Paris is one of those cities that’s on everyone’s bucket list, whether it be for its wealth of draws, from the gourmet food and the high fashion to the elaborate art offering and the grand architecture. However, precisely because Paris has so much to offer, it’s very tricky to know where to start to have the ‘best’ Paris experience. Our Paris team has put together a checklist of things you absolutely must have done when in the City of Lights, so even if you don’t have much time here, you’re sure to have seen a good part of this fascinating multifaceted city.
The Eiffel Tower seen from the Trocadero from 9pm
It might not sound very original, but greeting the Grande Dame is must – even locals make an effort to see her regularly. The ultimate symbol of Paris and most recognisable monument in the world, the place to see her is from the Trocadero, and the best time is from 9pm (till 1am) in winter when she glitters with 20,000 lights.
Sunset cruise on the Seine
There are zillions of cruises along the River Seine for all tastes and budgets. We suggest opting for a sunset dinner tour on a glass boat. The tours take visitors past some of Paris’s most sensational monuments like the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais and Notre Dame – the difference at night is that because they are so skilfully lit, it’s a magical experience.
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Watch life go by on a bench of Place des Vosges
When people ask us what to do in Paris, we often include just sitting at a café and watching life go by. We love to do it on Place des Vosges, one of the city’s most alluring squares in the Marais neighbourhood. Surrounded by old townhouses standing on arches, and adorned with pruned trees and fountains, it’s full of old Parisian soul.
Brunch at the Ritz Hotel
Brunch is deeply ingrained in local customs now, and every restaurant in Paris offers one. However, for the ultimate brunch experience that screams Paris, there’s no better place than the Ritz Hotel for its palatial surroundings, high-end cuisine and Place Vendôme location.
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Mull around Shakespeare and Company bookshop
Again, this whimsical English language bookshop might be in all the guidebooks, but it also has its fair share of local fans. A real Paris icon, digging out a book here to read for the journey home among the rickety ceiling-high shelves that line the narrow winding aisles is a must.
Dinner by candle light at Chez Papa’s Jazz Club
Saint-Germain des Prés is still a charming neighbourhood where the intellectuals would hang out at places like Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, however, they tend to be overrun with tourists. Prefer a dinner-jazz experience at the atmospheric Papa’s, where anyone who’s anyone’s been coming for the last four decades, all of whom have left their mark on the graffitied walls.
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A performance at the Opera at Garnier, or a behind-the-scenes visit
The enormous palatial Belle Epoque opera house, adorned in intricate sculptures draped in gold, is also the best place to see a ballet or opera. Tickets are like gold dust so sign up to receive notifications of when tickets for shows go on sale. Failing that, book yourself onto a behind-the-scenes tour of the eerie building that was the original setting for The Phantom of the Opera.
A drink at Le Très Particulier
Aside from Saint-Germain and the Marais, another neighbourhood visitors must explore is the hilltop village of Montmartre with the grand white Sacré Coeur Basilica perched at the very top. Explore its winding streets and plan a pit stop at the Très Particulier bar inside the bewitching Hôtel Particulier Monmartre on a leafy hidden alley.
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Monumenta show at the Grand Palais
One of the highlights of the Paris arts calendar, each year or two the majestic Grand Palais museum, with its impressive glass roof, hosts a contemporary artist who invests its lofty 72,000 square metres. Outside Monumenta, the museum itself merits a visit for its stellar art shows throughout the year.
Visit the Musée d'Orsay's art collection
Paris has a long list of blockbuster museums, but if pushed for time, the Musée d’Orsay, inside a former Beaux-Arts railway station, comes out top. Not only is it one of the city’s most beautiful museums, but it has the world’s largest collection of Impressionist Art, from Van Gogh to Monet (English tours available every day).
For more ideas on how to Do, Dine and Spend in Paris and beyond, visit our Destinations pages.