Paris is split into twenty arrondissements, or districts, each with a distinct feel. It’s a surprisingly small city, and you’ll probably find that you won’t need to use the metro too much to get around as it’s so walkable. That said. it’s worth picking up a carnet of ten tickets when you first arrive (about €12.40), which works out a bit cheaper than buying individual tickets every time you travel, and means you can just jump on the metro whenever you want/need to.
Paris is so full of places to go and things to see that you’d struggle to fit everything into one trip – and you really shouldn’t try to do everything or you’ll end up rushing from place to place and not enjoying yourselves. For me, the greatest pleasure in visiting the city is always wandering through the streets, stumbling across interesting little places and stopping for lunch or a coffee whenever we find somewhere nice.
I’ve tried to include a mix of the obvious and less obvious sights/activities below – it’s by no means a comprehensive list (otherwise we’d be here for days), but hopefully should give you somewhere to start from if you’re going to the “City of Light”. Pick up a good guidebook before you go – my favourites are the Rough Guide to Paris and Time Out Paris – the latter has excellent maps that really make exploring the city easy.
- Take a look at beautiful Notre Dame, and then head over to the adjoining island – Île St Louis – to wander its quieter streets and check out the interesting little shops. And don’t forget to get an ice-cream from Berthillon – I particularly recommend the caramel au beurre salé, which is utterly delicious.
- The Louvre is as impressive as its reputation would have you believe, but there’s so much more to it than the Mona Lisa, including a beautiful sculpture gallery. Or head to the fantastic Musee d’Orsay, brilliantly located in an old railway station, with a collection that includes pieces by Monet and Renoir.
- The area immediately around the Pompidou Centre isn’t the nicest and can get rather crowded with tourists but it’s worth heading over here to check out the architecture of the building itself – pretty radical for a city like Paris – if not for its celebrated collection of modern art.
- There’s really quite a ridiculous amount of galleries and museums in the city, but other highlights include the Musée Picasso and the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, both in the Marais, the Musée National du Moyen Age, in the Latin Quarter, and, in the Tuileries, the Orangerie, home to eight of Monet’s huge waterlily paintings – which are well worth making a visit to see.
- No matter how cliched an image of Paris it may feel, it’s hard not to marvel at the Eiffel Tower – there’s always something exciting about seeing iconic sights like this in person. Be prepared for huge queues if you want to go up the tower – or or do as we do and take pleasure in stumbling across perfect viewpoints of it as you wander around the city.
- The Marais, the city’s old Jewish quarter, is one of our favourite areas to explore – it’s full of great one-off shops (and some designer names) and lots of lovely little restaurants and bars (definitely stop for a drink at the tiny Au Petit Fer à Cheval with it’s great horsehoe bar).
- Across the river, charming St Germain and the Latin Quarter are best known as being home to artists, writers and students. The main roads here can be very busy with tourists – especially around famous cafés like Café Flore and and Les Deux Magots – but it’s just as much fun to explore the winding side streets, crammed with beautiful old buildings.
- The area around the Grands Boulevards forms much of the city’s commercial heart – head just off them to the passages, narrow arcades that have a real shabby charm, full of book shops, restaurants that look like they haven’t changed for sixty years, and various bric-a-brac shops.
- The beautiful Paris mosque may not seem like the most obvious sight in the city, but it’s well worth a visit to marvel at the architecture (non-Muslims aren’t permitted to enter the prayer room, but can otherwise visit normally), and to use its traditional hammam, or, best of all, for a glass of mint tea in the tea room’s lovely garden.
- Most people head up to Montmartre (my favourite area of the city) to visit Sacre Coeur, sitting in a rather stately position on top of the hill. It is a beautiful building, but the area immediately around it gets very crowded and can be quite tacky. Instead, check out the streets around lovely rue des Abbesses – full of unpretentious cafes, restaurants, bars and shops, and enjoy a more local side of this part of the city.
- Paris is full of beautiful parks – if the weather’s fine, pick up a baguette and some cheese and head off for a picnic. Of the more central parks, I love the Luxembourg Gardens, but it’s also well worth heading out to the huge Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement, or, in the east, the beautiful Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which is rather like something out of a fairy tale.
- Wander along lovely Canal St Martin, which is also a great place to head in the evenings for its popular bars and restaurants.
- Check out the markets – from streetside food markets selling everything from fresh fruit and veg to artisan cheeses, to antique and flea markets. The Sunday flea market at Porte de Vanves, right in the south of the city, is worth a trip, but do get there early (before 10am) to catch the best of it. From there, it’s very pleasant to walk back into the city, especially if you’re not in any rush – bear in mind that much of the city closes on a Sunday, too.
My biggest recommendation would be to eat and drink your way around Paris – from hearty meals and delicious patisseries, to fresh coffee and delicious wines, this is a fantastic foodie destination. Next week I’ll be sharing my favourite restaurant recommendations – you can click the link on the right to sign up to an email subscription, and make sure you don’t miss it.You might also like: