Paris is one of the world’s great cities, and one of the top tourist destinations on the planet. And it’s small wonder: Paris has so much to offer – history, culture, fashion, dining, shopping, art… and let’s not forget romance! Let’s look at our top three things to do in the City of Light.
Marvel at world-famous landmarks and monuments
Paris has no shortage of famous monuments and landmarks that provide unforgettable photo opportunities for you and your family or friends. The Arc de Triomphe should be at or near the top of that list. The Arc is positioned at the centre of Place de l’Étoile, the hub from which 12 great avenues emanate – including the Champs Élysées. Climb up to the Arc’s viewing platform to get spectacular views of the city.
Of course, you simply can’t visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. It’s a must-see, and it’s a splendor to behold. But even the keenest visitors who arrive early in the morning often find themselves lining up for several hours to get to the observation deck. You can cut down significantly on the wait time, however, with a little bit of effort: walk up the first two levels and then buy a ticket to take an elevator to the top to enjoy the spectacular vistas of the city.
Though you might think the Eiffel Tower is the city’s top attraction, Notre-Dame Cathedral is actually the most visited landmark in Paris. It’s one of the largest and most famous churches in the world, a wonder of French Gothic architecture featuring an enormous nave and exquisite stained glass windows. And while the cathedral itself is free to visit, there is a fee (€8.50) for seeing its bell towers – but it’s worth it. The best plan – whether you’re solo or with companions – is to get there by 9 a.m. and see the towers first (the doors open at 10 a.m.), and then climb up the 387 steps of the tower’s spiral staircases to get close-up views of Notre-Dame’s gargoyles and chimeras, as well as the famed 13-ton Emmanuel bell. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of Paris.
Explore some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries
Paris is home to some of the world’s most famous museums, none more famous than the Louvre. With its iconic glass pyramid in the front courtyard, the Louvre houses some of the most renowned works in the history of art. The museum’s 90-minute guided tours are highly recommended. The guides can get you and your group around quickly – bypassing some of the crowds – to see all the major works, including the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace, sometimes using back ways that you would likely not figure out on your own. Not on the tour, but worth seeing nonetheless, Napoleon III’s apartments at the Louvre let you step into the opulent life of France’s former emperor.
Another of Paris’s must-see art galleries is the Musée d’Orsay, across the River Seine from the Louvre. Aside from the acclaimed art and sculptures you’ll find inside, the museum itself is worth seeing, being a former railway station and a fine example of Beaux Arts architecture. It is truly one of the most remarkable buildings in Paris – which is really saying something. If your taste in art leans more towards the modern, then the Centre Pompidou, Europe’s largest modern art museum, should be on your list.
For value and convenience, be sure to get a Paris Museum Pass. This card – available in 2-day, 4-day and 6-day versions – will allow you to jump the long queues at more than 70 museums and monuments.
Experience the world of Parisian food
It’s not an exaggeration to say that fining dining – haute cuisine – was invented in Paris. Beginning in the late 18th century, Paris restaurants like La Grande Taverne de Londres became famous for specializing in food that was fastidiously prepared and presented as art on a plate. Some of the city’s most famous restaurants arose out of the Belle Époque (1870–1914), including the Tour d’Argent on the Quai de la Tournelle, Maxim’s on Rue Royale, and Ledoyen in the square gardens of the Champs-Élysées. Perfect choices for a romantic dinner or a special occasion.
If haute cuisine is not your thing, don’t worry; Paris offers a variety of dining experiences for every taste and budget. Brasseries have been a mainstay of Paris’s culinary life for well over 100 years. At a good brasserie, two can eat well at a reasonable price while experiencing a taste of authentic Parisian life, often amidst gorgeous Art Nouveau décor. Neighbourhood bistros are another option. These smaller restaurants typically serve simpler, moderately priced meals – often French home-style cooking – in a more modest and comfortable setting. Great for group outings or to rub elbows with the locals.
And then there are the cafés. Cafés began springing up in Paris in the 17th century, when coffee was first imported from Turkey (which, according to some legends, is also when the croissant was born, emblematic of the Turkish Islamic crescent), and by the 18th century Parisian cafés had become the lifeblood of the city’s political and cultural life. No trip to Paris would be complete without spending an afternoon at a café, sipping an espresso while discussing the news of the day or reading a good book.
With so many amazing things to do and see in Paris, we couldn’t possibly mention them all here. What are your favourite things to do in the City of Light? What are you planning to see when you visit? Share your thoughts with us!