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 people, Paris was fairly high on my travel bucket list due to the iconic sights and hype around so many of the must do in Paris monuments and experiences.
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 for your Paris must do experiences!!
Find our top 10 Paris attractions as well as a list of loads more things you should make time for when visiting Paris!!
OUR TOP 6 MUST DO PARIS EXPERIENCES
1. Notre Dame Tower Tour
EDIT: On 15 April 2019, a tragic fire destroyed a large portion of Notre Dame Cathedral. At this point in time, proposals are being developed to restore this breathtaking building to new glory. Rather than remove it from the top position, we decided to leave it in our list to commemorate this important part of French history. While you can still visit, the tower tour is currently not an option.
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. Wandering through Notre Dame and touring its history is by far one of our best experiences in Paris, so make sure you are adding it to your Paris to do list, at the very top!
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.
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 likely have 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.
This would be a truly romantic experience when visiting the city of love as a couple too!
Price – Price varies depending on whether you are taking the stairs or elevator and which level you are going to.
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!
You can also book food tours through different markets while you are in Paris too, such as this Paris market tour.
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
This was 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. Dessert is a must when you visit Paris so forget the diet and enjoy yourself.
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!
You can join in a French cooking class that specialises in the indulgent side of French food if you have time.
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. Explore Montmartre with a guided walking tour to learn some of it’s history.
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.
7. Stroll Through Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Saint Germain des Prés is one of the most famous neighbourhoods in Paris, having been home to many literary and artistic Parisians in the past. It is also where you will find the Abbey of Saint Germain and the hub of some much culture and history in Paris. In Saint‑Germain‑des‑Prés you will find the Théâtre de l’Odéon, where you may be able to take in a performance. There is the Musée Eugène Delacroix, which was an apartment owned by a painter, converted into a museum. Be sure to check out the gardens.
And of course, visiting Saint Germain means a chance to enjoy some of Paris’ famous cafes and restaurants – Cafe des deux Magots or Cafe de Flore. Don’t expect cheap eats though! You may stick with sipping an overpriced coffee while doing some people watching instead.
Make sure you also check out some of these other unique Paris experiences such as the Luxembourg Palace and Église Saint-Sulpice (made even more recently famous from its feature in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code book),
You can reach Saint-Germain-des-Pres via the Paris metro. Line 4 will take you to the main sites, connecting you between north and south of France. Alternatively you will be able to utlise other forms of public transport around the city if you wish, such as a taxi or bus lines.
8. Versailles Palace
We never made it to Versailles Palace on our first visit to Paris. It was a case of running out of time after losing each other in the Pére Lachaise Cemetery on our last full day in Paris, so we had to give it a miss that first visit. On our second trip to Paris, Simon and I made sure to make it a priority and it really is a beautiful palace. If you enjoy opulence and history, a visit to Versailles is definitely a must do in Paris France.
Right from arrival with the gold plated gates and intricate design, you know it is going to be impressive. The tour will take you through some of the main areas and give you a chance to learn about the residents over time and how the palace came to be.
We did a bus tour for our Versailles visit, which made it easy to get to and from, as part of our guided tour on that second trip.
Versailles Palace and gardens are open every day except Monday, although check for public holiday opening times. Opening hours are between 9AM and 5:30PM. You can find the most up to date details on accessing the property via their website.
You can get to Versailles via a guided bus tour, or if you prefer to make your own way there, there are train stations within a 10 or 20 minute walk from the palace. Find useful tips on taking a day trip from Paris to Versailles.
9. Musee d’Orsay
Musee d’orsay is a favourite for families visiting Paris. It is also the number 1 must see things in Paris, according to Tripadvisor! That’s a pretty good sign you need to visit! The museum was once a train station, so that alone makes it pretty cool. It houses an impressive art gallery collection, and regular special exhibits and attractions.
Musee d’orsay is much smaller than the Louvre, which makes it an easier option for shorter visits… minus the overwhelm of the Louvre’s size. 3 hours is the recommended time to spend in the museum if you want to see most of what is on offer.
Musee d’Orsay is open every day except Monday, although check for public holiday opening times. Opening hours are between 9AM and 6PM. You can find the most up to date details on accessing the property via their website.
10. Disneyland Paris
How could we not include a visit to Disneyland Paris? There are not many people who don’t love a trip to a theme park and Disneyland parks are some of the most magical in the world. We love to compare the differences between the parks and see what similarities there are also. You will find some of the attractions you love from other parks, plus plenty of things that are unique to Paris Disneyland as well.
From rides and attractions to suit all age groups, to stage performances and shows, you will see your favourite Disney characters as well as superheros too. Disneyland Paris is a great chance to enjoy some fun with the whole family and a must do Paris experience if visiting with kids. Or without them. You’re never too old for Disneyland!
Disneyland Park is open from 10AM to 8PM daily and Walt Disney Studios Park is open from 10AM to 6PM daily, with the exception of certain public holidays. Both offer magic morning early access for certain ticket holders to get extra time in the park before it opens to the general public. This is a great way to beat the queues. Find out more on their website.
You can get to the Disneyland parks via the metro although you may need to catch more than one train across different lines, depending on where you are staying.
OTHER MUST SEES IN PARIS YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS
While we only named our top 10 must do Paris experiences above, we thought it was time for a 2019 update and wanted to add a few more of our recommendations for must sees Paris has to offer and what to see and do when in this beautiful city, so here are 12 more ideas:
- Climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe
- Tour the Catacombs
- See the famous art gallery Louvre Museum (don’t get lost inside like we did though)
- Take a self guided tour of The Pantheon
- Have some risque fun at Moulin Rouge
- See the final resting places of famous people at Pere Lachaise Cemetery (burial place of Jim Morrison, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and other well known people)
- Visit the Grand Palais
- Take in a performance at a Paris Opera House – Place de l’Opéra & Palais Garnier
- Enjoy some outdoors time at Palais-Royal Gardens
- Stroll along the fancy Avenue des Champs-Élysées
- Walk alongside a section of the Seine River
- Find yourself a unique souvenir from a local artist – we got a cute little hand painted Paris scene from the markets
Saving Money in Paris
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. We used a Paris pass during our first visit since we were doing our own sightseeing around the city.
This made it easier to plan our days, as we were able to refer to what was in our Paris pass and visit extra attractions in the area that we may not have visited otherwise. It also saved us loads of money compared to if we visited just the places we were wanting to see and paying full price. We did the same during our visit to London, with the London Pass making our trip so much more affordable!
Here are the TOP 12 attractions you can visit for free with the Paris pass, however these are just a handful of what is included with your pass:
- Paris Big Bus Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour
- Louvre Museum
- Palace of Versailles
- Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise
- Notre Dame Cathedral
- Arc De Triomphe
- Montparnasse Tower
- Centre Pompidou
- Ô Château Wine Tasting
- Opera Garnier Guided Tour
- The Orsay Museum
- The Paris Story theatre entry
Even if you only use your pass for a few of the more expensive included attractions, you will be getting great value for money! You can get a Paris pass for the time frame that suits your visit, such as a 3 or 5 day pass. There are several options available and it will make your trip planning much easier when you have the great resources they come with, including itineraries and travel guides for visiting Paris.
How to See Paris
Getting around Paris is fairly easy. They have one of the most well connected metro systems in Europe, with trains coming every few minutes on each line. Some of these trains get really busy but thankfully you never have to wait too long for the next one. In most cases, you can catch one or two trains to get to most of the Paris must dos and it is fairly inexpensive.
Get yourself a book of train tickets as the easiest way to get around. Use this Paris by metro website to help you plan your way around Paris by train.
There are also hop on hop off bus tours, standard bus lines throughout the city, river cruises and the usual taxi and private transport services available too. We did not hire a car during our time because quite frankly it was chaos. Not only does it look like there is no order to their road rules, people park pretty much anywhere. It was amusing for sure, but also just crazy for us Aussies who are so used to strict road rules. If you are feeling brave though, you can certainly hire yourself a car.
If you are travelling solo or with a partner or friend, rather than visiting Paris with kids, you may even decide to hire a scooter instead of a car. Or grab yourself a tiny smart car, as they are everywhere in Paris. Not much use if you’ve got the kids though as there is no where to put them!!
If you are not too keen to do your own transport, there are guided tours for pretty much everything and you can find many great options for day tours and sightseeing here.
When you only have a short time in Paris and still want to make the most of your visit, check out this great Paris weekend itinerary before you go.
Where to Stay in Paris
And if you are looking for accommodation, check out our top 10 Places to Stay in Paris recommendations. There are so many options for Paris accommodation, and it is also worth checking our AirBnb properties, as that way you can enjoy a home away from home!
Many of these hotels we have recommended are close to some of the best Paris experiences we have shared, so it really depends what is on your Paris must do list, and who you are travelling with! There is certainly plenty of places to stay on offer, so you won’t find yourself lacking options!
Booking resources for your Paris city break:
Do you have some favourite Paris attractions we haven’t mentioned? Leave a comment below. We would love to hear it! And share this post to Pinterest via the image below! Be sure to follow us on Facebook or YouTube for more travel tips like these!
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What would be your must do Paris experiences?