Discover the best things to do in Paris – from top attractions such as the Eiffel Tower to unusual spots like the Paris Catacombs – with this practical guide.
Planning a trip to Paris? Whether you’re visiting the City of Love for two days or two weeks, there’s more than you could ever hope to pack into your itinerary. So where should you start?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris and I can tell you one thing – it can be wonderful… but it can also be overwhelming. The last thing that you want to do is spend the whole trip haring from here to there, trying to pack everything in.
This guide will help you choose which Paris attractions you should have at the top of your list, and which ones you can skip.
Ready to discover the best things to do in Paris? Let’s explore.
Things to Do in Paris: Top 5
Short on time or want to know which attractions you really shouldn’t miss? Start with these…
You can’t go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower. Well, you can, but why would you want to?
This beautiful landmark stands over 1,000 feet tall and is hands-down the most iconic structure in the city.
If you’ve never been before, buy tickets to go up the tower. You can choose which level you want to go to, but the views are incredible from all of them. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy. No, you won’t regret it.
Even if you don’t want to pay for tickets to go to one of the observation decks, you can grab a spot in one of the grassy areas that surround the tower for a nice picnic.
Want to nab the best view of the Eiffel Tower rather than from it? Head to the Trocadero, which is just a (very) short stroll away.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, beloved by locals and tourists alike since its creation in 1836.
Let’s face it, it’s not a movie about Paris unless you have that atmospheric AF shot of the Arc de Triomphe – so why wouldn’t you go and see it IRL?
Anyone can grab a peek at the Arc de Triomphe sitting proudly at the centre of the 12 road roundabout that surrounds it.
However, if you really want to make the most of it, pay to climb to the top. The view of the Champs Elysees and the surrounding area is a total classic.
Paris isn’t short on ornate churches and cathedrals, but the Sacre Coeur stands above them all. Quite literally – the church and minor basilica sits at the highest elevation in the entire city and – as a result – sports some rather gorgeous views over the city.
The church itself is free to enter. Even if you have no desire to enter the church, the view from the outside of the church is more than enough reason to make it to the Sacre Coeur.
While most people think of the Louvre when they think of museums in Paris, I’m going to go rogue and say if you only have time to see one big museum, make it the Musee D’Orsay.
The museum sits on the banks of the Seine and features French art primarily from 1848 to 1914.
Housed in an ornate train station dating back to 1898, it’s packed with the creme de la creme of Impressionist art alongside other pieces.
Some of the most famous works include Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait and Degas’ In a Cafe – but the reality is that there are very few renowned artists from this period whose work you won’t find there.
Sainte Chapelle is one of the oldest and most beautiful chapels in Paris. Fact.
The chapel was initially constructed around 1248 and has been standing ever since. It only took seven years to complete the chapel, which is impressive for back then. It also houses relics of Christianity such as Christ’s Crown of Thorns.
Yeah yeah, the history is great but if we’re honest, it’s the breathtaking interior you go to Sainte Chapelle for. A delicate tapestry of stained-glass windows curve into the Gothic architecture, bathing you in their warm glow.
Word of warning. Don’t think you can just rock up and go: you have to purchase a ticket to visit and pick your time slot ahead of time.
Best Things to Do in Paris
There’s more to Paris than its top five attractions. Chances are that you’ll need more inspiration for your trip. These are my other top picks for things to do in Paris.
Jardin du Luxembourg
You’ll find the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement of Paris – a lush array of gardens that originated in the 1600s when the widow of King Henry IV built the Luxembourg Palace as her new home.
The space is large with beautiful flowers, apple orchards, a few fish ponds, and several walking paths. You can choose a guided tour of the gardens or walk around by yourself. Either way, the gardens are open to the public for free.
The Rodin Museum opened in 1919, and it was made famous for showcasing the sculptures of Auguste Rodin. While the museum primarily shows his work, there are works by other artists for you to see while you visit.
Interestingly, the hotel is spread out over two sites. There’s one at the Hotel Biron and the other at Auguste Rodin’s old home.
If you do make it to the Villa des Brillants at Meudon – just outside of the city, you’ll find some of the artist’s best-known pieces, including The Thinker, The Kisser, and The Walking Man.
Centre Pompidou is a cultural centre in Paris that serves as a library, museum, and more for the citizens and visitors of Paris. It’s near the 4th arrondissement and is one of the first modern collections of modern and contemporary art in all of Europe.
There’s a little bit of everything here. You can take a tour through the art museum, visit several different exhibits, watch shows, and listen to debates. They even have activities for children if you’re travelling with young ones.
In better times, I’d have had Notre Dame straight at the top of this guide to the best places to visit in Paris… but it’s still recovering from the ravaging fire that nearly destroyed it in 2019.
It’s not confirmed when they expect the cathedral to open to the public again, but be sure to check before you go. Even now, you can still see a large part of the exterior of this stunning example of French Gothic architecture.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Cemeteries aren’t the first attraction most people visit when in a new city, but Pere Lachaise Cemetery isn’t just any cemetery. It’s the largest cemetery in Paris and the most visited cemetery in the whole world, thanks to the fact that more than three million people visit annually.
Walking around the cemetery is a surreal experience. There are hundreds of tombs and some notable figures buried here. Famous figures include Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, and Marcel Proust.
You can’t go to Paris without visiting the Louvre – or so they say – I actually beg to differ, which is why I sent you to the Musee D’Orsay first (#controversial).
However you look at it, The Louvre is massive and the most visited museum in the world.
Everything about it is iconic – from the striking glass pyramid outside to the roster of famous works. Two of the most notable ones are the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.
If you plan to visit, it’s best to purchase tickets ahead of time and give yourself at least a few hours to tour the museum.
Foundation Louis Vuitton
In 2014, the LVMH and its subsidiaries launched the Foundation Louis Vuitton, a combination of an art museum and a cultural centre. The museum features permanent and travelling exhibits of modern and contemporary artworks.
The types of work that the foundation strives to feature fall into these categories: contemplative, expressionist, pop, and music and sound. Some of the artists you can see featured here include Joan Mitchell, Gerhard Richter, Carl Andre, Omar Ba, and Ed Atkins.
It’s nothing new to say that Pablo Picasso was one of the greatest artists of all time. Whether you’re a huge fan of his work, love art, or are just looking for something excellent to do in Paris, the Picasso Museum is a great option.
As with the Rodin Museum, the museum isn’t dedicated solely to its namesake artist – the collection features fellow contemporaries such as Matisse and Miro, as well as artists Picasson himself admired such as Degas and Cezanne.
You’ll find this museum in the Marais neighbourhood of the city, inside the Hotel Salé.
The museum isn’t huge, but plan for at least an hour inside. They offer guided tours, or you can show yourself around.
Place des Vosges
Originally called Place Royal, Place des Vosges is the oldest square in Paris. Well, the oldest planned square. This is a beautiful green space within the bustling city.
It’s a great place to sit back and relax when you need a break from the hectic vibes of running around Paris trying to stuff your eyes with as many of the city’s wonders as possible.
How a road became one of Paris’ best-known attractions is a story for another day but it probably doesn’t hurt that the Champs Elysées offers a pretty cool view of the Arc de Triomphe, which sits jauntily at the end of it.
The entire stretch of this road is about 1.9 kilometers or 1.1 miles. Many people refer to this attraction as the world’s “most beautiful avenue.” You can be the judge yourself when you visit.
Musée Yves Saint Laurent
Paris is one of the world’s fashion capitals, so it’s not surprising they have a museum dedicated to fashion. The Musee Yves Saint Laurent is a museum dedicated to the iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
The museum showcases the brand’s early life and its path to fashion stardom via pieces from their collections. If you love fashion, you can’t miss this museum while you’re in Paris. It’s recommended you book your tickets in advance online, and on weekends, it’s required.
Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde is Paris’ most prominent and most visited public square and the perfect starting point or ending point for a stroll along the Champs Elysees in one direction or the Jardin de Tuileries and Louvre in the other.
You’ll find the Luxor Obelisk sitting at the centre of the place – a 3,300-year-old Egyptian obelisk that’s been in Paris since 1836.
If you’re looking for something to do in Paris that’s near the Louvre and Place de la Concordes, Jardin Tuileries is a great option. It’s situated in between the two attractions and goes by the Tuileries Gardens in English.
Jardin Tuileries is a beautiful garden that originated in 1667 but didn’t become a public garden until after the French revolution. The park features tall and bright green trees that line the pathways, benches, and plenty of grassy space to have picnics if you choose.
The famous cabaret show of the Moulin Rouge is synonymous with Paris.
The original Moulin Rouge was founded in 1889 and was housed in the original building until it burnt down in 1919. The show is a tribute to Parisian women through the ages.
If you want to catch a show at Moulin Rouge, you can choose between evening shows and matinees.
The evening shows tend to be more crowded, but regardless of what time of day you go, you’ll love the performances.
Be sure to get your tickets ahead of time to secure your spot.
Europe has an outrageous abundance of royal palaces, and France is no exception.
There are several attractions while you’re in Versailles, so you should plan to spend a good portion of your day here. You can tour the history museum, bask in the opulence of the buildings and walk through the gardens.
Palais Royal is a 17th-century palace that now features shops, gardens, and stunning striped columns in the courtyard. Even better, it’s all tucked in the city centre in the 1st arrondissement across the road from the Louvre.
While basking in the beauty of the palace is the primary reason people go here, the shops are worth checking out too. You can find unique spots where you can buy presents for friends and family that couldn’t come with you to Paris.
I name dropped the Trocadero earlier in the article as one of the best places to visit in Paris for stunning views of the Eiffel Tower and I stand by that.
The Trocadero used to be the site of a palace in the 1800s, but that structure is no longer standing.
Most visitors come for the views of the tower and the Seine, but there are several excellent museums in the Trocadero building you can visit – the Naval Museum and the Musée de l’Homme.
Palais Garnier Opera House
Built to showcase the best French Opera, the Palais Garnier Opera House is the place to go and see opera in the city.
These days, it also houses a museum with permanent exhibits featuring photographs, sculptures, writings, and paintings centred on all things operatic.
You can pay for a guided tour or choose the self-guided route.
A guided tour is recommended if you’re interested in learning more about the Opera House and its history. Besides the artwork you can view, you’ll get to see the stage and much of the original structure.
Musée De L’Orangerie
While you’re walking around the Tuileries Gardens, you can stop at the Musee De L’Orangerie, another fantastic art museum in Paris. The collection mainly centres on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and other works.
You can take a self-guided tour of the museum and rent audio guides. These talk you through many of the works so you can learn more about the artist and the specific piece of art you’re looking at.
Unusual Things to Do in Paris
For those who like to do more unusual things while travelling, Paris won’t let you down. Here are five unique things to do in Paris.
Want to try something different? Head to the Catacombs buried underneath the bustling city. Tucked away inside the tunnels of old quarries, they’re roughly 20 metres or 65 feet underground and are one of the more unusual things to do in the city.
There are no self-guided tours of the catacombs but each ticket purchased gives you an audio guide that you can listen to as you wander the tunnels. You’ll see the site of the remains of millions of Parisians and hear some of their stories.
Street Art in the 13th Arrondissement
The street art 13 trail is a walking tour of all the street art in the 13th arrondissement. This area of Pairs features stunning murals along the walls, 26 giant ones to be exact. They’re great for photo opportunities – with local and international artists including Shepard Fairey (whose work I fell in love with in Denver), D*Face and BToy.
There are hundreds of delicious places to eat while in Paris, but oof, they don’t come much better than the spectacular Bouillon Pigalle – a famous bistro where you can feast on classic French cuisine.
If you’re not sure what to order, trust your waiter to make a few recommendations. Personally I opted for the ham braised in honey followed by an old-school baba au rum and non, je ne regrette rien.
Passage du Grand Cerf
Passage du Grand Cerf isn’t on many tourists’ radar which makes it a great place to see while in Paris. Paris is known for its hidden passages and shopping arcades, but this one is a little off the beaten path.
This passage is in the 2nd arrondissement, and it links rue Saint-Denis and the Montorgueil neighbourhoods. Go for a sneaky pic or two.
Rent a Boat for Canals Marin D’eau Douce
Boating in the Marin D’eau Douce is a popular activity in Paris, but is mainly the preserve of the locals.
Who knows why most tourists aren’t all over this – renting a boat is surprisingly affordable, depending on how long you want to rent it for.
You can rent basic trips or one that includes delicious French food and drink. Sipping on delightful aperitifs while you take in the views of the city from the water? Yes please.
Top Places to Visit in Paris: Practical Tips
Not everyone can take a week to explore one city. If you’re strapped for time, you can still thoroughly enjoy Paris. Here are some helpful and practical tips for planning your short time in the city:
- Plan activities that are close to one another
- Make a list of your must-see attractions to ensure you make it to them
- Purchase any tickets ahead of time
- Find a hotel or other accommodation in a central area near your must-see attractions