Top things to see and do in Paris

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Ruby Boukabou checks in from the fabulous French capital...

Things to see and do in Paris

Top things to see and do in Paris

Top things to see and do in Paris


Don’t make the mistake of feeling you must tick off every museum and historic site when visiting Paris.

Following your nose, buying flowers, enjoying great bread, wine and cheese at a cute café in your ‘quartier’ can be just as rewarding as gallivanting about the city. And don’t let a snotty waiter in central Paris put you off. Give him your biggest smile and just enjoy the magic of the French capital. 

Here’s a city guide to the top things to see and do in Paris.

Things to see and do in Paris

Things to see and do in Paris: The Eiffel Tower is one of the city’s icons. Avoid the queues by pre-booking your tickets online. Image: Ruby Boukabou

History

A practical way to get your historical and geographical bearings is to visit Notre-Dame Cathedral in the centre of town. Just behind it is the famous English bookshop Shakespeare & Company. Once an intellectual hub in the Latin Quarter for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, the shop has a bunch of great books on the history of Paris.

Pick one to suit your taste covering the history of Parisian food, love, language, race or perhaps the complex relationship with the much-maligned British.

Then cross the road to the bouquinistes, the second-hand book sellers on the banks of the Seine. You can pick up tales of times past and Belle Epoque post cards and posters as souvenirs.

Paris self guided walking tour: Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame

Things to see and do in Paris

Things to see and do in Paris: Explore the city’s history in print by browsing the bouquinistes book stands. Image: Sourced

Food

Nowhere in the world beats Parisian croissants. Dunked in milky coffee (café crème), it’s the best way to start the day. Then head straight to the markets. Every day of the week fresh food markets are set up on various street corners across the city and the atmosphere is convivial and very local.

Tuesday to Sunday you can visit the Marché des Enfants Rouge, the oldest covered market in Paris, located in the 3rd arrondissement. Buy flowers and fruit, gawk at the gigantic cheeses and try some street food. Perhaps Lebanese sandwiches, Indian snacks or mahjouba – succulent Algerian crepes.

As for French-style crepes, they’re best simply with cheese and ham, munched on the move in the back streets of Montmartre or among the restaurants by Gaumont Cinema near Montparnasse.

Things to see and do in Paris

Things to see and do in Paris: Bouillon Chartier is one of the city’s best loved eateries. Image courtesy of Bouillon Chartier

For a gastronomical experience you have much to choose from, including Le Grand Vefour and La CoupoleLe Bachaumont is the city’s latest dining hotspot, offering simple French classics in a beautifully restored heritage hotel dining room, while Bouillon Chartier has been a much-loved fixture of the Parisian dining scene since 1896 and is a must for first-visitors to the city.

Leave room for dessert, perhaps an ice-cream while strolling on Ile Saint-Louis, or cheese and vin rouge in Le Marais. Try the fabulous Frenchie wine bar (opposite the restaurant of the same name).

Parisian taste: A guide to the best places to eat in Paris

Culture

For cultural things to see and do in Paris you are absolutely spoilt for choice. Theatre; opera; music; dance; literature; fine art; photography; whatever your passion, you’ll find it in this city.

Feeling majestic? Dress up for the iconic Paris Opéra in Bastille or perhaps catch a show at Folies Bergere in the 9th.

Culture vultures, while away the afternoon in centuries past at the Louvre, Musée Marmottan Monet, Museé d’Orsay or Musée du quai Branly.

Things to see and do in Paris

Things to see and do in Paris: The Musée Rodin celebrates the life and work of the great French sculptor. Image: Bigstock

If the weather is appropriate, track out to the 20th to Père Lachaise cemetery to pay homage to Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Beethoven, Chopin, Proust and Marcel Marceau.

Back up to Belleville and enjoy the street art and graffiti on rue Dénoyez.

Ten ways to experience Paris like a local

Things to see and do in Paris

Things to see and do in Paris: Experience legendary Parisian cabaret at the world-famous Moulin Rouge. Image: Ruby Boukabou

Shopping

If boutique shopping is your thing, head directly to Le Marais in the 3rd. Rue de Turenne, Rue Charlot and Rue Vieille du Temple have a tonne of funky and fun shops for perfumes, clothing and homewares.

For classic, elegant and chic, the 1st and 2nd arrondissements have all the top labels. Rue St-Honoré is the place for designer perfumes.

Things to see and do in Paris

Things to see and do in Paris: Go window shopping along the legendary Champs Elysees during your visit. Image: Bigstock

For more unique treasures, head to the huge flea market Marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen (just watch your bag).

And on the way back through the multicultural 10th, treat yourself to a manicure for perfect nails for the rest of your trip. There are many choices but Vietnamese Chez Hélène is my personal favourite!

Relaxation

There’s no shortage of relaxing things to see and do in Paris. Parisians are fond of the after work apéro: a kir (white wine with syrup), a ‘demi’ of beer or simply a Perrier (the champagne of sparking mineral water, with a slice of lemon), served on the ‘terrace’ of almost any street café. Sit back, relax and watch the world go by.

Things to see and do in Paris

Things to see and do in Paris: Enjoy the city’s amazing cafe culture. Image: Julien Thonnard

Paris’ many public gardens and parks are perfect for reading your new history book, while simply wandering the streets is also a great way to unwind. There really is something new to discover around every corner. You can just get lost until you’re tired, then find the next Metro station and head for home.

Try my Paris self-guided walking tours: Sights and SeineTower Territory and Belleville Discovery. The latter two will introduce you to some charming residential areas that most tourists miss.

Five of the best day trips from Paris

Do you have any tips for top things to see and do in Paris? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.

Additional images: Bigstock

 

About the writer

Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food reporter based between Europe and Australia. Ruby has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing – and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew – which produces the monthly Paris Tap Jam. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project – which records and performs in Paris and beyond.

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