Things to Do in Paris - The Best of the Best
Known the world over as one of the most romantic cities in the world, Paris certainly has retained its romantic atmosphere over the years. With its stunning architecture, some of the most iconic sights in the world, elegant boulevards, and quaint cafe culture, you really do have to visit Paris at least once in your lifetime. But while many come to the City of Lights just for the main sights, Paris actually has lots more to offer, such as quirky shopping opportunities and unusual attractions to help you get underneath the skin of this first-class destination. To help you plan the perfect trip, here is a guide on the best of the best things to do in Paris.
Iconic Things to Do in Paris
The symbol of France as well as Paris, the Eiffel Tower is often at the top of the list of people’s things to do in Paris. Built in the late 19th century as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower was initially only meant to stand on its site for 20 years, but it became such a memorable part of the Parisian skyline that it has remained standing ever since.
The wrought-iron lattice tower is epic enough to visit from ground level, but for amazing views, you should definitely head up the structure. On the first level, which sits at 57 metres, there are 2,000 square metres of outdoor space where you can enjoy the stunning panoramic views as well as a variety of services and exhibits, such as the CinEiffel documentary about the tower’s history, a souvenir shop, the 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant, and even a post office where you can send postcards with a special postmark. Going further to 115 meters will find you on the second level where there are two gift shops, the Le Jules Verne Restaurant, and lots of places to admire the vistas of Paris. On the top level – 276 meters high – the views extend for up to 70 kilometers if you have the advantage of good weather. You can also see a restoration of Gustav Eiffel’s office as well as a scale model of the structure.
Due to the Eiffel Tower’s popularity, it is highly advisable that you book your visit as far in advance as possible.
Considered to be a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, the Notre Dame Cathedral has long been an imposing figure on the banks of the River Seine. Beginning construction in the 12th century and taking almost 200 years to finish, Notre Dame was truly the center of Parisian life during the Middle Ages before becoming a site of neglect. However, the cathedral soon recaptured the nation’s hearts when Victor Hugo published his famous novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. With its dramatic towers, impressive flying buttresses, intriguing gargoyles, and beautiful stained glass, it really is a spectacular sight to see, especially when you consider that Notre Dame has survived some of the most devastating periods in history, such as the Great Plague, the French Revolution, and World War II.
Please note that Notre Dame is currently closed due to renovation after a devastating fire in April 2019. However, it is possible to get close to the exterior now. To stay up-to-date on when the cathedral will open again, check the Notre Dame website.
As the most visited museum in the city, the Louvre Museum is definitely one of the things to do in Paris that has to be on your itinerary. Not only is it the world’s largest art museum, but it is an iconic landmark in its own right; the glass pyramid sitting outside the museum which serves as its entrance is recognizable all over the world. Inside there are around 38,000 objects on display, dating all the way from prehistoric times to modern-day.
While there is plenty in the Louvre to admire, there are a number of famous pieces which you should definitely make sure you check out:
- Mona Lisa: possibly the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa hardly needs any introduction. There are many reasons why the painting has captured the world’s imagination: the woman’s unclear identity (although she is believed to be the wife of a Florentine merchant), her enigmatic smile, and the fact that her eyes follow you around the room all add to the mystery of the painting. Even though many visitors complain about the size of the Mona Lisa as well as the fact that she is protected behind bulletproof glass, it is still worth the wait in the long queue to see this magnificent artistic icon.
- Venus de Milo: thought to depict the Greek goddess Aphrodite, this wonderful sculpture was created around 100 BC and represents the ancient Greek idea of classical female beauty. The Venus de Milo is believed to be a replica of an even earlier statue, the statue was discovered on the Greek island of Milos before being brought to France to be presented to King Louis XVIII. While there are parts of the statue missing, it is still an amazing piece of art to behold.
- Winged Victory of Samothrace: one of the most important pieces of Hellenistic art in the world, the Winged Victory of Samothrace is believed to show the winged goddess of Nike, presumably carved to commemorate a naval victory. It is unusual in that it is an original Greek piece rather than a Roman copy, making it an incredibly celebrated piece. The way the sculptor perfected the draping and billowing of Nike’s clothing is just magical, and it is guaranteed you will be blown away when you see it.
- Law Code of Hammurabi: dating back to 1754 BC, the Code of Hammurabi is an extremely well-preserved law code from Babylonia. Not only is it one of the oldest examples of written laws, but it is also the longest surviving text from Old Babylonia and one of the oldest readable texts ever discovered, making it an object of extraordinary significance. The code details various laws relating to marriage and divorce, business transactions, inheritance, and taxes, but one of its key features is the use of the phrase, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, one of the first written examples of this phrase.
Of course, there is a multitude of other items to see in the Louvre, from its collection of Egyptian antiquities to Napoleon’s apartments. If you are short on time and want to see the main highlights, it is worth taking a guided highlights tour of the Louvre; there is even a Q&A session at the end if you have any questions about what you have seen.
Housed in an old railway station, the building of the Musee d’Orsay is reason enough to visit. This majestic building with many original features from its time as a train station, such as the ornate clocks, was thankfully saved from demolition when it could no longer be used as a transport hub due to its short platforms and was turned into this fine art museum, opening in 1986. The Musee d’Orsay may not be equal in size to the Louvre, but it is still one of the largest art museums in Europe, with the advantage of you being able to see everything in around four or five hours. It is primarily known for its huge collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artworks, including pieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, and Gaugin. As well as paintings, there are a number of displays of sculptures, decorative arts, architecture, and photography.
A visit to the Musee d’Orsay can be combined with the Musee de l’Orangerie, home to eight of Monet’s Water Lilies paintings, as well as displaying works by Picasso, Matisse, and Rousseau. You can buy a combined ticket for both museums.
Palace of Versailles
Once a modest hunting lodge, King Louis XIV transformed Versailles into the stunning palace we see today as a statement of power and wealth; he previously lived in the palace which now houses the Louvre, but as there was no way of extending this building, he moved out to Versailles. The construction of the palace needed careful planning and preparation as the ground around the lodge was not fit to hold a palace of this size, making the fact that Versailles now exists even more of an engineering marvel.
Today the Palace of Versailles holds more than 2,300 rooms plus there are a number of external buildings and gardens, so you can probably imagine that a visit here takes a full day. Some of the highlights include:
- The Hall of Mirrors, the most famous room in the entire palace, filled with huge ornate mirrors, glittering chandeliers, gilded statues, and beautiful ceiling paintings; it was also the site of the historic signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
- The Queen’s Grand Apartments, which incorporate the apartments of the most famous French queen Marie Antoinette. All of the rooms here have been preserved as they were back in Marie Antoinette’s time, who redecorated the palace in her distinct style.
- The King’s Grand Apartments, the rooms where the king held court and where official meetings and ceremonies took place. Each of the rooms is named after a deity from Classical times.
- The Grand Trianon Palaces, comprising of the Grand and Petit Trianon Palaces. These pretty palaces are made of pink marble and provided the royal family with some peace and simplicity away from the busyness and formality of the main palace. The Grand Trianon Palace also served as a residence for Napoleon Bonaparte and King Louis-Philippe and the interior has been preserved as it was during these times.
Like the Eiffel Tower, the Palace of Versailles is an extremely popular attraction so if you do not want to spend a lot of time queuing when you arrive, book your tickets online in advance. Be aware that you will still need to queue in the security line, but your waiting time will be significantly reduced when booking your tickets in advance.
Unique Things to Do in Paris
One of the darkest and most intriguing things to do in Paris, the Paris Catacombs, has become an incredibly popular attraction in recent years. Created to solve the issue of major health problems at the end of the 18th century, these ossuaries hold the remains of more than six million people. At the time, Paris had huge issues with overcrowding in its cemeteries – in fact, the city’s oldest and then most used graveyard, Les Innocents, had become so full that local residents complained about the constant stench of death – so it was decided that graves would be dug up and moved underground.
While the catacombs are believed to stretch for some 320 kilometers – not all of them have been mapped, so it is unknown exactly how far they extend – only two kilometers are open to the public. However, this small stretch is still fascinating enough to make a trip here worthwhile. The descent down underground is exciting in itself – or just scary, depending on how you look at it – and when you get to the ossuaries themselves, you will be able to see the macabre sight of millions of bones arranged in a variety of ways. The most famous of these is the Barrel, a circular structure which has the added advantage of being a support for the roof of the area.
Due to the nature of this attraction, it is absolutely necessary that you enter the Paris Catacombs officially. It is illegal to enter the catacombs via any other way, despite what other people and bloggers may tell you.
The largest and most visited of all the cemeteries in Paris, Pere Lachaise’s prestige and a large number of famous names make it one of the best things to do in Paris. Initially founded by Napoleon, the cemetery was not particularly popular until the remains of playwright Moliere were claimed by Pere Lachaise’s directors.
From then on, burial plots in Pere Lachaise became the most sought-after spots in the city and is now the resting place of many French and internationally known figures, including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Proust, and Chopin.
Walking Tours in Paris
Montmartre Private Walking Tour
As one of the prettiest areas of Paris, a visit to Montmartre should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Paris. Famous for the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, this beautiful cobblestoned area is absolutely charming to wander around. But if you would prefer to learn more about Montmartre, you should consider taking a Montmartre private walking tour of the district, such as the one available to book through TripsPoint.com.
On this two-hour tour, you will get to see the main sights of the area, including the Sacre-Coeur, Clos Montmartre, and the Wall of Love, as well as a number of hidden spots which tourists rarely venture to, such as Villa Leandre. You will even get to see Van Gogh’s apartment, where the famous artist lived with his brother Theo in the 1880s. Your guide will be a native Parisian who will give you interesting facts about the district, answer any questions you have, and show you why Montmartre is one of the most delightful areas of Paris.
Marais Private Walking Tour
Another fantastic tour available through TripsPoint.com is the Marais Private Walking Tour. One of the most historic districts in the city, Marais originally began life as Paris’s aristocratic district before becoming the city’s Jewish district after the French Revolution. There are lots of older buildings to admire here, particularly in South Marais, but the area has also gone through a massive redevelopment in recent years and has become a trendy neighborhood for shopping, dining, and nightlife.
On this two-hour tour led by a native Parisian, you will see some of the most popular parts of Marais, such as Paris City Hall, Place des Vosges, and Rue des Rosiers, as well as lesser-known spots such as Hotel de Sens, an impressive medieval private mansion.
Shopping in Paris
Paris is world-renowned for being a shopper’s paradise, so there is no question that you should add the activity to your list of things to do in Paris. One of the most famous retail areas is the Champs-Elysees, a magnificent avenue which adds splendid monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Obelisk of Luxor into the mix. Once known for being one of the giants of luxury shopping, including brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Yves Rocher, and Tiffany, there are now also a number of chain and high-street brands lining the avenue, such as H&M, Gap, and Zara, so there is plenty of choices.
A place you should definitely visit in 2019 is Galeries Lafayette; this upmarket French department store has its flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann, but a Champs-Elysees branch is scheduled to open this year.
Les Puces de Clignancourt
Definitely the best of the free things to do in Paris, this flea market at Saint-Ouen dates back to the 19th century and claims to be the largest in the world. Whether there is any truth in this hardly matters. This flea market has such a vast and wonderful array of items for sale you are certain to find something to your taste.
Comprising of more than 2,500 stalls, it really does have everything, from antique furniture and quirky ornaments to vintage clothing and accessories.
Paris Truly Is One of the Best Cities to Visit
A visit to Paris is not just about ascending the Eiffel Tower and eating lots of pastries. There are so many things to do in Paris that are fun, intriguing and unique that a city break here is just not enough; you really need to spend more time there to get to know the city well. But with so many things to do in Paris, you can guarantee you will not have a dull moment on any trip here.
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