Oh Paris, mon amour! This amazing city has so much to do, see and eat and I can never get enough. I went to Paris in the summer before I spent a week in Nice, see my Travel Guide for that trip here, and then again with my sister in the Spring. This list is not filled with hidden gem activities but instead I’ve outlined the top things I think everyone should do during your first time in Paris. Some are major tourist spots and other are a little less popular to catch a break from major crowds.
1. Go see Mona Lisa in The Louvre
Obviously there are thousands of other amazing works of art in The Louvre but you’ve got to get a peak of Mona! One thing that shocked me was her size. Most of us picture a large painting similar to the poster replicas but instead she’s quite tiny. Be prepared, the Louvre is MASSIVE and it actually took us a while to find the ever-popular painting in her room. Side note: The Louvre cannot be conquered in a day. If you have pieces you really want to see, map them out and be ready before you go. Or just do like we did and wander around taking in everything as you go. Of course, don’t forget to get a picture with the beautiful glass pyramid at the entrance of the museum.
2. Visit the Montmatre neighborhood and Le Consulat
Located on top of a hill, this adorable area has great shops and cafes to explore. The Le Consulat will likely be the first thing you see as you enter the area. I had always wanted to go to this beautiful bright green and red cafe that frequently shows up on Instagram.
3. Climb to the top of Sacré-Cœur Basilica
I skipped this my first trip to Paris and was so glad my sister and I did it during my second stop. Sacré-Cœur aka “The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris” is stunning inside and out. Entry is free from 6am-10pm every day and a climb to the top will cost you around €13. This was a VERY steep 300+ stairs climb but the view made it worth it. Beware if you are claustrophobic as the spiral stone staircase is very tight on the way up and down with only a few breaks. If this doesn’t sound like your thing, don’t worry, the view of the city from the hill is still spectacular.
4. Walk down the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe
From Hermès to Louis Vuitton, the Champs-Élysées has your favorite French luxury brands. Not in the mood to shop? Grab some crêpes for a snack as you make your way to the Arc de Triomphe. I found the Arc to be a beautiful sight from the ground but you can also go up to it’s observation deck for €9-€12. This is a must-see for your first time in Paris.
5. Shop in Saint Germain des Prés
Oh how I LOVE Saint Germain. Located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, this neighborhood is so adorable and one of my absolute favorite areas. My sister and I stayed in a small eco-hotel in this neighborhood and we felt right in the middle of everything. We walked to nearby cafes for breakfast every morning—which is really basically lunch hour since no one is up and moving until 11am in Paris. Saint Germain also has great shopping options. I popped into my favorite Longchamp to pick up a few pieces that are great souvenirs.
6. Stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens
Surrounding the Luxembourg Palace these lovely gardens are split into French gardens and English gardens to wander. Situated between Saint Germain des Prés and the Latin Quarter, this is another great place to rest your feet and kick back in a chair while taking in the florals. The gardens boast a number of statues, varieties of flowers and games like chess and tennis.
7. Sit in the Champ de Mars and people watch next to the Eiffel Tower
For your first time in Paris, everyone always says go to the top of the Eiffel Tower but I personally never wanted to wait in line. I figured my view from Sacré-Cœur sufficed and instead my sis and I lounged in the grass to take a break from a long day of walking. There are always men walking around selling souvenirs or bottles of beer and wine. I have never gone super prepared but this is the perfect spot for a picnic with a view. While my sister and I were relaxing we heard people cheering and I looked over to see a man proposing to his girlfriend! You’ll never know what or who you might see if you just stop and relax for a moment.
8. Check out the unique Picasso Museum in Le Marais
This museum was a must for me as I have always been a huge fan of Picasso’s work. It’s quirky look and layout makes for the perfect setting for this famous artist. You will find a lot of restaurants and shops to pop in to after you’ve gotten your art fix in Le Marais neighborhood.
9. Go see Monet’s Water Lillies in the Musée de l’Orangerie
Located in a number of oval shaped rooms you can see this beautiful series of paintings. Every set is so unique and I loved noting the differences of each. After spending your time with Monet and the other artists of de l’Orangerie you can take home a range of different souvenirs covered in the Water Lillies—from mugs to notepads to pencils and lip gloss, you’ll be able to carry around Money with you long after your trip to Paris.
10. Then take in the scenery in the Jardin des Tuileries chairs
My sister and I made our way to these comfy chairs after our trip to l’Orangerie. Jetlag is so real and sometimes you need a little nap mid-sightseeing. We lounged next to a big pond and watched all the ducklings and their momma duck swim around. We also questionably fell asleep for a bit as these chairs are naturally reclined—Parisians just get it.
11. Go inside the the Cathedral Notre Dame
Don’t let the long line scare you, it moves quickly to gain free entrance inside. This is another place I’ve never bothered to go up top but I found the interior architecture plenty worth my while. Once you’re done making the loop through the Cathedral you can pop into one the many cafes next door.
12. Wander through Île de la Cité
Aside from Notre Dame, this little island in the center of Paris has a few fun spots to see. I loved walking through the bright Marché aux fleurs and around the small cobble-stone streets. For a view of intricate stained glass make your way into the medieval Sainte Chapelle.
13. Walk across the beautiful Pont Alexandre III
I love the The Alexandre III bridge because of its stunning golden cherubs, nymphs, lamps and winged horses. This bridge spans across the Seine and connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with the Invalides area and the Eiffel Tower. This ornate bridge is definitely worth a stroll when your in Paris.
14. Go for a boat ride on the Seine
This is a great activity for your first time in Paris because you will see so many things as you cruise along the Seine. Another great way to do this cruise is at night! Paris is just as stunning at night and the Eiffel Tower is a wonderful bright sight in the evening. My friend and I did a dinner cruise so we go to see Paris from the river during sunset and at night. There are dozens of cruise companies to choose from as you stroll down the river walk.
15. Eat all the French food!!
From steak frites to macarons to French onion soup and croque monsieurs, you must eat all the delicious food of France. Every time I am in France I make it a point to eat at least one croissant a day because they are so good. My favorite thing about Paris is wandering through the city and stumbling upon different bistros and boulangeries. Don’t forget to try all the wonderful variations of crêpes!