Paris is a city that seems to evoke a strong reaction from most travellers – they either love it or hate it. There rarely tends to be an in between. No matter what side of the fence you sit on, Paris is a city that shouldn’t be missed, even if just for a fly by visit for the must do Paris experiences.
We have been to Paris twice now. Like many, Paris was fairly high on my travel bucketlist due to the iconic sights and hype.
Simon on the other hand had no interest in visiting the French capital. When it got added to our big family trip in 2008, he had to go with the flow and it turns out he’s glad he did. He loves Paris.
We did most of the must do Paris experiences on that first trip. On our second, we simply took our time to enjoy the city we were semi-familiar with, going for a more authentic, off the beaten track Paris holiday.
While you will hear plenty about what not to do in Paris, there are some experiences in Paris everyone should have, so add them to your Paris itinerary. While this was going to be a 5 must see places in Paris… we couldn’t narrow it down to just 5, so you get some bonus inspiration!!
6 MUST DO PARIS EXPERIENCES
1. Notre Dame Tower Tour
Perhaps it was my love of the Hunchback of Notre Dame animated film I watched endlessly as a kid (not the Disney version – that came later), but Notre Dame Cathedral was a Paris must see experience for me before our first visit and it did not disappoint.
The cathedral is just as impressive from the outside as it is from the inside. At the very least you should take the time to visit Notre Dame Cathedral and do a walk through to appreciate the size and the Gothic-era detail. For a structure that was built over many centuries, with the first stone estimated to be laid in 1163, the cathedral is my first recommendation for anyone heading to Paris.
To truly appreciate the grandeur of Notre Dame Cathedral, the tower tour is a must. Although be prepared for a lot of stairs so reasonable fitness is needed. There are no lifts. From the rooftops, you have the most amazing views of Paris that rival those from the Eiffel Tower, amongst the ancient stone gargoyles that guard the cathedral.
You also get up close and personal with the mammoth bells in the bell tower, which is a little bit exciting for those of you familiar with The Hunchback of Notre Dame story.
One negative was the lengthy wait in line for the tour, but we felt it was worth it and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Of course if you are visiting with kids, you might want to check out our ideas for keeping them entertained while waiting in line.
Prices – Adult : 10 € and Children/concession rate : 8 € (Current as of September 2018)
Opening Times – Vary throughout the year. Check the website for more details.
2. Go Up the Eiffel Tower
So I made mention of the Eiffel Tower views already, which means I better add it to this list. Yes it’s a bit of a cliche travel experience in Paris, but we don’t regret doing it at all. Again, there were big line ups but the views were impressive and it is iconic so if you have the time, give it a go.
You can either take the stairs all the way up, or pay extra to go up the lift. Both options involve pretty large crowds. The stairs is likely a shorter line up, but the time it takes you to get up there may equal the time you spent waiting for a lift. In our case, I had a swollen ankle at the time so the lift was the safer option.
We spent quite a while up the tower on the different viewing platforms and took our time, having a light lunch in the cafe area. This made it more enjoyable than a rushed visit just to tick it off the tourist to do list. You’re not really surprised it made the list of must dos in Paris, right?
While we do recommend you do it, once is enough. The only exception I would make is to maybe go up the Eiffel tower at night one day, since our experience was limited to day time. Seeing the city lights would be pretty cool, but even better might be to head up in the afternoon and have the chance to experience it in both daylight and night fall as the sun goes down.
Price – Adult tickets from €11,00 for the lift and €7,00 for the stairs to the second floor. Extra costs to catch the lift higher.
Opening Times – From 9am til midnight during warmer months or, 9:30am til 11pm for the rest of the year. More details on the website.
3. Visit a Food Market
On our first visit to Paris we arrived early in the morning and our accommodation was not yet ready for us, so we left our suitcases and went for a walk to explore the nearby areas. Along the way we happened to stumble upon a fresh food market.
Coming from a country like Australia, it’s pretty hot most of the time so other than fruit and veg, you don’t really see a lot of other fresh food on display at markets. So we were rather in awe of the cured meats, cheeses, breads and everything in between at these markets.
Everything is so incredibly fresh and delicious. Rather than spending lots of Euros on fine French dining for every meal, make an opportunity to pick up some fresh foods from a market and have a picnic at one of the numerous parks or scenic locations in Paris instead.
We love to check out local food markets wherever we are staying around the world, and feel it’s definitely a must do non touristy Paris experience!
4. Take a Night Cruise on the Seine
Cruising can be a relaxing and enjoyable way to experience any city and we often like to incorporate a cruise in any city we visit on the water. A Seine river cruise should be a must do experience in Paris, especially at night.
While I will admit my jet lag was severe during our Seine cruise and I may have started to nod off… it had absolutely nothing to do with the Paris experiences itself. I loved every part of it. My body was just no longer cooperating. I can’t wait to do this again next visit, minus the jetlag!
Thankfully Simon got some great photos while I fought with my fatigue, but the views along the river are breathtaking at night, all lit up and vibrant. Notre Dame was especially magnificent at night.
Our cruise followed a bus city tour, so a great way to see a lot of Paris in the space of a few hours if you are short on time in the city. Plus you get to hear some of the history and interesting facts too!
5. Eat Creme Brulee
Another of those experiences somewhat wasted during my jet lag, but made up for during our second trip – the creme brulee is a dessert quite famous in France and one not to be missed during your stay.
Get a recommendation from a local or find a popular restaurant based on reviews. TripAdvisor is my go to for travel reviews. Either way, you definitely need to get yourself an authentic creme brulee while you’re there.
Actually, French dessert in general needs to be enjoyed. The patisseries are AMAZING! And yes, I love food… especially dessert! Must do things in Paris is always going to involve some sort of sweets! They are pretty much the masters of dessert!
6. Marvel at Sacre-Coeur
Sacre-Coeur, otherwise referred to as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, is located at the summit of Montmartre and is the highest point in Paris. The Basilica towers over the rest of the city in its grandeur, offering a stunning backdrop to some impressive views. You can also explore inside the Basilica of course.
Depending on the time of year you visit, Sacre-Coeur can be a very popular and busy attraction. Even in winter it attracts a lot of tourists, however in summer the entire area is a buzzing hub of activity, with plenty going on in the Montmartre centre .
During our summer trip in Europe there were street performers entertaining the crowds at the bottom of the stairs as well as people walking around selling beer out of cartons. Crazy!
Montmartre is a unique part of Paris to spend some time in, known for its artsy vibe. There are cafes to grab a bite to eat or drink, or sometimes you may be lucky enough to visit when the markets are on, with many Parisians selling their handmade wares, such as one of a kind artwork. With so much to see and do, it also makes for some pretty amazing photo opportunities! Check out these tips for the best Instagram spots in Montmartre.
You can access Sacre-Coeur Basilica by either walking up the massive flight of stairs to the side. We did this the first time. A reasonable amount of fitness needed for that many stairs. Or you can travel up in the funicular to save your legs, at a cost.
Sacre-Coeur is open daily between 6am and 10:30pm.
There are other must do Paris experiences and sights to see, however these were the stand out Paris attractions that we would recommend if you only had a short stay in Paris and wanted to maximize your time. There is plenty more to see and do in Paris.
Many of the attractions and Paris can be seen with an inclusive Paris Pass, which is an entry ticket into major attractions, museums and galleries around the city. It can be a great way to save money travelling in Paris. And if you are looking for accommodation, check out our top 10 Places to Stay in Paris recommendations.
OTHER MUST SEES IN PARIS
While we only named our top 6 must do Paris experiences above, we thought it was time for a 2018 update and wanted to add a few more of our recommendations for what to see and do when in this beautiful city:
- Versailles Palace
- Musee d’orsay
- Arc de Triomphe
- The Louvre (don’t get lost inside like we did though)
- The Pantheon
- Moulin Rouge
- Disneyland Paris
- Pere Lachaise Cemetery (burial place of Jim Morrison, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and other well known people)
- Grand Palais
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