Paris Newbies: Things To Do & Tips For Your First Time In Paris In 2024

towers of notre dame cathedral in paris seen beyond some trees

If you’re planning your first time in Paris, as well as dreaming about this fabulous city, you are probably also thinking about what to do, what to expect, when to go and where to stay.

I really love Paris. I’ve been there many times and I’m often asked for ideas and tips for first-time visitors. I’ve even shown friends around the city personally.

In this post, I’ll give you lots of 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 my top 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.

Read on for all the inspiration and guidance you need before your first time in Paris.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.

Table of Contents

43 Things To Do On Your First Time In Paris

If you’re wondering what should I do on my first trip to Paris, I have lots of ideas for you!

This list of things to do in Paris for first-timers is broken into categories of things that I feel most first-time visitors to Paris will want to experience. Hopefully, this gives you 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 – I won’t mind if you skip around!

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 is a must-do on your first time in Paris. It was certainly 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!

Eiffel Tower and cherry blossoms in yellow morning light
Eiffel Tower

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. There are different options for going up, including climbing the stairselevator access to the second level and summit access (ie going all the way to the top). You can also take guided tours of the Eiffel Tower.

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 the tower from the gardens and various viewpoints around the city. There are some nice perspectives at Avenue Silvestre de Sacy and Rue de l’Universite.  

2. Notre-Dame

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. It is scheduled to re-open in December 2024. Until then, you can take a walking tour around Notre Dame and you can also visit the Archaeological Crypt exhibition on Notre Dame which is very close to the cathedral.

Notre-dame cathedral and trees with green and red autumnal leaves
Notre Dame 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, including the famous shopping street, Champs-Élysées. 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.

ornate stone Arc de triomphe seen across the cobbles of the road around it in Paris
Arc de Triomphe

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 2-day itinerary.

4. The Louvre

Paris is home to many galleries and museums exhibiting work from artists around the world. Most famous is 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.

Renaissance-style buildings and glass pyramid at the Louvre museum in Paris
The Louvre

Tip: 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, which is my preferred thing to do here.

white stone domes and towers of the sacre-coeur in Paris
The Domes of the Sacré Cœur

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.

river boat passes grand buildings on an island in the seine river
A Batobus on the Seine

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 Batobus. There’s no commentary but you can get on and off as you see fit, so it’s a convenient option.

Read more about the Batobus and what to see at the Batobus Paris stops.

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!).

artefacts in a white room at musee carnavalet in paris
Carnavalet Museum

The Carnavalet Museum is located in the heart of the upscale Marais area and it is free to explore the permanent collection! This 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, which I mentioned earlier.

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.

Gothic Paris

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 in 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, which I’ve covered already, is the most famous Gothic building in Paris, but there are some other places to check out if you’re into Gothic architecture or the history of the Middle Ages.

9. Sainte-Chapelle

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, I recommend it’s this one! Buy Sainte-Chapelle tickets here.

blue and pink stained glass windows in a gothic chapel with gold trim and chandeliers at sainte-chapelle in paris
Sainte-Chapelle

10. La Conciergerie

Next to Saint-Chapelle is another gothic building: La Conciergerie. It is famous for being a revolutionary prison, the place where 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.

turrets of the conciergerie compound and the river seine at sunset
Turrets of La Conciergerie at sunset

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. Other Gothic Landmarks

These don’t typically feature on the itineraries of those on their first visit to Paris, but they might interest you if you’re particularly into Gothic architecture.

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.

gothic style vaulted stone ceiling
Collège Des Bernardins
Tour Saint-Jacques

Tour Saint-Jacques is an attractive tower in the 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.

ornate gothic stone tower rising above trees
Tour Saint-Jacques

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 all 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 ornate architecture dotted in and around Paris and I expect most people want to see at least one of these impressive landmarks on their first visit to Paris.

12. 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 (a quintessentially French game).

Perhaps what makes Place des Vosges 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.  

fountain in gardens with handsome red brick buildings behind
Place Des Vosges

13. 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.

Oh, and there are also plenty of other great day trips from Paris by train, which you might want to consider if you are in Paris for a while.

14. 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.

French Renaissance style building lit with blue lights with a carousel in front
Hôtel De Ville hosts one of the best Parisian Christmas Markets

It looks great lit up at night – and is especially spectacular in December when there’s a Christmas market on the square in front.

15. 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.

ornate gold dome of les invalides in Paris
Les Invalides

Since 1840, the chapel’s crypt has housed the remains and sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte, which you can get tickets to visit.

16. 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 the 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 a dazzling spectacle to behold.

ornate painted ceiling with lots of gold leaf embellishment and intricate chandeliers at palais garnier in Paris
Palais Garnier

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.

17. 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.

glass dome above an attractive covered passage with patterned tiles on the floor and plaster reliefs on the wall
Galerie Vivienne

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 in Paris, you might want to see and experience a little of Paris of the Belle Epoque, so here’s how.

18. Montmartre

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, during the Belle Époque. 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. For a history of the area, visit Montmartre Museum.

cobbled street curves uphill towards a pink building and the towers of the sacre-coeur in montmartre
Montmartre

19. 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.

ornate atrium and coloured glass cupola at galleries lafayette in Paris
Galeries Lafayette

Another reason to visit these places is that both Galeries Lafayette and Printemps also have great views over Paris from their rooftop terraces.

20. 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. I think this bridge street is one of the most beautiful streets in Paris.

ornate black and gold lampstands on a bridge with a gold-domed building behind
Pont Alexandre III with Les Invalides beyond it

21. 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.

white cherry blossoms frame a view of an ornate domed building
Spring in Paris: Petit Palais

The much smaller Petit Palais houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts and is one of the best places to see cherry blossoms in Paris in springtime.

Intellectual Paris

Another aspect of Paris you might be interested in exploring during your first time in 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. In the 1950s and 60s, French New Wave Cinema was hugely influential in filmmaking: rejecting norms of filmmaking and exploring experimental topics and styles.

22. 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.

cobbled square with domed building
Place De La Sorbonne, Latin Quarter

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.

23. St Germain Des Pres

Perhaps the philosophical heart of Paris is Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a left-bank neighbourhood 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’.  

Cafe with street terrace seating and canopies and signs saying Les Deux Magots
Les Deux Magots in Saint-Germain

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.

24. Montparnasse

Like Saint-Germain, the left bank area of Montparnasse was a nucleus for creatives and intellectuals in Paris. In the 1920s & 1930s, the artistic centre of Paris migrated here from Montmartre.

There are several historic cafes along Boulevard du Montparnasse, where writers and artists are said to have hung out. These include:

  • La Rotonde – Pablo Picasso is known to have frequented this cafe, along with Amedeo Modigliani, whose paintings are hung on the walls. Peggy Guggenheim is said to have preferred it here to Le Dome, as they let women smoke. And I can testify that they do amazing steak here!
  • La Closerie des Lilas  this cafe, said to have been patronised by Émile Zola and Ernest Hemingway, has a gorgeous garden terrace.
  • Le Dome – a popular cafe written about by Henry Miller and Simone de Beauvoir amongst many others.
  • Le Select – Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were regulars.
  • Le Coupole – Art Deco-style cafe said to have been popular with Simone De Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.
restaurant terrace with flowers and plants
La Closerie des Lilas, Boulevard du Montparnasse

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 in 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.

exterior of a building made  up of beams and pipes
Pompidou Centre

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 is wonderful.

glass pyramid and renaissance-style tower seen through an archway
Louvre Pyramid

27. La Défense

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.

large cuboid building with a hole in the middle
Grand Arch De La Défense

28. Louis Vuitton Foundation

A more recent architectural addition to Paris is the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which opened in 2014.

Its striking deconstructivist structure was designed by Frank Gehry and the building houses gallery space, as well as a roof terrace with views towards the skyscrapers of La Défense.

Located in Bois de Boulogne, it’s not the easiest spot to get to, as it’s a fair walk from a Metro station. However, the building is undeniably striking and the views are pretty cool.

World-Class Art

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:

29. 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.

cavernous interior with arched ceiling and lots of statues at the musee d'orsay in Paris
Musee d’Orsay

You can get Musée d’Orsay tickets here.

30. 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 four 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…

wide panoramic painting of waterlillies in a white oval room at musee de l'orangerie in paris
Monet’s Waterlillies on display at Musee de l’Orangerie

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.

cream buildings and blue-gray rooftops with the eiffel tower in the distance
View from the top of the Pompidou Centre

Make your first-time visit to Paris memorable by enjoying one of these viewpoints.

31. Classic Paris 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 Lafayette – 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 domes and Palais Garnier.
blue and gold domed rooftop of a department store in Paris
View from Printemps

32. Montparnasse Tower

In addition to those, there’s also Montparnasse Tower. The tower itself and the area around it are a bit shabby-looking, so bear that in mind if you go. However, the 360-degree view from the open-air terrace on the 59th floor is wonderful. You can buy tickets in advance.

aerial iew of Paris showing buildings and avenues and the eiffel tower
View from Montparnasse Tower showing the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides

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 in Paris, try at least a little French food.

Paris is a multicultural 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.

33. Do a Food Tour

A food tour is a good way to get to know French cuisine in Paris, if it’s your first time there. There are plenty of different options, including

I was sponsored (meaning they covered the cost, in exchange for me reviewing the tour) to do the Gourmet Food Tour With 10+ Tastings. This is a good tour for first-timers in Paris because it gives a broad overview of French food and french delicacies, with lots of delicious things to taste, and some cool sights along the way.

My tour started at 10am with pastries from an artisanal boulangerie, followed by a classic jambon beurre sandwich. Over the course of 2.5 hours, I learned about (and sampled) French bread, wine and various cheeses; I indulged in two different kinds of macaron from a master chocolatier, plus some tasty croque monsieur. And the morning finished with a unique, award-winning patisserie.

My main tip is to skip breakfast before the tour. I can’t believe I forgot to do this, and ended up really full by the end of it!

34. High-End Restaurants

Paris has plenty of high-end restaurants offering exquisite food, including 129 Michelin-starred restaurants (in 2024) – 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.
plate of pretty delicate canapes on a white table cloth
Canapes at L’Oiseau Blanc

35. Traditional Restaurants And Bistrots

I’ve eaten in a lot of cosy bistros 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.
  • La Boîte aux Lettres, on Rue Lepic in Montmartre. It’s a small place with a creative menu that changes with the season.
  • 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 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.
  • Becquetance – a small, creative place with a changeable menu – in Menilmontante. I had a delicious fregola salad here.
  • Willette Cafe Troquet in the 9th arrondissement is another small restaurant I enjoyed – the cheese board was very generous!
  • Georgette in the 6th arrondissement, near Luxembourg Gardens. Really nice place where I had a stunning steak.
steak and fries on a platter in a restaurant in Paris
Steak frites at Moulin De La Galette

Heads up: both bistros and restaurants in Paris can be on the small side – with narrow chairs and limited space between tables. So be prepared to feel cosy!

36. Café Bars

Parisian cafes are so alluring with their bright colours and neon signs. Find 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.

There are loads of them, all over 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). And Le Progrès, Montmartre is a very attractive Art Nouveau-style café with a pretty exterior and interior. I had a messy but delicious French onion soup here.

a montage of colourful neon-lit fronts to Paris cafe bars
A collage of Parisian Cafe bars

37. Creperies

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.
square-shaped folded galette with egg in the middle
A Bretonne-style galette

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.

38. 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 flower beds, lawns, ponds, fountains and statues. It’s a lovely place to stroll or sit and enjoy nature.

Statues and stately home in a park in Paris

39. 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 that previously stood on the site when the since-demolished Palais des Tuileries was being built.

statue and pink blossom tree in park surrounded by grand buildings

There are walkways, ponds and views of several iconic landmarks in Paris: the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, the obelisk at Place de la Concord and, in the distance, the Eiffel Tower. At the western end, you’ll find Musee de l Orangerie.

In Spring, Jardin des Tuileries is one of the best places to see cherry blossoms in Paris.

40. Other Paris Parks

Beyond the two main parks I’ve just mentioned, if you want to explore Paris’s green spaces further, these other parks are really gorgeous, especially if you’re in Paris in spring:

  • Jardin des Plantes – an extensive park in the Latin Quarter, with lawns, walkways, flower beds and botanical gardens. Home to the Grande Galerie de l’évolution, part of the Natural History Museum, it’s great for plant lovers, especially.
  • Parc Monceau – a pretty, strollable space in the 8th arrondissement with a Roman-style colonnade around its pond.
  • Parc des Buttes-Chaumont – built on what was once a quarry, this park in the northeast of Paris has some sloped landscaping and a striking Roman-style temple on top of a steep cliff.
  • Parc Montsouris – a leafy park on the southern border of Paris, with many lovely features, including a pond with black swans.
  • Bois de Vincennes – an extensive park in the east of Paris, with woodland, lawns and lakes. Go row-boating on the pretty Lac Daumesnil.

41. Promenade Plantée René-Dumont

Promenade plantée René-Dumont, a tree-lined garden 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.

tree in blossom along an elevated garden walkway in Paris
Promenade Plantée René-Dumont

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 somewhat off the beaten path in Paris.

Dead Paris

42. Parisian Cemeteries

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.

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.

cobbled path through tombstones and trees at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
Père Lachaise 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.

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.

43. 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 Your First Time In 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. While it can be all of those things at certain times or in certain places (and there are lots of romantic 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.

cute Paris cafe with green vines all over the walls
Paris can be quaint and romantic – but not all the time

2. Book Ahead

As I explained 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 who 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.

Oh, and always say Bonjour when you first interact with someone in a shop or a restaurant. Starting with ‘excuse me’ or ‘please would you help’ etc are not considered as polite or respectful an opening as ‘Bonjour’.

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!). 

greeen art nouveau style entrance to the Paris Metro

6. Use 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.

7.  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 the common scams are 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 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 / Clear Cup Scam: This is where someone who is begging on the street will spill their money pot as you walk by. They might have used a clear cup to make it harder to see. 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.

8. 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, Mondays, or even Tuesdays.

large clockface with a man looking through its transparent face over Paris
Musée d’Orsay

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.

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 place 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 that 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.

cobbled passageway with green trees, a parked motorcycle and a vintage shop in paris
Passageway in Sainte Marguerite

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 who 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.

FAQs On Visiting Paris For The First Time

When Is The Best Time To Go To Paris?

Paris changes a lot by season, so on your first visit, think about what to expect for that season.

I’ve been in all seasons, and my favourites are Springtime in Paris 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.

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!

How Many Days Do You Need In Paris For The First Time?

I don’t think there’s one answer to this question. I’ve enjoyed really short stays in Paris and extended stays of weeks at a time.

I designed an itinerary for only one day in Paris, which aims to help you experience the best of Paris (if not all of Paris) in a day.

I also have itineraries for two days in Paris and four days in Paris. And if you have more time than that, all the better: you could add to these itineraries things that are off the beaten path in Paris and also do some day trips from Paris by train.

What Is The Best Area To Stay In Paris For The 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 in 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.

What Are The Best Hotels In Paris For First-Time Visitors?

I have a whole post on this question with lots of ideas for places to stay in Paris for first-timers!

However, if you’re short on time right now, these are the best hotels I’ve stayed at myself recently, and which I think would be good for a first time in Paris:

3-star: the La Finca Hôtel & Spa 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.  

breakfast on a table next to a window overlooking Paris including the eiffel tower in the distance
Breakfast at the Terrass Hotel

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.

grand old hotel in Haussmann style of architecture with a gold statue in front of it
If you don’t mind splashing out, the Hotel Regina Louvre could be a great hotel for a first time in Paris

Read more on the best hotels to stay in Paris for first-timers.

What Should I Budget For Visiting Paris For The First Time?

There’s no getting around the fact that Paris is an expensive city to visit for most of us. In 2024, Numbeo puts Paris at number 46 in its rankings for cost of living. Paris is a popular place, so many attractions know they can price their tickets high and people will still pay it.

Here’s a rough guideline for what to budget for your first visit to Paris:

  • Budget hotels: €75-200 per night
  • Mid-range hotels €200-300 per night
  • Luxury Hotels €400+ per night
  • Lunch in a casual restaurant: €15-20
  • Dinner in a bistro: €25-50
  • Museums/landmarks: €10-30

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 need more ideas on how to spend your time, I have the perfect 4-day itinerary for Paris.

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 and my comparison of Paris vs Barcelona.

If you like this article, I'd be delighted if you shared it!

4 thoughts on “Paris Newbies: Things To Do & Tips For Your First Time In Paris In 2024”

  1. Francis K Hawkins

    Love your website and commentary ! …. extremely helpful and well explained ….. You need to consider publishing ! Have enjoyed all your articles very much ….
    Was wondering …. of all the areas you mention in various Paris articles, …. if you would pick one area (or arrondissement) where would it be … for a two day visit …… Thanks, in advance, for your advice …. looking forward to reading more about your travels ……

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback, Francis! To answer your question, some of my favourite areas of Paris so far are: Montmartre (pretty, but touristy), Le Marais (arty, chic), Bastille (buzzy bars) and the 6th arrondissement (I stayed just west of Luxembourg Gardens, which is a nice, quiet area)

  2. HI! Great info thank you so much. One thing I am struggling with that I just cannot seem to find. I would like to have a breakdown of what attractions are in which districts. I have been trying to find written lists of the attractions but I mostly find maps that have all kinds of attractions in them. For example, what major monuments/parks are in Le Marais vs. Montparnasse? Thank you.

    1. Interesting question… I haven’t done a guide by arrondissement… For me, some of my favourite things to do/see in Le Marais include Hotel de Ville, Place des Vosges and Musee Caranavalet. Plus there are some nice cocktail bars, including little Red Door and Cambridge Public House. In Montparnasse, you have the tower, which is not beautiful (at all), but does have a stunning view from the top. There’s also the cemetery where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir are buried, and of course the grand literary cafes of Boulevard du Montparnasse. Hope that helps!

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