Whether this is your first visit to Paris or your tenth, the sights and sounds of this magical city never get old. Here are the top 10 things to do, even if you’ve done them before:
1. The Eiffel Tower
We’d be remiss not to call it like it is—no trip to the City of Lights would be complete with a visit to the famous Iron Lady. This soaring structure, in spite of the controversy when it was originally built, has become the quintessential emblem of the French capital. Take some gourmet goodies to the Champ de Mars to picnic at the base, dine among the sparkling lights by night at one of the restaurants on the tower’s observation decks, or climb the iron steps to the top in the daytime to gaze out over the winding ribbon of the Seine and the maze-like web of zinc rooftops below you. There’s no wrong way to do the Eiffel Tower, but plan ahead and buy tickets in advance. Everyone else in town knows it’s a must-visit attraction, too.
With the historic heart of the city clustered around the Ile St. Louis, Paris’ monuments line one central waterway—the Seine River. That means one of the best ways to take in the city is by boat. And who doesn’t love a boat? Glass-topped and heated in the winter, open-air and breezy in the summer, river boats cruise from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and back again. Pass under centuries-old bridges, admire medieval structures like the Conciergerie, and listen to commentary that gives a great overview of the capital’s major sites and attractions. At night, you can admire the monuments at their best—illuminated and sparkling—as you sip champagne or enjoy a romantic meal.
With its chaotic tangle of gargoyles and sculptures, its massive stained glass rose window, and its imposing buttresses and towers, this Gothic-to-the-max cathedral inspired Victor Hugo to dream up his famous hunchback. Walk in Quasimodo’s footsteps with a visit to the top of the towers for a view over the city center, or step into the lofty nave for a quiet respite in a sacred space that’s stood watch over Paris for centuries.
4. The Louvre
The Louvre is the world’s most-visited museum, and for good reason. This stately former royal residence houses more than 35,000 objects, including masterpieces such as da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the mysterious Venus de Milo. Plan to spend some time here, or tackle the collection with a guide to get the most out of your experience. There’s plenty to see in these hallowed marble halls, from ancient Egyptian artifacts and the foundations of the original castle to Napoleon’s lavish apartments and gilded Byzantine paintings. Make sure to walk by the main entrance to see I.M. Pei’s striking glass pyramid, but for quicker access, buy tickets in advance or enter through the less-obvious entrance in the shopping center underneath the museum.
5. Sacre Coeur and Montmartre
A charming storybook village within the city, the hilltop neighborhood of Montmartre is a picture-perfect tangle of cobblestone streets and sweet sidewalk cafes climbing toward the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. This church is perched high above the sprawling metropolis below, and from its steps, you can take in spectacular panoramic views all day long. Grab a crêpe, stroll around, and soak up the atmosphere that inspired artists such as Picasso and Toulouse Lautrec when they called the quarter home. Alternatively, take a walking tour.
6. Moulin Rouge
At the base of bohemian Montmartre, not far from the bawdy shops of Place Pigalle, the brightly lit red windmill of the Moulin Rouge has been a beacon for entertainment-seeking revelers for more than a century. Today, this classic cabaret is one of the best places in the city to catch a show in a totally romantic, fin de siècle setting. Can you see the can-can here? You bet you can!
Paris is home to a more than 200 museums that showcase everything from architecture to carnival rides, and most people only visit one of them (ahem, see above). While you might not have time to hit every exhibit in town, you should make a detour to the Left Bank to check out the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art at the Musée d’Orsay. Under the soaring ceiling of a former Beaux Arts train station, works by Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Gaugin, and Renoir truly shine. Plus, the space itself is spectacular—all sunlit hallways, giant clocks, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Seine.
8. Walk (or drive!) the Champs-Elysées
Glitz, glamour, and the height of 19th-century Parisian city planning collide on the Champs-Elysées, touted as the most beautiful street in the world. This grand avenue parallels the Seine from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, a dignified and imperial monument that aligns perfectly with the matching arch in front of the Louvre. With its wide, tree-lined sidewalks and collection of brand-name and designer shops from around the globe, the boulevard offers sightseeing and people-watching opportunities galore. Grab a macaron at Ladurée as you wander, or take on the boulevard in real Parisian style with a guided drive in a 2CV, the seminal French automobile.
9. The Château de Versailles
Gilded ceilings, halls of mirrors, grand canals weaving through acres of manicured gardens—the extravagant splendor of Versailles is really a sight to see. Take the train out from the city—it’s an easy, 30-minute ride—and step back into the era of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and the ill-fated and frivolous Marie Antoinette. If the weather obliges, picnic like a royal on the sprawling grounds, and don’t miss a visit to Marie Antoinette’s ornamental hamlet at the far end of the park. This fairy-tale farmstead, with its thatched roof cottages, animals, and orchards, is an idyllic slice of countryside fantasy and pastoral charm—totally contrived, of course (the building interiors are all marble finery and rococo), but alluring nonetheless. Cover even more ground with a bike tour; the gardens’ 200-acre sprawl is a lot to cover on foot.
10. Picnic in a park
Ella Fitzgerald sang it best when she crooned, “I love Paris in the spring time. I love Paris in the fall. I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles. I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.” Any time of year, as soon as the sun comes out, locals and visitors alike swarm the city’s parks, picnic baskets in hand. Hit a grocery store such as the famed La Grande Epicerie or a neighborhood market for supplies. Better yet, let a local lead you to the best market vendors, cheese shops, and bakeries to collect French products for an al fresco luncheon. Then find a comfy spot alongside the Canal St. Martin, on the hilly slopes of the Buttes Chaumont, fountain-side in the manicured Luxembourg Gardens, or at the foot of the Eiffel Tower on the Champ de Mars to enjoy the perfect Parisian pastime—la pique-nique.
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What is your favorite way to spend a day in Paris?