One of the best things about Paris is the sheer number of things there are to see and do—and, of course, eat! Our most recent trip to Paris was our second time to the magical City of Lights. This time around, we did a ton of research prior to our arrival in an effort to discover the best off-the-beaten-path restaurants, activities, shopping and attractions. We also wanted to leave time to re-discover a handful of quintessential Parisian landmarks.
We didn’t have time to check everything off our Paris bucket list—with fifty things to do in just six days, we would have driven ourselves crazy if we tried. But even though we didn’t test out everything firsthand, we still wanted to make sure our hours of research went to good use. After all, who knows when we’ll be back in Paris!
So here you have the fruits of our labor: 50 Cool Things to Do in Paris. We’ve organized the list into four categories: Iconic Attractions, Entertainment, Wining and Dining, and Shopping. Whether it’s your first or your fiftieth visit to Paris, you’re bound to discover a new, useful or inspiring idea below!
1. The Eiffel Tower
Let’s start with the obvious. Love it or hate it, no trip to Paris is complete without a visit to this iconic Parisian landmark. It will cost you €15.00 and countless hours of your day to take the elevator to the top. Instead, consider purchasing a ‘skip the line’ ticket, or just enjoy the Eiffel Tower from its base.
2. Palais Garnier
Take a visit to this opulent opera house to view the grand staircase and auditorium bedecked in marble and gold leaf. Be sure to look up at the ceiling and spectacular chandelier. Though the setting for Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, you likely won’t find any masked men haunting the stage; today the Palais Garnier is primarily used for the ballet.
3. Canal St. Martin
Escape the crowds with a visit to the quaint Canal St. Martin. Take a leisurely boat ride or just enjoy the walkway. On a sunny day you’ll have plenty of locals to keep you company.
4. Notre Dame
This historic cathedral dating back to 1163 is more than just the home of Quasimodo—it’s also considered to be one of the best examples of French gothic architecture. Marvel at the gargoyles and then climb the towers for a great view over the city.
5. Take a Seine River Cruise
Discover Paris from the Seine River on a bateau mouche, or open-air excursion boat. The tours operate during the day or at night, and are an inexpensive way to familiarize yourself with the city and snap some great photos.
6. Climb the Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is a monument in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte and a symbol of Parisian victory. If you do any ‘climb to the top to see the view’ excursions, make it the climb to the Arc’s panoramic viewing terrace. From here you can not only enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower, but also admire Paris’ broad boulevards and geometric urban plan.
7. Museo de Cluny
Many visitors to Paris often forget about the city’s Roman past. Visit the Museo de Cluny to see the Gallo-Roman baths, believed to date back to the 3rd century. A stop at this museum also makes a great excuse to get out and explore the Latin Quarter.
This famous avenue leading up to the Arc de Triomphe is worth a stroll, especially if you go for a visit at dusk. With its throngs of tourists and high-end retailers, it’s not the most charming part of Paris, but it’s still worth a walk and some people watching.
9. Sacré-Cœur Basilica
This Roman Catholic Church is perfectly perched on the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in the city. The sheer size of the Basilica is truly amazing, as are the views of Paris from the top of the hill.
10. Centre Pompidou
Most Parisians seem to think the Pompidou is a monstrosity on the eyes; it only takes one glimpse of the art museum to understand why. Its exterior ducts and escalators sort of resemble a plumbing system, and are an attraction on their own.
11. Palace of Versailles
Wander the grounds around the royal chateau, and take a tour of the court that was once the center of political power in France. It’s impossible to miss luxurious Hall of Mirrors, where King Louis XIV not only entertained his guests but also intimidated them—a guest’s every move was reflected hundreds of times across the hall. Notably, it was also in the Hall of Mirrors where the Treaty of Versailles was signed. For the full experience, take a VIP Tour.
Visit this chapel to see the intricate stained glass collections; watching the light play through the massive windows is truly a sight to behold. Though not as famous, many people consider Sainte-Chapelle to be more beautiful than Notre Dame.
13. The Louvre
Even if you’re not an ‘art person’, don’t rush your visit through the Louvre. It’s one of the most important museums in the world, with a collection of over 1 million works of art. Do a bit of research or pay extra for an audio guide so you know what it is you’re looking at—you’ll appreciate the museum much more. We used our Paris Pass to skip all the lines, which was kind of fantastic.
14. Hotel des Invalides
This complex of buildings was once a hospital and retirement home for war veterans. Today, most tourists visit to view the burial site of Napolean Bonaparte, though if you’re a history or war buff you’ll find plenty else to entertain.
15. The Paris Catacombs
For a slightly creepy addition to any romantic getaway, take a visit to the Paris Catacombs. The catacombs are a 170-mile network of caves, tunnels and quarries beneath the city, filled with the skulls and bones of nearly 6 million deceased.
Always travel with Travel Insurance. Unfortunately on our trip to Paris, our super expensive DSLR camera was stolen. Luckily our travel insurance helped us to cover some of the replacement costs. You never know what could happen! We always use World Nomads as our travel insurance provider.
16. See a Cabaret
There are multiple cabaret experiences to be had in Paris, most notably the Lido, the Crazy Horse and the Moulin Rouge. We opted to see the latter as it is the most historically French (though nowadays you won’t see many Parisians there). Full blog post here.
17. Catch a Film at Le Louxor Cinema
This historic cinema dates back to 1921, but it was only recently refurbished and re-opened to the public in late 2013. Le Louxor hosts a range of films, with early premiers, cinema workshops, children’s seances, concerts and local cine-club.
18. How to Become a Parisian in One Hour
In this one-man English comedy show, learn how Parisians view the tourists who come to their city. The show has smashing reviews and is on the top of our list if we ever return to Paris.
19. Look for Free Events
Paris certainly isn’t one of the cheapest cities in the world. Luckily, there are always a variety of free events going on, especially during the summer months. Entertainment ranges from concerts to photo exhibits to festivals. This events calendar for 2014 is a good starting point.
20. Cookin’ With Class
I learned how to make macarons, but if you’re not up for the labor (making these little babies is intense) then there are numerous other cooking classes available. This unique French experience was a highlight of our trip to Paris. Full blog post here.
21. Get Lost
Choose one of Paris’ neighborhoods and just get lost. This is where you’ll stumble upon quintessential Paris.
22. Revel in Hemingway’s Footsteps
If you’re a Hemmingway aficionado, consider using your Paris vacation to revisit some of the his favorite spots, including where Hemmingway mingled with the greatest artists of his time and found inspiration for A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises. A Guide to Hemingway’s Paris will uncover the cafes, restaurants, and even hotels and landmarks immortalized by the author.
23. Take a Food Tour
Enhance your knowledge of French food and wine with a personalized walking tour through one of Paris’ most romantic neighborhoods, Montmartre. Full blog post here.
24. Stroll Les Grands Boulevards
In Belle Époque Paris, the Grands Boulevards were the place to see and be seen. While they have lost a bit of their splendor with the advent of chain stores and fast food chains, the Boulevards are where you’ll find the Palais Garnier (listed above) and some of the best shopping in Paris (listed below).
25. Meander Ile St.-Louis
Spend an afternoon exploring this natural island in the Seine, easily accessible and connected to the rest of Paris by four bridges. Don’t miss a stop at the luxury ice cream shop Berthillon, considered by many to be the best ice cream in all of Paris.
26. Embrace Your Inner Child at the Funfair Museum
This off-beat museum boasts a variety of amusement park memorabilia dating from 1850-1950, including rides, carousels, merry-go-rounds, swings and more. Definitely not your everyday museum!
27. Go Clubbing at Showcase
Dance the night away at this popular nightclub under the Pont Alexandre III Bridge, once a former boat hangar. It’s not a cheap night out, but it’s also the kind of place you’ll only find in Paris.
Wining and Dining
28. Take a Wine Tour
There are numerous day trips that operate out of Paris, taking guests to small villages with local wineries and vineyards. If you don’t have time for a full tour, opt for a tasting at O Chateau instead.
29. Wine Hunt at Caves Auge
This wine shop is allegedly the oldest in all of Paris. The charming cave is absolutely packed with bottle after bottle of wine, so whether you know exactly what you want or you’re just in to browse, you’re bound to find something to suit your palate.
30. Take a Day Trip to Champagne
I never realized just how close Champagne is to Paris (only 45 minutes on the TGV). In my opinion, few things are better than a day spent hopping around the renowned Champagne Houses. We opted to sample the bubbly at Veuve Clicquot, Pommery and Lanson, for no reason other than they were convenient and could take us on a whim.
31. Purchase Goodies at a French Market
One of the best markets in Paris is the Bastille Market, also known as the Richard Lenoir Market, open Thursdays and Sundays. The market features excellent vendors of fish, cheese, and meats, but all varieties of foods are on offer, including Middle-Eastern, Spanish, and more. Alternatively, the President Wilson Market (open on Wednesdays and Saturdays) is a good option.
32. Splurge on Fine Dining
Some of the world’s best restaurants are in Paris. This article listing ten of the best authentic French bistros and restaurants in the city had us absolutely drooling, though we never got around to trying any of them for ourselves.
33. Eat Croissants
You are in Paris, after all. Pick any boulangerie you pass and try not to think about the major diet you’ll need to go on later.
34. Have a Picnic
Paris is known for its large number of elegant parks and gardens. Visit one of the markets listed in the guide to pick up fresh local goods to take along. Not sure where to go on your picnic? Try starting at the lovely Place de Vosges.
35. Attend a Supper Club
If you’re looking for an intimate dining experience, try one of Paris’ Supper Clubs. The most renowned is likely Jim Haynes’; he has run a Sunday dinner party for the past 30 years. The dinners attract around 60 people, making this a great place to mingle.
36. Dine at L’Ardoise
We ended our Paris trip with dinner at this small French restaurant on the recommendation of the concierge at the Hyatt. It’s not all that fancy, but what this authentic brasserie lacks in décor it makes up for with deliciousness. Reservations strongly recommended.
37. Foodie Shopping at G Detou
If you know your way around a kitchen, take a visit to G. Detou to stock up on anything a cook or baker could ever need. It also makes the perfect place to pick up a few souvenirs for the foodie in your life.
38. Taste Test Macarons
The two most famous macaron shops are Laduree and Pierre Herme. Laduree is famed for selling the original macaron, and is named after the grandfather of French macaron inventor Desfontaines. Pierre Herme is known for his innovative flavors like chocolate foie gras and strawberry wasabi. Try them both to choose your favorite.
39. Vintage Shopping in the Marais
The Marais is one of my favorite areas of Paris, right after Montmartre. There are loads of great one-of-a-kind, vintage shops in the area, but you have to keep your eyes open for them. While you’re wandering, be sure to visit the République, Oberkampf and Hôtel de Ville
40. Rue de Rivoli
Rue de Rivoli is one of the longest streets in Paris. It starts near Saint Paul, runs along the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre, and goes all the way to the Hotel de Ville. There are too many shops here to count, with everything from crappy souvenirs to bohemian boutiques to high-end designer shops.
41. Bercy Village
This restored warehouse village doesn’t have the best shopping in Paris, but it is a cute outdoor strip mall and off the beaten path location to do some window shopping.
42. Jewelry Shop at Place Vendome
We only passed by the jewelry shops because we were staying at The Hyatt, just steps away from Place Vendome. But if you happen to have the money and an itch to buy outrageously expensive jewelry, this is the place for you.
43. Hunt for Art
Most tourists (myself included) pick up an inexpensive piece of artwork along the Seine River or the Place du Tertre (Artist’s Square). Alternatively, visit any number of small affordable art galleries in the city to purchase an authentic, original painting.
44. Get Lost in a Bookshop
We its plethora of bookshops and literary history, Paris is one of the best places in the world for a bookish escape. La Belle Hortense tops our list of favorite bookshops—the walls are lined with books and bottles, meaning you can find inspiration leafing through a novel while simultaneously sipping a glass of vino.
45. Galeries Lafayette
Whether you’re up for shopping or not, visit this upscale French department store to view the stained glass dome ceiling—the lavishness is so worth it.
46. Gourmet Food Shopping on Rue Rambuteau
We debated with putting this item on the ‘Wining and Dining’ section, but ultimately it ended up here, as there is a plenty of other shopping on and around this popular street. However, the main reason to visit the market street of Rambuteau is for a visit to a few of its gourmet food shops. There are also a great variety of restaurants if you’re shopping on an empty stomach.
47. Hidden Shopping Passages
Paris boasts numerous hidden passages across the city. Galerie Viviene is one of the most chic, with expensive boutique shops, elegant restaurants, well preserved architecture and a fantastic vibe.
48. The Palais-Royal
If you’re looking for cutting edge designer shops like Marc Jacobs, Pierre Hardy or Corto Moltedo, then visit the Palais-Royal. While window-shopping, enjoy the 17th century arcades, the Palais-Royal Gardens and learn about the history of the palace and grounds.
49. Saxe Breteuil Market
Visit this large-scale, open-air market on Thursdays and Saturdays for a great variety of high-quality food, including meats, chesses, fish and vegetables. There’s also clothing, jewelry, linen and a few other odds and ends for sale.
50.The St-Ouen Flea Market
If you’re a big bargain hunter, a visit to one of Europe’s largest flea markets is a must. St-Ouen Market has over 2,500 stalls divided into 14 specialty groups. You’ll need plenty of time and patience to devote to this market if you want to find something truly worthwhile.
For our trip to Paris, the Paris Tourism Board gave us complimentary Paris City Passports. These City Passports gave us free access to a number of Parisian attractions, the metro, and the Seine River Cruise. Perhaps even better, we also got to skip the long lines at many of the attractions. If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing in Paris, or you just don’t want to waste valuable time standing in line, then we highly recommend purchasing a Paris City Passport for convenient and efficient savings.
Our trip to Paris was only possible because of 4 weeks of FREE accommodation we scored in France. To learn more about how we did it and you can too don’t miss this post: House Sitting In The South Of France – What It’s Really Like.
Have you been to Paris? Anything to add to our bucket list? Anything on this list that caught your eye?
Did you enjoy this post? Then you’ll LOVE our newest addition to the series, 50 Cool Things To Do In NYC!
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