It’s no wonder that Paris is one of the most visited cities on the planet. Between its legendary museums, mouth-watering cuisine, and ambient charm, the city has plenty to enjoy for visitors and residents alike. In fact, that the choice of things to do can be overwhelming! Even with a long stay, it can be difficult to see everything, so we’ve put together a list of the 20 things you simply have to see and do in Paris. See if you can do them all before the end of your stay!
1. Buy a book from a bouquiniste
Bouquinistes, or antique book dealers, are a rain-or-shine fixture on Paris’s riverside quays and add an intellectual air to Paris’s flagstones. With their old-fashioned wooden stalls and carefully hand-stacked assortments of books, pamphlets, postcards, and more, the booksellers are a bibliophile’s delight! They can also be a useful source for last-minute souvenirs.
2. Observe the view from the roof of the Centre Pompidou
The Centre Georges Pompidou was once controversial, but is now the beloved home of France’s National Museum of Modern Art. The Centre is named for the Fifth French Republic’s second president, but is known to locals as Beaubourg. The large building hosts a movie theater, a public library, and a café in addition to the museum (all of them are great rainy day options!). However, the real gem is the view from the roof: an unparalleled vista of the Left Bank and River Seine (and a great place to watch the sunset).
3. Go to a Sunday morning market
If there’s one realm that the French still dominate, it’s haute cuisine. No place is this more true than at the bustling street markets that enliven the city’s squares and boulevards on lazy Sunday mornings, as they have for centuries. Be sure to wake up early to get the prime selection of the city’s produce, meats, cheeses, and more from one of the traditional markets in Paris.
4. Sip mint tea at the Grande Mosquée de Paris
Like any global city, Paris is a cosmopolitan hub for all things international. One thing that visitors may not know about France is that it’s home to Europe’s largest minority population of Muslims. A long history of communication and exchange with the Arab World has left a significant cultural impact on France. Taste for yourself at the Grande Mosquée de Paris, France’s oldest mosque, where the Moroccan mint tea is legendary!
5. Stay out for a nuit blanche
While Paris is not exactly the “city that never sleeps”–the French are generally more morning people–there is a certain charm to pulling an all-nighter (or nuit blanche [white night] in French) in the City of Lights. Plan your trip around one of Paris’s top yearly events and you can have a night to remember! Bars might close early, but clubs can stay open until the métro starts back up at 5:00 a.m. after its nightly rest. Finish the evening with a morning train home, and you can consider yourself a true Parisien!
6. Share a bottle of wine on the quays of the Seine
No place epitomizes the romance and mystery of Paris quite like the cobbled quays that line the Seine River. Offset from street level by imposing stone steps, the water’s edge feels a world away from the rest of the city. Enjoy a bottle of wine by the Seine and you can make a quintessential Paris memory that will last a lifetime!
7. Take a bateau mouche
Sometimes it pays to experience the tourist essentials in Paris instead of just living like a local. If you feel like indulging in a paid tour, make it an educational one with a ride on one of Paris’s famed Seine tour boats, the bateaux mouches. Even a seasoned Francophile might learn a few things about the city! The boats are also a great option for a romantic Paris activity.
8. Spend an afternoon reading in the Jardin du Luxembourg
While most of Paris is inarguably picturesque, the tree-lined paths, geometrical gardens, and reflecting pools of the Jardin du Luxembourg in the Latin Quarter are straight out of a postcard! Unlike the royal gardens of centuries past, you can enjoy this top Paris park on a personal level. Curl up with a good book—or a good friend—by the pond in front of the Palais de Luxembourg and watch the afternoon fly by. There’s no better way to relax in Paris!
9. Stand in line for the Musée d’Orsay
Paris’s museums are a feat of endurance during most of the year, with kilometer-long lines, large tour groups, and any number of inconveniences to make the passage inside even more rewarding. Surviving the ordeal and making your way into the Musée d’Orsay, one of our must-see Paris sites, is a rite of passage for a visitor to Paris. We promise the world-class art inside is well worth the wait!
10. Skip the line at the Louvre
Perhaps the single most vital bullet point on any tourist’s list is the Musée du Louvre, which has to be experienced to be understood. A favorite trick for Paris visitors to avoid the crush of art-lovers at the door is to enter the museum not through the main pyramidal entrance in the Cour Napoléon, but through the underground mall, Carousel du Louvre, where visitors tend to be more interested in the Apple store than museum passes.
11. Find the perfect fresh baguette from a boulangerie
Unlike most French wines, a good baguette does not get better with age. On the contrary, a true baguette will already be getting stale within an hour of leaving the oven. This is why it’s of the utmost importance to stake out your preferred boulangerie (consider one from our list of the best bakeries in Paris), learn the baguette-baking schedule, and get in line for a still-warm, crusty-yet-soft-on-the-inside taste of heaven when the time is right.
12. Get dim sum in Belleville
Like any self-respecting globalized city, Paris has a Chinatown–in fact, it has two! The more trendy of the pair is found in the working-class 20th Arrondissement’s vibrant Belleville neighborhood, where many recent arrivals to France have made their homes for centuries. Get your Sunday morning brunch fix at a dim sum house instead of a boulangerie, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the variety of dishes available!
13. Buy a vélib’ membership
While an ambitious tourist might consider Paris a walkable city (it’s only five miles across), the best way to get to know the city is on a Vélib’, the public bike share system that revolutionized Paris transport from 2007 onwards. Considering that an annual membership is a mere €37.20 (as of March 2019), the purchase pays for itself in no time! Stations are located an average of 100 meters apart, so the convenience of Vélib’ even beats the metro.
14. Take the funicular up Montmartre and take the stairs down
Paris and the surrounding region are famously flat, as one trip up the Eiffel Tower or Tour Montparnasse can show you. One of just a few hills in this simple topography is Montmartre, home to Salvador Dalí, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and the Moulin Rouge. Crowning the neighborhood’s geography is the Sacré Coeur Basilica, a marble masterpiece from the 19th century that merits a visit if you can handle the steep stone steps up the hill. Here’s a shortcut to save energy for more Paris exploring: the funicular railway is a free transfer from the metro, easy on the way up, but slower than walking on the way down!
15. Sit in for Mass at Notre Dame
Most visitors to Notre Dame Cathedral at the heart of Paris admire the statuary on the church’s porticos without ever going inside. Don’t make that mistake– the rose window is even more beautiful from the inside! There’s no better time to experience the church’s interior than during a mass, particularly during the holiday season.
16. Have a picnic on the Champ de Mars
Once used as a military parade ground (hence the Field of Mars moniker), the Champ de Mars is now one of Paris’s most peaceful parks. Make use of the green expanse on a sunny afternoon by setting up a spot with good friends and good wine and having yourself a picnic!
17. Explore the Bois de Boulogne
Though technically outside its borders, Paris’s second-largest park is in many ways a microcosm of the city itself. Once known as a lascivious cruising ground and then a bourgeois playground, the park is now lovingly nicknamed the Central Park of Paris. It’s easy to lose yourself in the 845 acres of paths, fields, lakes, and more that fill the space. Take a full day to explore and enjoy the fresh air!
18. Drink an espresso on an outdoor terrasse
A quintessential part of any Paris stay, café terraces are as convenient as they are iconic. Take the time to sit and enjoy your espresso or cappuccino at one of Paris’s top cafés and you’ll see that there’s a reason why they’re so popular beyond their photogenic appeal. According to Paris custom, you shouldn’t feel rushed while enjoying your beverage (no matter how the waiter makes you feel).
19. Visit all 20 arrondissements
Paris’s administrative divisions, or arrondissements, have a different sort of charm than the boroughs of London or New York. At least part of this cachet comes from their delightful snail-like orientation that swirls out from the 1st Arrondissement at the Louvre in central Paris to the 20th at the city’s eastern periphery in Belleville. This spiral shape might make it hard to check off the numbers in chronological order, but make sure you take at least a few steps in each of the 20 arrondissements to have a complete Paris experience!
20. Get the perfect souvenir
Paris isn’t known as a global capital of fashion for nothing! From haute couture to centuries-old antique shops, there is no shortage of options for gift-shopping. Avoid the last-minute airport gift stores and take a trip to Galeries Lafayette, Paris’s most famous department store, or any number of other retail destinations to find the perfect souvenir for your trip.
Now that you’ve got your itinerary for a stay in Paris, all you need is a unique vacation rental. Whether you’re looking for a courtyard studette, a chambre de bonne with slanted roof, or a palatial apartment in a bâtiment haussmannien, we’ve got you covered with our fully-furnished apartment listings.