Paris Best Things to Do
The Ultimate Guide to Paris
Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world making it one of the top 10 places in the world to visit. It is the city of lights, romance, food and culture. It is also one of the top cities in the world for art and fashion. It would be easy to spend a year here immersing yourself in French culture. It requires several visits to truly experience Paris in a meaningful way and we always look forward to visiting Paris for a week when we travel to France. I have curated the Top 3 Things to Do in 10 categories. Plan on spending a week your first time in this romantic and beautiful city.
Category of Paris Best Things to Do
Top 3 Museums in Paris
Paris has over 130 museums. You will have to go a number of times to Paris in order to see all the museums that would interest you. These are the top 3 museums in Paris. They get busier with each passing year as mass tourism increases. Plan on being at the museum at opening and get your tickets online before going.
1. The Louvre – one of the most famous museums in the world and one of the largest. This is on the bucket list of any museum lover. It is so expansive that it takes a number of visits to appreciate the scale of the museum. Choose the area that you want to visit and head directly to it first. I love the old masters section. Save standing in line for an hour by purchasing your ticket online for about $15. There are a variety of people who qualify for free admission so check out the above linked website. Go as early as possible and walk down the Champs Elysee in the early morning before all the pedestrian and vehicle traffic for an indelible experience. Make it your first stop of the day.
2. Musée d’Orsay – located on the Left Bank of the Seine. The museum is housed in a 1890s Beaux Arts railway station. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world. Admission is about $20. Impressionist art is my favourite style of painting so I can spend hours looking and examining the paintings in detail.
3. Centre Pompidou – the National Museum of Art. Full of paintings from all the great painters through history. The building itself is a piece of art. At first the general public hated it but now the nonconformist style has shaped the design of much modern architecture.
Top 3 Monuments in Paris
1. The Eiffel Tower – built for the 1889 World’s Fair it is the monument known throughout the world. Every night it is covered in gold lights and sparkles for 5 minutes every hour. If you plan on going up to the observation platform make sure you buy your tickets online to get a spot as the lineups can be very long. You can skip the line if you have a reservation at the Michelin star Jules Verne restaurant on the 2nd platform. The restaurant is going to cost you at least $150 per person but if it is on your bucket list it is well worth it. Or, you can have a glass of Champagne for about $20 at the top of the tower.
Arc de Triomphe
2. Arc de Triomphe – is a national symbol found at the end of the Champs Élysées. It opened in 1836 as a monument of the soldiers who lost their lives. The flame is lit each night at 6:35 pm. The 360 degree view from the top overlooks all of Paris and a direct straight line view of the Champs Élysées to the Louvre. Each day at 6:30 pm the remembrance flame is lit. Entrance is free but you must have a ticket that you can get here.
3. Sacré-Coeur – construction began in 1875 after France lost a war to Prussia. France was always at war with someone. Parisians were down hearted because of the lives lost and the Basilica was a national vow of penitence, trust, faith and hope. It is a very popular place to see and spend time at. Everytime we are in the court area around the Basilica there is some kind of food and wine event going on. France has many ancient orders revolving around food and wine and people wear their coloured robes while tasting wines, cheeses and seafood.
Top 3 Theatres in Paris
2. Palais Garnier – the Paris Opera house is one of the most famous opera houses in the world and was the most expensive building in the late 1800s. The setting for the Phantom of the Opera, the building is astounding. You can spend hours just looking at the ornate details. The Italian designed theatre was built for the audience to see and be seen. It is a must to see with its red velvet, gold and crystal. If you can not get tickets to a performance or workshop, there are tours during the day.
3. Moulin Rouge – the most famous cabaret in the world opened in 1889 at the height of the golden age when all of Paris was wild with hope for the future with the opening of the Universal Exposition. Numerous music halls and cabarets were opening and Parisians flocked to them. There are two shows a night starting at about $100. You can also have a dinner prior to the show for another $50 but it is a rushed affair, better to eat at one of the restaurants in the area. We had our dinner every night for a week at Au Père Rousseau located a 10 minute walk away. It is a traditional French restaurant with very reasonable prices. Once we find a place for our day-to-day evening meal we frequent that restaurant.
Top 3 Districts in Paris
1. Le Marais – is the area that you see in your mind when you think of Paris. Gorgeous stone buildings, beautifully kept parks, traditional Cafes and Bistros, boutique shopping and a traditional market. It is in the centre of the historic Paris with many attractions to see and all the grand hotels are located in this area. It is just a great place to wander around. Find more information here.
2. Montmartre – the highest spot in Paris, it was a village outside of Paris where artists lived. The taxes were lower than Paris so rent and booze was cheaper. Two important things to artists. The narrow streets hold a treasure around every corner. There is usually something going on in the area. And there are always painters painting landscapes or even your portrait. We have been a number of times and each time there were food and wine festivals going on. Booths selling wine, grilled meats, baked cheese, escargo, red wine, white wine, Champagne all for reasonable prices. My favourite is the baked cheese scraped right from the heated round onto a fresh mini baguette with a glass of delicious red wine. It is divine.
Top 3 Markets in Paris
Marché des Enfants Rouges
3. Marché Saxe-Breteuil – located only a 5 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower it is mostly locales that shop there. It is large with many stalls and lots of things to shop for. It is a good place to pick up a picnic lunch to eat in the park.
Top 3 Affordable Traditional Restaurants in Paris
1. Boullion Chartier – in Montparnasse since 1896. This braisserie is traditional and a bargain. It is also an experience. Entrees start around $3 and the main starts at $15. This is my idea of simple, traditional French food. No reservations and the service is brusque and brisk.
2. L’Escargot – located on Rue Montorgueil, a foodie haven street, it was established in 1832 and is the place to go for escargot. Those lovely French snails that are broiled in garlic butter. Mains start at $20.
Chez Denise - La Tour de Montlhéry
3. La Tour de Montlhéry – Chez Denise – in the area of the old Les Halles marketplace, this bistro hasn’t changed much in a 100 years. Some say it is meat centric, I say it is delicious with a menu of traditional bistro dishes and wine by the barrel. Make reservations if you want a table.
Top 3 Other Fun Things to Do in Paris
Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School
1. Le Cordon Bleu -seems expensive at about $250, but it is 5 hours of top chef instruction at the world famous Le Cordon Bleu. It really is terrific value for the money.
We began our day class in the morning with a breakfast of freshly baked croissants, fruit, cheese and lattes. The first demonstration was cooking a generous lobe of goose foie gras that was plated and shared amongst the class along with a glass of excellent Chablis. That alone is worth about $50 in a restaurant. The next demonstration was of the main course that we were going to prepare.
We made a dish for two under the supervision of our chef. Each student took home a fabulous meal for dinner. It was a terrific experience to take a class at Le Cordon Bleu, get a picture with my chef instructor and receive a frameable certificate at the completion of the class.
2. Catacombs – the bones of 6 million people lie a few feet under Paris in a room called an ossuary. Major health problems were tied to the city cemeteries in the 1700s so they were dug up and the bones moved to underground quarries. The ossuary is the largest in the world. Admission is about $20.
Père Lechaise Cemetery
3. Père Lechaise Cemetery – a beautiful and quiet spot in the busy city it is one of the most visited cemeteries in the world. The final resting place of many famous people including Chopin, Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Gertrude Stein, and Jim Morrison of the Doors among many others. It is a nice stroll on a sunny afternoon. I find I need that solitude and quiet after 4-5 days in a busy city like Paris.
Top 3 Shopping Stores
Galeries Lafayette, the largest store in Paris, is on Boulevard Haussmann right by the Paris opera house. It is an upscale department store but also carries affordable goods. The interior is elaborate with an ornate domed skylight. There is a great terrace restaurant on the roof with great views of Paris.
Le Bon Marche
Le Bon Marche opened in 1852 and was the first large department store in Paris. It is the oldest and longest running department store in the world. One of the architects was Gustave Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower fame. This is an upscale department store that sells very high end items. It also house the grand epicerie that is must to see for any foodie.
Printemps Haussmann is located on Boulevard Haussmann across from Gallerie Lafayette where it has been a fixture in Paris since 1865. Built in an art nouveau style the exterior and dome of the building is on the list of Historic monuments. It has the largest beauty area in the world. It receives 40,000 visitors a day or 7.5 million a year. That is 1.5 million more than the Eiffel Tower.
Top 3 Shopping Areas
1. Champs Élysées – is a top shopping area in Paris. A number of top name brands stores are found along the way along with a curious mixture of stores like the Renault Racing Store, fast food restaurants and a mixture of lower end stores. It certainly is not the high end shopping it was as in the 1980s and 90s.
The last time we were there the wide sidewalks were so packed you could hardly move. And that was in the fall during the week. Many of the famous monuments in Paris are very close by. Do your eating and drinking on the back streets or you can pay up to $25 for a beer to sit at a sidewalk café and watch the crowds stream by.
Passage des Panoramas
2. Passage des Panoramas– dating from 1799, it is the oldest covered passage in Paris. Filled with artisan shops, it is one of the prettiest places to visit in Paris. There are a number of Passages around Paris that you can search out. They are considered the first shopping malls in the world.
Avenue Montaigne is the street for all the top design houses including Dior, Prada, Armani, Tommy Choo, Gucci, Chanel and others. There are lots of exotic cars parked along the street and very well dressed people walking into the shops.
Top 3 Day Trips
The Palace of Versailles is a perfect day trip. The Hall of Mirrors is the most famous room of the gigantic 2000 room Versailles Palace. A symbol of power of the sun king, Louise XIV. The grandeur of the palace with its beautiful fountains, lakes where full naval battles took place, and a court of nobles wearing brilliantly extravagant clothes is phenomenal. It really has to be seen to appreciate. You can take the train from Paris about 10 miles away. Catch the RER C train that has stops all along the Seine River. Round trip is about $10. It is about a 10 minute walk from the train station to Versailles.
Giverny is Claude Monet’s beautiful landscaped garden and home where he lived the last 40 years of his life. It is a must see for impressionist devotees. It is only 50 miles out of Paris. You can catch the train at the Saint-Lazare Paris station for a 45 minute ride then take a bus the 5 miles to Monet’s place. The buses are close to the station. Just follow the Monet inspired footsteps.
Loire Valley Chateaux
The Loire Valley has dozens of chateaux. It could take months to see them all. You need to spend at least a week to see the most important chateaux and explore this area of Kings. Château de Chambord is the largest chateau. It was built by King Francis I as a hunting lodge and designed with the aid of Leonardo di Vinci, his long term guest. As a hunting lodge, it was only used for a month or so a year. All the furniture was taken to the chateau while being used then taken back to the other chateau where King Francis lived in Amboise, further down the Loire River. The Loire Valley is about 2.5 hours by car from Paris. If you rent a car you can make a day trip of it. Visit two of the chateaux and go for a great lunch at one of the many restaurants in the valley. Everybody has their favourite chateau. My favourite is Château de Chenonceau with lunch in The Orangerie restaurant.
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