As Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Paris is gigantic, with thousands of years of history. It would take a lifetime to visit all of Paris. It can be overwhelming for most people.
1. Go museum hopping
The Louvre might get most of the attention, but there are plenty of other great museums in the city. Make sure you especially check out the Musee D’Orsay for great impressionist work, the amazing Rodin museum, Holocaust museum (one of the best in the world), Musee D’Orangerie (more impressionist work), and the interesting sewer museum to start. There are so many museums in the city that you won’t run out of something to see! A museum pass is the most affordable way to do this. A two-day pass costs €48 ($53 USD), a four-day pass costs €62 ($69 USD), and a six-day pass costs €74 ($82 USD).
2. Walk the Champs Elysees
This is a very prestigious avenue in Paris with cinemas, cafes, luxury specialty shops. It’s also one of the most famous streets in the world, running down from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre. It is always busy and always expensive, but it’s a great place to club hop at night or snap photos during the day. Come in the very early morning to see the place utterly deserted. It makes for great photos.
3. Visit the Panthéon
Located in the Latin Quarter, this neoclassical building was originally built as a church but was turned into a state burial site for France’s heroes, like Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille, and Voltaire. The scale of the building is impressive — after all, it the peristyle was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. Admission is €9 ($10 USD).
4. Relax in Jardin Du Luxembourg
The Jardin du Luxembourg is the largest public park in Paris. The garden contains just over a hundred statues, monuments, and fountains, all scattered throughout the grounds. In the morning, you’ll see lots of runners. At lunch on a nice day, a park full of people having a picnic (which is something I highly recommend you do!).
5. View the city from Montemartre
Home to starving artists for decades, Montmartre offers a stunning view of Paris, arty cafés and bars, cobblestone streets, and the only winery within the city limits (Vignes du Clos Montmartre). It’s one of the hipper parts of Paris, even if it has lost some of its old grandeur. It’s great for those wanting to visit the hangout spots of folks like Hemingway and Gertrude Stein!
6. Visit Notre Dame
Paris’s Gothic masterpiece was constructed between 1163-1334. Climb from the north tower to the south to appreciate the masonry, and get a close-up view of the Gallery of Chimeras, the fantastic birds and beasts gazing over the balustrade. The outside facade has been cleaned up in recent years but the inside has a bit of that old Gothic grimy charm. To climb the tower, it costs €10 ($11 USD). It’s open 10am-5:30pm every day with the exception of some holidays (and it’s open an hour later during the summer). NOTE: Notre Dame is currently closed due to the 2019 fire.
7. Stand under the Arc De Triomphe
This monument stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle and is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris. For €8 ($9 USD), visitors can climb 284 steps to reach the top of the Arc where they will get information about the city’s history, as well as some panoramic views. It’s one of my favorite spots to see the city.
8. Celebrate Bastille Day
Every July 14th, a series of spectacular events in Paris celebrates the infamous storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. There’s a huge, televised parade and a never-ending fireworks display (head to Champ de Mars or the Jardins du Trocadéro for the best views of it all). This is French independence day and one of the liveliest days in the country.
9. Experience the Cinema en Plein Air
Every July and August, Paris rolls out the inflatable screen in the Parc de la Villete for this major outdoor cinema event in the 9th arrondissement. It’s hugely popular with locals who tend to bring food and wine! Better yet, it’s free!
10. Visit Maison du Victor Hugo
This beautiful apartment dates to 1605. Its most famous resident was the writer Victor Hugo (author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), who moved here when he was 30. His old apartment is now a museum dedicated to his life and writing. The museum is quite small, but Hugo lovers (like me) will find it very interesting. Open daily except for Mondays from 10am-6pm and it’s free. NOTE: At the time of writing this, the building has been closed for renovations.
11. Climb through the Paris Catacombs
Underneath the city of Paris, you’ll find a honeycomb of tunnels. The French resistance used these tunnels during World War II, and rave parties flourished there during the 90s. Within this maze of tunnels, lie the famous Catacombs of Paris. Here you can visit the tunnels and see the old burial sites of the city. It’s one of the freakiest and coolest sites in Paris, oftentimes missed by tourists. They’re open daily 10am-8:30pm except for Mondays. Guided tours start from €72 ($80 USD), but you can do audio guide tours from €40 ($44 USD).
12. Dance the night away
Whether it’s modern clubs you like or classic jazz joints, you shouldn’t leave Paris without tasting the music that attracted some of the best musicians and artists to the city. There is an especially abundant amount of good jazz clubs in the city.
13. Walk amongst the tombstones
The Pere-Lachaise Graveyard is Paris’ most famous cemetery. It’s a peaceful and hauntingly-beautiful area worth exploring. If you look closely you’ll be able to spot the graves of a handful of famous people (Jim Morrison, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde are all buried here.)
14. Visit the Mémorial de la Shoah
Despite having an excellent exhibit on France, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust, the Mémorial de la Shoah never draws a lot of people. It’s a real shame, as the information and collection here is really great and in-depth. I’ve been to many Holocaust museums, and this is one of the best and most detailed in the world. I highly recommend it.
15. Take a walking tour
There are dozens upon dozens of companies covering all aspects of life in Paris, and it can be hard to make a sense of all those endless Viator and Tripadvisor listings. Some are free like New Europe’s tour where they’ll take you around the center of Paris and give you a historical overview of the city. Walks offer amazing in-depth tours starting from about €55 ($61 USD) where you’ll get specialized guides and skip the line to big attractions, like the Louvre.
16. Take a food tour
You’re in France, you’ve got to appreciate the food! Paris by Mouth is a company that offers a handful of neighborhood tours highlighting the best food in Paris. The groups are kept small (no more than eight people) and they are really focused on providing a lot of information on food, history, and culture. It’s like a mini-class more than it is a chance to just eat food (though you do that too). They even have a workshop just for cheese. Tours are from €110 ($122 USD).