Top 10 Things To Do in Paris
Paris France - How I Love Thee!
Oui Oui Paree! You'll fall in love with this romantic city more and more the longer you stay to explore its sights and take in the French culture. Paris simply has a certain je ne sais quoi - that special something that you can't quite put your finger on, but whatever it is, it makes you want to linger in Paris for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, most tourists going to Paris have a very limited amount of time to see all the sights so here are my Top 10 Favorite Things To Do. At the end of the lens, I've added a bonus section that outlines a few more adventures for those who are going to Paris for a bit longer. No matter what you choose to do in Paris, you can't go wrong because the Parisian people are so exuberant, romantic, and full of life that you can't help but feel the same way.
Cheers and enjoy your travels!
Purple Star Award
Woohoo! This lens was awarded a purple star on July 16, 2009. The giant squid organizers here at Squidoo award purple stars each week to their favorite lenses created by all-star Giant Squids.
#1 Open Double Decker Bus Tour
A bus tour is a MUST for all first time visitors to Paris. Do it your first day to get oriented to the city and to decide which things you'd like to go back and see on subsequent vacation days. I highly recommend the L'Open Tour which is an open deck tour so you can get an unobstructed view of the city. You can buy either a one or two day pass which allows you unlimited bus access to their 4 tour routes over the given time period. It is great because you can tour at your own pace hopping on and off as you desire. When you purchase tickets they supply a cheap set of headphones that can be plugged into jacks near the seats throughout the bus. The headphones carry commentaries about the various Paris sites along the tour routes in 8 different languages (French, English, Spanish, Japanese, German, Russian, Chinese and Italian basket). The buses drive by just about all of the major sites in Paris including Montemarte, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and 50 other sites.
My Tips - Try to do the bus tour on weekdays or in the morning on weekends to avoid the heavy crowds. I've seen standing room only where buses are so full that people must stand for the entire tour. It takes the fun out of a leisurely tour of the city. Secondly, I noticed that on several of the buses, some of the headphone jacks did not broadcast the commentary so just switch seats and test the jacks until you find one that works. The commentary is really a necessity so you know what you are observing during the tour.
Paris Bus Tour Video
#2 Top of the Eiffel Tower
What would Paris be without the Eiffel Tower? Taking a ride on an elevator to one of the viewing platforms at the top of the tower is a must do for anyone visiting Paris. This iron icon was built in 1889 for a World's Fair that marked the 100 year celebration of the French Revolution. It was named after its builder, Gustave Eiffel.
Over 6 million people visit the Eiffel tower every year. Ticket booths at the base of the tower sell tickets for access to either the stairs or the elevator (lift) up and the three platforms at the top of the tower. The views from the highest platform are breathtaking. You can descend back down from the 2nd platform either via the lift or 340 steps. For specific ticket information and hours of operation, visit the Official Eiffel Tower Website.
My Tips - The elevator wait lines can be ridiculously long (especially during the high summer wedding) and tourist season so try to visit the tower either early in the morning or after 6 PM to avoid waiting countless hours in line. It seems that the lines are also shorter during the week than on weekends. It can get quite warm in summer so grabbing a Ben & Jerry's ice cream cone on the 2nd platform can be a welcome relief from the heat. If you want souvenirs featuring the Eiffel Tower, the gift basket and gift shop on the 2nd platform has one of the largest selections in Paris.
#3 Sunset River Cruise on the Seine
What better way to see the City of Lights (La Ville-lumiÃ¨re), than by cruising down the Seine River as the sun is setting over the Eiffel Tower and all the other sites of Paris?
Bateaux Parisien offers a Night Sightseeing cruise that departs right across the street from the Eiffel Tower and lasts approximately one hour. They cruise from the Eiffel past many of the major sights along the river to a bit past the Notre Dame Cathedral where they turn around and return to the departure point. This is the most affordable sunset cruise option, but there are also other dinner cruises available.
My Tips - Figure out what time the sun sets when you are visiting Paris. During my last visit, I was there in May and the sun was setting around 9:25. We took the 9 PM cruise so we could see the sunset and as an added bonus, the hour long cruise returned to the Eiffel Tower departure point around 10 PM so we could see the sparkling light display (10 minutes long) which happens on the hour. Timing is everything when it comes to the sunset cruise so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get from the hotel to the departure point to buy tickets before they sell out. The other advantage of early arrival is that you can get seats at the back of the boat which is open (not enclosed by glass). It is the best spot for taking great photos of the illuminated buildings and the sunset.
#4 Notre Dame Cathedral
One of the most enduring symbols of Paris, the Notre Dame Cathedral sits on the eastern half of the Ãle de la CitÃ© (one of the natural islands in the Seine River). Begun in 1163 and finished in 1345, this cathedral is a sight to behold with its French Gothic Architecture. It features flying buttresses, portals surrounded by ornate carvings and many gargoyles on the roof.
Taking a walk around the entire cathedral, touring the interior, and walking up the 387 steps to the top of the towers should be on the list of things to do for every Parisian tourist. The climb to the top of the towers can be exhausting, but is well worth the effort to get a panoramic view of the area and see all those famous gargoyles up close (enter through a separate door to the left of the facade as you face it). For detailed information about touring the Cathedral, visit their official website.
My tips - the best time to visit the cathedral is early morning when the sun is shining brightly on the western facade and the crowds are much thinner. The line for the tower climb can get long so again this is best undertaken in the morning or late afternoon when it is least crowded.
#5 Champs Elysees & Arc de Triomphe
Taking a walk down the city's most famous avenue (the Champs Elysees) to Napoleon's most notable legacy to Paris (the Arc de Triomphe) is a grand walk for anyone visiting the city. Unfortunately, the cobblestones and click clacks of horse drawn fairy tale carriages have been replaced by screeching cars and a line of chain restaurants along the Champs Elysees. Nevertheless, this famous street which extends from the Jardin de Tuileries to the Arc de Triomphe is worth a walk. The colossal arch itself was planned by Napoleon to commemorate all of his military successes (the names of generals are carved in the top and inside of the arch) and was completed in 1836. The arch stands a whopping 164 feet tall and holds the tomb of France's unknown soldier from WWI. You can access the arch via an underground passage and then climb to the platform via 284 steps or take a lift (and a few steps too).
#6 Sainte Chapelle Church
Near the Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ãle de la CitÃ© island is a little Gothic gem known as Sainte Chapelle (Holy Church). Consisting of a plain lower chapel for servants and an ornate stained glass laden upper chapel (reserved for the king and court member), Sainte Chapelle was built around 1248. Nearly two-thirds of the stained-glass windows are authentic because they were removed during WWII. Much of the rest of the chapel had to be reconstructed due to damage during the French Revolution and WWII. Nevertheless, it is a stunning display of Gothic Architecture. For more information, visit the National Monuments Center's Website.
My Tips - Try to attend one of the regular, candlelit concerts for a special treat. At the very least, tour the interior. This is best done in the morning when it is least crowded.
#7 Les Invalides (Napoleon's Tomb)
Les Invalides (built in 1679) is a complex of buildings that house the military museums and monuments, a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans. The must see attraction at Les Invalides is the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte who died in 1821. A huge marble sarcophagus sits directly under the ornate, hand-painted chapel dome (designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and painted by Charles de La Fosse). Other members of Napoleon's family and many of France's war heroes are also buried here. For more information, visit Invalides.org.
#8 Musee d'Orsay
Art lovers, especially those that are fans of impressionist paintings and marble sculptures, will go weak in the knees at the mention of the Musee d'Orsay. Housed in a former railway station, the museum holds French art dating from 1848 to 1915 with an extensive collection of paintings from Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, Degas and so many more. The interior of the museum in and of itself is a work of art with breathtaking views from one end of the renovated Belle Epoque train station to the other. For more information about their collections, events, and visitor hours, go to the Orsay Museum's website.
My Tips - Give yourself plenty of time to explore the 3 floors of paintings, sculptures and furniture. It would be a shame to feel rushed when you are perusing works by some of the world's greatest artists. There is a great restaurant in the museum with huge glass windows offering panoramic views of the Seine river.
#9 The Louvre
The Louvre and its pyramid are synonymous with Paris. It opened to the public way back in 1793. The world's largest art museum holds some of the greatest works mankind has seen - from Da Vinci's Mona Lisa to the Venus de Milo to the Winged Victory. The problem is that the museum is so big that it can take several hours to make your way through the maze of corridors just to see those few pieces of artwork. The Louvre displays well over 35,000 pieces of artwork in eight curatorial departments (antiquities, sculptures, paintings, decorative arts, etc) so even if you spent a solid week at the museum, you still wouldn't see everything. The key is to have a game plan. Most people go for the highlight tour and when you purchase tickets, you'll receive a visitors map with the major treasures pointed out. Just get your bearings and enjoy. For more detailed information, visit the Louvre's Official Website.
My Tips - I personally found the museum's layout overwhelmingly complicated. So while I'm extremely glad that I 'did' the Louvre, I won't be going back. That said, I do believe that it is a must do on every tourists list. Just be sure that you have patience well in hand on the day you choose to visit. The entrance line just outside the large pyramid can get ridiculously long so try to go in the morning or after 4 PM when the museum is open late (currently on Wednesdays and Fridays) or enter the Louvre via the Carrousel which usually has a much shorter line.
#10 Montmarte & Sacre Coeur Basilica
Montmarte is an 130 meter tall hill in the north of Paris and is the highest point in the city. Atop the hill is the famous SacrÃ©-Coeur Basilica whose white domes can be seen from many vantage points in the city. The basilica features both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture and was consecrated in 1919. The interior is large, but a bit on the gloomy side. You can climb to the top of the dome for breathtaking views of Paris. Visit Wikipedia for more information about the Basilica.
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5 More of My Favorite Things To Do in Paris
- Musee de l'Orangerie which houses 8 of Monet's giant water lily paintings in semi-circular rooms. A must see for any Monet fan. Be sure to walk through the Jardin de Tuileries during your visit.
- Musee Rodin displays works by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The extensive gardens hold many of his sculptures such as The Thinker.
- Catacombs of Paris is a vast network of subterranean tunnels and caverns where the remains (bones) of many area churches were moved at the end of the 17th century.
- Opera Garnier is Paris' 2200 seat opera house. The ornate interior will leave you speechless.
- The Pointe of Ãle de la Cite just below Pont Neuf bridge is a delightful little park where you can sit in the middle of the Seine River to watch the boats and people. Just grab a sandwich for lunch and head down the steps for some quintessential Paris.
If You Love Paris, You'll Love Rome Too!
Check Out My Top 10 Things To Do in Rome lens!
Rome may not have the romance or green space you'll find in Paris, but there are still many great things to see and do. In fact, the sheer volume of things to do can be overwhelming. That said, it is a must see city for any world traveler. So when you are ready to plan your trip to Rome or if you just want to take a virtual tour, check out my Top 10 Things To Do in Rome hub which has tons of my personal photos along with my favorite activities!