Rue de la Roquette. All that’s left are small indentations in the pavement!
18. Paris banned Tom Cruise from becoming an honorary citizen.
I thought this Paris fact was too bizarre not to include it! In 2005, the Paris municipal government passed a resolution so that Tom Cruise could never become an honorary citizen. This decision came after the southern French city of Marseille gave him this particular distinction. Interestingly, the Paris government’s decision had to do with Cruise’s affiliation with Scientology. France currently lists this religion as a cult.