Visiting the City of Light for the first time can feel a little overwhelming.  Unless you plan to stay for the better part of a year, you know that it will be impossible to see everything.  But of all the wondrous sights, sounds, aromas, and experiences that Paris has to offer, what should you focus on for your first trip?  Here are our suggestions for the top five things to do on your first trip to Paris:

1.  Visit the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay.  These two art museums offer an incredible breadth of art history between them, in addition to being breathtaking examples of repurposed architecture.  The d’Orsay, which was once a railway station and still retains its Belle Epoque flair, is the smaller of the two museums and houses French artwork dating from 1848 to 1914.  The Louvre is, of course, the most famous museum in the world and displays over 35,000 pieces of artwork.

Neither of these wondrous museums can be seen in a day, so don’t feel the need to try.  Instead, plan a leisurely day for each, where you wander from exhibit to exhibit.  The Louvre in particular offers highlight tours so that you can see the “greatest hits” of the museum.  But no matter how you plan your stroll through these museums, you’ll certainly stumble across unexpected treasures.

Paris' Eiffel Tower and the Seine River
Paris' Eiffel Tower and the Seine River
2.  See the city from the Seine.  The Bateaux Mouches boat rides down the Seine are famous for a reason.  You get unparalleled views of the major sites of the city on a relaxing hour-long cruise.  The city is at its most beautiful at sunset, so try to plan your cruise for those early twilight hours.

3.  Tour a cathedral.  If your time is short, you might want to choose whether you visit the iconic Notre Dame cathedral on Île-de-la-Cité, or the elegant Sacré Coeur Basilica atop the hill of Montmartre.  In either case, you are in for a uniquely Parisian treat.  These architectural gems are still in use as churches, and one cannot help but feel awed at the faith that built them.  Whether you choose to see Notre Dame’s flying buttresses or Sacré Coeur’s domes, you will have an opportunity for an incredible view of the city.  You can climb to the top of Notre Dame’s towers for an up-close view of the gargoyles, as well as the panoramic view of Paris.  Sacré Coeur’s placement at the top of Montmartre means that a simple seat on its steps will give you an incredible look at the city below you.

4.  Ascend the Eiffel Tower.  Nearly 125 years ago, the Eiffel Tower was constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair.  Though many at the time felt that it was an ugly addition to the Parisian skyline, it has come to represent the modern elegance of Paris, France.  Going to the top of this iconic tower will give you an unforgettable view of the city that you will be talking about for years to come.

Millions visit the Eiffel Tower every year, so plan on visiting this icon early in the morning or after 6 p.m.—the evening view from the Tower is particularly gorgeous—in order to avoid the crowds, especially during the summer season.

5.  Lose yourself.  The best experiences in Paris are often the ones that entirely unplanned.  For one of your days in Paris, take a walk through the streets with your eyes and ears open.  Many of the joys of Paris are found in small moments: a little boy enjoying a tarte aux fraises on the street, flowers blooming in a roadside florist booth, the inviting aroma of a crêperie wafting down the avenue.  Giving yourself a day to simply wander through the streets with no particular purpose in mind is not only a very French way to spend your time, but it is also likely to provide you with your favorite memories of the city.

A bonus thing to do on your first trip to Paris?  Stay in a Paris apartment rental!  Not only will you get a taste of true Parisian living, but you’ll also stay in a gorgeous apartment that no hotel could hold a candle to.  Here are three great places to stay on that first trip:

You’ll find this charming 2 Bedroom Vacation Rental – Les Halles – Paris (PA-4057) not far from the Louvre.  The beautiful modern furnishings, built-in bookcases, hardwood floors, and light-filled rooms are all waiting for you!

This cozy 1 Bedroom Vacation Rental – Sevres Babylone – Paris (PA-4259) puts you close to the iconic Eiffel Tower.  Floor to ceiling windows stream sunlight throughout the book-filled living room.  You may have a hard time going home after staying here!

You’ll feel like a part of the city in this 2 Bedroom Vacation Rental – Montmartre – Paris (PA-2001), located near Sacré Coeur.  The plant-filled balcony looks out over the typical Parisian street.  Enjoy a cup of café on the balcony and watch the world go by.

What is your favorite memory of your first trip to Paris?