Paris. The city of love. I’ve wanted to visit Paris for such a long, long time… especially after seeing pictures, watching movies and hearing stories about this beautiful city. Sidewalk cafes, shopping boutiques, museums, bridges and couples in love at every turn… that’s how I imagined Paris to be.
With all that in mind, it’s hard to fit everything I want to see and do in Paris in just a couple of days. So as a traveler, a visitor and a tourist all in one; I’ve listed my Top 10 Things to do in Paris that you should not miss out on. It’s the icons, the landmarks and authentic Parisian experiences — those that you can add to your picture album and say, “I’ve been to Paris.”
1) Admire the Eiffel Tower from Near and Afar
A trip to Paris is never complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower… and you can only say you’ve seen it; if you’ve seen it from afar, seen in from underneath, seen Paris from the top, and admired it during the day and night. Each point of the tower at different times of the day offers a different experience. It may be touristy, and crowded, and the queue may be overwhelming, but this is one monument you cannot miss.
I spent an entire day here; drinking hot chocolate atop the tower overlooking Paris, sitting at the Champ de Mars and Trocadero admiring it from afar, and watching the lights and sparkles come on as day turned to night. The activities below the tower are pretty entertaining too!
2) Cruise and Walk the Seine
Everyone should do this at least once. With so many boats cruising the Seine every hour – you can choose from an hour ride or 2, a hop on hop off one, or have lunch, tea or dinner onboard. It is a wonderful experience just gliding on by with the wind in your hair; admiring Paris’ famous monuments and landmarks, passing under bridges after bridges, and just watching people walking along the banks of the river.
And after the boat ride, walk along the Seine too. So many different views to take in from both sides of the river bank. While I was there during the summer; I ran a race with the little children, danced with some random people, had coffee while watching the world go by… and took too many photos.
3) Visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre
The Louvre is Paris’ most famous museum, and of course, if you are a big The Da Vinci Code fan, you’d wanna see the glass pyramids; both above ground and underground. The museum itself is too huge and extensive to visit in a day, so if you have limited time; learn how to beat the crowds, study the map or visit the museum’s website before hand. Know exactly what you want to see.
The most important lady to visit is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; and other works on my list were the Venus de Milo, Theodore Gericault’s Raft of Medusa, Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napolean, and that nipple pinching masterpiece. After getting done with my list, I happily wandered around aimlessly.
4) Walk the Avenue des Champs-Elysees
It’s called the most beautiful avenue in the world. With two kilometres of restaurants, luxury boutiques and chain stores; it is fun just to stroll along the stretch filled with tourists and Parisians. Though shopping and eating here is not recommended- it’s highly inflated, if you have the extra cash and want to flaunt that luxury shopping bag as you sashay along… go ahead! You’re in Paris after all.
I spent a lovely summer afternoon just walking the Champs Elysees, soaking in the atmosphere, peeking into a boutique or two… and enjoying the shade from the trees that lined the avenue.
5) Climb to the Top of the Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is simply majestic. Built by Napolean in the 19th century as a tribute to the victory of his army, it stands at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, forming a star which leads to 12 grand avenues. It is beautiful when seen from afar or across the busy traffic circle, but climb the 40 stairs that lead to the viewing terrace at the top… and you get a view of Paris that is simply stunning.
I timed my visit during sunset; so I got to witness the sun going down on Paris, admired the avenues branching out from the arc, as well as the Eiffel Tower in the distance… both day and night.
6) Enjoy the View from the Sacre Couer
The Basilique Sacre Couer, or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic Church that sits at the highest point of Paris in Montmartre, and offers sweeping views of the city. The area outside the basilica can get rather crowded, with lots of tourists, touts and buskers; but don’t let that deter you from climbing up the many stairs to the top- if you prefer, you can take the funicular too. Admire the panorama, and make a visit into the all white basilica and its crypt. Bear in mind that silence is required once inside, as frequent service still takes place.
I remember sitting on the stairs with the crowd, watching a busker showing off his freestyle football skills, with the beautiful view of Paris in the background.
7) See the Gargoyles at the Notre Dame Cathedral
If you’ve read or watched Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this is the cathedral he was referring to. Marvel at the Notre Dame cathedral from the outside, then head inside to further admire the French Gothic architecture and the stained glass windows. The highlight of the Notre Dame Cathedral though, are the gargoyles that adorn the gutters high above the cathedral. There are two lines to get in; one for the cathedral and one to climb the towers. Due to the queues– come early and do both, or choose one.
I managed to do both. The 387 step climb to the top of the two towers can be a quite a task, but the monstrous and scary looking gargoyles waiting there makes it all worth while. Half-man, half-beast, half-fantasy creature with beaks and tails and wings and claws… no two are alike. And the views from up there, adds to the reward.
8) Be Afraid in the Caverns of the Catacombs
The catacombs is a massive grave with the remains of millions of Parisians from the 18th century. The self-guided tour takes you down a spiral staircase into Paris’ underground and through a long, dimly lit tunnel that leads to the catacombs- filled with rows of neatly stacked (and sometimes with designs too) bones, femurs and skulls. Though the catacombs is one of the city’s most popular attractions, it is not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic– the underground corridors are narrow, the ceilings are low and it is downright eerie.
This is definitely a different way to view Paris. As fascinating as it was, I had goosebumps the entire time I was there; it was creepy, I was cold and it was too quiet. The queues to get in may be horribly long, but due to the crowd control, there is usually hardly anyone once inside.
9) Gawk at the Centre Pompidou
Opened in 1977, the Centre Pompedou stands with its unique architecture as a hub for arts and culture. The building wears its tubes, pipes and structures outside, color-coded for different functions in blue, green, yellow and red. It may look unfinished, but it is home to the National Museum of Modern Art, and houses a public library, cinemas, theatres, exhibition spaces, conference halls, shops and restaurants.
I honestly find this gigantic architectural curiosity extremely odd, but take lots of pictures… you’ll never find anything like it anywhere else. And then explore the old town of Marais, where the Centre Pompedou is located… it’s great for shopping.
10) Chill Out in the Beautiful Gardens of Paris
Paris is surrounded by beautiful parks and gardens, and on a summer’s day, it is great to stroll around, sit back and relax, admire the view, have a picnic or people watch. The fountains around the gardens are also a joy to see, and if you want to join the children for fun fairs, rides and shows– why not!
My favourite gardens are the romantic Jardin des Luxembourg and the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries. I love how there are chairs all over the gardens, and people can just grab one and sit anywhere they like… or just lie on the grass.