Paris has everything you could ever want: wonderful food (from a humble satisfying delicious $3 limon sucré crêpe bought from a street vendor to a $400 meal at one of the hallowed gastronomic temples such as Taillevent), great little charming budget hotels, secret nooks & crannies, green pockets of interesting squares/parcs/places, the hidden courtyards, the rumored underground passageways, the hidden off-limit paths of the Catacombs.
It’s also full of art & architecture. Where else can you ride the bus, peer over a wall and discover Rodin’s The Thinker? Or his Balzac in the midst of traffic? Any architectural student would want to come here to see the blaze of styles that span from Gallo-Roman times (Arenes de Lutece, Roman baths at the Musée de Cluny) to present ultra-modern architecture (La Defense). This city loves to retain and maintain its history.
No other city is more artfully arranged!
Here are the best things to do in Paris:
1. Eiffel Tower
Yes it is all it claims to be. Standing in front of this amazing structure is mind blowing. Make sure you visit it during daytime and at night. Two very different perspectives.
When we got to the tower there was a huge line-up for the elevator so we decided to go up the stairs – it was cheaper (only 4 Euros) and we didn’t have to wait at all. You have to climb 345 steps to get to the first level, and another 359 steps to get to the second level. Do be aware that the stairs only go up to the second level, so if you want to go all the way to the top you’re going to have to pay again to use the elevator. As we went up on a hazy day, we were quite happy to stay on the first level and enjoy the view!
It’s one of the largest and most revered in the world. It sprawls across the site of a former medieval fortress whose ancient foundations still exist.
It has over 35,000 fascinating sculptures, paintings, prints and decorative objects spanning multiple millennia. You would put 12 miles on your sensible walking shoes trying to see all of it.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Tuesday and the following holidays: January 1st, May 1st, November 11 and December 25.
3. Notre Dame de Paris
This structure was made famous after Victor Hugo published ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. The Cathedrale was designed by Maurice de Sully and erected between 1163 and 1345 and then restored by Viollet-Le-Duc. All road distances are calculated from the “zero kilometer” point located on the square in front of Notre-Dame.
The cathedrale boasts a West Rose Window, South Rose Window, Galerie des chimeres (the famours gargoles) and the the beautiful flying buttresses. There is no fee to visit the interior of the cathedrale.
4. Montmartre Area
Well worth a visit. First there is the Sacre Coeur, and the magnificent views over Paris (and even to the Eiffel Tower) from the steps in front of the Sacre Coeur, and the artistic district around Montmartre.
The view of Montmartre is constantly being refreshed before your very eyes. Sacre-Coeur was built between 1875 and 1914.
5. Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is a monument in Paris that stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the Place de l’Étoile (Star Square).
It was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon, shortly after his victory at Austerlitz, but it was not finished until 1836. He originally wanted it on the site of the Bastille to the east of Paris so his soldiers could “march home through arches of victory”, but eventually this site was chosen.
Entrance to the top of the Arc de Triomphe is included on the Paris Museum Pass. Do not stand in the ticket line to purchase tickets if you have the pass, this is one place the Paris Museum Pass always saves me time. And don’t try to cross the traffic to get there, access is via an underground tunnel, the drivers have enough to worry about without tourists darting through traffic! The Arc is open past normal museum hours, until 10:30pm or 11pm, it’s a nice place to visit both in the day and evening hours.
6. Musee d’Orsay
Paris’ Musée d’Orsay occupies what was once the Gare d’Orsay, a train station built from 1898 to 1900. The station was used for long-distance trains until 1939, then later was used mainly for shorter regional trains. After World War II, the building was converted from a station into a mail center and was used a movie set. Approved to be destroyed in 1970, the demolition was disapproved and the station was proposed to be converted into a museum. Musée d’Orsay opened in 1986, and it houses French art completed from 1848 to 1915, including works by Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, and other French greats.
A visit to the Catacombes is well worth it; I would also recommend doing some research ahead of time as to the history and reason for their existence so that your visit carries more meaning.
If you’re going on a holiday or weekend, set aside a lot of time for a line up. I found the queue here to be much longer than at all the museums. We waited for 2.5 hours to get in. The visit itself probably takes 30-45 mins, depending on how fast you walk through. It starts off with a long walk down a curled staircase which then leads into a very brief museum where you can read about the history. Afterwards, you enter the actual catacombs where there are said to be 6 million skeletons.
You are allowed to take photos, however not with flash. There are staff down below to enforce this.
8. Place de la Concorde
A wonderful square that has transpassed frontiers and its the focal point of all visitors to Paris. It is not as calm and nice as it seems.
Following on the unfortunate decapitation theme established by St Denis, literally thousands of people were guillotined in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the most famous of which were Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette.
The guillotine was established in what is now known as Place de la Concorde, but which must have been anything but peaceful when packed with a baying, revolutionary crowd, eager to witness the despatch of their monarch. When you consider that kings of the era were believed to be ‘divine right’ monarchs – that is, quite literally, God’s representative on earth – it must have taken quite a leap in faith and morality to condemn someone with such close connections to the Almighty to execution, and demonstrates the enormous social transition that took place over this turbulent period.
Louis was executed at a spot close to the classical statue representing the town of Brest (just in front of the Crillon Hotel): later the guillotine was moved to a spot in front of the Tuilleries where the obelisk now stands.
The Luxor Obelisk, a 23 metre (75 ft) high Egyptian obelisk, can be found in the centre of this square. This obelisk was originally located at the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt.
The Sainte Chapelle was built by Louis IX (St Louis) to house Christ’s Crown of Thorns, one of the most valuable relics in all of Christendom. At the time what is today the Courts building was then the royal palace and St Chapelle was only intended as a royal chapel.
There are two chapels here, a lower and an upper one. The lower chapel served as a chapel for those living in the palace. The upper chapel was only for the royal family.
If there is one church you see in Paris, this would be a good choice. Though damaged during the Revolution, some of the stained glass is the original from the 13th century. It is a church that is designed to overwhelm you. The lower chapel is a fairly ordinary space, but climb the stairs to the upper chapel and it will take your breath away. You look up and it’s all suddenly bathed in light. I went somewhat late in the afternoon and the light was just stunning.
Definitely a must see in Paris!
The Paris Museum Card will no longer get you special privileges here, you will have to stand in line like everyone else. There is security you need to pass but that goes fairly quickly. Restoration of the left side of the upper chapel has been completed, so the ugly scaffolding that used to take up so much space is now gone, thankfully! I remember feeling disappointed the last time i visited because one got the feeling of just getting half the stunning visual effect.
10. Moulin Rouge
The Moulin Rouge or red windmill first opened its doors to the public in October 1889. Its owners were Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler who described it as a temple of music and dance. The Moulin Rouge popularized the then outrageous can can dance.
One of the Moulin Rouge’s most famous customers in its early years was artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who painted a number of famous Moulin Rouge scenes.
11. Versailles – Daytrip
If you have time for only one daytrip from Paris, my vote would go to Versailles, Louis XIV’s opulent palace about 40 minutes away by RER train. It’s easy to get to and of the chateaux and palaces I’ve seen within a day’s range of Paris, this is the one that impressed me the most. Try to pick a sunny warm day to visit, the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s estate are best enjoyed in lovely weater. The fountains are only turned on certain days, I believe it’s just Saturday but check the website to be sure. I’ve visited three times and still haven’t seen them turned on. Admission is more expensive on those days.
Versailles is included on the Paris Museum Pass, if you don’t have one of those, it’s highly recommended to pre purchase tickets before heading out although on my last visit, the ticket line took less time than the security line.
You can easily spend the good part of a day here, try to visit early before the crowds start forming or you’ll be jockeying with 100s of people for a peek at the rooms.
Commissioned by Louis XV, the Panthéon adopted the Greek model of a cross mounted on a dome. The first cornerstone was laid by the king himself in 1764. Visible from several vantage points in the city, the Panthéon is one of the best examples of neoclassicism. Under the dome hangs a replica of the pendulum used by the physician Foucault in 1851 to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. The crypt, divided into several galleries, contains the sepulchres of illustrious historical figures, reflecting the inscription carried by the stela on the facade: ‘The country recognizes its great men.’
13. Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter is one of the nicest areas in Paris. It is home to many fabulous restaurants, typically Parisian monuments and many, many students!
I would definately recommend visiting the Latin Quarter, just walking around the beautiful cobbled streets is an absolute delight!
The Conciergerie began as a royal palace in the Middle Ages. It was later used as a prison, both before and during the French Revolution.
In the years of the Terror, 1793 and 1794, more than 2600 prisoners were tried and convicted in this building, and sent from here to the guillotine.
Two centuries later nothing remains from this period, so some scenes have been set up, using life-size effigies, to show what it might have been like to be imprisoned here. One of the rooms has an effigy of Queen Marie Antoinette dressed in black, with her back to us, praying and being watched over by a guard.
Main Boulvard of Paris. It starts at the Louvre and ends at the Arc De Triomphe. Although Dominated by tourist shops, restaurants and chain stores this is a great place for a walk and some window shopping. However for a more authentic Paris experience heads towards Rue Moutefard in the Latin Quarter or Montemarte.
16. Basilica Sacre Coeur
The Basilica du Sacre Coeur has to be hands down one of my favorite places here in Paris. It’s quite breathtaking and peaceful and one of the most beautiful churches in all of Paris. The large white facade situated on a hill makes Sacre Coeur visible from many angles throughout Paris. My Paris trips are never complete without a visit to Sacre Coeur.
Getting to the top of Sacre Coeur is quite a feat with its steep incline. You can either walk to the top of the Basilica or take the Funiculaire to the top which can be taken from the Abbesses metro station. Definitely walk inside, climb the steps to the top and visit the crypt. The Basilica is open from 6:00 am to 10:30 pm every day and there is no admission fee.
If you plan to visit the Dome or Crypt you must pay an entrance fee and the operating hours are everyday from 8.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (May to September) and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (October to April). Please note that there are 300 steps to the top of the Dome.
17. Tuileries – Jardin des Tuileries
Take your time, see, hear, smell, and walk the calm paths of this large park located in the heart of Paris. The name “Tuilerie” means “tile” in english, and it is referred to the Palais des Tuileries (now disappeared, indeed destroyed by a fire in the XIX century) where several french monarchs have had their royal residence. The gardens belonged to the palace, now it is a public park where you can take a rest, breath pure air, play soccer, or just have a friendly chat among plants, and even eat in the restaurants located there.
Is on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
18. Disneyland Paris – Daytrip
Disneyland Park is divided into 5 sections:Main Street U.S.A, Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Discoveryland . You will take a free map at the entrance so you can choose what games you want to see/play so don’t be afraid because the park is big.
From Paris, the RER line A4 (Regional Express Railway) takes you to Disneyland Paris in about 40 minutes. Marne la Vallée/Chessy station is a short walk from the gates of Disneyland.
There are actually 2 parks – the ‘regular’ Disney Park and the Disney Studios Park next door which is based around the world of cinema and television. To visit both you’ll need a 2-Park ticket.
19. Musee de Cluny – Museum of the Middle Ages
This is an absolute jewel of a museum and one of the highlights of Paris. Musée de Cluny /Musée National du Moyen Âge is a 15th-century manse of medieval treasures adjacent to Roman-era thermal baths dating to when Paris was known as Lutetia. Unfortunately the baths were undergoing work so we could only admire from the sidewalk the portion visible behind a fence. No matter; the collection more than made up for an unexpected snag.
With some small exceptions the entire collection is fascinating and the impressive architecture and gardens of Hôtel de Cluny itself creates the perfect backdrop for these beautiful displays. Best of all? It wasn’t as overrun with humans as the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay.
20. Musee Rodin – Rodin Museum
The museum, devoted to the works of French artist Auguste Rodin, is located in the former Hotel Biron near Invalides. The state bought the Hotel in 1911 and Rodin agreed to donate his entire collection of sculptures and drawings along with his photographs and archives if they devoted a museum to him. They did just that although a couple of years after his death.
Although there’s quite a bit to see inside, the warmer months are a better time to visit as many of the sculptures are outside in the garden, a nice place to have a picnic lunch amidst some of his most well known works such as The Thinker, The Burghers of Calais, The Gates of Hell and one of his many statues of Balzac. Come to think of it, you might not want to gaze upon Balzac while eating, he’s definitely someone that should have never been sculpted in the nude!
21. Luxembourg Gardens – Jardin du Luxembourg
The Luxembourg Gardens were one of my favourite places in Paris. They are currently the gardens of the French Senate, which is housed nowadays in the Luxembourg Palace.
The Luxembourg Gardens date from 1611 when Marie de Medici, the widow of King Henry, decided to build a palace to remind her of her native Florence.
The Luxembourg Gardens have lots of flowers, statues and water features. They are a peaceful and calm place for a stroll.
22. Les Invalides – Hotel des Invalides
This is a striking complex which is famous for housing all things military from museums to tombs and anything else in between. It began life as a hospital of sorts for disabled military personnel but its main claim to fame these days is that it is the final resting place of Napoleon 1 whose ashes are entombed in a magnificent structure under the famous dome.
Napoleon was of course originally buried under a tree in St Helena where he died in about 1821 but in 1840 King Louis-Philippe ordered his remains to be laid to rest under the dome of Les Invalides. The remains of several military giants such as Foch and Vauban and others can be found here as well.
Ah, Paris! Be it your first time or tenth, to feel part of this vibrant city, walk the streets. One street not to miss will put you right in with the locals. This is the street of food, Rue des Martyrs. Spend a half day walking from the start of the street and go up the slight hill to Montmartre and the Church. When you arrive at the top of the hill, relax on the steps in front of Sacré-Cœur and enjoy the view of Paris below. Don’t miss the artists square next door, you may find a painting to take home to remind you how for one day, you were a part of Paris. Restaurants and shops line the square and you can take a taxi back to your hotel unless you want to work up an appetite and do as the Parisians do, walk. Spend one half day walking the streets and get a feel of Parisian life. The Rue des Martyrs is a very good street to explore as it takes you up to Montmartre via this street of food. Great window displays that will tempt your palate and the locals flood the area so you can really be a part of Paris. A visit to Montmartre is a highlight for me when in Paris. I trust you will enjoy it as well.
24. Centre Georges Pompidou
It is a large and modern cultural center, housing the biggest museum of modern art, a public library, and a research centre for music and acoustic effects.
It is open since 1977, and it is one of the most visited places in Paris since then.
The museum has a selection of 1,400 works, ranging from masters of modernism (Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Ernst, Miró, Pollock) to the most recent creations with a look at new realism, Arte Povera and Conceptual Art.
Usually referred to as simply “the Trocadero”, this renowned square was built on the hill of Chaillot which once was a village situated on the outskirts of Paris in the 16 eme.
The huge sprawling building which dominates the square is the Palais de Chaillot. The original Palais which was built for the World’s Fair in the latter part of the nineteenth century was demolished and replaced with the new building in about 1937. The complex is home to an aquarium which is open to the public and to a maritime museum amongst other things.
The main claim to fame of the Place du Trocadero is that it is considered to be the best vantage point to view the Eiffel Tower which is situated across the Seine right opposite. Similarly the best view of the Place du Trocadero is from atop the Eiffel Tower.