Best Things To Do in Paris
If it's your first time to Paris, you'll probably want to spend some time at the world-renowned Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre-Dame, but don't miss out on other notable city jewels such as the Musée d'Orsay, the Luxembourg Gardens or Le Marais. There's no way you'll get to do it all – museum-touring, shopping, cemetery-perusing, district-exploring, opera-attending – so plan your own itinerary, group sightseeing nearby attractions together and see Paris on your own terms. Or, book a guided tour to explore pockets of the city with the help of a local.
Updated November 13, 2019
- #1View all Photos#1 in ParisChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Note that the cathedral sustained significant damage as a result of a fire on April 15, 2019. Its wooden roof and spire collapsed during the fire. It remains closed until further notice.
Like the Eiffel Tower, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is seen as a Parisian icon. Located right along the picturesque River Seine, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is considered a Gothic masterpiece and is often regarded as one of the best Gothic cathedrals of its kind in the world. Construction of the famous cathedral started in the late 10th century and final touches weren't made until nearly 200 years later. And once you get an eyeful of the cathedral yourself, you'll start to understand why it took so long.
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If you only had time to visit one museum in Paris, it should undoubtedly be the Musée du Louvre. That's because the Louvre is not only widely considered to be one of the best art museums in Europe, but one of the best in the world as well. The museum first opened its doors in 1793 and features a grand total of 35,000 works of art. Here you can get up close to a variety of art from different time periods and cultures. The Louvre features everything from Egyptian mummy tombs to ancient Grecian sculptures (including the renowned Winged Victory of Smothrace and curvaceous Venus de Milo). There are also thousands of paintings to peruse as well. Masterpieces such as "Liberty of Leading the People" by Eugene Delacroix, "The Raft of Medusa" by Théodore Géricault and Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," the museum's biggest star, can be found here. You can even get a glimpse of Napolean the Third's old apartment digs. Though you don't necessarily have to visit the apartments to get a taste of what it was like to be a royal. Before it was a museum, the Louvre served as a royal residence for a number of French powers, including Louis XIV. It was only sometime after Louis XIV left the Louvre in favor of Versailles that the Louvre began to transform into a museum.
With such a robust art collection, the Louvre has earned the title as the most visited museum in the world (upward of 9 million per year). While visitors agree it is no doubt a must-visit attraction, with the majority more than impressed with the museum's offerings, the crowds can be a major turn off (especially around the glass-enclosed "Mona Lisa"). Not to the point where travelers are willing to skip the Louvre altogether, but they stress going at a time where there will be fewer people (not the middle of the day on a weekend). Others said the sheer enormity of the museum can be overwhelming, so much so that covering the entire 650,000 square feet of gallery space in a day is close to impossible. The best strategy is to pick what you want to see ahead of time and grab a map so you can easily locate those works of art. Otherwise, you could easily end up spending hours wandering around waiting to run into the must-sees and miss them.
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Designed and constructed for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (the World's Fair), the Eiffel Tower was always meant to be a temporary structure, but it skirted demolition talks twice. The first time, at the beginning of the 1900s, the tower was kept around because of its transmission talents. Gustav Eiffel, chief architect of the Eiffel Tower, had a variety of scientific experiments tested on the tower with the hope that any discoveries would help prolong its lifespan. One of these included a wireless transmissions test, which the tower passed with flying colors. During World War I, the Eiffel Tower's transmission capabilities enabled it to intercept communications from enemies as well as relay intel to troops on the ground. The second time the Eiffel Tower was almost destroyed was during the German occupation of France during World War II. Hitler planned to get rid of the tower, but never ended up going through with his plan.
Today, the Eiffel Tower is still used for communication transmissions but is chiefly regarded for its grandeur. If you can believe it, many Parisians initially found this architectural marvel to be nothing more than an eyesore. Regardless, the Eiffel Tower today stands as one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. Visitors can walk up to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower or take the elevator all the way up to the top, where they'll be treated with vast panoramic views of the city. While some recent visitors complain of long lines – especially during the summer – you can bypass the wait by booking your tickets online at the Eiffel Tower's website. And though some travelers aren't crazy about the price to get to the top, many agree that the views are worth it. Visitors also strongly recommend making an additional trek at night. That's because every hour on the hour, thousands of flickering light bulbs make the Eiffel Tower sparkle, leaving tourists in complete awe.
- #4View all Photos#4 in ParisParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
Centrally located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries is a free public garden that spans approximately 55 acres. Though it was initially designed solely for the use of the royal family and court, the park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1991 (as part of the Banks of the Seine) and has been open to the public since the 17th century. The green space holds an important role in France's history. For example, foreign dignitaries once gathered for meetings in the Jardin des Tuileries, and Napoleon and Marie-Louise's wedding procession marched through the gardens on the way to the couple's marriage banquet in the now-defunct Palais des Tuileries.
In the present day, Parisians and tourists alike love wandering along the park’s tree-lined paths, having picnics on the lawn or simply sitting on a bench and people-watching. Recent visitors noted that the park is a great place to relax on the way to or from the Louvre. The Musée de l’Orangerie is nearby as well, at the southwest end of the gardens. The gardens also contain three restaurants, a bookstore, a carousel and more.
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Straddling the 3ème and 4ème arrondissements (districts), Le Marais is one of Paris' oldest and coolest districts – so cool, in fact, that French writer Victor Hugo (author of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Les Misérables") called it home. With all of its cobblestone streets, stately stone architecture and tucked away courtyards, it's easy to feel as if you're strolling through medieval Paris. Back in the day, Le Marais housed some notable French royalty. King Henry IV was the one responsible for the construction of the Place des Vosges, Paris' oldest square. And Louis XIV called this neighborhood home for a while until he decided to move his family and court to Versailles. Much of Le Marais also survived the destruction made during the French Revolution.
Despite the Old-World French atmosphere, the neighborhood has played host to multiple cultures throughout its lifetime. Since the 13th century, Le Marais has been the city's Jewish quarter. The quarter's history can be most felt along rue des Rosiers, which feature some old-school delis and bakeries. Today, Le Marais is the epicenter of the city's gay community, with chic boutiques and vibrant nightlife options outnumbering traditional Jewish establishments. Le Marais is also known for its delectable falafel (especially at L’As du Fallafel), shopping and numerous art galleries and museums. Here you can find the Centre Pompidou, the National Archives of France, the Musée Picasso and Musée des Arts et Métiers, the oldest science museum in Europe. In addition to the neighborhood's collection of boutiques, Le Marais is known for its numerous vintage shops and specialty stores, including papeteries. Antique hunters will get a load of good finds at the Village Saint-Paul while foodies will delight in a visit to the Marché des Enfants Rouges, Paris' oldest market.
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Rising high above Paris, the Sacré-Coeur (meaning "Sacred Heart") looks more like a white castle than a basilica – but that's what it is. Towering over the eclectic neighborhood of Montmartre (once a hangout for Paris' bohemian crowd), this Roman-Byzantine masterpiece is easily recognized by its ornate ivory domes. As blanched as it may appear on the outside, the basilica's interior is a sight worth beholding: The ceilings glitter with France's largest mosaic, which depicts Jesus rising alongside the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc.
You'll also likely be left in awe with the panoramic views found from atop the Sacré-Coeur's outdoor staircase. But for an even better photo op, climb all 300 steps to the top of the dome. The dome is accessible to visitors every day from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. from May to September, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to April. Mass is held multiple times a day every day.