If you’re planning your first trip to Paris, there are a few things you must see and do. Paris is my favorite city, and I’ve been lucky enough to have visited several times. It’s also where I set my soon-to-be-released second novel, A Magnificent Crime.
Planning your first trip to Paris? Here’s a list of ten things to see and do, for a classic Parisian experience:
It would be impossible for you to go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower, of course. You’ll catch glimpses of it constantly as you move through the city. However, for your first trip to Paris, you really should go up the tower, too. I recommend the stairs. (A shorter line-up, and a much more authentic experience!)
The Louvre is a city in itself, enormous and spectacular. Don’t even think about attempting to do the whole thing in one visit. Insider tip: skip the long lineup at the main entrance at the pyramid, and go in through the Porte des Lions entrance instead!
If you’re a Victor Hugo fan, this one is more or less mandatory. Hunchback of Notre Dame, anyone? Admiring the flying buttresses, gargoyles, and gothic windows of this architectural masterpiece is a must-do when in Paris. Bonus: it’s free (only the Tower and the Treasury charge entrance fees).
The Arc de Triomphe is a breathtaking monument to all the soldiers who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Whatever you do, do not attempt to cross the insane traffic circle that surrounds it. Get to it via the underground tunnel. If you weren’t so keen on climbing the Eiffel Tower, a mere 40 steps will take you to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. As for the Champs Elysees–feel free to stroll the broad sidewalks and window shop in the uber-expensive stores…but you might want to head somewhere a little off the beaten track for a more peaceful (and affordable!) cafe au lait or glass of wine.
If you’re an Impressionist fan, the Musee d’Orsay is a must see. The museum itself is spectacular, housed in an old Beaux-Arts train station on the Left Bank. And the masterpieces: Renoir, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Manet, Seurat, Van Gogh … does it get any better than that?
This is my favorite place in Paris to sit and people-watch. Grab a crepe from one of the crepe stands (trust me) and settle yourself into one of the iconic green metal chairs and watch kids pushing toy sailboats across the circular pond, Parisians strolling the pathways on their lunch breaks, lovers canoodling on the lawns…it’s all good. And so very Paris.
The Latin Quarter, on the Left Bank, is the perfect counterpoint to the broad avenues and big monuments of the Right Bank. It’s a rabbit warren of cobbled streets, filled with old bookshops, cafes, and restaurants catering to every international cuisine you can think of. If you’re like me, you could spend many hours wandering here and never feel bored.
There are many gorgeous bridges that span the Seine, and when you’re in Paris you will undoubtedly end up traveling over many of them as you crisscross the city. They each have their own personality and history. The Pont des Arts stretches between the Louvre and the Institut de France. As a pedestrian-only bridge, it’s teeming with people: buskers, students, artists, and musicians. In recent years, the love lock phenomenon has given this famous bridge a whole new look. It glimmers with the padlocks of thousands of couples who have engraved their names on a lock, attached it to the railing, and thrown the key into the Seine.
The river Seine flows through the heart of Paris. It’s the whole reason Paris is there, and has been the defining feature of the city for two thousand years. So what better way to see Paris, than from a boat gently gliding up and down the river? A tour guide will announce sights of interest as you ply the waters, and though it may sound a little tacky, you will experience a different view of Paris than the one you get on foot.
Montmartre is another wonderful neighborhood in which to wander–quirky and old, with a colorful history that’s artsy, bohemian, and more than a little dodgy. Think Moulin Rouge, artists’ communes, and absinthe. Today it’s more tame, and an evocative place to explore. The white-domed Sacre Coeur Basilica rises above it all on top of the hill. The dome is open to tourists and gives a breathtaking vista of the city of Paris.
So there you have it. Admittedly, these ten sites are the some of the most popular things to see in Paris. Which, for many of them, means one thing: mobs of tourists! But I have to say, they’re popular for good reason–they’re amazing, and not to be missed.
Still, for a complete Parisian experience, you really should explore some of the less touristy spots. If you’re planning to stay in Paris for more than a couple of days (which I highly recommend), you’ll be able to see some of the hidden charms of Paris. Stay tuned, I’ll be making a list of my secret picks next!
No plans for Paris anytime soon? For a little vicarious trip to the City of Lights, might I suggest…my new book? (Just sayin’…)