Paris is one of the most visiting cities in the world. The city of light and love is on the top of most peoples travel bucket list. Personally, I think there are far nicer places to visit in France. Like most famous European cities, if you’re looking for an authentic experience, Paris will surely disappoint. But as hyped and touristic as Paris is, it is undeniably a stunning city. It’s elegant, beautiful and has that ‘je ne sais quoi’.
When I was coming back from Canada, Paris was the cheapest place to fly in to. So it was a great opportunity to extend my trip by a couple of days before going home. Even though Paris is only a 6-hour drive from where I live in the Netherlands, I hadn’t been there in eight years. I always end up traveling to places further away instead. I missed that old European glamor a lot while I was in the US and Canada, so I was really excited to see Paris again.
I ended up spending two days walking around Paris, hitting all the highlights and visiting a few museums. Paris has tons to offer and there are definitely a lot of hidden gems. But most of the big hitters are totally worth it in my opinion, especially during low season. Since it was early October, the weather was still pretty mild and sunny but it wasn’t overly crowded with tourists. You seriously couldn’t pay me to visit a city like Paris during the summer! Getting reacquainted with Paris (and eating my body weight in pastries) was an absolute joy. These are the best things to do in Paris:
Check out the iconic Eiffel Tower
Did you really visit Paris if you didn’t see the Eiffel Tower? The beautiful structure has become the most recognized landmark and a symbol for both Paris and France as a whole. But did you know it was never supposed to be a permanent structure? The Eiffel Tower was designed by Gustav Eiffel and built for the World Expo in 1889 as the entrance to the exhibit. But people loved it so much that the city decided to keep it. And now I couldn’t imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower. I’ve never actually been up the tower, because I’d much rather look at it than look down from it (and I hate spending money on tourist traps). Instead, I recommend going up to the viewpoint at Trocadéro, which has the best view of the tower. It’s especially beautiful lit up at night. Or have a lovely pick nick in the Champs de Mars parc and watch everyone take the exact same picture.
Go museum hopping
Paris itself might feel like an open-air museum, but the actual museum are even better. The Louvre in Paris is arguably the most famous museum in the world, even before the Carters ;). It is a huge complex that would take you several days to see completely. I’ve only ever run in once to see the Mona Lisa and ran right back out. Deeply disappointing, because the Mona Lisa is very underwhelming in real life and the museum gets packed. I would stick to admiring the outside of the Louvre, unless you’re a huge art lover or a young EU resident as EU residents under 26 get free entrance to all museums in Paris!
Another famous museum that is worth it in my opinion is Musée D’Orsay. The Musée D’Orsay is much smaller than the Louvre and specializes in Western art from 1848 to 1914. Which just happens to contain my favorite art movements: Impressionist and Art Nouveau. The building is an old Art Deco railway station and stunning in its own right. I highly recommend checking out the view from the fifth floor, where you can see the city from behind a huge clock (perfect Instagram pic).
Impressionism lovers like me will also greatly enjoy the Musée Marmottan Monet. It’s an elegantly renovated old Parisian house with a huge collection of Monet and other Impressionist art. It’s not as big and tourists as the Musee D’Orsay. Another less famous, but totally worth it is the Petit Palais, which houses the Fine Arts Museum.
If contemporary art is more your thing, visit the Centre Pompidou. The top floor of the museum is free and has a beautiful view of the city.
Stroll along the Seine
My absolute favorite thing to do in Paris is to simply stroll along the Seine. The River runs through the heart of the city and has a gorgeous boulevard along it. Each side is lined with stunning buildings, cute cafés and shops and the view is just amazing.
But the best thing about the banks of the Seine are the “Bouquinistes”. These are vendors that sell posters, books and souvenirs out of mobile stalls. This tradition dates all the way back to the 16th century and it’s even made the UNESCO World Heritage List! You can find the green metal cases attached to the walls of the boulevard on a three kilometer strip along the Seine. The vendors open these in the morning to showcase their ware. Although it has become touristic, browsing these shops still popular with locals as well. Some vendors clearly target tourists with cheap plastic tourists and low quality reproductions. But others sell beautiful antique books, old stamps and vintage posters. These also make for really cool, one of a kind souvenirs and gifts.
Marvel at the Notre Dame Cathedral
Even after the big fire in April 2019, the Notre Dame de Paris is still a sight to behold. This beautiful Gothic Cathedral stands in the heart of the city, on the Île de la Cité. Although the roof and central tower collapsed in the fire, the iconic facade remained intact. Unfortunately, this means that you can’t enter the Notre Dame. Works to restore the cathedral to its former glory are well underway, but it will take a while. In the meantime, you can easily see it from the banks of the Seine, or you can cross the bridge for a closer view. Even if its just from the outside, the Notre Dame is still worth seeing. It is one of the most iconic buildings in Paris and a beautiful Cathedral.
Shop at Shakespeare and Company
The Bouquinistes along the Seine aren’t the only great place in Paris to buy books. If you’re looking for English books, Shakespeare and Company is a must-visit (and even if you’re not looking for anything to read). The English bookshop first opened in Paris in 1919 and became a hub for the Lost Generation, a group of American writers who lived in Paris between the World Wars. Some members went on to become world-famous, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Sylvia Beach, T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein. They inspired Woody Allen for his movie Midnight in Paris.
Shakespeare and Company is an important landmark for literary history and still a functioning bookstore. They sell contemporary books on all manner of topics, including poetry. The top floor displays antique books and classic literature. Pictures are not allowed inside, but I can tell you it’s definitely worth going in. It’s cramped and cozy in the best way possible, just how a bookstore should be.
What activities would you consider a must-do in Paris? Tell me all about your favorite spots and sights in the comments.
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