Top 10 Things to Do in Paris, France
I could probably add a zero to this and easily come up with a hundred interesting and fun things to do in Paris. But really, no one wants to sit here and read through one hundred sites and attractions. Plus, no one is going to remember one hundred things anyway. With just ten there is a much better chance that you’ll get to at least a few of these sites and it will only cost you a few minutes of your time instead of reading for hours. So, without further delay here are my personal top ten favorite things in no particular order that we did while visiting Paris recently. And by the way, this was our first trip to Paris.
1. Notre Dame
Every great city has a great cathedral and Paris is no exception. Notre Dame has so many things that make it worth visiting that I could probably write a top ten on visiting just Notre Dame itself. Even if you don’t venture inside, which you must do, the exterior is a site to behold. From the gargoyles and chimera looming above you to the flying buttresses that support the walls and ceiling to the twelve apostles who appear to be climbing the steeple, Notre Dame is quite the architectural masterpiece.
And once you actually enter the cathedral it gets even better. The three stained glass Rose Windows are an incredible site and the Great Organ is the largest in all of France. But my favorite thing that we did while visiting Notre Dame was to climb to the top of the towers. For the absolute best view of Paris spend a few euros and take the time to go to the top. If the 380 steps don’t kill you, you will be rewarded with the most amazing view of Paris. The Pantheon, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, the towers of Saint-Sulpice and even Sacre Coeur are all visible from here.
2. Eiffel Tower
While this may be a totally touristy thing to do, if you are in Paris then you have to see the Eiffel Tower. And I’m not talking about viewing it from a distance. You must get up close and personal with the Eiffel Tower and I would also recommend a trip to the top.
The thing that surprised me the most from our visit to the Eiffel Tower was that it’s really much larger than I ever imagined. Stand beneath it and it's incredible just how large the footings and the steel beams are that support this structure. It also made me wonder why on earth Gustave Eiffel wanted to build it in the first place. Whatever his reason, which is another story, the Eiffel Tower has come to symbolize Paris and is certainly one of the most iconic structures in the world.
To this day the Eiffel Tower is still the tallest structure in Paris. It is also the most visited paid entry monument in the world with over 7 million visitors annually. And in 2010 the Eiffel tower received its 250 millionth visitor since it first opened back in 1889.
To make your visit to the Eiffel Tower even more memorable take the elevator to the towers observatory platform on the third level, which at 906 feet high offers an amazing view of Paris? Go at night and you will discover why they call Paris the "City of Light".
3. Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe might seem like one of those sites that you stop, look, take a picture and move on. Well, that’s not necessarily my take on this grand monument of Paris. To fully appreciate this monument that was built to honor the victims of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars you should spend some time here and then proceed to climb to the top for the grand finale, the view.
Many of you may not realize that there is an eternal flame that burns directly beneath the Arc de Triomphe. This memorial was created in 1920 and is the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Every evening at 6:30pm, French veterans lay wreathes decorated in the French national colors of red, white and blue at the flame to honor the sacrifice of an unknown soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice during WWI.
The Arc de Triomphe sits at the western end of the Champs-Elysees and at fifty meters high is an imposing structure. It sits at the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle and at my count there are twelve major roads that feed into the round-a-bout that circles the Arc. Don't worry about dodging all that traffic to get to the monument, there is an underground tunnel for visitors to safely gain access.
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 but was not completed until 1836.
The climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe is a mere 284 steps but the view from the top is magnificent.
With a 360 degree view of Paris and a look straight down the famous Champs-Elysees I don’t know how you can resist. On a clear day you can see everything in Paris including the Eiffel Tower, Sacre-Coeur, the Towers of Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel that sits outside the Louvre. It really is a view not to be missed.
View From Arc de Triomphe
4. The Louvre
There’s really nothing I can write here about the Louvre Museum that hasn’t already been written. If you are visiting Paris then you will want to find the time to see at least a portion of the Louvre. It’s really unrealistic to expect to see everything in the Louvre in one visit so pick the works of art that you want to see and if you have time left over consider it a bonus and roam aimlessly if you choose. Everyone who visits the Louvre for the first time seems to have the same sentiment, “I knew the Louvre was big but wow, that’s one massive museum”.
We spent approximately three hours in the Louvre and managed to see all of our must see works plus had time to roam through the Greek and Egyptian Antiquities section, which we found very interesting.
5. Gardens of Paris
A very pleasant surprise in Paris is the abundance of beautiful Gardens that adorn the city. In particular the Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Tuileries are a beautiful place for a quick rest, a picnic, or an afternoon spent watching the comings and goings of Paris. Both gardens are full of color and offer finely manicured lawns, fountains, statues and numerous well placed benches for a well-deserved rest.
The Luxembourg Gardens are located in the 6th arrondissement or district and were created by Marie de Medici in 1612. The gardens cover twenty three acres and are just a short walk from the Pantheon. In addition to the large water basin where children can be seen sailing their model boats there are a number of fountains and statutes, a playground for the kids, a vintage carousel, the palace, the greenest grass in all of France and the most beautiful flower gardens.
The Tuileries Gardens are very similar to the Luxembourg Gardens but they are located between the Place de la Concordia and the Louvre Museum.
These gardens were created by Catherine de Medicis in 1564 but they did not open to the public until 1667. The gateway to the gardens is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which sits just outside the Louvre. The Tuileries Gardens may be the most visited in all of Paris due to their proximity to the most famous museum in all of Paris. We thought it was just the perfect location for a picnic after visiting the Louvre and I highly recommend this.
This is probably the most touristy thing we did during our visit to Paris but while you’re here you will certainly want to experience the Champs-Elysees.
There’s really nothing in particular to see here other than the experience of strolling down one of the world’s most famous boulevards. If money is no object you might be tempted to shop in one the high end chic stores but for us it was simply about the experience. Interestingly there are a number of car dealerships on the Champs and it was great fun to peek inside and take a look at the latest French autos.
For you fans of the Tour de France imagine what the scene must be like on the last day of the Tour as the riders enter Paris and make their six laps up and down the Champs-Elysees on those cobble-stones.
7. Montmarte and Sacre-Couer
There are plenty of reasons to spend a day in Montmarte. In addition to the beautiful Sacre-Couer Basilica this is definitely the artsy, happening section of Paris.
The Basilica of Sacre-Coeur was completed in 1914 and sits on the highest point in Paris atop the butte Montmarte. Its white travertine stone makes it visible from almost anywhere in Paris. While the cathedral is certainly stunning, Montmarte is a great area of Paris to roam the backstreets, watch the outdoor artists in action, or purchase some artwork. Montmarte really gives the vibe of a village with narrow alleys, an abundance of art shops and corner cafes. While here be sure to find your way to the Montmarte Cemetery and of course the Moulon Rouge.
8. Day Trip to Monet's Home and Gardens
I know this isn't technically in Paris and it might sound like a lot of work but in actuality it’s an easy day-trip from Paris to Giverny to see the home and gardens of Claude Monet. From the Gare Saint Lazare train station it’s about a 50 minute train ride followed by a 15 minute shuttle bus to Giverny.
What Claude Monet created here, especially with regard to his gardens is truly amazing. The famous impressionist painter spent over forty years of his life in Giverny and his gardens were certainly the inspiration for many of his masterpieces.
If you are looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of Paris consider a trip out to Monet’s Home and Gardens. Giverny is a quaint French Village located just 75 kilometers northwest of Paris and it really hasn’t changed much since Monet called it home. For a detailed look at our day-trip to Giverny you may want to read my article on how we did it: A Paris Day Trip to Giverny to Visit Monet's Home and Gardens.
9. Ride the River Seine
This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Paris and I highly recommend this for any first time visitor. Seeing Paris from the River Seine gives you a rather unique perspective and seeing it at night all lite up is very impressive.
We used the BatoBus pass, although there are plenty of operators, and decided to do a complete roundtrip circuit and a half before getting off at the Eiffel tower. By doing this you see everything at least twice and you see it going and coming in both directions
We opted to hop aboard about an hour before sunset and we were fortunate to see Paris during a beautiful evening. By time we disembarked it was dark and the Eiffel tower was lite up in all its glory. For a great way to see Paris from a different point of view and to get off your feet for a few hours hop aboard one of the many river boats for a trip on the River Seine.
10. Dine at Bistro Le Coin
Every great city has to have some connection to food and Paris is no different. Once we discovered Bistro Le Coin we were hooked and if you find yourself in the 8th arrondissement not far from the Villiers Metro Station by all means stop in. Le Coin caters to the local crowd but also the lucky tourist who happens upon their bistro, which is located on the corner of Rue du Rocher and Rue Larribe. There are no fancy menus here, just the daily cuisine posted up on the chalk board. Owners Thierry and Edith will make you feel at home in this authentic French bistro with a fun and casual setting.
Having spent six nights in Paris we knew we would not get to everything on our wish list and the one item that will be at the top of our list next time we make it to Paris will certainly be the Musee d’Orsay. There are many wonderful Museums in Paris and we felt we just could not leave without seeing the Louvre and unfortunately we did not have time to make it to the d’Orsay. But, it is good to always have a reason to return to a great city such as Paris and we certainly have many reasons to return someday. I hope you found this mini tour of Paris helpful in planning your own trip.
Au Revoir for now.
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© 2014 Bill De Giulio