If you’re planning your first time visit to Paris, then you are probably thinking about what to do, what to expect, when to go and where to stay.
In this post, I’ll share ideas of what to do if you’re visiting Paris for the first time, broken into categories, so you can pick & choose things that suit your interests. I’ve also included 10 tips for Paris first time visitors, as well as ideas on good places to eat and the best area to stay in Paris for first-timers.
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40 Things To Do On A First Time Visit To Paris
This list of things to do in Paris for first-timers is broken into categories, so you can get a sense of the variety of what’s in Paris and the depth in any one category. I’ve also tried to give a bit of information and context for each category.
It’s a long list, so feel free to use the Table of Contents (above) to dive into the categories you’re most interested in.
See The Major Sights
On your first time visit to Paris, you’ll most likely want to see the sights and monuments that have made Paris famous around the world.
I have struggled to find a definitive data-based list, but I feel like these six are the top landmarks in Paris, the ones you would try to see even if you only had one day in Paris. But, you should know, they are also the places that can be most busy, with high ticket prices and/or big crowds.
You probably know them already, but I’ll give you a quick run-down and my personal take on them.
1. The Eiffel Tower
Visiting the Eiffel Tower was top of my list of things to do when I went to Paris for the first time – it is so iconic and it was irresistible to me!
It stands 330 meters high, dominating the skyline for miles around and is of course the most popular and recognisable landmark in Paris.
If you want to climb the Eiffel Tower, it’s a good idea to get tickets in advance to avoid the longest queues. And if you don’t want to spend the money and time to go all the way up, you can still enjoy the views of it from the gardens and various viewpoints around the city. There are some nice perspectives at Avenue Silvestre de Sacy and Rue de l’Universite.
One of the most famous landmarks in Paris – and one many people visit on their first time in Paris, is the Gothic masterpiece, Notre-Dame. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, it was made famous by The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. Its two towers and rose-shaped window are striking and attractive.
Unfortunately, since the fire that destroyed the spire and interior of the cathedral in 2019, it is currently not possible to go inside the cathedral. However, you can take a walking tour around Notre Dame and you could also visit the Archaeological Crypt exhibition on Notre-Dame which is very close to the cathedral.
3. The Arc De Triomphe
This huge ornate archway sits at the junction of 12 avenues, surrounded by a roundabout, The Étoile, that seems to have no traffic rules. The Arc De Triomphe was installed by Napoleon to honour those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars – and you can feel the national pride emanating from it.
You can admire it from the streets that surround it and you can also get tickets to go inside and climb to the rooftop, where there’s a viewing platform with panoramic views of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, Sacre-Couer and La Defense.
Top Tip: come just before sunset to watch the sky change colour and to see the lights come on over Paris. I love this spot at this time so much, I recommend it as the place to end the day on my Paris in one day itinerary.
4. The Louvre
Paris is home to many galleries and museums exhibiting work from artists around the world, most famously the Musée du Louvre, the world’s most-visited museum and home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa since 1804.
The museum covers 10,000 years of history and it can take hours to explore thoroughly. The building itself is also worthy of your gaze: the main renaissance buildings are ornate and stately; the glass pyramid has become quite a draw in and of itself.
It’s smart to buy your Musée du Louvre tickets in advance.
5. Sacré Cœur
Overlooking the city from its perch on the butte of Montmartre is the Basilica of Sacré Cœur de Montmartre. This is an elegant white church with elongated domes designed in the Romano-Byzantine style in 1914.
You can go into the church, have a guided tour and even walk up into the domes for a great view over Paris. Or you can simply enjoy the view from the gardens out front.
6. The Seine
Walking or riding a boat along the Seine River is a great thing to do if you’re in Paris for the first time. Along the Seine, you’ll find some of the classic Paris landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. There are also 37 bridges connecting the well-to-do right bank of the Seine and the philosophical left bank, including the famous Pont Neuf.
There are guided tours of the Seine, but a simple and affordable way to ride the Seine is by taking the hop-on-hop-off the Batobus. There’s no commentary but you can get on and off as you see fit, so it’s a really convenient option.
Discover The History Of Paris
If you’re interested in history and/or getting to know the story of the places you visit, there are some museums and things to do on your first time visit to Paris. These will help you get to grips with the rich tapestry of the city’s history.
7. Carnavalet Museum
Musée Carnavalet is probably the best place to start for the history of Paris because its extensive exhibits tell the story of Paris from antiquity to this century. They have ancient remains, sumptuous room sets with the décor and furniture typical of the 17th and 18th centuries and detailed documentation of the French revolution and the various republics & empires (although I did get a little lost during this part, as there were so many revolutions and take-overs!).
The Carnavalet Museum is located in the heart of the upscale Marais area and it is free to explore the permanent collection – which is rare for Paris museums and great news for those exploring Paris on a budget.
8. Archaeological Crypt
If you’re particularly interested in Roman remains, consider a visit to the Archaeological Crypt. This underground museum contains the remains of several structures that were part of the Roman settlement of Lutetia, which was centred on Ile de la Cite before Paris was founded (one of the facts about Paris I hadn’t known before). They also have an exhibition all about Notre-Dame cathedral, how it became popular due to Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and its renovation in the 19th century.
You can also do an outdoor walking tour around Notre Dame, which includes access to the Archaeological Crypt.
Paris was a major city in the middle ages, so if you like history or Gothic architecture, you might want to check out some Gothic remains on your first time visit to Paris. While many of the medieval buildings were destroyed during the 19th-century renovation of Paris, there are still some great examples of Gothic architecture that remain. Of course, Notre Dame is the most famous, but there are some other places to check out if you’re into Gothic architecture or the history of the middle ages.
Close to Notre-dame is another Gothic architectural masterpiece, Sainte-Chapelle. This chapel was built to house the relic of Christ’s Crown of Thorns in 1248.
The spectacular stained-glass windows and midnight blue, star-strewn ceiling make this my favourite church in Paris – if there’s one church to pay to go into, it’s this one! Buy Sainte-Chapelle tickets here.
10. La Conciergerie
Next to Saint-Chapelle is another gothic building: La Conciergerie. It is famous for being a revolutionary prison, the place Marie Antoinette was held in 1793 before her execution. However, it was built as a medieval palace under King Philip The Fair – and the Salle des Gardes (Guards Room) and Salle des Gens d’armes (Hall of the soldiers), have lovely examples of a gothic vaulted ceiling. It also has the oldest public clock in Paris.
You can buy tickets for La Conciergerie, or, if you want to visit both Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie, you can save money with a combined ticket.
11. Collège Des Bernardins
Collège des Bernardins is a training and research centre, and it’s not a major sightseeing landmark at all. However, the reason I mention it for Paris first-timers is that it’s another great example of Gothic vaulted ceilings and arches. So that’s your thing, and/or you’re looking to go off the beaten path in Paris, go and check it out. It’s a short walk from Notre Dame into the heart of the Latin Quarter and it’s free to have a look around the entrance hall.
12. Tour Saint-Jacques
Tour Saint-Jacques is an attractive tower in Flamboyant Gothic style, which is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. It feels kind of quirky to me because one of the four corners of the tower has an intricate pinnacle that is higher than the rest
It’s been nicely restored and there’s a lovely park at the base of it, which is a nice spot to rest if you’ve been exploring the city. You can also get a good view of it from the top of the Pompidou Centre.
Fancy Paris Of The 16th-19th Centuries
OK, so I am crudely grouping several centuries of history and many styles of architecture together here! Forgive me, but I’m not knowledgeable enough about history and/or architecture to tell the various styles apart.
What I’m talking about here is the flamboyant and ostentatious styles of the Renaissance, Baroque architecture and Napoleonic eras. In plain terms, the stuff with fancy carvings, gold leaf and /or proud declarations of French victories and values. I’ll also include the wide mansion-lined boulevards in this category: the vision of Georges-Eugène Haussmann who redesigned the centre of Paris during the Second Empire of France.
There’s lots of this ornate architecture dotted in and around Paris and I expect most people see at least one of these impressive landmarks on their first time visit to Paris.
13. Place Des Vosges
Originally named Place Royale, Place Des Vosges was inaugurated in 1612 with a grand celebration of the engagement of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.
The square itself has trees, lawns, fountains and a statue of Louis XIII on horseback in the centre. Originally, it was used as a place for the nobility to meet and chat – to see and be seen. These days, it’s a lovely spot to picnic or play petanque.
Perhaps what makes it so handsome, though, is the buildings that surround it: all built to the same design, with red brick and blue slate rooves. Porticoes run all the way around, creating a lovely walkway and sheltered space for some of the restaurants and cafes that line the square.
14. Palace Of Versailles
Château de Versailles is not in Paris, but you can easily visit the Palace of Versailles from Paris by train (it’s only 12 miles west of the city), or take a tour from Paris.
It is a former royal residence built on the site of a hunting lodge between 1661 and 1715 by King Louis XIV (husband of Marie Antoinette, perhaps the most famous resident at the palace). In 1682, he moved the seat of his court and government to Versailles, making the palace the de facto capital of France until the French Revolution in 1789. It’s also where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.
The palace is known for its large extravagant interiors, including the ostentatious Hall of Mirrors, and it displays a mix of architectural styles including Baroque, Renaissance and Neo-classical.
15. Hôtel De Ville
Hôtel de Ville is the City Hall of Paris and this site has been the headquarters of the municipality of Paris since 1357! However, the building has changed since then, including being burned during the Paris Commune revolution in 1871, and rebuilt afterwards.
The architectural style is French Renaissance, inspired by the Châteaux of the Loire Valley. It has those recognisable steeply sloped rooves, a spire and fancy chimneys.
It looks great lit up at night – and is especially spectacular in December when there’s a Christmas market on the square in front.
16. Les Invalides
Hôtel des Invalides (Les Invalides for short) is a complex of buildings dating from 1676 that includes a museum and a hospital for war veterans. It’s most recognisable for its Baroque chapel, Dôme des Invalides, which is topped with an ornate gold dome. At 107 metres, it is the tallest church building in Paris and it’s quite a spectacle, especially in sunlight.
Since 1840, the chapel’s crypt has housed the remains and sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte, which you can get tickets to visit.
17. Palais Garnier
Palais Garnier, also known as Opéra Garnier, is the name of the Opera House made famous by Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera.
It was designed by Charles Garnier and built in 1875 in Napoleon III style, taking influence from Renaissance, Classicism and Baroque styles. The exterior is impressive, but the real delight is the opulent interior, which features ornate stone staircases, carvings and chandeliers. The gold leaf work in the Grand foyer room is really a dazzling spectacle to behold.
You don’t have to have a ticket for the opera to see it – for far less, you can buy tickets for a self-guided tour of the building during the daytime.
18. Covered Passages
In the early to mid-19th century, covered passages were built in Paris, designed to be a more pleasant shopping experience for wealthy Parisians than the dirty outdoor streets.
These passages couverts were attractive walkways with shops and cafes, protected from the elements by vaulted wrought iron and glass ceilings.
Around 1850, there were 150 of them, but far fewer remain today and they’re a real mixed bag. I have visited all of them, so if you’re interested in checking one out during your time in Paris, read my post on the best covered passages in Paris to choose a good one, rather than one of the run-down ones.
La Belle Epoque & Art Nouveau
Paris is also famed for being the centre of La Belle Époque, that heady time in the late 19th century and early 20th century that saw a brief period of peace in Europe and a boom in cultural and artistic expression.
In the arts, both impressionism and expressionism came to the fore and the swirling, romantic Art Nouveau style emerged. It was also a time of invention and discovery: neon lights were invented in France and Marie Curie worked in France, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. The Eiffel tower opened for the world’s fair in 1899.
On your first time visit to Paris, you might want to see and experience a little of Paris of the Belle Epoque, so here’s how.
Montmartre is a charming hilltop community with a village feel.
It has plenty of viewpoints over Paris, including from the Sacre-Coeur. However, it is best known for being the centre of artistic Paris in the early 1900s. Montmartre was home to artists including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro and Vincent van Gogh.
Take my self-guided walking tour of Montmartre to explore the cobbled streets, pretty cafes and viewpoints in this area. Along the way, visit some of the places these visionary creatives used to hang out in, including Lapin Agile, Le Consulat and Place du Tertre. And for a history of the area, visit Montmartre museum.
20. Les Grands Magasins
Between the mid-late-19th century and the 1910s, the covered passages of Paris were overtaken by grand department stores (Les Grands Magasins) that were built to entice and delight wealthy shoppers.
Of the five major department stores, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, BHV Le Marais, La Samaritaine, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, the last two are probably the best-known outside Paris and my personal favourite is Galeries Lafayette.
The reason I like this one is its fantastic art nouveau style, including a circular atrium with ornate balconies, topped with a colourful glass cupola. It is stunning at any time of year but especially dazzling at Christmas.
Both Galeries Lafayette and Printemps also have great views over Paris from their rooftop terraces.
21. Pont Alexandre III
There are lots of bridges across the Seine, but perhaps the most eye-catching is the Beaux-Arts style Pont Alexandre III, built between 1896 and 1900, in time for the Exposition Universelle World’s Fair. It is named for Alexander III, the Emperor of Russia who helped forge the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892
It crosses the river between Les Invalides and Place de Concorde and features Art Nouveau street lamps and gold and gilt-bronze statues of mythical figures.
22. Grand Palais & Petit Palais
Built for the same Exposition as Pont Alexandre III, the Grand and Petit Palaces face each other across Avenue Winston-Churchill just off Champs Elysees.
The Grand Palais is a Beaux-Arts-style exhibition hall featuring a vast glass domed ceiling and Art Nouveau-style staircase. At the time of writing, it is under renovation, with no entry.
The much smaller Petit Palais houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts.
Another aspect of Paris you might be interested in exploring during your first time visit to Paris is the intellectual and philosophical side of the city.
Paris has long been a city of learning and thinking. The Sorbonne university has existed in the Latin Quarter since the 12th century and the Left Bank of the Seine is associated with artists, writers, and philosophers, leading to the saying that “Paris ‘learned to think’ on the Left Bank”.
In addition, the French Existentialism Movement arose in the 1930s and flourished in the 1950s and 60s, spear-headed by philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir. And in the 1950s and 60s, French New Wave Cinema was hugely influential in filmmaking: rejecting norms of filmmaking and exploring experimental topics and styles.
23. The Latin Quarter
On the left bank of the Seine, the Latin Quarter is one of the oldest districts in the city and it gets its name from the language taught in schools here in the middle ages.
The Latin quarter contains the Sorbonne University, which was founded in the 13th century. Another landmark is the Pantheon– a church that houses the remains of author Victor Hugo. You can take self-guided tours here
There are some remains of the old defensive walls of Paris in the Latin Quarter, but it is also known for its lively atmosphere and narrow, cobbled streets, including Rue Mouffetard, which is a long road with lots of great places to eat. You can also find some quaint establishments, including the Shakespeare & Company bookshop, Odette cafe and Abbey bookshop.
24. St Germain Des Pres
Perhaps the philosophical heart of Paris is Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a left bank neighbourhood is located around Paris’s oldest church, Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Prés (dating from the 6th century and once a crypt for the kings of France). The church contains the tomb of René Descartes, a 17th century philosopher, scientist and mathematician who has been called the ‘father of modern philosophy’.
In the 1950s and 60s, this neighbourhood became a hub for intellectuals, writers, filmmakers, musicians and philosophers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Their haunts include the iconic café Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore.
Bold, Contemporary Paris
Paris has this rich, textured history going back centuries, but one of the things I like about this city is it continues to innovate, to surprise with modern additions. I see this most clearly in the city’s architecture.
If it’s your first time visit to Paris, keep your eye out for these contemporary landmarks.
25. Pompidou Centre
In 1977, the Pompidou Centre was finished: a polarising inside-out building that is seen by some as innovative and by others as ugly. I lean more towards the letter – but I like that it exists. It is a gallery of modern art (tickets available here), but the building itself is intriguing and I can recommend the top floor restaurant, which has lovely views.
26. Louvre Pyramid
In 1984 came the glass pyramid at the centre of the Louvre complex: a bold addition that works perfectly to juxtapose new with old. The view of the pyramid through the arches of the entrance passage from Rue de Rivoli street is wonderful.
27. La Defense
In 1989, a new, modern arch was built on the outskirts of Paris, directly opposite the Arc de Triomphe if you look along Avenue Charles De Gaulle and Avenue de la Grand Armee. La Grande Arche de la Défense is a gleaming angular arch-shaped building, around which has sprung up many other skyscrapers.
For centuries, Paris has been a magnet for artists and art. In particular, in the 19th century and early 20th century, communities of artists established themselves in the city, with art schools associated with some of the finest painters of the times. Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Art Deco and Abstract art movements, among others, all evolved in Paris, and Paris has played a key role for painters such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and many others.
For many on their first visit to Paris, they choose to visit the Louvre, which I’ve already mentioned, but there are plenty of options these two that I especially like:
28. Musee d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay is probably my favourite art gallery in Paris. It is known for its huge collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, including works by Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.
And the building itself is also hugely impressive. It was originally designed to be a train station and so it features a cavernous atrium with an arched ceiling. There are also two large clock faces through which you can look out over the city.
You can get Musée d’Orsay tickets here.
29. Musee De l’Orangerie
Another gallery that I love is Musee de l’Orangerie, which is much smaller than the Louvre or Musee d’Orsay, but it has one major draw: it displays a series of Monet’s largest Waterlillies paintings in a space that he designed to showcase them. There are two large oval rooms that showcase 4 paintings in each. They’re flooded with natural light from above and the ambience is calm and serene. I could just sit in there for hours…
You can get timed tickets for Musee de l’Orangerie.
A Viewpoint Over The City
Other than the La Défense area, Paris has few skyscrapers, so there isn’t a dramatic skyline like there is in NYC, Hong Kong or Singapore. However, it is still beautiful from up high: there are iconic landmarks, most prominent of which is the Eiffel Tower, of course – but also churches and cathedrals. And the rooftops themselves are very attractive: both the older houses and Haussmann’s mansions have handsome grey rooftops.
Make your first time visit to Paris memorable by enjoying one of these viewpoints. Some of my favourites are at places I’ve mentioned already:
- Eiffel Tower – the top is the highest viewpoint in Paris at 276 meters
- Sacre-Coeur – there are nice views from the base and of the church and the domes at the top
- Arc De Triomphe – 360-degree views down the 12 avenues that meet at Place Charles de Gaulle. Great views of the Eiffel Tower and La Defense
- Pompidou Centre – views from the south and west sides overlooking Tour Sainte-Jacques, Eiffel Tower and Sacre-Coeur in the distance
- Galeries Lafayatte – the rooftop terrace has a view of Palais Garnier and the Eiffel tower across the rooftops
- Printemps has a small terrace with views of their own domes and Palais Garnier
30. Montparnasse Tower
In addition to those, there’s Montparnasse Tower. The tower and the area around it are a bit ropey, but the 360-degree view from the open-air terrace on the 59th floor is wonderful. You can buy tickets in advance.
Try French Cuisine
You can get it all over the world, but if there’s one place you should eat French food it should be France, right? On your first time visit to Paris, try at least a little French food.
Paris is a multi-cultural capital and you’ll be able to find cuisine from all around the globe, but when I’m in the capital of France, I always try at least one thing something quintessentially French. I might have a croissant for breakfast or Croque monsieur for brunch. I’ll snack on crêpes from a stall and indulge in boeuf bourguignon. However, I have to say I have not yet been brave enough to try that uniquely French delicacy: escargot (snails). Maybe one day…
Here are some restaurants that I’ve tried and recommend – and don’t be put off from dining out if you’re travelling Paris solo. It’s perfectly fine to dine in Paris alone.
31. High-End Restaurants
Paris has plenty of high-end restaurants offering exquisite food, including x Michelin-starred restaurants (in 2023) – but sometimes for eye-watering prices. If your budget allows, here are a couple of fancy places I have tried and loved.
- L’Oiseau Blanc – this restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel has a lovely dining room with a view of the Eiffel tower, as well as a whimsical aeroplane. The prices took my breath away (I didn’t check the menu before booking – big mistake, huge!) – but the food was amazing, the service impeccable and the experience was delightful.
- La Tour d’Argent – currently being renovated and re-opening in April 2023, the Tour d’Argent (meaning Silver Tower) is a historic restaurant that has been serving food since 1780. It specialises in duck and has a Michelin star. For me, the real draw is its elegant dining room, which has stunning views of Notre Dame.
32. Traditional Restaurants And Bistrots
I’ve eaten in a lot of cosy bistrots and restaurants in Paris. Here are some that have a more traditional feel and French dishes on the menu – perfect for your first time in Paris:
- Le Moulin De La Galette, Montmartre – this restaurant is famous for being the scene of a famous Renoir painting. They serve traditional French fayre in a convivial dining room. I enjoyed steak frites there.
- Café des Anges, near Bastille – a vibrant, modern bistrot with a mix of French classics and international dishes. I had a burger (so not that French!) but the frites were AMAZING
- Les Philosophes, Le Marais – classic French bistro, where I enjoyed the crème brulee for dessert
- Le Progrès, Montmartre – a very attractive Art Nouveau-style café with a pretty exterior and interior. I had a messy but delicious French onion soup here
- Le Pure Café, Sainte Marguerite, was featured in Before Sunset, one of the many movies set in Paris. It is very attractive-looking and quaint and the burger was good
33. Café Bars
Parisien cafes are so alluring with their bright colours and neon signs. Finding one near your hotel for an alternative to hotel breakfast. A good toasted sandwich sets you up well for a day exploring the streets of Paris.
- La Comète is one near where I stayed recently and they do a mean Croque Madame (toasted ham & cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg)
Crepes and galettes from Brittany are delightfully French, so you might well want to try one on your first visit to Paris.
- Breizh Café, Le Marais (& various other locations around Paris). They specialise in Brittany-style galettes, which are typically savoury. I enjoyed one with blue cheese – yum.
- Creperie Bretonne Fleurie is another creperie I enjoyed – it’s a small, quirky place in the Bastille area. The classic Crêpes Suzette is nice and orangy and very boozy.
Wander in Green Spaces
The streets of Paris can be grand and handsome, but if your first time visit to Paris is in spring, summer or Autumn, you might welcome a break in one of the many green spaces in the city.
35. Jardin du Luxembourg
For your first time in Paris, if there’s one park to visit, I’d say it is Jardin du Luxembourg. It was originally the gardens of Luxembourg Palace, home of the mother of King Louis XIII Marie de’ Medici. Now it is owned by the state and there are lawns, ponds and fountains, and also some tennis courts. It’s a lovely place to stroll or sit and enjoy nature.
36. Jardin des Tuileries
Between the Louvre and Place de la Concord there is a long stretch of tidy gardens. The name Jardin des Tuileries comes from the tile factories which previously stood on the site when the since-demolished Palais des Tuileries was being built.
There are walkways, ponds and a Ferris Wheel. At the western end, you’ll find Musee de l Orangerie.
37. Promenade Plantée René-Dumont
Promenade plantée René-Dumont, a tree-lined walkway built on top of an old elevated railway line. It follows a 4.7 km (2.9 miles) path from close to Opéra Bastille to Boulevard Périphérique.
The promenade is a pleasant greenbelt through the city and it also offers some lovely views of the streets below. It is popular with runners and dog walkers, it’s a nice place to go off the beaten path in Paris.
This might be macabre for some people, but walking in one of the cemeteries in Paris is quite an interesting thing to do. There are many famous people buried in them and the tombs themselves can be quite spectacular-looking.
If you’re looking for something a bit different to do on your first time in Paris, this could be it.
38. Père Lachaise Cemetery
Cimetière du Père Lachaise is the largest and most famous necropolis in Paris and is in the east of the city – and here you’ll find the tombs of Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf and Jim Morrison among many others.
Much of it is arranged in tight grids. But the middle part of the cemetery is a maze of winding pathways, tombs and trees, which has a fairytale feel.
39. Montmartre Cemetery
Cimetière du Nord (also known as Cimetière de Montmartre) is west of Montmartre and the final resting place of Émile Zola, Gustave Moreau, and Dalida, a beloved singer who died tragically in 1987.
40. Montparnasse Cemetery
Cimetière du Montparnasse is in the south of the city and contains the tombs of poet Charles Baudelaire and philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
41. Paris Catacombs
Now, I mention this because I know a lot of people might be interested in it. The Paris Catacombs are an underground ossuary, containing the bones of people whose burial sites were transferred out of standard cemeteries due to public health concerns in the 18th-century.
I actually haven’t been to this one myself because I hate the idea of underground tunnels and dead people’s skulls – but you should know it’s here, in case that’s something you’re interested in – you can get tickets with an audio guide here.
10 Tips For A First Time Visit To Paris
OK, so we’ve covered all kinds of things to do on your first time visit to Paris, but if you have not been to Paris before, you might want to consider these tips for Paris First Timers, to avoid unwelcome surprises.
1. Manage Your Expectations
I personally have enjoyed every single visit I have made to Paris – I love it; it has a special place in my heart.
However, Paris is often mentioned on lists of ‘most overrated cities’ and many people say they were disappointed with Paris (in fact there’s such a thing called Paris Syndrome, where people become ill because they’re so disappointed by Paris!). Based on conversations I’ve had, I believe the disappointment often comes from them having unrealistic expectations of Paris, fuelled by how it gets presented in movies and on TV. Many people expect this super-glamourous, stylish and romantic place. And while it can be all of those things at certain times or in certain places (and there are lots of romantic of things to do in Paris for couples), it can also be like many other cities: busy, dirty and noisy.
I recommend you read my post specifically on this topic and consider my tips on how to avoid disappointment with Paris.
2. Book Ahead
As I explain in the post about Paris Syndrome, Paris is very popular and can get full of tourists, especially in Summer, but also to a lesser extent in Spring and Autumn. If you are keen to go to any of the major landmarks or museums, I highly recommend booking ahead to avoid disappointment.
Likewise, I’ve found it’s easier to get affordable accommodation if you book at least a few months in advance, rather than last minute.
3. Learn Some French
In France, more than in other European countries, it is a really good idea to learn some basic words and phrases in the language. People working in hotels and most of those in restaurants will speak at least some English, but there can be those that resent having to speak in English – understandably in my opinion!
So, learn the basics like hello, please, thank you, etc. And if that’s all you can say in French, I’d recommend checking if someone speaks English (Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglaise?) before you ask them something in English, and then to thank them if they do. It’s much better to ask and not assume, and you’ll find most people are willing to help you if asked politely.
4. Look After Your Belongings
Like many big cities, there are pickpockets in Paris, and you should keep an eye on your belongings, especially at crowded landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and the front of the Sacre-Coeur.
I use a backpack for my camera so that it’s out of sight when I’m not using it. And I have an anti-theft bag by Travelon that can’t be grabbed off my shoulders. It also has slash-proof fabric, so no one can simply cut your bag open to grab your stuff, and lockable zips so that they can’t be surreptitiously opened without you noticing.
And, of course, don’t wander around with your phone out – you could look like an easy target.
5. Use A Navigation App
I recommend the CityMapper navigation app. I love this app and use it in cities all around the world, including Paris.
It’s a free app available on Apple and Android that lets you plan a route across Paris via public transport and walking. If you know where you’re heading, it will give you a full end-to-end journey plan from where you are (or another location), including the route to the bus or metro station, any connections/changes you need, and how long it will take. It even has alerts for delays on the trains (although I have found sometimes the info on engineering works etc is in French!).
Using The Metro
The Metro may be daunting if you’re not used to an underground train system like it, but if you take a little time to plan what you need to do before going it, you’ll find it is actually quite straightforward. Before starting any journey, follow these steps:
- Check the station you’re starting from and getting off at
- Check the maps or use the CityMapper navigation app to help you work out whether one line will take you all the way, or whether you will need to change lines (and where).
- Check the final destination of the train you take for each part of the journey. This is how the stations signpost which direction the train is going in. They won’t say ‘uptown’, or ‘westbound’ – they will simply say the name of the final stop, so you need to know in advance what that is (or you could get on a train going in the opposite direction)
Metro tickets can be bought as a single for €1.90 or if you plan to use the Metro regularly, you can make savings by buying a longer pass, eg 2 days. However, a two-day pass will be valid the day you buy it and the next day, but not for 48 hours from when you buy it.
6. Be Aware Of Scams
It’s a sad fact that some people try to take advantage of tourists in Paris, often with distraction techniques. Knowing what these scams might be will help you avoid them and protect yourself:
- The fixed price taxi scam: This is where a taxi driver will tell you there’s a fixed price for all taxi journeys, and the price will be high. When this happened to me, I was told it would be €100, which is ridiculous for the short journey I was taking. Paris taxis are supposed to run on meters like most other cities, so I knew this was a scam. If this happens to you, say no, ask the driver to stop and get out of the taxi.
- The petition scam: you might find people approaching you to sign a petition about some cause. I’ve noticed they come up to you with urgency, so you might feel like it’s important to listen to what they’re saying. But this petition is can be a precursor to a request for money OR a way to distract you so someone else can pick your pockets. Of course, there may be legitimate petitions out there, but if you’re a visitor in Paris, what use is your signature on a French petition anyway? Just decline and walk away.
- The ‘Gift’ You Have To Pay For: This is where someone seems to give you something, such as a rose or a friendship bracelet, but then they will demand payment (or someone else might be trying to pickpocket you as you’re distracted). It’s best to assume no gifts from strangers are free, so just politely decline
- The Spilled Change Scam: this is where someone who is begging on the street will spill their money pot as you walk by. You might think it was your fault so you’ll try to help gather the coins etc. But it could be that this is a ploy to guilt you into giving them more money or distract you while someone else steals from you. Step clear of any begging cups or pots so that this won’t happen to you.
7. Check Opening Times For Museums and Restaurants
If you’re in Paris for the first time, you should be aware of how opening times work.
In many cities around the world, things are open and busy seven days a week – but Paris is not 100% like that. Some of the big landmarks, museums and restaurants etc are open every day, but it’s not at all uncommon for some to be closed on Sundays or Mondays, or even Tuesdays.
For example, the Eiffel Tower is open daily, but the Musée d’Orsay is closed on Mondays and the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. So if you’re planning to be exploring between a Sunday and Tuesday, check in advance whether the places you want to go are definitely open.
8. Consider The Best Time To Go To Paris: Pick The Right Season
Paris changes a lot by season, so on your first visit, think about what to expect for that season.
I’ve been to Paris in all seasons, and my favourites are Spring and Autumn (Fall). There might be rain in Spring and Autumn, but the temperatures are generally warm but not hot, which is perfect weather for exploring on foot. And the seasonal colours add a lovely lens through which you see the city: in spring, there are blossoms and vibrant greens; in Autumn, the changing leaves are gorgeous. It is also generally less crowded in these shoulder seasons.
I also like Paris in Winter: the trees are bare and it’s cold, but it’s nice to explore when there are fewer visitors around. And Paris at Christmas is really special: they do lights and Christmas Markets very well! However, you should know that opening days can be reduced in winter. For example, in January, I found some of the cafes in Montmartre didn’t open Sun–Wed.
For many years now I have avoided Paris in the summer: I’ve been a few times, but it’s just too hot and crowded for me!
9. Don’t Plan Everything – Allow Time To Wander
There’s a lot to do in Paris and it’s an expensive city, so I completely understand your wanting to pack your schedule for your first visit to Paris.
However, Paris is also a city that rewards those who wander, so do consider allowing time in your days to simply explore the streets for a while – perhaps walk from place to play instead of using the Metro every time. And keep your eyes open – look around you.
I don’t believe there are (m)any truly ‘hidden’ gems in Paris, but there are corners and parks and alleys which are somewhat off the beaten path in Paris – and many are low-key lovely. I found a cute passageway in the Sainte Marguerite area when walking one day. And my husband and I had a lovely rest in this park near Le Bon Marché when we were on a day trip to Paris. Neither were places I’d read about or were looking for – we just walked and looked and found them.
10. Think About What You Wear In Paris
Don’t worry – I don’t mean you should plan every outfit to be as stylish as possible. I mean almost the opposite, in fact.
I completely understand some people get a lot of pleasure from fashion and enjoy having photos of themselves dressed up at famous landmarks. However, I think there’s an Americanised idea of Paris fashion perpetuated by TV shows like Emily In Paris. Whilst some Parisians are very stylish, in my experience, those that are in bold outfits, colourful berets and enormous heels are normally tourists. And the attention they’re drawing might not be a good thing (remember the scammers).
So, if you love a glammed-up photo op, go for it, but maybe tone it down and blend in a little more when you’re out and about on the streets to avoid the notice of those who might be looking for a target.
Best Area To Stay In Paris First Time
The good news is that there are lots of good places to stay in Paris. I’ve stayed in many areas that are nice for different reasons. Montmartre is lovely possibly the best area to stay in Paris for the first time – but it tends to be more expensive because it’s so pretty and popular. I’ve found the areas around the Bastille are fairly affordable, and also easy to get into central Paris.
However, there are many other great places to stay. It’s almost better to say where not to stay in Paris – especially for your first time visit to Paris. I would recommend avoiding the following areas:
- Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est and Republique – these areas are run down and there can be guys hanging around street corners or offering taxis, which is not normally a good sign.
- Both Pigalle and Strasbourg-Saint-Denis have historically been red-light districts and remain pretty seedy, in my experience.
Best Hotels In Paris For First Time Visitors
These are the best hotels I’ve stayed at myself recently (in the last 18 months), and which I think would be good for a first time visit to Paris:
- 3-star: the Hotel Auberge Flora, also called La Finca, is in the Bastille area. The rooms are small but it is comfortable, with friendly staff and has everything you need. They have a bar downstairs and they offer a simple, affordable breakfast in the morning.
- 4-star: in Montmartre, the Terrass Hotel is very comfortable and has some wonderful views across Paris to the Eiffel Tower, including from its top-floor restaurant and bar. Another 4-star option is Hôtel Diva Opéra, which is a boutique hotel in Fauberg-Montmartre, close to several of the best covered passages and also Boulevard Haussman
- 5-star: the Hotel Regina Louvre, is next to the Louvre. It is traditional and luxurious, with some elegant Art Nouveau design features. Some rooms have a view of the Eiffel Tower.
The Last Word
I hope these ideas and tips are helpful to you as you plan your first-time visit to Paris – and I hope you have an amazing time!
If you’re travelling to Paris on your own, check out my tips for solo travel in Paris.
And if you’re thinking of visiting Paris together with some other exciting European cities, check out my London, Paris and Barcelona itinerary.