The 20 Best Things to do in Paris for First Timers


Visitors to Paris are treated to every kind of activity, attraction, and experience under the sun. For shoppers, there’s the sublimely vibrant Champs-Élysées. For gourmets, there’s the charming food market, Marché des Enfants Rouges. Art lovers have a score of world-class museums and galleries to enjoy, while no-one could fail to appreciate the sights and sounds that come with a stroll along the Seine. If you’re planning your first visit to the City of Love, take some inspiration from our compilation of the 20 very best things to do in Paris.

20. Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann

Even if your budget won’t actually stretch to buying anything at Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann, it’s still worth a visit for the experience alone. What was first conceived as a small novelty shop in 1893 has since grown into a mammoth, 750,000-square-foot megastore featuring every brand, product, and label known to man. Just as impressive as its lineup of stores is its setting: the impressive, top-floor glass walkway and 141-foot-high neo-Byzantine glass dome have transformed the site into one of the most beautiful shopping centers in the world. While you’re there, don’t miss the spectacular views from the roof terrace.

19. Seine River

No trip to Paris is complete without a boat trip along the majestic Seine River. Take your camera and prepare for a trip that will take you along a river that’s so integral to the life of the city, it’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The journey is littered with views over some of the most beautiful landmarks buildings in Paris, giving you plenty of opportunities to use that camera to full advantage. If you fancy the views but not the boat, opt for a walk alongside its vibrant riverside instead, enjoying the numerous cafes, bars, and floating gardens as you do.

18. Champs-Élysées

A walk along Paris’ most famous boulevard is one of the highlights of any visit to the French capital. Touristy it may be, but there’s no denying its bustling, vibrant atmosphere, stunning architecture, and superb range of shops. If you’re looking for the perfect place to shop till you drop, the Champs-Élysées’s wide, tree-lined avenue is the place to do it, boasting every designer under the sun. Even if you can’t quite afford the luxurious delights on offer, there’s still a lot of fun to be had from sitting yourself down at an outdoor café and people-watching those that can.

17. Sainte-Chapelle

If you’re an admirer of stained glass, you’ll love the stunning Sainte-Chapelle. Featuring 1,113 vividly colored, beautifully depicted scenes from the New and Old Testaments, the chapel is a masterpiece of French Gothic design. To make the most of your visit, take a guided tour of the premises, and don’t forget to download the mobile app for an in-depth look at the hidden meanings behind each of the stained-glass windows.

16. Centre Pompidou

Fans of modern art shouldn’t miss a visit to the Centre Pompidou, home to one of the largest collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. With over 100,000 pieces of art to its name, the museum is a celebration of all thing’s cubist, surrealist and otherwise contemporary. As well as its pieces from notable artists as Matisse, Picasso, and Andy Warhol, there’s a wealth to enjoy in its extensive range of work from lesser-known or emerging artists. Although tickets are normally 14 euros, visit on the first Sunday of the month for free entry.

15. Musée Rodin

What was once the home of acclaimed 19th-century sculptor Auguste Rodin is now a site dedicated to his work. In addition to exhibiting his most iconic sculptures (including The Hand of God, The Kiss, and The Thinker), Musée Rodin provides a showcase to Rodin’s skill with a pencil, featuring over 7000 of his drawing. Once you’ve finished appreciating the sculptor’s handiwork, don’t miss a tour of his private art collection, which features some stunning works by the likes of Van Gogh. If you’ve got the time, the serene, peaceful gardens surrounding the building are also worth a stroll.

14. Versailles Palace (Chateau de Versailles)

The sprawling Versailles Palace is at the top of a lot of visitor’s itineraries, and for very good reason. The palace is the very definition of the word “opulent’, with sparkling crystal chandeliers, dramatic frescoes, and rich gold accents at every turn. The sheer magnificence of the palace (not to mention it’s perfectly manicured grounds) makes it more than worthy of the 20-Euro entrance fee, while those looking to squeeze every last drop out of the experience shouldn’t hesitate at paying the extra 7 Euros for a guided tour.

13. Arc de Triomphe

Located on the Western edge of the Champs-Élysées is the statuesque Arc de Triomphe, a towering arc decorated with several breathtakingly detailed sculptures. Built to honor the Grande Armee during the Napoleonic Wars, the arc is carved with the names of the battles waged during the first French Republic, and features the iconic tomb of The Unknown Soldier, built to represent all the unidentified soldiers who lost their lives during the World War I. Visitors shouldn’t miss the chance to climb to the top of the arch for some of the best views in the city.

12. Paris Catacombs (Les Catacombes de Paris)

If the 24/7 romance of Paris is starting to set your teeth on edge, pay a visit to the Catacombs. The chilling atmosphere of the burial grounds stands in stark contrast to the rest of the city and reveals a fascinating glimpse into its history. Prior to the 18th century, Parisians buried their dead in cemeteries. When the population exploded to the point there were more dead than places to bury them, the city looked to an alternative solution, finding it in the underground limestone quarries buried deep beneath their feet. Today, the skull and bone lined tunnels of the quarries are one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions and an unmissable experience.

11. Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg)

If the hustle and bustle of the city is wearing you down, a few hours at the delightfully peaceful Luxembourg Gardens should put the spring back in your step. Its formal gardens are the perfect place for a stroll, while its well-manicured lawns provide plenty of places for a relaxing picnic. For kids, there’s an abundance of entertainment to hand, including the chance to take in a puppet show at the on-site Theatre des Marionettes, race sailboats at the Grand Basin, or take a pony ride around the grounds. Grownups are likely to be equally enhanced by the 106 sculptures at the on-site Musee du Luxembourg, France’s first-ever public museum, while those with energy to burn will enjoy the various sports courts dotted around the grounds.

10. Palais Garnier – Opera National de Paris

Even in a city of beautiful buildings, the Palais Garnier’s sublime architecture still manages to stand out. Admires of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera” (for which the Garnier served as inspiration) shouldn’t limit themselves to a tour of the premises: to really appreciate the splendor of the palace, treat yourself to a ticket to the opera – it may blow a hole in your budget, but you’re unlikely to regret the expense.

9. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery

Not many cities in the world can claim a cemetery as a tourist attraction, but then again, few cities boast a graveyard quite like the legendary Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. Spread over almost 110 acres of the 20th district, the 19th-century cemetery holds the title of the biggest green space in Paris, as well as one of the world’s most beautiful burial grounds. The maze-like cobblestone pathways and gorgeously cascading trees aren’t the only attraction on offer, however: as the final resting place of everyone from Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison to Edith Piaf and Gertrude Stein, the cemetery attracts legions of fans looking to pay their respects to their heroes. Admission is free, and despite the thousands of tourists that descend on the site each year, the grounds are big enough never to feel crowded.

8. Musee de l’Orangerie

For impressionist and post-impressionist art, the sublime Musee de l’Orangerie is hard to beat. Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” is unquestionably the star attraction, with the 8 huge paintings that make up the series spread across 2 gloriously sun-filled rooms. Elsewhere, art lovers will find plenty to enjoy in the works of Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse and more. Tickets cost 8 Euros per person, but if you’re planning on visiting the adjacent Musée d’Orsay (more on which coming up), you’d be well advised to splash out on the 18 Euro combined ticket.

7. Musée d’Orsay

Located next to the Musee de l’Orangerie is the equally impressive Musée d’Orsay. Featuring the works of Degas, Monet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh, the museum’s collection of impressionist works is almost without parallel. Asides from the art, the museum’s breathtaking views of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica through the massive transparent clock on its top balcony is worth the trip in itself. As a smaller, more manageable alternative to the more famous Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay is a must-visit for anyone with even the vaguest of interest in art.

6. Jardin des Tuileries

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, you’ll find few places better to do it than the Jardin des Tuileries. The UNESCO World Heritage site occupies a significant role in the history of the city, having played host to such momentous events as the wedding procession of Napoleon and Marie-Louise. These days, it’s simply a wonderful place to sit back and enjoy a rare moment of peace.

5. Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre

Towering above the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre is the Sacré-Coeur, one of Paris’ most beautiful buildings. Venture inside the majestic ivory domes and you’ll be confronted with the sight of France’s largest mosaic, a splendid, glittering depiction of Jesus rising alongside the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc. Visit the crypt to view the site’s intriguing collection of ornaments (including a cloth of gold chasuble and stole donated by Leo XIII) before climbing the outdoor staircase to enjoying panoramic views over the city. The building offers free daily admission between 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m

4. Le Marais

If you want to visit the district Victor Hugo (author of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Misérables”) once called home, don some comfortable shoes and head over to Le Marais. The district is known as one of Paris’ coolest neighborhoods and has enough on offer to suit every taste and budget. Along with the chic boutiques, vibrant bars, inviting bistros, and charming galleries that pack its streets, Le Marais is also home to Marché des Enfants Rouges, Paris’ oldest market and a must-visit for food lovers. While you’re in the vicinity, don’t miss a quick stop at Musée des Arts et Métiers, the oldest science museum in Europe.

3. Musée du Louvre

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is why most people visit the world-famous Louvre, but there’s a lot more to this incredible museum than just a certain lady’s enigmatic smile. Featuring 35,000 works of art (including masterpieces such as “Liberty of Leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix and “The Raft of Medusa” by Théodore Géricault), the Louvre’s robust collection is almost unrivaled, and while the massive crowds that surround some of the more famous pieces can feel daunting, it’s an unmissable experience nonetheless.

2. Eiffel Tower

Tourist trap it may be, but there’s no getting away from the fact that everyone who comes to Paris is pretty much obliged to pay at least one visit to the monumental Eiffel Tower. Unless you’re daunted by height (in which case, don’t venture past the first floor), take the elevator to the top to enjoy huge, sweeping views across the city. If you can, make the trip at night to enjoy the sight of the tower sparkling like a candle in the darkness.

1. Notre-Dame Cathedral

The size, antiquity, and architectural splendor of the Notre-Dame Cathedral is without parallel. Construction of the building started in the 10th century, but it took 200 years for the cathedral to be finished – a testament to the work and craftsmanship that went into every detail. Although most visitors can spend hours happily meandering around the site, those with the legs for it shouldn’t miss out on the 387-step climb to the top of the cathedral- it may be a steep hike, but the views more than justify the effort. Visitors should note the cathedral was badly damaged by fire in April 2019- however, renovation is well underway with plans to restore the cathedral to its exact original condition.

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One Comment

  1. That’s refreshing to hear those wonderful places at Paris again. Too bad my first plan going there didn’t materialized but hoping to finally do it early next year after I finished installing the last parts from 4WheelOnline to my truck. I’ll revisit my list and itinerary and consider a few from this.

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