Best things to do in Paris
Paris is the city of light, art, love, the Eiffel Tower, crepes and croissants. If you visit it, let yourself go and get lost in its streets, but do not forget the must-sees that the city has reserved for you.
After several trips to the French capital, it is common to have the feeling of not having visited all of its must-sees; the good thing about Paris is that the city will always be waiting for you. Here are 20 places in Paris that you will always remember.
1. Visit the Eiffel Tower, Trocadero, and the Champs-de-Mars
Ironically enough, the emblem of Paris is the tower that many Parisians once rejected as an aesthetic aberration for the city. Today, no one imagines Paris without the Eiffel Tower and it is impossible not to visit it during your visit to the city. If you're lucky, you'll first spot it from the plane, then you'll look for its lights on the horizon while strolling through Paris at night and, finally, you'll surely go to take your photo from the Trocadero square.
But what do you need to know if you want to climb the Eiffel Tower? First of all, as is the case with most tourist attractions in Paris, it is best to get your tickets for the Eiffel Tower online to avoid the queues at the ticket office. When buying the tickets the first thing you have to decide is whether you want to go up only to the second floor or to the top and if you want to do it on the elevator or by stairs.
In either case, you will have the option of taking a guided tour of the tower or purchasing your ticket combined with another activity (such as a cruise on the Seine) to save a bit of money.
You'll love the views, both by day and with the city lit up at night. To see it in both ways without having to go up twice, just go up at sunset after exploring the surrounding area. On one side of the Eiffel Tower, you have the Champ-de-Mars where you can lie down in summer for a picnic and on the opposite side, you'll find the Trocadero gardens.
2. Get cultured at the Louvre Museum and relax in the Tuileries garden
Taking a stroll along the banks of the Seine, arriving at the Tuileries gardens that lead to the Louvre museum, sitting down to read a book in the chairs surrounding its huge fountains... For me, this is one of the best Parisian experiences. By this, I mean that, if the Louvre's art collection is among the most extensive and renowned in the world, the museum's surroundings, including the glass pyramid through which you enter, are the perfect prologue.
Once you have enjoyed the area (and don't forget to see it at night) you can plan your visit to the museum which contains works such as Da Vinci's 'Gioconda', the 'Venus de Milo', the 'Victory of Samothrace', Delacroix's 'Liberty Leading the People', or the 'Code of Hammurabi'.
Book the Louvre tickets in advance and remember it will take you about three hours to visit the museum. Select a day and a time slot for your visit (it is closed on Tuesdays and it opens later on Wednesdays and Fridays) and, again, get your tickets in advance because the queue to access the ticket office can last for hours. Also, do not dismiss a guided tour as the best option to make the most of the museum's collection.
Oh, and just one last tip: avoid holidays if you can, you will find even a bigger crowd than usual.
3. Stroll through Montmartre and visit the Sacre Coeur
You've probably read stories about the bohemian era of Paris and the painters and artists who flocked to the city at the dawn of the 20th century. All these stories took place in the Montmartre district, which today, surprisingly, has not lost that special charm that makes it the most visited neighborhood in Paris.
You will find this area in the north of Paris, far from the center, but well connected by metro (Blanche, Pigalle or Anvers stops on line 2). The main points of interest are the Sacré-Cœur, the Moulin Rouge and the Place des Painters, but the real essence is to walk its streets and cafes and know their stories. I will always recommend a guided tour of the area.
4. Enjoy a show at the Moulin Rouge
In lower Montmartre, surrounded by erotic stores and neons, is the most famous cabaret of Paris, known above all for the posters of Toulouse Lautrec or for the cancan dance.
Some people think that the Moulin Rouge is a museum, but no: it still works as a nightclub that you can attend buying tickets for the Moulin Rouge. The price is not cheap, but the experience is well worth it. Whether you choose the dining experience or not, don't forget to visit the Moulin Rouge at night to see it lit up and get a feel of the genuine essence of Paris.
5. Stroll around the Notre Dame Cathedral
It's impossible not to mention one of Paris' most iconic monuments without being a bit sad about the fire that took part of its structure on April 15, 2019.
Although you won't be able to go up to see the gargoyles watching Paris from its towers since the cathedral will be under restoration until 2024, you can walk around Ile de la Cité to visit it from the outside and take a stroll around the surrounding area. If you are a book lover, don't forget to visit the most wonderful bookstore in the world located a few meters from the cathedral: Shakespeare and Co.
6. Discover the unknown Sainte Chapelle
It has always struck me how Sainte Chapelle goes so unnoticed among tourists visiting Paris. This church is located a few meters from Notre Dame and stands out for its impressive stained glass windows. It is well worth going inside to see the spectacle of multicolored light that, precisely because it is somewhat overlooked by tourists, can be enjoyed more quietly and calmly than famous landmarks like the Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame.
7. Take a guided tour of the Paris Opera Building
Another emblematic building is the Opéra Garnier. The shows held in this magnificent building (you should see it both day and night, with its charming illumination) concentrated the elite of French society, that chose the sumptuous corridors and performance hall as a meeting point for their distinguished meetings. During the day, you can visit the building by buying tickets for a guided tour at the Opéra Garnier and at night you can attend a concert or show.
8. Cross the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées
North of the Seine and in the middle of the Charles de Gaulle square you will find the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris that you can either visit from below or climb to contemplate the city from above. If you do the latter you will see that the skyscrapers of La Defénse de Paris (the business district), the Arc itself, and the Louvre pyramid forming a perfectly straight line.
You can also take a stroll along the Avenue des Champs Elysees (if you visit Paris at Christmas you will see that the decoration of the trees gives this iconic street a charming touch) browsing the many shop stalls that line both sides of it.
9. Stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens
Paris is a city of large green areas and one of the most well-kept and also one of the most visited is the Luxembourg Gardens, south of the Seine River. Its design, fountains, and flowers are definitely worth a visit but do not go just to check it off your list: sit, read, buy ice cream and watch the daily life of Paris going by in this park. The hustle and bustle of Paris disappear in these flawless gardens, where you will also find the palace that gives them their name.
10. Fall in love with the Musée D'Orsay
After the Louvre, this is the most visited museum in Paris and I particularly like it even more. The Musée d'Orsay has works by Monet, Rodin, Cézanne, or Gauguin among its collection, it is distributed on several floors and its layout is perfect for a visit.
In the center of the Musée d'Orsay, there is the main gallery with statues and sculptures and bathed by a spectacular light; on the sides of it, the different rooms are distributed one after the other. The smaller crowds compared to the Louvre allow you to enjoy this visit calmly (I recommend you take a couple hours off your schedule for this). For more information about this and other museums check my guide on the best museums in Paris.
11. Have fun at the Pompidou Museum
In a city as cosmopolitan as Paris, contemporary art has a lot to say and a visit to the George Pompidou museum is good proof of that. In the Pompidou, you will see one of the largest collections of contemporary art in Europe with works by Duchamp, Kandinsky, Picasso, or Matisse, but also original collections of other artists that will make you have a great time during the visit.
The Pompidou is a museum to have a good time, have fun and enjoy art while learning, which is why I always say that the Pompidou is an ideal museum to take children to. Read more in this article about the best museums in Paris.
12. Visit Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides
Near the Champ-de-Mars is the architectural complex of Les Invalides. It certainly catches the eye with its large gold dome, but what is actually in that building? The answer is a military museum and a church containing the mortal remains of Napoleon. If you are interested in the time of the French Revolution and World War II, here you will find a huge collection of weapons and objects related to those two periods.
13. Stroll around the Latin Quarter and the Pantheon
Neoclassical in style and inspired by the Roman Pantheon, this is one of the main buildings of the Latin Quarter. Its subway galleries or its elevated vault are the main highlights of the guided tour that can be done inside it, but seeing it from the outside and walking the streets of this area is worth it.
14. Climb to the viewpoint of the Montparnasse Tower
South of Paris you will find this viewpoint from which you will get fantastic views of Paris. The Montparnasse tower is far from being my favorite building in the city, aesthetically speaking, since it completely breaks the Parisian skyline, but I have to admit that the views from there are worth it both thanks to its height (not as high as the Eiffel Tower, so you can see the city up close) and, most importantly, because you do not see the tower itself.
15. Take a guided tour of Paris
When I have little time in a city or I'm passing through and I can only select one tourist activity, I definitely opt for guided walking tours of the city center. In Paris, because of the size of the city, there is a lot to choose from and the tours are usually organized by neighborhoods.
In this article about the different guided tours you can do in Paris you will find the ones that I find the most interesting. For example, the night tour of Paris can be a very good opportunity to see the city lit up after sunset. Just keep in mind when choosing a tour that every area of the city, every neighborhood, has a different charm to it!
16. Relax during a cruise on the Seine River
Taking a boat ride on the Seine is one of the most demanded activities in the French capital. The layout of the city's monuments allows you to see many of them from the river and this type of cruise is a perfect opportunity to experience Paris in an original and relaxed way.
Due to its great demand, there are different options, suitable for all budgets. I tell you all about them in my guide on the best cruises you can do on the Seine.
17. Go back to your childhood at Disneyland Paris
I can hardly be objective in this recommendation: I love amusement parks, especially theme parks and especially Disneyland.
If you are visiting Paris with your children it's almost mandatory to take them to Disneyland. But if not, and you're going to spend several days in Paris, it is still an unforgettable day trip. It is easily accessible from the center of Paris and it will be an amazing experience for Disney movie lovers and amusement park enthusiasts alike. Before heading to the park, I recommend you to read my article on how to get your tickets for Disneyland.
18. Travel back in time to the Palace of Versailles
We all know the history of the rise of absolutism and its fall with the French Revolution, but to visit the Palace and Gardens of Versailles is to relive it in every room. History aside, a visit to Versailles is a must both for the sumptuousness of its palace and its impressive gardens.
Any excursion to the Palace of Versailles from Paris will take you on an almost full day trip. You can get there by train from the center of Paris or book a guided tour with round trip transportation included. The queues at Versailles are about two hours minimum; getting your tickets in advance will save you precious time.
19. Tour Paris by bus
It might be surprising to some that the last item on this list is a tourist bus. There are two reasons for this, and both have to do with the type of city Paris is. First, when a city is as large as this one is it becomes very difficult for a traveler to get around just by bus, and makes it completely impossible to visit it in a single day.
For me, using the tourist bus is the perfect way to cover in a short time a large area of the city, something I think it's ideal for those who are short on time or who wish to get a general overview of the city.
Secondly, comfort is a factor to consider; Paris is a beautiful city and sometimes you just want to look around without the need for long walks at the end of a tiring day. The panoramic views that you can get from these types of bus tours are perfect for this. Read more about Paris sightseeing buses.