40 Fantastic Things to do in Paris on your first trip

Visiting Paris and looking for the full French experience? Check out this list of the best things to do in Paris and top attractions from a local's perspective.
40 Fantastic Things to do in Paris on your first trip
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Ahh, Paris! If you are visiting Paris in the near future, and it is your first time, you’ve come to the right place. Even if you have been many times, there is always sometheing new to discover. There are so many things to do in Paris, it is impossible to squeeze it all in. This guide covers the best tourist attractions, must-see items, and my top sightseeing tips to make the most of your visit.

I tried to put in a mix of items, rather than just concentrating on museums or chateaux, to focus on experiences that are unique to Paris. One thing I must point out Paris is that more than 32 million people come to Paris every year, so book your main attractions in advance. You want to spend time seeing the city, not waiting in line. So time to get yourself organized, get some good walking shoes, a light scarf and a baguette, and let’s go!

Note: If you’ve read my post on What NOT to do in Paris, you know that I don’t actually recommend that you do every single one of these things, but I had to present you with a few choices. Otherwise what else will you do on your subsequent trip to Paris!?

things to do in paris
Table Of Contents
  1. 1. Visit the Eiffel Tower
  2. 2. Gaze at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral
  3. 3. Get an ice cream from Bertillons
  4. 4. Cruise down the Seine on a boat
  5. 5. Peruse the shops along the Avenue Champs-Élysées
  6. 6. Go to the top of the Arc De Triomphe
  7. 7. Stroll through the Gallery of Statues in the Louvre Museum
  8. 8. Enjoy the view of Sacré Coeur and stroll around Montmartre
  9. 9. Sip a coffee on a terrasse and watch the crowds go by
  10. 10. Admire the Impressionists at Musée d’Orsay
  11. 11. Ask for a “chausson aux pommes” at a bakery  
  12. 12. Sail a toy boat in Jardin Du Luxembourg
  13. 13. Wander around Rue Mouffetard and Place Monge
  14. 14. Eat a crêpe near the Pantheon
  15. 15. Play pétanque with the locals at Place Dauphine
  16. 16. Shop at Galerie Lafayette and Printemps
  17. 17. Picnic along the Canal Saint-Martin
  18. 18. Take a day trip to the Château de Versailles
  19. 19. Browse the art galleries around Place des Vosges
  20. 20. Order the charcuterie and cheese platter at a wine bar in the Marais
  21. 21. Visit Marie Antoinette’s prison at the Conciergerie
  22. 22. Pay your respects at Deportation Martyrs Memorial of the Holocaust
  23. 23. Learn about Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides
  24. 24. Go to the Opera at Palais Garnier
  25. 25. Shopping on Rue Saint Honoré
  26. 26. Go on a Champagne tasting
  27. 27. Take in some modern art at Centre Pompidou
  28. 28. Take a picture at the Colonnes des Buren
  29. 29. Go underground to the Catacombs 
  30. 30. Look for the hidden passages in Paris
  31. 31. Take a day trip to Mont Saint Michel
  32. 32. Indulge your inner child at Disneyland Paris
  33. 33. Shop at a Bouquiniste along the Seine
  34. 34. Take in a show at the Lido or the Moulin Rouge
  35. 35. Visit a farmers’ market and go to a cooking class
  36. 36. Visit Saint Chapelle
  37. 37. Have a drink on a rooftop terrasse
  38. 38. Eat a fondue
  39. 39. Take a photo on Pont Alexandre III
  40. 40. Make your own perfume

1. Visit the Eiffel Tower

Of course, this has got to be number 1, I don’t want any crying or yelling if you missed this because you were doing all the other items on the list!  I get enough of that from my kids. Buy tickets in advance, since lines are long (I can’t emphasize this enough!)

Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse
View of Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse

Most locals actually recommend that you go to the top of the Montparnasse tower (a very ugly skyscraper in the center of Paris) to see the city from above including the Eiffel Tower.

I would recommend this as well, but again, I don’t want to be blamed if you miss climbing the Eiffel, and regret it later! And I highly recommend booking tickets in advance.

2. Gaze at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral is going to be under construction for a while, but it is still standing strong after 900 years so admire it from the outside.

Back view of Notre Dame Cathedral de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris under construction

The building which began construction in the 9th century, suffered a significant fire in 2019 and is currently under reconstruction. It is still a beauty however, even with a few scars!

Located on Ile Saint Louis (named after the French King Saint Louis), it is this area that is the true heart of Paris. The site of the first Roman civilisation called Lutece, there are plenty of sights and history in the area. You can book a guided tour around the area.

3. Get an ice cream from Bertillons

What gelato is to Italy, Bertillons is to France.  One of their original locations is on the Ile Saint Louis in the center of Paris, but there are certain restaurants that serve it as well in the Marais.

☞ READ MORE: French desserts you have to try!

4. Cruise down the Seine on a boat

There are hop-on hop-off tour companies, lunch and dinner cruises, or you can just relax and listen (or ignore) the guided commentary all the way through. 

Quai Seine with bateau mouche in the distance
Quai on the River Seine in Paris

Cross your fingers that the tide of the Seine river is low so that boat is able to make its way to see the little sister of the Statue of Liberty at the Pont de Grenelle. Spaces fill fast, so book early.

5. Peruse the shops along the Avenue Champs-Élysées

Louis Vuitton or Zara, you have your pick!  There’s something for everyone, from Nike to Bulgari. Note, some of the French high-end boutiques such as Chanel and Saint Laurent are just off of the Champs-Elysées on Avenue Montaigne. Happy Shopping!

Sign Champs Elysée
Avenue des Champs Elysées

☞ READ MORE: The French Woman: Style tips for visiting Paris

Joe Dassin – Champs-Élysées

6. Go to the top of the Arc De Triomphe

One of the best views of the Champs-Élysées, look out and imagine the armies of conquering soldiers that have walked through the Arc.

arc de triomphe with french flag
Arc de Triomphe with French flag

Everyone from Napoleon Bonaparte to Adolf Hitler, to Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle have walked those same footsteps. Lines are long, so buy your tickets in advance.

7. Stroll through the Gallery of Statues in the Louvre Museum

There’s an overwhelming amount of art at the Louvre, so you have to pick and choose. Your stress levels will rise as you try to get a clear shot at the Mona Lisa, so relax afterward in the peaceful inner courtyard that is filled with ancient Greek statues.

Courtyard inside Louvre Museum

This former castle, turned palace, turned zoo, turned museum is a must for lovers of art and history. It is said the Louvre is so big only 5-10% of its collection is actually on display. You can read more about visiting the Louvre here.

Note: During the busy summer season, tickets often are only sold online for timed entrances. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.

8. Enjoy the view of Sacré Coeur and stroll around Montmartre

The best views are at sunset from this northern point of the city. The perfect time to sit on the stairs and rest those aching feet. Avoid the street vendors and tricksters that hang around there though. Their modus operandi is to distract excited tourists and pickpocket them.

sacre coeur cathedral in montmartre

If you have time, head over to Place du Tertre in Montmartre to watch the painters and the caricaturists do their thing.

9. Sip a coffee on a terrasse and watch the crowds go by

You can people-watch anywhere around Paris, but I particularly like Rue Montorgueil near Chatelet or a café on Avenue Montaigne where all the luxury shops like Chanel and Prada are located.

Parisian Terrasse
Parisian Terrasse

Have a seat at a terrasse with a café and watch the people go by. (Don’t take up smoking like the locals though, it is bad for your health!)

☞ READ MORE: How to order coffee in France without feeling dumb

10. Admire the Impressionists at Musée d’Orsay

The Louvre Museum has a collection that is more vast (everything from antiquity to religious art), but if you love Impressionist paintings, it is the Musée d’Orsay that you are looking for.

Musée d'Orsay in Paris
Musée d’Orsay in Paris

Spend an afternoon with Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir, and marvel over their works of art. Like the Louvre, I highly recommend getting tickets in advance.

11. Ask for a “chausson aux pommes” at a bakery  

You can get macarons and croissants even in Florida these days, so why not try something else? A Chausson aux Pommes is a puff pastry, like a croissant, but stuffed with cooked apples.

12. Sail a toy boat in Jardin Du Luxembourg

A beautiful garden in the Left Bank of Paris, Jardin Du Luxembourg is the “backyard” for many Parisians.

jardin du luxembourg

This grand garden in the heart of the Left bank has ambling boulevards of trees and relaxing lounge chairs to enjoy, while your little ones watch toy sailboats.

All over the garden are various statues of the Queens of France, as well as the Statue of Liberty herself. There is also a playground for children and pony rides in the area.

Try to score one of their lounge chairs by the lake, or get involved and sail a toy boat.

13. Wander around Rue Mouffetard and Place Monge

It was around at the time of the Romans, and it is still buzzing now. Visit one of the oldest streets in Paris. In the heart of the Latin Quarter on the Left bank of Paris, this cobblestone street is always a hit with its many shops and restaurants.

Place Contrescape near Rue Mouffetard
Place Contrescape and Rue Mouffetard

Both the famous Sorbonne and Science Po universities are nearby, so students will be everywhere underfoot. There are plenty of shops and small bars and restaurants in the area, making it a very lively part of town.

14. Eat a crêpe near the Pantheon

If you have never had a crêpe before, now is the time. Start off with a crêpe salée (savory crêpe), add a crêpe sucrée for dessert, and wash it all down with a pitcher of cider. There are several great crêperies right near the Pantheon, with but a particular favorite is the one located at 12 Rue Soufflot, 75005 Paris.

Billboard for Crêpes
Billboard for Crêpes

There is a wide variety of combinations of toppings that you can have, so feel free to mix and match! What is your most creative combination?

15. Play pétanque with the locals at Place Dauphine

A quiet little jewel on the tip of Ile de la Cité in the center of Paris, it is easy to visit Paris several times and still miss out. Spy on the locals playing pétanque, or if you are brave enough, ask if you can join.

Place dauphine in Paris
Place Dauphine in Paris

The game is a mix of lawn bowling and horseshoes. It originated with the ancient Romans in the South near Marseille, before becoming popular all over France.

16. Shop at Galerie Lafayette and Printemps

Near Opéra on the Right Bank, this is France’s answer to Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. With something for all budgets, take back a souvenir that will remind you of your time in Paris.

Inside Galerie Lafayette near Opéra, Paris
Inside Galerie Lafayette near Opéra, Paris

Don’t miss the view from the top floor of Galerie Lafayette. And if you like fashion, book a ticket to the Galerie Lafayette fashion show.

17. Picnic along the Canal Saint-Martin

This is where young and hip Parisians come for a picnic apéro by the water after work. Bring some cheese, wine, and a baguette and you will fit right in.

locks on canal saint martin
Locks on Canal Saint Martin

Alternatively, you can take a cruise that goes through the canal, through the locks of Paris, and passes under the Place de la Bastille to connect to the Seine river. Book your cruise tickets here.

☞ READ MORE: What is an apéro?

18. Take a day trip to the Château de Versailles

It was built by the famous Sun King Louis XIV, but we think more today of the tragic destiny of Marie-Antoinette and the French Revolution.

Chateau de Versailles
Palace of Versailles

Many other key moments in history took place here as well, such as the Treaty of Versailles (WW1), subsequent Nazi retaliation (WW2), amongst many others, so wander around and breathe in the history of France.

You can read more about visiting the Château de Versailles here. It does get quite crowded, especially in the summer so I highly advise booking tickets in advance.

Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges

19. Browse the art galleries around Place des Vosges

Originally known as Place Royale, this is one of the most beautiful spots in the Marais, and indeed, in Paris. Where the rich and famous used to live (and still do).

Victor Hugo (author of Hunchback of Notre Dame) lived in the area, as well as the real-life Cardinal Richelieu (a character in the Three Musketeers). Take a guided walking tour through the area to hear about the Marais’s famous residents and how this area has changed over time.

20. Order the charcuterie and cheese platter at a wine bar in the Marais

After all that sight-seeing, you deserve a drink (or two). Pair it with a charcuterie and cheese platter to graze on, and enjoy your night!

Charcuterie in France
Charcuterie Meats in Paris

☞ READ MORE: How to prepare a French Charcuterie Board

21. Visit Marie Antoinette’s prison at the Conciergerie

This was once a medieval palace in the heart of Paris, on Ile de la Cité, before it became a prison.  The most famous prisoner here was Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France.

Marie-Antoinette in Prison
Alexandre Kucharski : Marie-Antoinette in Prison.  Musée Carnavalet

She spent months here awaiting her sentence and her death at the age of 37.  Only a portion of it is open to the public since it is still used by the Paris law courts. Lines are long so be sure to book your tickets in advance.

☞ READ MORE: French Revolution walking tour of Paris

22. Pay your respects at Deportation Martyrs Memorial of the Holocaust

Behind the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, on the tip of Ile de la Cité is the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation. It was built underground with high walls and an iron gate to show the descent into darkness of humankind.

Deportation Martyrs Memorial of the Holocaust
Deportation Martyrs Memorial of the Holocaust in Paris

The Memorial is dedicated to the 200,000 men, women and children deported from France to Nazi concentration camps between 1940 and 1944 who did not return.

Entrance is free.

23. Learn about Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides

Les Invalides in the 7th arrondissement is a large complex of buildings has a very interesting permanent resident: the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.  His body lies in an elaborate monument surrounded by reliefs of his accomplishments. 

Napoleon Bonaparte Reliefs at Les Invalides
Napoleon Bonaparte Reliefs at Les Invalides

There is also an in-depth museum, Musée de l’Armée dedicated to the military history of France in one of the other buildings of the complex. Lines are long, so book your tickets in advance here.

24. Go to the Opera at Palais Garnier

Take in an opera or a ballet at the elegant Palais Garnier. Constructed in the 19th century, it is located in the 8th arrondissement and is as ornate and luxurious on the inside as it is on the outside. 

Opera Garnier in Paris
Opera Garnier in Paris

The interior Grand Foyer is reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. 

☞ READ MORE: Spending an evening in Paris

Alternatively, you can also take a tour of Opera Garnier to hear the stories behind the scenes and the famous personages that walked in the same footsteps. Tours are available to provide history and guide you through the building.

Rue Saint Honoré in Paris
Rue Saint Honoré in Paris

25. Shopping on Rue Saint Honoré

This tiny street is located behind rue Rivoli in the 1st arrondissement and holds some of the most fashionable brands in the world.  With everything from Balenciaga to Guerlain, you will have to hold on to your wallet!

26. Go on a Champagne tasting

The city of Reims in the Champagne region is only 2.5 hours away from Paris, so why not go on a champagne tasting and try several types of champagne.

The capital of the Champagne Region, Reims is most famous for its gothic Cathedral and the place where the Kings of France were crowned.

champagne bottles

There are several tours leaving from Paris, which will visit the vineyards and distilleries, and offer a champagne tasting. A tour with a bit of culture, a bit of Champagne, and a designated driver, what could be better?

27. Take in some modern art at Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou in the heart of the Marais is a modern art gallery built by the ex-President of France, George Pompidou. (You can read more about Pompidou’s questionable decor choices here.) 

Centre Pompidou in Paris
Centre Pompidou in Paris

The building itself is a piece of art as an ‘inside-out’ building in with its structural system, mechanical systems, and circulation exposed on the exterior of the building.

All of the functional structural elements of the building are color-coded: green pipes are plumbing, blue ducts are for climate control, electrical wires are encased in yellow, and circulation elements and fire safety devices are red. 

It holds hundreds of famous artworks from the 1970s onwards, from Andy Warhol to Lucien Freud. Book your tickets in advance here.

28. Take a picture at the Colonnes des Buren

Located in the inner courtyard Cour d’Honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris is the art installation by Daniel Buren, called the Colonnes de Buren

Colonnes de Buren
Colonnes de Buren in Paris

It was controversial when it was installed in the 1980s, but today it is on every Instagrammer’s must-do list. Entrance is free.

29. Go underground to the Catacombs 

The Catacombs are underground ossuaries of Paris, which hold the remains of more than six million people. 

Paris Catacombs
Paris Catacombs

The skeletons have been stacked up in a small part of a tunnel network amongst Paris’ ancient stone quarries.  A bit creepy, but worth the visit. Note, space is limited at this very popular tourist attraction so reserve your tickets in advance.

30. Look for the hidden passages in Paris

Be charmed by the 19th century Les Passages Couverts such as Galerie Vivienne, which today houses charming little shops, cafés, and bookstores. 

Galerie Vivienne
Galerie Vivienne

The passages are not easy to find, so equip yourself with a good GPS, or you can take a guided tour

31. Take a day trip to Mont Saint Michel

The célebré Mont Saint Michel is about 4 hours away from Paris, and definitely worth a day trip. 

Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel

It is one of France’s most-visited monuments, after the Palace of Versailles, so visit the historic Abbey and watch the tide flow in. You can read more about Mont Saint Michel here.

Day trips to Mont Saint Michel from Paris take the full day, and fill up quickly. You can look at tour options here.

32. Indulge your inner child at Disneyland Paris

Can you come all this way and not go to Disneyland?  Mickey and Minnie may be speaking French, but their love is universal.  Disneyland Paris is a just direct train ride away from Paris, on the RER A East at Marne la Vallée. 

Mad hatters at disneyland paris
Disneyland Paris

There are 2 theme parks, each with its own entrance ticket, as well as a separate Disney village with several restaurants and shops.

If you are not sure if you can make it to Disney on the RER system, you can book your transport in advance. You can read more about theme parks in Paris here.

33. Shop at a Bouquiniste along the Seine

Visit the bookstalls along the quays of the river Seine and pick up a few postcards to send to friends and family back home. 

Bouquinistes along the Seine river

The tradition of the second-hand booksellers goes back to the 16th century, and the 240 bouquinistes who line the Seine today are considered a part of UNESCO World Heritage. 

34. Take in a show at the Lido or the Moulin Rouge

Enjoy a French Cancan and marvel at the precision and the energy of the dancers.  With their stunning costumes and acrobatic moves, you too will be on your feet cheering.  Get tickets for just the show, or you can have dinner there as well.

35. Visit a farmers’ market and go to a cooking class

Indulge your inner gourmande by eating the way the French do.  Go to a farmers’ market and then learn age-old French cooking techniques.

farmer's market

The piéce de resistance will be when you make your own 4 course meal with the help of expert chefs. You can reserve your French cooking experience here.

36. Visit Saint Chapelle

Saint Chapelle was always very popular, but with Notre Dame under construction for the foreseeable future, even more visitors are flocking to Saint Chapelle.  A gothic royal chapel constructed in 1248 as a home to the Crown of Thorns.

crown of thorns
Crown of thorns kept at Notre Dame de Paris (credit: Wikipedia)

(The Crown of Thorns moved to Notre Dame de Paris during the French Revolution. Since the fire, it resides in a safe in Paris’s Louvre museum for security purposes.)

You can read more about French history here.

37. Have a drink on a rooftop terrasse

Rooftop terrasses are all the rage in Paris at the moment, so be sure to stop at one to enjoy the view. 

Rooftop terrasse in Paris
Rooftop terrasse in Paris

There are many bars, but one of the most popular is Le Pechoir in the Marais for its central location and views of all of Paris.

☞ READ MORE: Top Nightlife in Paris

38. Eat a fondue

Even if you are in Paris in the summer, eating a fondue is a must. There are normally two types, meat or cheese.  There are several places in the 5th arrondissement that have fondues, but my favorite is La Refuge des Fondues in Montmartre. 

fondue
Fondue

It is a tiny little restaurant (not child-friendly in the least), where people sit elbow to elbow with their neighbors and dig into one of Paris’s best fondues. The restaurant offers two types, a cheese fondue and one with meat.  

The wine is served in baby bottles (!), which makes everything go down even better.

39. Take a photo on Pont Alexandre III

The prettiest bridge in Paris, the emblematic Pont Alexandre is just calling is just a short walk away from the Champs Elysées. 

Pont Alexandre in Paris
Pont Alexandre III in Paris

If you came all this way and didn’t take a picture (with the Eiffel Tower in the background no less), you will definitely regret it!

40. Make your own perfume

France is renowned for its luxury perfumes, so learn how to make your own perfume.

Perfume counter inside a perfume factory

Blend your own scent with help from experts from some of the leading perfume shops in the world. You can see options to make your own perfume here.

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☞ READ MORE: Top Day Trips from Paris

If you’ve enjoyed this list and want to have it handy on your trip, a free download is available. It is in brochure format and includes a list of the emergency phone numbers in France so that you can fold it in your pocket and keep it within reach.

Happy travels and Bon Voyage!

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40 Fantastic Things to do in Paris on your first trip

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