Paris, France is truly one of the most awe-inspiring cities in the world, and if you're planning a trip to Paris, you'll definitely want to make the most out of your journey! There are so many incredible things to do, but when time is limited, it helps to have a checklist of the things that you don't want to miss!
So I've compiled a list of seven things that I highly recommend doing while you're in Paris to make your trip unforgettable!
Here's my list of the Top 7 Things To Do In Paris:
1. Eat At A Street Cafe
Paris is full of little streetside shops, vendors, and eateries, and there are some real gems among them! As an American visiting Paris for the first time, I was a little skeptical of the quality of the street food (most of the street food in Atlanta is horrible), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that nearly all of the street cafes served good food... and even better coffee!
There are lots of street cafes to choose from, and I recommend trying as many of them as you can. If you're a coffee drinker, you're in for a treat. The worst coffee in France tastes better than the best cup I've ever had in the States. Most street cafes sell espresso, and they sure know how to do it right! Drinking an authentic French cup of java is an invigorating experience. I would do it every day if I could.
2. Visit Notre Dame
Notre Dame is an absolutely marvelous cathedral located right in the middle of Paris. It is very old, with the groundbreaking commencing in the year 1163 AD, and the project reaching completion in 1345 AD.
The exterior is haunting and ominous, with its gothic architecture, aged stone surfaces, and foreboding twin towers projecting up from either side at the top of the cathedral.
But as soon as you step inside the building's colossal doors, you enter a masterpiece of history. The main hall is a breathtakingly beautiful room full of warmth, splendor, and majesty. Vivid color adorns the walls of the main hall as the sunlight pierces the stained-glass windows, standing in stark contrast to the darkened halls running alongside the sanctuary. These corridors are filled with marvels, and walking through them is much like walking through a museum of holy relics.
I won't give away too much, as I don't want to spoil the fun for any readers who may be heading to Paris soon, but suffice to say that it is truly mesmerizing. If you don't visit Notre Dame while you're in Paris, you're doing yourself a huge disservice.
3. Take A Stroll Along The Seine River
The Seine River runs right through the city, and there are many great places for taking a stroll along the river. There are 32 bridges in Paris that run over the river, the oldest bridge being the Pont Neuf. These bridges have been widely celebrated by poets, artists, and many 20th century filmmakers (see The Lovers of the Pont Neuf). There is a beautiful little island, accessible by the bridge, which is used by riverboat tours as a docking station. It also makes a great place to sit and take in the beauty!
As you walk along the river, you can find many places that allow a view of the river with the Eiffel tower on the horizon. Be sure to bring your cameras along when you go for a stroll along the Seine, as this is sure to be great for photo ops!
4. Visit The Eiffel Tower
This is the obvious one, but it really is amazing. The first time I went to Paris, I was expecting to be disappointed by the Eiffel Tower. I had seen countless pictures of it throughout my life, and I thought it would seem like nothing new. Boy, was I wrong.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower in photos and seeing it in person are two very different things. The sheer size of the structure is arresting. When I first saw the Eiffel Tower, it was at night, and the entire tower was illuminated by lots of little lights going up the whole length of the building, giving it somewhat the appearance of a Christmas tree. At the top of the tower, there is a spinning spotlight-type light that seems to shine as far as the eye can see when it points up into the night sky.
The tower lights up at the top of every hour for 5 minutes, so plan accordingly. You won't want to miss the spectacle!
Besides just beholding the wonder of the Eiffel Tower from a distance, you might also be pleased (or terrified) to know that you can take an elevator to the top of the 984-ft. tower. You can also stop off halfway up the building, if you're afraid of heights (although it's still quite high from halfway up, too!). The view from the top is stunning. You must experience this while you're in Paris.
*Bonus tip: While I do think that viewing the tower from afar is a little better at night, I recommend going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower during the daytime, so you can see the details of the view in full HD.
5. Look Out Over The City At Montmarte
Montmarte is a charming little village in Paris that sits on a big hilltop. At the top of the hill is the Basilica du Sacre-Coeur, a giant white church that is rivaled in splendor only by the view it provides when looking out of its doors.
There are two ways to ascend the great hill. There are chair lifts that run from the bottom of the hill to the top, and back down. If you're more of the active type, you can climb the hill on foot, using the enormous set of steps that extends from the Basilica to the base of the hill (it's a long walk, but in my opinion it adds to the experience).
However you get there, you'll find a nice surprise when you've reached the top. When you turn around, you will discover a magnificent view overlooking the city and beyond. There are stations set up that allow visitors to look into a rotating device that contains magnifying lenses, for an even clearer view. This costs a little bit of money, but if you didn't bring your own binoculars, this is very convenient.
Inside the Basilica du Sacre-Couer, you will find a delightful assortment of artful decor. It has a somewhat more modern feel than Notre Dame, which isn't surprising considering it was built just in the early 20th century. Yet, it captures all the "mojo" of an old cathedral.
There are plenty of treasures to behold inside its walls, and even more at the top of the dome, which is available to tourists and provides an astonishing panoramic view of Paris!
6. Experience The Glory Of The Louvre
If I had to choose one single Parisian experience that I love most, visiting the Louvre would be it. Musée du Louvre is the largest art museum in the world, and believe me when I tell you it is truly a surreal experience to walk through its halls.
The Louvre was originally built as a castle in the late 12th century under the command of King Philip II. In 1546 it was converted into the residential palace of the king under Francis I, and it continued to be the primary residence of the kings of France for centuries thereafter.
From the first steps onto its courtyard, which is so expansive it could probably have its own area code, it is very apparent that this was a property built for royalty. The first view of the Louvre building is absolutely breathtaking. The sheer enormity alone is baffling. As you walk through the courtyard toward the main arches, the building's side wings seem to go on forever, surrounding you in a complete panoramic display of extravagance and wonder.
Located in the middle of the courtyard is a large glass pyramid, which is used as an entrance leading underground. Just when you thought you'd seen it all, you realize there are even more levels to this ancient marvel under the earth! It's really astounding.
Inside the Louvre, you will find some of the most breathtaking sights you may ever see. Every inch of the place is laden with palatial adornment, from the carved woodwork, to the floors, to the ceilings, and everything in between.
Every surface of this gargantuan palace is an a piece of artistic wonder. It is truly overwhelming and exhilerating at the same time. It can be a lot to process if you're moving through it fairly quickly, as there are over 38,000 objects in this 782,910 square-foot behemoth of a building.
Although you could spend a month inside the museum and still not see everything there is to see, you don't have to spend a long time in the Louvre. If you've got a tight schedule, you could get through the museum in a couple hours, but it's better if you don't rush. If you're walking and viewing at a moderate pace, I'd say expect to spend about 4-5 hours of pure enjoyment at this mesmerizing attraction.
7. Spend An Afternoon At Le Champs-Élysées
Le Champs-Élysées is one of the most famous avenues in the world, and it's one of the most popular tourist sites in Paris. The avenue runs in a long, straight line from the Louvre, through the Tuilerie Gardens and the Place Concord, and runs into the Arche de Triomphe.
There is a lot of great beauty to behold when journeying down Le Champs-Élysées. The Arche de Triomphe is a giant monument that was commissioned by Napoleon as a celebratory symbol of French prosperity. It is one of the most viewed attractions in Paris, and for good reason.
*Bonus tip: I'd advise against driving to this one. During the day it's nearly always swarming with admiring tourists. The traffic scheme, coupled with the insane amount of cars circulating the monumental site, make for a lot of fender benders in this area. Not to mention, who wants to drive in that maddening traffic anyway? I take public transportation until I'm fairly close, then I walk the rest of the way!
As you walk away from the Arche de Triomphe toward the Place Concord, there are many shops, stores, restaurants, cafes, vendors, clothiers, and businesses of all kinds. I've spent entire days walking along this avenue, there's just so much to do!
This is an excellent area to be if you're into shopping! You can rack up some major price tags, though, as many of the stores sell high-end products, so beware if you're on a budget.
If you're looking for a great photo opportunity, a popular spot is the Place Concord. From this area, you can get a spectacular view that includes the National Assembly, the Madeleine Church, the Grand Palais, the Obelisk of Luxor, the Arche de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower!
If you're looking to get the most out of the time you spend in Paris, you can't go wrong with those 7 things to do. As an additional tip, be sure to experience not only the sights, but also the culture in each of these locations. Befriend people, communicate as well as you can, and learn about life in Paris from the locals.
If you don't speak French, you can use translation apps on your smartphone to help you communicate. To me, one of the best things about traveling is experiencing a little slice of what life is like for others, and to really get a sense of the Parisian experience there's no better person to ask that a local Parisian!
You never know, you may make some lifelong friends along the way, like I did. But that's a story for another post.
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