I am a quick traveler. Instead of spending a lot of time in one place, I usually try to see many different places for a few days However, I recently spent 10 days in Paris. During my time in there, I walked an average of 9 miles/day and was sightseeing from sun up to sundown (which was around 11pm in late June).
Therefore, I feel qualified to write a guide to Paris based on my research and places I visited. This is not an all-encompassing guide- you could spend a month sightseeing just in Paris. This is also not a guide for people trying to experience an authentic Parisian lifestyle. Rather, this is a list of highlights that a tourist would want to visit on a short-medium length trip.
Part 1: Places to Visit
- Louvre – Main art museum. Has the Mona Lisa and countless other priceless pieces
- D’Orsay –Go here if you want to avoid the crowds of the Louvre but still want to see amazing art. Buy a skip the line ticket.
- L’Orangerie- Contains Monet’s water lilies and lots of 19th-20thcentury art
- Pompidou Center – Main modern art museum. The building is just as impressive as the art.
- Rodin- Dedicated to the famed sculptor
- Picasso- Dedicated to the famed painter. He was Spanish but spent a lot of time in Paris.
- Foundation Louis Vuitton – Modern art museum just outside the city
- Ateliers des Lumieres – Looking for something different? Sit in a large dark room and watch a movie based on Van Gogh paintings on the many walls. Make reservations in advance.
- Conciergerie – Fortress and famous prison that housed Marie Antionette and others during the French Revolution.
- Palais des Invalides- French Military museum that contains Napoleon’s tomb. Lots of armor and weapons.
- Catacombs- Dark hallways underneath Paris containing thousands (maybe millions) of skeletons
- Pantheon – Former church turned into a secular monument to the glory of France. The crypt underneath contains the tombs of many famous French men and women.
- Musee de L’Air et de l’Espace – the French Air and Space museum. Very impressive. 45 minutes outside of the city but near the CDG airport. Great if you have a quick layover in Paris.
- Notre Dame de Paris – You cannot actually enter Notre Dame right now since it was partially burned down, but the exterior can still be visited.
- Chapelle – Known worldwide for its stained-glass windows
- Sacre-Coeur – Shiny white church on top of the highest spot in Paris. Parisians like to picnic on the grassy hill.
- Madeleine – Looks like a Greek temple
- Etienne – Surprisingly beautiful church next to the Pantheon
- Eustache – Gothic church in city center. Since you can’t visit Notre Dame, this is the church that looks most like it.
- Denis – Burial location for all the French monarchs. The tombs are very impressive. About 30 minutes by subway from city center.
- Augustin – Has a Victorian-steampunk flair. My favorite church in Paris.
- Tuileries – Classic French gardens next to the Louvre. UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Luxembourg – Another set of classic French gardens next to the palace housing the French Senate
- Trocadero- Go here for the best pictures of the Eiffel Tower. Garden itself isn’t special.
- Les Plantes- Large botanical garden.
- Sacre Coeur- The grassy hill next to the church is a great place to lounge around
- Sacre Coeur – You can pay 6 euros to climb to the roof of the dome and get a 360 degree view of all of Paris. The views are spectacular and the climb is fun. This is my favorite view in all of Paris. No wait.
- Montparnasse Tower – this 56-story modern skyscraper is the tallest building in Paris. The observation deck has incredible views of the city. No wait
- Eiffel Tower- The most famous thing in Paris and perhaps the most famous structure on earth. Tickets must be pre-booked. Preferably book a skip-the-line ticket. Even with pre-booked tickets, lines are long. The most common ticket is to the second floor (400 ft up). Expect to wait 30-60 minutes to get here. The summit of the tower requires a different ticket that must be booked at least a week in advance. Expect to wait another 60-90 minutes to get to the summit (984 ft up) from the second floor. The views from the second floor are good, but the views from the summit are insane. I would also recommend to go to a different viewpoint and get a view OF the Eiffel Tower.
- Arc de Triomph-This impressive war memorial is one of Paris’s most famous landmarks. There is an observation deck from the top. It’s not super high up, but provides a cool view of the Champs Elysees. Expect to wait 15-30 minutes depending on time of day.
Neighborhoods to See/Places to Stroll:
Honestly, anywhere in Paris is good for walking around. There are attractions, good architecture and delicious restaurants in every neighborhood.
Some in particular:
- Banks of the Seine River- from Ile Saint-Louis to the Eiffel Tower.
- Ile Saint-Louis – Pretty boutiques and the best ice cream in the world on a small island in the Seine.
- Marais/St. Paul Metro Station – Jewish area of Paris. Lots of narrow alleys and the best falafel in the area.
- Rue Saint-Denis – Popular pedestrian-only tourist street with bars, restaurants. Expect to see some strip clubs.
- Champs Elysees – Paris’s grand boulevard with luxury shops
- 14thArrondissment – A place to flee the tourists in this quieter, but still fun, residential neighborhood
- La Defense – You probably don’t come to Paris to see modern glass skyscrapers; but Paris’ main business district is quite stunning. It is the largest such business district in all of Europe.
- Montmartre – Neighborhood at the base of Sacre Coeur with old streets and lots of cafes.
There are countless Paris restaurant guides that can tell you the trendy spots. However, I looked for cheap to medium-priced places with history. For expensive restaurants, pre-bookings are essential.
- L’As du Fallafel – Israeli falafel. Expect a crowd any time of day. They are closed for the Jewish sabbath (Friday afternoon-all day Saturday)
- Breizh Crepe – Popular creperie near the Picasso Museum
- Angelina Paris – Famed breakfast spot specializing in hot chocolate. They have multiple locations, but one on Rue de Rivoli (next to the Tuileries) is the historic location and one of the prettiest restaurants you’ll ever see.
- Creperie de Josselin – The most famous creperie on the Rue du Montparnasse, a street with many established creperies. All the places are good. Maybe go a little crepe crawl here for dinner.
- Grand Café Capucines – 24-hour brasserie near the Opera House. They have a seafood-heavy menu but specialize in everything. Over 100 years old.
- Le Bouillon Chartier – Huge tourist trap that serves super cheap brasserie
- La Pause Libanaise – Authentic Lebanese falafel and shawarma near the Saint-Lazare train station. Locals go here
- Grand Mosque Restaurant – Moroccan food next to the Grand Mosque of Paris. Cool vibe.
- Le Relais de L’Entrecote – They serve one dish: a plate of steak marinated in a special sauce with French fries. Don’t like it? Too bad.
- Sanukiya – Looking for a break from French food? This is reportedly France’s best noodle shop. They specialize in Udon.
- Lauderee Paris – Famed macaroon shop from the 1800’s.
- Berthillon Glacier – The best ice cream shop in the world. They are on the Ile Saint-Louis and have weirdly short hours. (I guess you can do that when you’re the best.)
- Any bakery: French baked goods are incredible. Even a “lesser” bakery in Paris is better than anything you can get back home.
I am not really into nightlife and never “went out” in my time in Paris. However, here are a few famous more low-key bars that I liked:
- Harry’s New York Bar – Historic NY-themed bar. They invented the Bloody Mary and countless other famous cocktails
- Ritz Bar – In the Ritz Carlton hotel. They invented the mimosa. VERY expensive.
- Prescription Cocktail Club – Very high-quality cocktails
- The Great Canadian – Canadian-themed bar. You can watch hockey here.
Paris is synonymous with luxury and high fashion. Therefore, it is no surprise that there are amazing shopping opportunities here. My girlfriend is a fashion designer, and I was here for her show, so fashion was on my mind while in town.
- Galleries Lafayette – An incredible department store popular with tourists. The flagship location (near the Opera House) is 8 stories tall and is beautiful! They also have a large food court.
- Flagship Chanel – The world’s biggest Chanel store (in an original building owned by Coco) is on 31 Rue Cambon
- Flagship Louis Vuitton – The biggest and best Louis Vuitton store anywhere. On the Champs Elysees.
- Flagship Saint Laurent – The biggest and best Yves Saint Laurent store is less than a block from the Arc d’Triomphe. While you’re at it, check out the YSL Museum a few blocks away.
- Flagship Hermes – Near the Place de la Concorde
- BHV – A huge historic department store in the Marais.
- Le Bon Marche – The world’s first department store
- Saint-Ouen – This is the flea market of all flea markets. It is reportedly the largest secondhand marketplace on earth. Located just north of the city limits.
Generally, the price of lodging is very high for the quality of room. You will most likely be disappointed by the tiny size of your room.
That said, being near a train station (preferably with multiple train lines) is very helpful for getting around and, to me, is worth paying extra. If you do not plan to spend much time at your hotel, I would strive to get a hotel near a major train station such as Opera or Nation.
Also, air conditioning is not very popular in Europe so make sure to check on that if traveling in the summer.
While there is plenty to see in Paris, you might want to visit somewhere else in France for the day. All these places can be reached by train. For the further-out cities, consider pre-booking your SNCF ticket.
- Versailles –The famed palace of Louis XIV is just 45 minutes from Paris via a suburban RER train. Tour the palace and gardens. Make sure to buy a skip-the-line ticket to avoid the hours-long wait in the too-bright courtyard. I spent 5 hours there.
- Fontainebleau – Another famed royal palace that is 50 minutes by train, then another 10 minutes by either bus or taxi. The town is also the home of the famed INSEAD business school.
- Provins – Picture perfect medieval town that is essentially a summer-long Renaissance fair. About an hour from Paris.
- Paris Disneyland – There are two theme parks here: Parc Disneyland, a traditional castle park, and Disney Studio, a much smaller park designed to look like a movie studio. 30 minute train ride from Paris.
- Chartres -Cute town known for its cathedral which is one of the most beautiful in the world. 1 hour 15 minutes from Paris on the suburban train line.
- Reims – Capital of the Champagne region and home to the famed cathedral where French kings were crowned. 45 minutes from Paris.
- Orleans – Hometown of Joan d’Arc and known for its cathedral. 1 hour 15 minutes from Paris.
- Amiens – Home of the largest cathedral in France and hometown of French President Macron.
Part 2: Logistics
Lay of the Land:
The city of Paris has 20 districts called Arrondissments. Each Arrondissment is between 1/3 -3 square miles. They are numbered 1-20 and do not have names. The 1stArrondissmentis on the north side of the Seine River in the very center of the city. The numbers then spiral out in a snail-shell fashion. The 20thArrondissment is on the northeast edge of the city.
The city is mostly flat with the notable exception of Montmartre hill on the north side of the city. The Seine River bisects the city into a North Bank and South Bank. Both banks are fancy and both banks have plenty of attractions.
Vehicular traffic is absolutely terrible at all hours of the day due to the complex and historic street grid. Avoid taking a car if possible.
Paris has 16 subway lines. The system is called the Metropolitan. Trains run every 3-5 minutes all day and night. 1 ticket costs about 2 Euros and can get you anywhere in the system. Additionally, there are 5 suburban trains called RER. These run less frequently (a few times/hour), but down to once an hour in off-peak times). RER trains have multiple stops in the city and occasionally can be used for local transport; but the stations are deep underground so make sure to add 15 minutes to any suggested time.
Electric scooters are now an increasingly popular method of transport in Paris. Google Maps will show scooter travel times as an option.
Additionally, good old-fashioned walking is popular. Expect to walk multiple miles in a day no matter what methods of transport you use.
The city is safe at all times. You can walk alone at any time of night and feel safe. Muggings and murders are extremely rare. The most common crime is pickpocketing which is most likely done either in a crowded nightclub or on a busy street in broad daylight. There are also various tourist scams. In general, if a random person is approaching you on the street, they are probably trying to (legally/friendly or not) take your money.
Paris has two airports: Charles de-Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY). CDG is the destination of the vast majority of flights from outside of Europe, while Orly is the hub for more domestic and close flights. Orly is slightly closer.
Both airports have rail connections to the city via the RER suburban trains. CDG also has a direct bus to the Opera House.
French is the predominant language in Paris. However, everyone in the tourism industry speaks English (and probably a few other languages too). Knowing a few phrases in French is nice, but by no means necessary. A good idea is to get Google Translate and download French offline. This can help you translate menus- the only reason you might need to know French.
When taking day trips outside of Paris, most people still will know English.
France is part of the Schengen Area, a collection of 26 European Union countries that have abolished border controls at their mutual borders. You will not have your passport checked when traveling from another Schengen country.
The Schengen Area is visa-free for Americans, Canadians, some Latin Americans and most developed countries. Almost everyone else needs a visa. Make sure to check the requirements for your passport. Sometime in 2021, the Schengen Area will be requiring Americans to fill out an electronic authorization form for entry.