What to Do In Paris: My Complete Guide to the City of Love
Paris is always going to be a favourite of mine. I first visited the city back in 2009 and every part of it seemed magical to me. When I returned back in March, and then again in April, I still felt the same way.
Paris might be one of the most visited places in France, and no matter what time of the year you go you’ll never be able to escape the crowds, but god is it beautiful. All up, I’ve spent weeks in this city but they still only felt like seconds. Paris is one of those cities in which you’ll never run out of things to do.
Given my knowledge of Paris comes from multiple trips and multiple experiences, I thought it would be best to put together a guide. Unless you are moving to Paris chances are you won’t have enough time to do everything, so this is merely a list of choices. Where you end up is for you to decide!
Where to Stay
I could write a post separately just on this very question. Paris is split up into 20 arrondissements (districts), all of which have something different to offer. Paris is also a sprawling city that chances are, wherever you stay, you’ll have to spend some time on the metro to see everything.
That said my favourite districts are the Marais (spread across the 3rd and the 4th), the Latin Quarter (5th), Bastille (11th) and Montmartre (18th). But Paris can be expensive, so despite my love for these districts, I’ve spent a lot of time in other district just because that is where I’ve been able to find a cheap hostel.
How to Get Around
The metro system is the key to any visit in Paris. I find the cheapest and easiest way to use the metro is to buy a carnet (book) of ten tickets. But if you are doing a fast trip of Paris and seeing lots of sights in one day, it may be worth checking out the daily or three day tickets.
Importantly, on weekends young people can access cheap metro tickets. If you are under 26 and visiting on a weekend, make sure you buy the youth ticket. You’ll get unlimited rides for the day for the price of just over three metro rides – €5.40.
Many people often make use of the city bikes and ride them around the city. You can park them at any new station and they using them may work out cheaper than riding the metro (but perhaps more time consuming and exhausting).
Where to Eat
Paris is a hive of good French food. But given how touristy it is you’ll need to do your research. If you walk into a bistrot in a tourist area, chances are you might be disappointed.
Some of the best food I have eaten has been the Gallette at Breizh Café, the Boeuf Bourginon at Le P’tit Troquet, and anything at Frenchie. And of course you haven’t been to Paris if you haven’t gone to La Duree to eat Macaroons.
Most of the time when I’m in Paris, I’m staying with a friend’s family, so I don’t tend to eat out a lot. Hence if you want food recommendations, I absolutely recommend checking out those by Expatedna. She is a Paris food expert!
When to Go
Although I’ve now been to Paris four times, I’ve only ever visited in winter and spring. My favourite time was definitely the trip I did in late April. It wasn’t early enough for the hoards of crowds to be descending on the city and the beautiful Parisian gardens were all in bloom.
But be aware, Paris is always busy. You’ll still probably have to wait in some lines in winter and spring, they just won’t be as long as if you visited in August.
Much like Barcelona, Paris is a pickpocketing hotspot. Be extra vigilant here. Always have a secure hold of your belongings on the metro, wear your backpack on your front and be aware of your surroundings.
For more specific advice on how to avoid pickpocketing in Europe refer to my earlier post here.
What to Do in Paris
This was always bound to be a really big list. There is just so much to do in Paris!
La Notre Dame de Paris
The Notre Dame is my favourite monument/building in all of Paris. I grew up watching the Disney film, and ever since I’ve always felt like it holds a special sort of magic. But perhaps the best thing about the Notre Dame is the view from the top of it.
It’s a hard climb up and a lot of steps but its worth it not just to admire Paris below, but also to see the gargoyles up close. Whilst most people head up the Eiffel Tower for a view over Paris, I prefer the view from the top of the Notre Dame. It’s not as high so everything is much closer and easier to make out. And most importantly, you actually get to see the Eiffel Tower (as opposed to being on top of it).
Metro Stop: St Michel-Notre Dame (RER B or RER C), Hotel de Ville (Line 1) or Cite (Line 4).
Cost: Church is free, but entry to the towers costs €8.50. Free for EU students.
Hours: Everyday from 10am to 6.30pm (extended hours in high season).
Hotel de Ville
This isn’t an iconic building of Paris but I find it so pretty! It’s so majestic. I love walking past this building on the way to exploring other parts of Paris.
Wandering Le Marais
This is one of my favourite districts in Paris and it is one of those places where it’s best to just get lost. I love exploring this district on a lazy and sunny day. The beautiful little parks and public courtyards scattered throughout the district are the perfect place to stop for a break from the hustle and bustle of Paris.
I love to just sit in the courtyards and people watch, or curl up on a park bench with my book. It’s also a great place to enjoy the typical Parisian lunch of a stuffed baguette from a nearby patisserie.
The Picasso Museum
In the Marais you’ll also find the Picasso Museum. Paris is home to a lot of museums but the Picasso is a great little alternative to some of the huge ones where you’ll need to spend at least a day to see everything.
I love Picasso’s art and this museum is definitely a tribute to him. Moving through the rooms of this museum is kind of little moving through the stages of Picasso’s life and the evolution of his art.
Metro Stop: Jaume I (Line 4)
Entrance Fee: €12.50
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Fridays 11:30am to 6pm, Weekends 9.30am to 6pm.
This is what I always wanted to do in Paris but only just got around to doing. The Catacombs are a museum of skulls and bones that are hundreds of years old.
The underground tunnels and walls of Paris were built in order to stabilise the ground after it was realised that the many quarries being dug over Paris were causing the ground to fall in.
They were then used as a cemetery of sorts and the bodies of thousands of people were dug up and deposited there when the local cemeteries became too full. They were just a pile of bones until Louis-Etienne decided to create a museum under here with the bones as a centrepiece.
I learnt all of this from the audioguide which I’d recommend investing in. It’s a spooky experience and not only you’ll want to do if you are scared of dead things, dark and small spaces and being underground. Or if you aren’t prepared to climb a lot of steps to get up.
You’ll also need to be prepared to wait (or to buy an advance ticket) because the line for the Catacombs is always long. They only let a certain amount of people enter at one time so the line is always backed up. We arrived early in the morning but still waited over an hour to get in (at the start of March which is still low season for Paris).
Metro Stop: Saint-Jacques
Entrance Fee: €12
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10am till 8.30pm.
The Eiffel Tower
Well this one comes without saying. You haven’t visited Paris if you hadn’t seen the Eiffel Tower. Even if you don’t make your way all the way over there, it is kind of hard to miss while visiting Paris. It is such an imposing part of Paris that it just appears in your vision whenever walking around the main parts of the city.
The Eiffel Tower is best appreciated if you can see it both during the day, and at night when it is lit up. It was only on my fourth visit to Paris that I actually ended up going up the Eiffel Tower itself. If you aren’t prepared to climb you’ll need to be willing to spend some time in a very long queue, or you’ll need to purchase an advance ticket at least a month before.
This might be a controversial opinion but I didn’t really like the whole going up the Eiffel Tower thing. I don’t usually suffer from vertigo but I just think the view isn’t that nice. You are almost too high, so most of the beautiful buildings Paris is so known for aren’t discernable from the top.
Metro Stop: Trocadero, Ecole Militaire or La Tour-Mauborg
Entrance Fee: €17 for lift, €7 for stairs entrance
Opening Hours: 9am to 11pm everyday.
The Moulin Rouge
I made a last minute decision to go see a show at the Moulin Rouge and it was by far the best night I have ever had in Paris. Yes you’ll see a lot of mostly naked beautiful women but the emphasis here is on their amazing dancing. It was just so incredible!
A couple of days after I watched the show, I met one of the dancers randomly in a café in Paris!
Metro Stop: Blanche
Cost: Really depends on the time and day. Expect to pay at least €80.
The 13th district cops a lot of criticism for being super touristy and full of pickpockets. Whilst all of that is true, it is still one of my favourite parts of Paris. Montmartre has been the home to some of the world’s best artists including Picasso, Salvador Dali, Monet and Van Gogh.
Here you’ll find cute little cafes, amazing patisseries, shops full of traditional French produce like cheese and saucisson, and some great street performers and street artists. It’s a district that has a lot of history and hidden treasures, hence one of the best ways to explore it is by joining a free walking tour.
My tour ended at the Montmartre’s most iconic sight, the Sacre Coeur. This church is hated by most Parisians, who consider it ugly, a view that may or may not have been carried down through generations from the first Parisians that had to fund what they considered an eyesore.
I absolutely adore it, especially because of its unique style and architecture. I just hope those same Parisians can be convinced to spend more of their tax dollars on getting it cleaned sometime soon!
Walking Tour: I did the free walking tour with Culture Fish Tours and provided a €5 tip.
The Banks of the Siene
Along the famous Parisian Siene are some of Paris’ most beautiful buildings. I wish I’d had time for a river cruise as I’ve heard this is one of the best ways to explore this part of Paris.
But at any time of the year I love walking along the river. It’s a great way to get between main sites by foot, such as between Notre Dame and the Marais, or between the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees.
Paris’ Best Museums: The Louvre, L’Orangerie and la Museee d’Orsay
Paris is a city full of some of the world’s best art. And even though the Louvre is so huge that it would take weeks to properly explore, not all of that art is housed there.
Some more manageable museums include L’Orangerie, home to a significant amount of impressionist art such as some incredible pieces from Monet’s Garden, and la Musee d’Orsay. Typically these museums are less busy than the Louvre and I find I feel less rushed when visiting them than I do in the Louvre.
But of course if its your first visit to Paris, the Louvre is stunning. I visited way back in 2010, but didn’t have the time to return during my recent stay.
Metro Stop: Louvre-Rivoli (Louvre), Musee D’Orsay RER or Assemblee Nationale (Orsay), Concorde (L’Orangerie)
Entrance Fee: Louvre- €12, Musee D’Orsay- €12, L’Orangerie- €9. You can also get a combined Orsay and Orangerie ticket for €16.
Opening Hours: Louvre- 9am to 6pm except Tuesdays and with extended hours until 9.45pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, Musee D’Orsay- 9.30am-6pm except Mondays and with extended hours until 9pm on Thursdays, L’Orangerie- 9am-6pm except Tuesdays
Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe
Paris’ most famous street isn’t just a means of getting to the Arc de Triomphe. Make sure you stop along the way at La Duree for the best macaroons you’ll ever have. I absolutely recommend the Marie Antoinette Tea macaroon that is basically like eating a cup of Earl Grey. As a self-professed tea addict, I loved it.
This is also the perfect spot for people watching, from the tourists delaying traffic by standing in the middle of a crossing and attempting to take a photo of the Arc de Triomphe, to the locals rushing in one direction or another.
Of course you can’t miss the Arc at the end of the street, although I’ve always found it to be one of the most disappointing Paris monuments. But maybe that is just me!
Metro Stop: Charles de Gaulle Etoile
I didn’t make it here myself but this church comes highly recommend by one of my friends. It is home to one of the best stained glass windows in the world.
Metro Stop: Cite
Entrance Fee: €10
Opening Hours: These change depending on the season. Check the opening hours for your visit here.
Day Trips from Paris
If you have more time in Paris, you might want to consider taking a day trip!
The Palace of Versailles
I visited back in 2010 but this still remains one of my favourite places in all of France. It’s still the best palace I have ever visited, especially because of the excellent art that can be found there. Unfortunately when I visited I visited in winter, so I couldn’t full enjoy the beautiful gardens that go with the Palace.
Just whatever you do, don’t sell yourself short with time dedicated to the Palace of Versailles. If you are going to make the journey out there, plan to spend the whole day at this magical place!
How to Get There: RER C suburban train to Versailles Chateau-Rive Gauche. Return tickets cost €7.1
Entrance Fee: €18 for ticket that gives you entrance to palace, grounds and Marie Antoinette Estate
Opening Hours: Palace is open 9am-6pm except Mondays.
I absolutely loved my day in Disneyland. I think adding Disneyland to your itinerary might be a good way to break up all of the history and monument visiting. Paris is a huge city and it is easy to burn out while visiting it. Thus Disneyland might be the little bit of relief you need. You can read more about my day at Disneyland here.
How to Get There: Take the RER-A suburban train to Marne La Vallee/ Disney – €7.60 one way.
Entrance Fee: 1 day tickets start at €62.
Opening Hours: Disneyland Park- 10am-11pm, Walt Disney Studios Park- 10am to 6pm
The Loire Valley
On my most recent trip I took a day trip with France Tourisme to the Loire Valley. It was a huge and exhausting day but still one of the best I’ve spent in Paris. It’s a great option if you don’t have the time nor the money to explore the Loire Valley for more than a day. You can read more about my tour here.
Another stunning UNESCO listed palace, this is an easy day trip from Paris. Unfortunately whilst it has been on my bucket list for a while now, I haven’t had the time for a visit. It’s the first thing I’ll be doing whenever I next return to Paris.
You can do it on a guided tour for around €60 (again I’d recommend France Tourisme), but it’s easily doable independently.
How to Get There: Transilien train from Paris-Gare de Lyon to Fontainebleau-Avon. It takes 40 minutes and costs €16.80 return.
Entrance Fee: €11
Opening Hours: 9.30am to 5pm except Tuesdays (and until 6pm between April and September)
Mont St Michel
I really hesitate to put this on my day trip list. Normandy will always be my home in Paris and I hate to encourage people to only spend a day there. The fact is that the Mont St Michel is far from Paris and on a day trip you’ll spend more than half of your time on a bus with a lot of other people (even when I was there in low season I saw a bus full of people leave for this tour).
But there is no denying that the Mont St Michel is exceptional. You can book a tour with France Tourisme for €115.
Anything to add?
If you have any other tips for Paris comment below and I’ll add them to this list!