I went to Paris over Thanksgiving, and I did things. This was my third time back, so I took it easy and didn’t do a lot of the must see must do items that a first time tourist might want to experience. So instead of listing the things I did on this previous trip, this post will be about things I think every first time visitor to Paris might be interested in. Paris food blog post coming soon.
First off, if you are going to be in Paris for more than four days, get a museum pass. It’s completely worth it if you plan on hitting most of the major museums and attractions. I did a few museums several times and went up the Notre Dame tower twice because of the pass (free entry, no queue, go as many times as you’d like with the pass). If you are under the age of 26, you may not need one as many places offer free or discounted entry. Check each sight’s website for more information.
If you plan on taking the metro a lot, get a week pass (Navigo Découverte). It gives you unlimited rides around all zones in Paris, including both airports, Disneyland Paris, Chateau de Versailles and Palace of Fontainebleau. You will need a passport photo (3cm x 2.5cm) for the card which you can take in a photo booth at the station for a fee; I came prepared and printed my own photo from home (free). The pass is valid for one week from Monday to Sunday. It can be purchased starting Friday for the next week. This site has great info about the pass.
Now on to the good stuff:
Notre Dame de Paris
Tower: 10€ or free with museum pass; Cathedral: free to public
You can’t go to Paris and not see this amazing cathedral. The three times I’ve been to this city, I stayed within blocks of the Notre Dame off Boulevard Saint-Germain (central, affordable, lots of things to do in the area). With my museum pass, I went up the tower during the day and evening right before closing to get some great shots of the city. You will need to make a reservation in order to visit the tower. The Cathedral is free with or without the pass and has long queues during peak hours.
If you are in the area and have time, behind the Notre Dame is the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation. This is a memorial to the 200,000 people who were deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Entrance is free to the public.
10€ or free with museum pass
This is across from the Notre Dame and is one of the most beautiful and serene places in Paris. I recommend going an hour before they close so you can be among the last people to stay behind (almost alone) in the breathtaking chapel.
While you are in the area, you might want to visit the Conciergerie. It is 9€ or free with the museum pass. I wouldn’t say this is a must do, but it’s really pretty.. in a cold, foreboding kind of way. It was where Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned.
Tour de Eiffel
16€ lift to 2nd floor, 10€ stairs to 2nd floor. 25€ lift to the top. 19€ stairs + lift to top. No museum pass entry.
This is a no-brainer. If you’re in Paris, you gotta see the Eiffel Tower. I’ve been to the 2nd floor, and I’ve also been to the top. I think the 2nd floor views are already wonderful so going to the top is unnecessary in my opinion, but don’t blame me if you decide to pass and regret it later. I’m a basic girl so I like most of my Paris scenery shots to have the Eiffel Tower in the background; thus, scenic photos taken from the tower aren’t as iconic. Right? Naw? Anyway, after sunset the tower lights up in billions of beautiful sparkling lights on the hour every hour ’til 1am.
Arc De Triomphe
17€ or free with museum pass
I went here multiple days in one trip since it was free with the museum pass. Going up the winding steps can be a little tiring *heavy breathing* but the views are worth it. Make sure your bladder is empty before you visit because bathroom queues are long (I spent more time waiting for the toilet than taking photos at the top of the Arc).
The Catacombs of Paris
Tickets: 13€, no museum pass. Reserve online to avoid a long wait.
It smells a little funky down there, but that’s because there are millions of dead people surrounding you. Walking through the long, dark corridor to get to the catacombs was spookier to me than seeing the actual catacombs.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
The resting place of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, the cemetery is the largest in Paris and easy to get lost in. You’ll need a map.
The first elevated park in the world, Promenade Plantée is a magical tree-lined walkway above the East side of Paris. Similar to NYC’s High Line, but a lot greener.
My favorite neighborhood in Paris is Montmartre, located in the 18th arrondissement. It was home to many notable artists like Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. If you take a walk through the area you’ll see the following sights:
Basilica du Sacré-Cœur
You’ll get some of the most gorgeous views of Paris from the steps of this church (free). You’ll get an even better view from the Dome (fee). I also visited the crypt inside the church, but according to the website it is now closed for security reasons.
Paris does supermarkets and department stores better than the US. There’s so much to see, buy, and eat that it is sensory overload, but in a good way. My favorite is Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche. Our first time there it took us an hour to decide what to eat, but after our meal we sampled other spots inside the market and everything was delicious.
Another slightly overcrowded but recommended market is Galeries Lafayette. Try going during the weekday because it gets crazy claustrophobic on the weekends. While you’re there, go to the rooftop for some scenic views of Paris.
If you’re in Paris on a Sunday or Thursday, the Marché Bastille has groceries, food, souvenirs, clothing, housewares, and just about anything you’d want from an outdoor street market. It’s a fun place to window shop and grab a crêpe while you’re walking from stall to stall.
If you want to hit boutique shops, the hipster area in town is in Le Marais. Lots of cute French shops, but also lots of clothing store chains. If you’re in the area, visit Le BHV Marais (a favorite department store for locals).
Musée du Louvre
Tickets: 15€ or free with museum pass
Just thinking about The Louvre is overwhelming and makes my brain tired. It is a massive museum that was originally built as a fortress. I recommend hiring a tour guide to show you the most notable works of art as well as explain the history of the museum. If you don’t want a guide (they are expensive), Rick Steve’s Paris Travel Guide book will walk you through the can’t-miss highlights.
Tickets: 12€ or free with museum pass
My favorite and most beautiful museum in Paris, the Orsay (originally a railway station) houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.
Musée de l’Orangerie
Tickets: 9€ or free with museum pass
A very small but wonderful art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Loved the oval rooms covered in Monet’s water-lily paintings.
Musée national Picasso-Paris
Tickets: 12,5€ or free with museum pass
Great museum for fans of Picasso, but even if you don’t appreciate his art stop by just to see the cool building.
Tickets: 10€ or free with museum pass
I really liked the garden outside of the museum. Worth a visit to see The Thinker.
Musée de l’Armée – Tombeau de Napoléon 1er
Tickets: check site for price or free with museum pass
Tickets: 14€ or free with museum pass
A modern art museum designed in the style of high-tech architecture.
Musée des égouts de Paris
Tickets: 4,4€ or free with museum pass
I could tell you that I only went here because it was free with my museum pass, but really I came for the poop. If you are claustrophobic and have a nose, I don’t recommend you go (unless you really love poop, which there was none visible on the tour).
Day Trips outside of Paris
Palace of Versailles
Train: 7,1€ round trip or free with the Navigo Découverte metro pass
Less than an hour train ride from Paris, the Château of Versailles is a stunning display of France’s historic royalty and power. I recommend getting there early before the horde of tourists overtake the palace and gardens. Entrance into the Palace is free with your museum pass.
Versailles is so big that I only had time to visit the Palace and the Gardens. I did not venture into the rest of the city.
Château de Fontainebleau
Train: Purchase a single metro ride, or free with the Navigo Découverte metro pass; Then take the bus €1.90 – pay as you get on
About a 40 minute train ride from Paris, the Château de Fontainebleau is not quite as majestic as the Palace of Versailles, but it is impressive and worth a visit. It’s a lot smaller than Versailles, so you’ll have time to stroll through the quaint town and enjoy a long lunch. Entrance into the Château is free with your museum pass.
Train: purchase a single Metro ticket, or free with the Navigo Découverte metro pass
I love everything Disney, so it was a must for me to visit Disneyland Paris. It’s not quite as magical as it is in LA or Orlando, but it was still fun and had a lot of the same rides. The queues were short during off-season so we rode the best rides several times, and that made visiting worth it. Disney Paris is comprised of two parks: Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. I purchased a park hopper ticket which allowed multiple entry into each side. Pro tip: purchase your tickets online beforehand to save money, and use the French version of the site to save a lot more money. Print your tickets and show them at either entrance gate.
If you don’t follow my guide and visit any of the sights I mentioned above, then what the hell are you here for? Just kidding! If you don’t follow my guide, you’ll still have the most marvelous time in Paris because you’re in Paris! Every street is picturesque, every park is beautiful, and everything about Paris is so romantic. Thus, I will leave you with random photos around the city.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments what your favorites are in Paris! Paris food blog post coming next…