Since the end of the 19th century, Paris has been well established as the City of Love. What many people don’t know however is that it is also frequently referred to as the City of Lights. This capital city is a hub for tourism in Europe attracting around 30 million visitors each year, around 15-20 million of whom are traveling onwards to Spain and Italy. But what are the best things to do in Paris?
As one of the most visited cities in the world, Paris really does have something for everyone. It has an incredible history, awe inspiring buildings, amazing cuisine and of course, high fashion. Whilst there are plenty of places to visit that will be on everyone’s list, our ultimate guide to the best things to do in Paris looks to offer some slightly more unusual things to do as well, offering you a glimpse of “vrai Paris.”
Table of Contents
- 1. The Eiffel Tower
- 2. The Montparnasse Tower
- 3. Breakfast Like a Parisian
- 4. Visit The Louvre
- 5. Da Vinci Walking Tour
- 6. The Arc de Triomphe
- 7. Notre Dame Cathedral
- 8. Basilique du Sacre-Coeur
- 9. Montmartre
- 10. Become a Modern Day Montgolfier
- 11. Free Museums
- 12. Visit the Largest Flea Market in the World
- 13. Versailles by Bike
- 14. Cruise Along the Seine
- 15. Walk in the Footsteps of Jean Valjean
- 16. The Champs-Elysees
- 17. Visit Jim Morrison
- 18. The Promenade Planteé
- 19. The Moulin Rouge
- 20. Plan a Chocolate Crawl
- 21. The Centre Pompidou (before it closes)
- Final Words On Things To Do In Paris
1. The Eiffel Tower
No trip to Paris – or list of things to do in Paris – is complete without visiting the structure that dominates the city’s skyline. La Tour Eiffel was built by Gustave Eiffel as an entrance for the World’s Fair in 1889. At 324 meters, it was once one of the tallest buildings in the world. However, it was only meant to be a temporary fixture. A trip to the top, or the first or second floor, depending on how adventurous you are feeling is a must for anyone wanting the experience. However, Parisians would actually recommend that you head to the Montparnasse Tower instead for your incredible cityscape photographs and views.
2. The Montparnasse Tower
If the thrill of climbing the Eiffel Tower terrifies you, then the Montparnasse Tower, widely thought of as the ugliest structure in the city, is the place to visit for those all-important views of the city. The bonus of course is that you will be able to get the Eiffel Tower fully in shot. Until 2011, this was the tallest skyscraper in France. Whilst not that pretty to look at from the outside, the views from the 360 observation deck make it a great choice of place to visit.
3. Breakfast Like a Parisian
Get an early start to the day and take breakfast like a true Parisian with a visit to café for a croissant, coffee, and of course a chance to take part in that popular pastime; people watching. Parisians have been people-watching since the 1800s. Sitting on the terrasse of one of Paris’s cafes offers the perfect location for doing this, whilst indulging in the buttery flakiness of a freshly baked croissant.
4. Visit The Louvre
A trip to the most visited museum in the world is pretty much an obligatory stop on any tour of Paris. And to be honest, even if you are not a big museum person The Louvre is a pretty iconic place to be. With around 10 million visitors a year you would do well to purchase your tickets in advance. The Louvre houses the oldest piece of art in the world, the Mona Lisa. Plus, it contains the Regent Jewels, which are worth $65 million, and the Venus de Milo.
5. Da Vinci Walking Tour
If you want to see something of Paris that is a little different from the more typical tourist walking tours, then why not book a tour inspired by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code? Visit the places that Robert Langdon visited as he journeyed across Paris in search of answers.
6. The Arc de Triomphe
Constructed in memory of the soldiers who died during the French Revolution (1789 – 99) and fighting in several wars during the reign of Napoleon (1769 – 1821). It is also where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI can be found. The best reason however to visit the Arc de Triomphe is that is a spectacular place to watch the sun setting over the city. There are 300 steps that can be climbed to reach the top of the monument. The views are definitely worth it.
7. Notre Dame Cathedral
In April 2019, the world watched in horror as one of the most iconic buildings in Paris the Cathedrale, de Notre Dame, was badly damaged by a devastating fire whilst undergoing restoration work. The structure of the Cathedrale was badly burnt. However, many of the precious works of art were saved by heroic firefighters. Restoration work is underway to restore this magnificent Gothic Building to as close as possible to its original former glory. In the meantime, the front square of the cathedral is still accessible to members of the public. Plus, the views from nearby bridges will offer photographs that show the building in its best light.
8. Basilique du Sacre-Coeur
Just above Montmartre you will find the incredible sight of the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. Climb the steep stone stairs, there are 222 steps, to this white castle-like building that seems to be almost in the sky you are sure to capture some very instagrammable images. The church has been here since 1873 and is an architectural joy, combining Romanesque and Byzantine styles. The building was not completed until the end of WWI and the church was consecrated in 1919. Again this is another perfect spot for some incredible views out across the city.
A “village within the city” the 13th arrondissement (district) of Paris is a hilltop quarter where you will find cobbled streets, art nouveau houses with pocket gardens, quaint bistros, and street art on every corner. This is a great place for unhurried wanderings, somewhere to stop for a truly authentic French meal or even to have your caricature drawn.
If you feel like a trip to another church then Montmartre is also home to one of the oldest churches in Paris, Église Saint-Pierre de Montmartre.
If you want to take some pictures of typical Paris streets, then arrive early in the morning before all of the crowds.
10. Become a Modern Day Montgolfier
The Montgolfier brothers took an early lead for France in the field of Aviation. Paris is the home of the largest capacity hot air balloon (which doubles as an air pollution monitor), and whilst it might be tethered at Parc André-Citroën it offers 10-minute rides to just 30 passengers at a time where they will be able to take in views of the city from a height of 150m. Of course, this activity depends on good weather.
11. Free Museums
If you love culture but have a somewhat limited budget, then there are plenty of art galleries and museums that are run by the municipality of the city. The good news is that, apart from just a few, these are all free to visit. The Musée Carnavalet is a great visit for Parisian history, the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris is full of 20th and 21st-century work, and the building itself if absolutely stunning. There is a museum dedicated to pretty much everything in Paris.
12. Visit the Largest Flea Market in the World
It is believed, although nobody knows for certain, that the term “flea market” in fact of French origin. It does of course sound much nicer in French – Marché aux Puces! The one at Saint-Ouen which is in the north of the city is in fact the largest such market of its kind in the world with over 2500 shops contained in 15 sub-markets. Due to its size, it can be rather daunting to visit however there are plenty of guides who will be able to show you the best of everything the market has to offer and may even be able to help you pick up a bargain.
13. Versailles by Bike
Bikes are a great way to really explore the 800 hectares that make up the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. There is even a “Food and Palace Bike Tour” that is well worth joining. It starts with a short train ride from Paris and takes in the farmers market in the town of Versailles, a tour of the chateau, and even a stop in the mock hamlet created by Marie-Antoinette.
14. Cruise Along the Seine
There are two different types of boats for seeing Paris from the Seine, the Bateaux Mouches which offer commentary and also serve food, or the Batobus. If you want an uninterrupted view of both the left and right bank of the river and the ability to hop on and off to see the sites, then the latter is the boat for you. They have a small open deck and wraparound windows for great views. There are 9 stopping points. Plus, you can purchase 24 and 48-hour tickets. The boat passes under 23 of the 37 bridges you will find in Paris.
15. Walk in the Footsteps of Jean Valjean
Fans of Les Misérables will remember that Jean Valjean hid in the Paris sewers. Le Musée des Égouts de Paris (which sounds much nicer than the Paris sewer museum) offers an opportunity to explore this hidden underbelly of the city. A trip to the sewers may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, it is certainly something a little different, and a great experience for anyone interested in engineering.
16. The Champs-Elysees
No trip to Paris is truly complete without a little shopping and the Champs-Elysees is one of the most iconic streets you will find in Paris. This stunning tree-lined street leading to the Arc de Triomphe is very photographable.
There are a number of incredible restaurants and high-end stores on the Champs-Elysees however if shopping is not your thing or the prices are a little too rich for your blood then they make a great place for window shopping.
17. Visit Jim Morrison
Pere Lachaise Paris Cemetery is the most visited cemetery you will find anywhere in the world. If is also the burial site of Jim Morrison. It might seem like an unusual place to visit but you would be in good company as over 3.5 million people visit every year.
You will also find the tombs of Oscar Wilde, Colette, Proust, and Edith Piaf, to name just a few, here as well.
18. The Promenade Planteé
This abandoned railway offers a really unique look of the city. The first of its kind in the world, but one that was quickly copied by New York, this is an elevated park that is built on an old railway. Stroll through the plants and trees, near to ponds and green spaces all whilst listening to the birds, high up above the city. The Promenade starts in Bastille and stretches 4.7 kilometers to the edge of the city.
19. The Moulin Rouge
Ooh la la, don’t forget to visit the iconic Moulin Rouge in Montmartre during your trip to Paris. Home to one of the most famous cabaret shows you will find anywhere in the world, you are guaranteed a show full of glamour, glitz and sometimes very little in the way of clothing. Shows sell out fast, even though there are several each day, so book your tickets before you get to France. The best tickets are the ones that include champagne.
20. Plan a Chocolate Crawl
Whilst many people consider Belgium to be the place for chocolate, the last decade has seen the neighborhoods of the Left Bank become not only the chocolate center of France, but also the world. There are over 20 chocolatiers here with a world-class reputation. Why not take yourself on a tour of all the incredible chocolate perfection that they have to offer?
21. The Centre Pompidou (before it closes)
Towards the end of 2023, the Centre Pompidou, affectionately referred to as Beaubourg, will be closing for 4 years for major renovation work. Therefore, you might want to visit before this happens. This is the largest museum for contemporary and modern art in, not only Paris but Europe. The outside design is particularly iconic, with its inside-out appearance. From movie installations to talks and activities for children, the museum has something to appeal to everyone who is visiting.
No definitive date has yet been given for the museum’s closing. Therefore, it is worth checking the website before visiting to avoid disappointment.
Final Words On Things To Do In Paris
With all this to do and see in Paris, you might not get around it all in one visit. Take note as you go around the city, and you’ll more than likely compile a great list of what to visit next time!