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 something 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 32million 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!?
Table of Contents
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!)
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!
Book 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. It is still a beauty, even with a few scars!
Guided Tours 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.
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 reserve now:
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!
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. 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.
Note: During the busy summer season, tickets often are only sold online for timed entrances. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Book tickets in advance:
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.
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 the afé on Avenue Montaigne where all the luxury shops like Chanel and Prada are located.
Have a seat at a terrasse in one of the cafés and watch the people go by. (Don’t take up smoking like the locals though, it is bad for your health!)
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. Spend an afternoon with Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir, and marvel over their works of art.
Book 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. 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.
14. Eat a crêpe near the Pantheon
If you have never had a crêpe before, now is the time. There is a wide variety of combinations 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. With something for all budgets, take back a souvenir that will remind you of your time in 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.
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.
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. 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.
Book tickets in advance:
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!
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. 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.
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 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.
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. 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 of Opera Garnier:
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? The capital of the Champagne Region, Reims is most famous for its gothic Cathedral and the place where the Kings of France were crowned.
A tour with a bit of culture, a bit of Champagne, and a designated driver.
Tours to the Champagne region:
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Day trips to Mont Saint Michel from Paris:
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.
If you are not sure if you can make it to Disney on the RER system, you can book your transport in advance.
Transport to Disneyland Paris:
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 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. 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. (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.)
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.
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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 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. 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.
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!