Our most recent visit marked the second time we had been to Paris. The first time, we only spent one night, and two days. Recently, we stayed for five days. It was important to both Scott and I to say that we had really been to Paris – that we had experienced it for long enough that we felt we understood Paris, and that we could leave feeling like we knew it, even just a little bit.
What can I say about Paris that hasn’t been said before?! Paris is romantic, beautiful and iconic, but it can also be gritty and edgy. Like any large city, Paris is multicultural, and it’s different neighbourhoods, called arrondissements, all boast different landmarks and personalities. That being said, what brings Paris together as one of the prettiest cities in the world is the architecture – the beautiful Parisian buildings that dominate every area of the city. To walk through Paris is like walking through a dream; admiring all that surrounds you, both new and old, is the simplest treat you can indulge in, with the next building being just as or more beautiful than the one before.
We didn’t have the best weather during our recent visit, but as we learned, Paris in the rain can be lovely too. As with all travel experiences and weather, we took what we could get, made the absolute best of it, and treasured the sun when it did decide to shine.
Here is my personal guide for what to see and do in Paris, France
Visit The Louvre & Musée d’Orsay Museums – Without a doubt, a visit to both The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay is absolutely necessary. Whether you’re an art-lover or not, and whether you’re an antiquities-admirier or not, you just have to go to see both these incredible buildings and all that they hold within them. If you only have time for one, start with The Louvre, as it’s the most iconic. If you have lots of time for museum visits, the Centre Pompidou, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais and Musée de Cluny are also great choices.
Take in the sights of the Eiffel Tower – No visit to Paris is complete without visiting the Eiffel Tower. You don’t need to ascend it though in order to see how beautiful it is. Just strolling around it’s base and surrounding area, preferably at night for a truly romantic experience, is enough to give you a magical ‘joie de vivre’ feeling. The Champ des Mars is also a great place to enjoy picnic eats and treats while marvelling at the tower in the sunshine. Be sure to also spend time exploring the surrounding 7th arrondissement of Paris, there are wonderful restaurants, shops and markets to be discovered.
La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris – I could stand gazing up at the Notre-Dame Cathedral all day and never tire of it. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I strongly recommend visiting inside, as well as climbing to the top to take in breathtaking sights of the whole of Paris. It’s an incredible experience, and you get to rub shoulders with the iconic Cathedral gargoyles. If you decide to climb – arrive early! The line gets long, and moves slowly.
Climb the Arc de Triomphe for incredible views of Paris. Its a lot of stairs, but if you’re able, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of Paris, with the the Eiffel Tower as your focal point, as well as incredible views down the Champs-Élysées. The Arc de Triomphe is a magnificent monument in itself though too. Be sure to spend time wandering around the base of it, in additional to climbing it. If you decide to hike to the top – arrive early!
From the Arc de Triomphe, stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées for some iconic Paris shopping. Remember to look back at the Arc de Triomphe, and forward to the Place de la Concorde. Once there, walk onward into the Jardin des Tuileries, the beautiful city park that stretches between the the Place de la Concorde and The Louvre museum. This is a great place for a rest or picnic around one of the two garden ponds, or a place to explore more art at the Musée de l’Orangerie.
Walk along the River Seine, criss-crossing across historic bridges like the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge, Pont Neuf (the oldest standing bridge in Paris) or Pont Alexandre III, taking in the classic sights lining the Seine as you go – it’s a wonderfully Parisian thing to do. Explore the Île de la Cité, the larger of the two natural islands in the Seine, and the site of the original medieval city of Paris. Must sees include La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, as mentioned above, the Sainte Chapelle chapel, with it’s incredibly beautiful stained glass windows and the Palais de Justice and Conciergerie. From the Île de la Cité, continue walking to the smaller of the two islands, the Île Saint-Louis. Plan to stroll along it’s banks, stop for a glass of wine or two at a classic Parisian bistro, and enjoy the best icecream in Paris at Berthillon.
For military history enthusiasts, Les Invalides, commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids), is a complex of buildings worth exploring in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. This area contains museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France. The area within this complex worth visiting is the Musée de l’Armée and the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with burial sites for some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.
Explore Saint-Germain and the smaller area within it of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. This area, and the local metro station, get their names from the abbey of St-Germain-des-Prés. Saint-Germain is one of the most famous and classically Parisian areas in all of Paris. Stroll down the Boulevard St-Germain edged with shops and galleries, admire the stunning Parisian architecture, and stop in at one of the iconic eateries and cafe’s located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés where artists and writers like Hemingway and Picasso used to dine – Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore, or Le Bonaparte. This area is wonderful for early evening drinks, but is known for being expensive.
Put on your comfortable shoes and use the metro system to take you to Montmartre (Paris’s 18th arrondissement). Montmartre is located on a hill, and is home to the beautiful outdoor staircases and winding roads that you see in photos everywhere. Also located in Montmartre is the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret and the iconic Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. With it’s elegant white stone spires, Sacré-Coeur sits on top the hill, and beneath it, is a wonderful place for a picnic of wine, cheese and macarons while people-watching and taking in the sights of Paris. I highly recommend finding a ‘city walk guide’ like this one, to help you navigate through the neighbourhood.
Wander through the Latin Quarter (Paris’s 5th arrondissement), home to the oldest university in France, La Sorbonne, and the centre of student culture in Paris. While this area is now more tourist-centric than it used to be, you can still find nuggets of classic Paris, like the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Make sure you also make time to enjoy delicious creme puffs at Odette.
Le Marais (Paris’s 3rd and 4th arrondissements) has become the new ‘it’ Paris neighbourhood to spend time as a visitor. The architecture is breathtaking here, and the falafels are equally as amazing. Spend time here exploring café’s, restaurants and be sure to wander over to see the Place des Vosges, a beautiful square that epitomizes the classic French style. The two pavilions here are not open to the public, however, you can visit the house of Victor Hugo, author of “Les Misérables”, which is now a museum.
These are all my personal recommendations. Of course, there is so much more to see and do in Paris than what I mention above, including taking a day trip from Paris to the Palace of Versailles.
Paris is one of the most magical and satisfying cities to visit, and if you do, you’ll leave feeling inspired, cultured and more knowledgeable – with a little more ‘joie de vivre’ in your every step.