Top 10 Things to Do and Must-Sees in Paris
Here is a selection of the best things to do in Paris. Whether you are planning to stay for a day or a week, you just can't leave the City of Lights without having experienced these 10 ultimate must-sees and must-dos!
1) Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower
There’s no mistaking it: the Eiffel Tower rips through the air like a giant. This impressive symbol of France can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Reigning 324 meters high, the iron tower has dominated the Parisian horizon ever since the 1889 Universal Exhibition.
Its construction -- completed in just 2 years, 2 months and 5 days -- was an incredibly technical and architectural feat. Meant to stay standing for only 20 years, the Eiffel Tower was saved by its immense popularity and by Gustave Eiffel’s scientific experiments. In fact, its creator suggested a more functional purpose to the tower: use it as an antenna for the first radiophonic transmissions. Although its existence was controversial from the beginning, the Eiffel Tower ended up conquering the hearts and minds of its most ardent critics. Today, the Eiffel Tower is home to numerous events that attract people from all around the world.
Unbeatable sensations kick in as soon as you start climbing the Eiffel Tower. Seven million visitors make the trip every year, climbing its three levels to get to the very top. Paris seen from so high up is worth the detour -- and the climb! In fact, the higher you go the more the city reveals itself: monuments pop up here and there, cars zip along the streets like ants and even the landscape begins to change. Definitely a must-do for anyone who visits Paris!
Don’t forget that the Eiffel Tower takes on a different person at night. Twinkling and shining above the “City of Lights,” as Paris is nicknamed, you can also take in the Eiffel Tower during the evening while enjoying a gastronomic meal at one of its restaurants such as the 58 on the first level, the Jules Verne on the second level, or even a glass of champagne at the very top.
Eiffel Tower: Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France. Every day from 9:30 am to 11 pm and from 9 am to midnight during the summer.
2) Take a River Boat Cruise on the Seine
Traditional, elegant riverboats offer an alternative way to discover the City of Lights. Once onboard navigating past monuments and buildings, you’ll be able to fully enjoy your time on the Seine.
The Seine has always been and forever will be the artery that runs through the heart of Paris. Geographically speaking, the river is the capital’s central axis and has always played a major role in Paris’s history. Identified as a territorial and economic advantage, the Seine has accompanied -- if not at times led -- Paris’s growth. Several landmarks throughout the city attest to this rich past.
Bay windows provide sweeping views of the Seine and its banks. As if you were living a daydream, taking a cruise on the riverboat is a fantastic way to spend quality time with loved ones. Why not get engaged or ask for your partner’s hand in marriage? The riverboat cruise is indeed the perfect romantic setting to declare your love to the world -- and to the one you love of course!
3) Enjoy a hop-on hop-off bus ride around Paris
Crisscrossing the City of Lights by coach is one of the best ways to check out Paris and discover the top things to do in Paris. In addition to being a guided tour, large windows and air conditioning provide all the comfort you’ll need while learning about the city’s history and admiring its most famous monuments such as the Place Vendôme, the Opéra de Paris, the Panthéon, Luxembourg, the Musée d'Orsay, the Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe or the Invalides.
Day or night, with family or friends, Paris City Vision offers a variety of bus tours in Paris.
4) Paris by Night: Spend an exceptional evening at the Moulin Rouge
The Moulin Rouge is Paris’s number 1 show, if not Europe’s. For more than 126 years, the most legendary French cabaret has been welcoming spectators from all over the world to see the famous French Cancan dance firsthand.
Around the globe, the Moulin Rouge is appreciated and admired by spectators and performers alike. From Mistinguett and Edith Piaf to Jean Gabin, Frank Sinatra, and Liza Minnelli, the Moulin Rouge has welcomed some of the world’s greatest stage performers. The cabaret was further immortalized thanks to the famous painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec whose posters and paintings still contribute to Moulin Rouge’s international notoriety.
The lights dim, the curtains open...the entire troupe enters on stage and spectators can take in the beauty of the Doriss Girls and Doriss Dancers. These 80 artists recruited around the world don a total of 1,000 costumes decorated with feathers, rhinestones, and glitter that are made by Paris’s most famous workshops. Sumptuous decoration in flashy colors and one-of-a-kind designs created by Italian artists liven up the stage. Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the show with its numerous original musical scores. Don’t forget the incredible leg-lifts by the most beautiful girls in the world!
Moulin Rouge: 82 boulevard de Clichy. Two evening shows, 9 pm, and 11 pm.
5) Visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris
Notre-Dame is a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. Initially spearheaded by bishop Maurice de Sully, the cathedral’s construction spanned for more than two decades: from the beginning of the 11th century to the first half of the 14th century. The cathedral has been a firsthand witness to several historical events such as the arrival of the Holy Crown in 1239, the exoneration of Joan of Arc in 1456 and the coronation of Napoléon I in 1804.
Although the monument is known for its structural harmony when looking attentively one can make out various minor, asymmetric elements that were introduced to avoid the monotony typical of classic gothic architecture.
Its spectacular rose windows, precious objects and magnificent bells are all symbols of this architectural masterpiece. Visiting its towers allows one to access the Galerie des Chimères (Chimera Hall) before continuing to the top of the South tower where, in the company of frightening but intriguing gargoyles, the city of Paris lays out before you.
With more than 20 million visitors a year, Notre-Dame is the most visited monument, free to the public, in both Paris and Europe.
Notre-Dame: 6 parvis Notre-Dame, Jean-Paul II Square. Free visits every day from 8 am to 6:45 pm (until 7:15 pm on Saturdays and Sundays). Paid visits to the towers from 10 am to 5:30 pm (until 11 pm on Saturdays and Sundays and summer nights).
6) Take a stroll around Montmartre and visit the Sacré Coeur Basilica
The Montmartre butte is the highest point in the capital and is famous for the Sacré Coeur Basilica (Sacred Heart) as well as panoramic views of Paris. While admiring views of Paris,
Take a break at the lively Tertre Square where painters and portrait and caricature artists work outside, the perfect way to get a sneak peek at a masterpiece in the making! By the way, both Renoir and Van Gogh rolled up their painting frock sleeves at the Tertre Square.
After following the more “standard” route, take the time to head off the beaten path and discover more intimate spots to fully enjoy the neighborhood. Montmartre is more than just painters; it’s a cultural and gastronomic hotbed with its own authentic charm. Steep streets wind their way past vine-covered homes and hidden staircases lead to quaint, cobblestone squares. This is Montmartre’s undeniable charm. Let yourself be guided by it and you’ll discover more than what you expected, from the romantic Allée des Brouillards to the architectural delights at Clichy Square.
Montmartre: 18th district (arrondissement), also called the “Buttes-Montmartre neighborhood.”
7) Visit the Louvre Museum
The controversial glass pyramid located in the Napoléon courtyard rapidly became symbolic of the museum. The 13th century Philippe Auguste fort that surrounds the museum was reorganized until becoming the royal residence for several centuries. It wasn’t until 1793 that it became the Central Museum of Arts, France’s first national museum. Year after year the museum’s collections grew larger, thereby taking up more and more place at the palace.
Today, the immensity of the Louvre is mind-boggling: it has been estimated that nine months are needed to see each and every work of art on display. The Louvre is indeed one of the world’s biggest museum; its exhibition surface area of 18 acres displays 38,000 works of art out of the 460,000 that the museum possesses within its walls.
These exceptionally rich works of art are spread out in 8 main galleries: Oriental Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Arts, Decorative Arts, Sculptures, Paintings, and Graphic Art.
If you really want to check out the Louvre’s must-see works of art, here’s a list of the most visited ones: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace. Some of the most famous works of art are also the Seated Scribe, the Code of Hammurabi, the head of a matriarchal statues “idol with crossed arms,” the Regent diamond and the incredible Egyptian Art collection.
The Louvre: 99 rue de Rivoli. Open every day except Tuesdays from 9 am to 6 pm. Night visits are possible on Wednesdays and Fridays until 9:45 pm.
8) Enjoy a Romantic Dinner on the Seine River
What could be more romantic than a candlelit dinner on a boat in the city of eternal love? Incredibly romantic moments can be shared between you and your loved one while navigating the waters of the Seine past the best monuments and Parisian-style buildings at dusk. Savor the moment with refined hors d’oeuvres and a flute of champagne... Probably one of the most romantic things to do in Paris.
Under the Parisian sky aglow with lights, a surreal, fairytale-like evening...it’s the perfect opportunity to remind your loved one just how much you adore spending time together.
9) Take a Stroll in the Heart of Paris
The best way to discover Paris’s hidden treasures is to go for a walk in the heart of the city. Paris is more than just the Eiffel Tower; all around this symbolic, world-famous monument are other ones waiting to be discovered.
But if you are looking for that spectacular view of the “Iron Lady,” plan for a typical, French pique-nique: a ham-and-butter baguette sandwich and a bottle of wine and plop down on the grass at the Champ de Mars Park or in the Trocadéro Gardens.
Not far off is the Quai-Branly Museum located in a building designed by the internationally famous French architect, Jean Nouvel. This museum is dedicated to the arts and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, and houses 4,000 works of art from all over the world.
Behind the Eiffel Tower sits the Hôtel des Invalides. Anything but a hotel, it’s a complex of buildings whose construction was ordained by Louis XIV and which originally housed war veterans during their retirement and served as a military hospital. Now one can visit the tomb of Napoléon I and the Military Museum of the Army of France as well as admire the grand church located just near the Dôme.
Don’t stop there! You haven’t seen Paris without stepping foot on the Champs Elysées, the world’s most beautiful avenue lined with luxury brand shops, international chains, cafés and cinemas at the heart of which lies the emblematic Arc de Triomphe.
But don’t hesitate to venture farther away from this bustling part of the city to quieter and more authentic streets where you’ll meet locals and do what the locals do: enjoy a coffee and croissant on the terrace of a lovely street café.
Discover the Marais Neighborhood
It goes without saying that visiting Paris by foot is not complete without a tour in the historic Marais district on the right bank. Once part of “old Paris,” the Marais has become a totally hip neighborhood where anyone and everyone, from amateur art lovers and the Parisian bourgeois to the local Jewish population and the gay community can rub shoulders. Good restaurants and shopping abound. The cobblestone streets of the Marais buzz with activity and swarm with tourists, both French and locals from other Parisian neighborhoods. Its overwhelming popularity has made real estate prices skyrocket in recent years, fortunately without tarnishing its Parisian authenticity and charm.
Getting lost in its streets is a fantastic way to discover a Parisian architecture that sets itself apart from the standard and imposing Haussmannian architecture, to admire private 17th-century homes, to take in the smell of falafels and antique books, to observe artists and young creators at work, to sip a cocktail in a trendy bar... In short, some of the best things to do in Paris are concentrated in this neighborhood where your senses are constantly titillated and awakened.
10) Visit the Garnier Opera House
Apollo still clutches his golden lyre high on the Garnier Palace, one god among many who keeps an eye on things. Upon entering the opera, one notes how the building opens up and spreads out like tentacles, each part revealing a specific purpose that lends even more theatrical airs to the opera.
This neoclassical masterpiece was created by the architect Charles Garnier at the end of the Second Empire. Inaugurated in 1875 as the “New Opera” in a Haussmannian Paris, it fascinated onlookers with its ornate richness, eclecticism, architectural and decorative audaciousness. Garnier brought together France’s best artisans, painters, and sculptors. And for the first time in France, Garnier used mosaic to decorate the gallery vaults that lead to the grand hall. The Garnier Opera has become one of the most spectacular Italian-inspired theaters.
If you’re interested in going to the Garnier Opera, it’s worth noting that its ballets, operas, concerts, and recitals are not unaffordable.
Garnier Opera: 8, rue Scribe. Open every day from 10 am to 5 pm (until 6 pm during the summer season).
There are so many things to do and see in Paris! If you spend a few days in the capital, take some time to visit the Rodin Museum, the Pantheon, the Catacombs, the Montparnasse Tower or the Latin Quarter.