Paris really is the stuff of storybooks. It’s incomparable with any city in the world, which explains why so many artists and writers felt (and continue to feel) inspired by it. It’s a city that overwhelms your senses with beautiful sights, smells and tastes. From wide and regal avenues to sparkling lights by night, the smell of homemade bread baking as you pass every corner bakery, and the beautiful sounds of French drifting quietly through the air, there’s something undeniably charming about this European capital. And when you go, Paris leaves an impression on you.
What to do in Paris
It’s true that you could spend months in Paris and still not have time to see everything on your list. But if it’s your first trip and you’ve got limited time, there are a few things you simply shouldn’t miss. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and wondering just what to do during your few precious days in Paris, here’s a mini guide of sights, experiences, and must-try foods to help you get the most out of your visit.
Sights to see
Paris is a city of incredible, world-class museums, but if you only have time to see one museum in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay is it. Nestled up against the left bank of the Seine, it’s packed with incredible pieces from Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Cézanne, just to name a few.
In the very heart of Paris, Notre-Dame can’t be missed. Taking over two hundred years to construct, the Cathedral is an iconic symbol of Paris and one of the most visited sights the city. Not only can you admire its beautiful architecture during your visit, but climb to the top and come face to face with its infamous gargoyles while enjoying gorgeous views of the city below.
As the largest museum of modern art in Europe, the Centre Pompidou is a must see for art lovers. From Dalí’s remarkable surrealism to Kandinsky’s abstract masterpieces, it’s a paradise of modern art. And if the art isn’t enough to impress you, the building itself will. Like a colorful glass skeleton, it plainly stands out against the typical Parisian architecture.
Musée de l’Orangerie
If you love impressionism, this museum is for you. Musée de l’Orangerie holds a small but very impressive collection and is also home to Monet’s Water Lilies. The entire first floor of the museum is dedicated to these huge impressionist murals, in fact. The bottom floor of the museum is full of impressionist works by all the big names.
Musée du Louvre
One of the world’s most famous art galleries, the Musée du Louvre is absolutely worth a visit (and a well-planned one to say the least). With around 35,000 pieces, it’s impossible to see the whole museum during a short trip to Paris. So decide which of its priceless collection of world class treasures you’d like to see most, and plan an unrushed visit to this iconic museum.
Arc de Triomphe
For some of the best views of Paris, head up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and soak in the breathtaking view. Overlooking the Champs-Élysées just below, you can see all of Paris and take some great snapshots of the city. Plus, you can learn a bit about the history of the Arc and its importance to the city during the visit.
As soon as you step inside the stunning Sainte-Chapelle, you’ll understand why it makes the list of top sights in Paris. Constructed in the 13th century, it’s one of the oldest surviving buildings of the city. With intricate stained-glass windows that dominate the chapel, Sainte-Chapelle is a unique architectural gem.
The Eiffel Tower
It might be cliché, but you can’t leave Paris without going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Although it’s admittedly a bit overrated as there are plenty of viewpoints in the city which offer cheaper and better views of Paris, it remains on the bucket lists of many visitors. However, if you don’t want to spend an entire day waiting in lines, buy your ticket online ahead of time and spend your saved time enjoying the city.
Walk along the Seine
There’s nothing quite as romantic nor as quintessentially Parisian as strolling along the Seine. Reserve some time for a long walk by the river and take in the life of the city from along its banks. Plus, if you’re on a budget and wondering what to do in Paris for free, the Seine is always a good idea.
Pack a baguette and some French cheese and wine and you’ve got the perfect picnic. Or just go for a walk, enjoy the music of accordion players on the bridges, browse the book stalls, and watch the quirky artists painting beautiful scenes in front of them.
Visit Château de Versailles
The palace of Versailles might not be in Paris proper, but it’s absolutely worth taking the time to visit. Just a short train ride away, Versaille and its surrounding grounds are breathtaking. It’s not only a magnificent sight to see but steeped in French and world history as well. If it’s a beautiful day, you can relax by the lake, visit the farms and see the animals, or just spend hours getting lost in the extensive grounds.
Browse famous Parisian bookstores
If you’re a literature lover, you’ll fall in love with Shakespeare and Company. Located near Notre-Dame on the Left Bank, this famous bookstore used to be the stomping grounds of expat writers such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, and Joyce. Opened in 1919, the shop became a gathering place for these writers and remains an important literary center in Paris today.
Get lost in Montmartre
Montmartre is one of the most authentically charming neighborhoods in Paris. Lined with cobblestone streets, lovely cafés, and artisan shops, Montmartre stands out as one of the most interesting districts of the city. The pleasure of getting lost in its streets should be on everyone’s Paris list. It’s also home to the impressive Sacré-Cœur basilica, perched above the city on Paris’s highest hill and offering beautiful views of the city below.
What to eat
If you love these thin, tasty pancakes, Paris is the city for you. With stalls on just about every block, you can find crepes of all kinds. From fruit, Nutella, and cinnamon-sugar, to mushroom and cheese or bacon, the streets of Paris are crepe heaven.
Macarons from Ladurée
There’s nothing quite as French as Macarons. But to avoid a dry, bland, and disappointing experience, you have to know where to get them. Head straight for the famous Ladurée and taste these delicate, melt-in-your-mouth little cakes available in a variety of delicious flavors. They’ve been perfecting their recipe since 1862, making their Macaroons some of the very best in Paris.
French breads and cheeses
Your average, everyday bread is one thing. French bread is another. Maybe it seems like an exaggeration, but take one bite into your first warm, freshly-baked French baguette smothered in soft brie from a local farm and you’ll understand. There’s a certain quality in these simple French products that deserves mentioning.
The French know how to bake, and not only bread. Pastries in Paris are a treat for both the tastebuds and the eyes. You’ll find plenty of colorful desserts tempting you in just about every bakery in town. And yes, they taste just as good as they look.
Go where the locals go
Like most major tourist capital, Paris can, unfortunately, be quite expensive for visitors in the city center. And as in most cities, eating where the tourists eat can often be an overpriced and somewhat disappointing experience. However, if you stray from the beaten path a bit, you will find authentic French restaurants packed with locals. Les Fabricants is a perfect example of one of these budget-friendly locales. There, you ‘ll find hardly any tourists and the food is to die for.
Best time to visit:
Late spring and early autumn are without a doubt the best seasons to visit Paris. You’ll be more likely to enjoy pleasant weather and avoid the crowds of summer. Plus, you’ll get to see flowers blooming or autumn leaves falling in an already beautiful city.
Where to stay:
AirB&B is by far the cheapest and most comfortable way to stay in Paris. No matter what your budget, book with plenty of time and you’ll find something perfect for you. Of course, the closer you stay to the city center, the more money you will spend. But the good news is that Paris is very well-connected. Even if you’re outside the center, you’ll most likely find it easy and quick to get around.
- Single one-way metro ticket: €1,90.
- Pack of 10 one-way metro tickets: €14,50 (€1.45/each)
- Beer: €5-8
- Coffee: €2-5
- Basic dinner out for two: €40-45
How to get around:
In Paris, walking is one of the best ways to get around and take in as much of the city’s beauty as possible. When you haven’t got time for walking, the metro is the best way to go. It’s fast, efficient, and easy. The best option for tourists is the 10-pack of one-way tickets sold at any ticket vending machine in any metro station. The metro runs from 5 am to 12:30 am and tourists can also buy metro passes by the day with 1-day, 2-day, 3-day, and 5-day options. (Metro map here)
The RER trains will get you to Versaille and other surrounding suburbs of Paris with the purchase of a separate ticket depending on destination. Check out the RER map here.
And, of course, if you prefer to travel above ground, there are plenty of buses and taxis. Paris has an excellent bus system with tickets available on buses and in metro stations.
What would you add to the list of things to do in Paris? I’d love to know! Leave a comment below.