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!?
1. Visit the Eiffel Tower.
Of course, the Eiffel has got to be number 1 on any “must-visit in Paris”, 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 skip-the-line tickets, since lines are very long. (I can’t emphasize this enough!)
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. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in France after all. And again I highly recommend booking tickets in advance.
2. Gaze at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral.
Standing majestically on the banks of the River Seine, Notre Dame de Paris has been a focal point of Parisian life for centuries. The Cathedral is located on an island in the center of Paris, called Ile de la Cité, chosen for its strategic position and defensive location.
Construction of the current cathedral dedicated to Mother Mary began in 1163 AD and the high altar was consecrated on 19 May 1182. Significant renovations have occurred several times over the centuries, including the addition of the spire in the 19th century.
Today it is among the most visible and celebrated landmarks of Paris. However it suffered a significant fire in 2019 and is currently under reconstruction.
It is still a beauty however, even with a few scars. You can book a guided tour around the area here.
3. Get an ice cream from Bertillons.
What gelato is to Italy, Bertillons is to France. One of their original locations is on the Île 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.
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. (Don’t hesitate to sing the famous song by Joe Dassin, as you do.) You can read more about shopping in Paris here.
☞ READ MORE: The French Woman: Style tips for visiting Paris
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 past the Arc de Triomphe.
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.
This former castle, turned royal 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 around the Sacre Coeur Basilica. This is 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.
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.
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.
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. You can read more about foods and drinks to try in Paris here.
12. Sail a toy boat in Jardin Du Luxembourg.
This grand garden in the heart of the Left bank, on the edge of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 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.
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 savory and sugary crêpe.
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 around, but a particular favorite is the one located at 12 Rue Soufflot, 75005 Paris.
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.
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. Galerie Lafayette and Printemps are known in France as the Grands Magasins which is the French word for “large shop” aka “department stores”.
They sit side by side along Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement just across from the Palais Garnier, the national Opera of Paris, along with other smaller shops around like Zara, Petit Bateau, and more.
Inside Galerie Lafayette and Printemps, you will find something for all budgets. From upscale fashion brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, Prada, etc. there are also the affordable brands like Sezane, Mango and house brands.
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.
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18. Take a day trip to the Château de Versailles.
Many other key moments in history took place here as well, such as the Treaty of Versailles (WW1), subsequent German retaliation (WW2), amongst many others, so wander around and breathe in the history of France.
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) on the edge between the 3rd and 4th arrondissements.
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!
☞ 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.
She spent months here awaiting her sentence and her death at the age of 37. Only a portion of the Palais de la Cité 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.
The Memorial is dedicated to the 200,000 men, women and children deported from France to German concentration camps between 1940 and 1944 who did not return. Entrance to the memorial and museum is free. You can find more free museums in Paris here.
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.
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.
The interior Grand Foyer is reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
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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.
25. Go 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 capital of the Champagne Region, Reims is most famous for its gothic Cathedral and the place where the Kings of France were crowned.
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.
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.
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.
It was controversial when it was installed in the 1980s, but today it is on every Instagrammer’s must-do list. Entrance is free. You can read more about the Palais Royal here.
29. Go underground to the Catacombs.
The Catacombs are underground ossuaries of Paris, which hold the remains of more than six million people.
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 which starts in the 14th arrondissement. 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 in the 2nd arrondissement, which today houses charming little shops, cafés, and bookstores.
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.
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.
There are 2 theme parks, each with its own entrance ticket, as well as a separate Disney village with several restaurants and shops.
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.
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 Moulin Rouge.
Enjoy a French Cancan in the 18th arrondissement, 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. You can get tickets here for the show and a glass of champagne, 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 such as the Marché Bastille in the 11th arrondissement, and then learn age-old French cooking terms and techniques.
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 Sainte Chapelle.
A gothic royal chapel, it was constructed in 1248 as a home to the Crown of Thorns.
It is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the royal palace. Although damaged during the French Revolution, it was mostly restored in the 19th century. You can read more about French history here.
(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.)
However Saint Chapelle still has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections anywhere in the world. You can purchase your skip-the-line tickets 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
41. Explore the city’s history at Musée Carnavalet.
Inside the museum, the exhibits show the transformation of the Roman village of Lutèce, which was inhabited by the Parisii tribes to the grand City of Lights that we see today.
The Carnavalet museum houses over 2,600 paintings, 20,000 drawings, 300,000 engravings and 150,000 photographs, along with 2,000 modern sculptures and 800 pieces of furniture. You can read more about visiting Musée Carnavalet here.
42. Buy a book at Shakespeare & Co.
The world famous Shakespeare & Co’s bookstore near the banks of the Seine river is located in the 5th arrondissement. Founded in 1951, the shop was named after an earlier bookstore owned by American author Sylvia Beach that she founded in 1919 at a nearby location.
The shop is renowned for its classic new and used books in English and other languages, making a treasure trove for booklovers. The shop is open everyday and located at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris.
43. Try a chocolat chaud at Angelina’s.
You simply cannot come to Paris and not try the chocolat chaud. Hot chocolate, but not the industrial powdery stuff that you get at a grocery store.
The real chocolat chaud at a chocolaterie like Angelina or Ladurée, will be made from the finest chocolate melted in a pot, with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and just a hint of milk. Each chocolatier will have his own recipe, so don’t hesitate to try a few different types to find your favorite 😉
44. See the sculptures at Musée Rodin.
If you love statues but aren’t planning on visiting the statue gallery at the Louvre Museum, then the Musée Rodin is your next best bet.
Containing the works of master French sculptor Auguste Rodin, the museum has two sites, the palatial mansion “Hôtel Biron” in central Paris, as well as Rodin’s own home in the Parisian suburb of Meudon.
The museum within Paris has a series of galleries filled with statues, but more importantly, it has a sculpture garden where you can let the kids roam freely, unlike some of the more serious museums. You can read more about Musée Rodin and book your skip-the-line tickets here.
45. Wander around Jardin des Tuileries.
French Queen Catherine de Medici started building the Palais des Tuileries two centuries earlier in 1564, a stone’s throw away from the Palais du Louvre. Later monarchs would go on to add wings and attach the Tuileries and the Louvre.
Today, it is a large expansive garden, the “backyard” of locals living in this part of the Right bank. Entry to the gardens is Free.
46. Dine at a Michelin star restaurant.
Paris has 119 Michelin star restaurants in the world, 2nd to Tokyo. The list is compiled by Michelin, the (French) tire company.
The initial idea was to provide French people with good eating options when on road trips across France. From there is spread to becoming renowned as a status for excellence in dining.
With some of the best French chefs having their restaurants in Paris, there is no shortage of Michellin recognized restaurants in the city. Some popular names include:
- Guy Savoy – in the 6th arrondissement with stunning views of the Seine
- Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen – in the Champs Elysées Gardens, 8th arrondissement
- L’Ambroisie – in Place des Vosges in the Marais, 4th arrondissement
- Alain Ducasse – on the Seine in the 16th arrondissement
- Pierre Gagnaire – Hôtel Balzac in the 8th arrondissement
47. Take a trip to Château de Fontainebleau.
In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, Château de Fontainebleau was “the true home of kings, the house of ages.” While the glamorous Château de Versailles was a bit of a party palace, Château de Fontainebleau was the original working Palace, constructed centuries earlier.
Among all the châteaux near Paris, this is probably the one with the most history. However it isn’t the easiest to get to, but about 1h30 from central Paris on public transport. You can read more about Château de Fontainebleau here.
For ease of travel, you can find recommended tours from Paris along with ticket options here.
48. Visit the Pantheon.
Originally intended to be a church, the Pantheon is where France’s national heroes and legendary figures are buried. It celebrates famous French names like Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie, becoming a mausoleum and a monument to much of French history and culture.
Inside are several statues, paintings, and symbols dedicated to French ideals of the République. Right in the center of the Panthéon is French physicist Léon Foucault’s pendulum, demonstrating the rotation of the Earth.
In addition, several people like Voltaire, Emile Zola and Jean Jaures are buried at the Panthéon. It is open everyday to visitors, and you can purchase your skip-the-line tickets here.
49. Explore the nightlife.
As bustling as Paris is during the day, at night there is a whole another vibe that comes out. With plenty of restaurants, bars, and nightlife, it would be shocking if you couldn’t find something to your taste. From rooftop bars to cocktails by Seine, it is choosing that is the difficult part. You can read more about nightlife in Paris here.
50. Take home a souvenir.
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If you’ve enjoyed this list and want to have it handy on your trip, you can download a free printable below. 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!