10 Best Paris Attractions and Activities For Your Bucket List
By Paige Donner
Paris Local Expert
Paris embraces visitors from the moment they land in the City of Light. Iconic places like the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré-Cœur, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and Père Lachaise cemetery, all evoke feelings of familiarity and timelessness. These are images we’ve grown up with, in movies, magazines and luxury ads. And no matter where we’re from, Paris is a dream destination.
When you’re here, you’ll find that the French excel in adding doses of modernity to a city steeped in history. The glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, for example, was scandalous when first built but now is as emblematic of the museum as is the Mona Lisa housed within. Strolling Parisian streets is in itself a walk through the tomes of time as these are the same rues and passerelles (streets and alleys) where Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, both US Ambassadors to France at the dawn of our nation, and French greats such as Victor Hugo, Lafayette, General DeGaulle, Napoléon, King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette each once lived, walked and breathed.
It also pays to just wander because many Parisian gems and treasures can be found along a meandering path. You can never get lost in Paris, either, the Seine always points you in the right direction, and even has a boat-bus service, the BatoBus, you can hop on and off to motor you from the Eiffel Tower to the Notre Dame by riverway, and back again, if you so choose.
10 Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Gothic gargoyles (actually, chimeras, if truth be told) and a stately sunburst greet you upon setting your eyes on the Notre Dame Cathedral. The exterior by itself is enough to convince you that this is one important building. Enter the cathedral and you'll be even more drawn into Notre Dame's mystique as you're met with an impressive altar and a luminous glow in the congregation area from the high, stained-glass adorned ceiling and upper walls. Construction on Notre Dame Cathedral started in 1163 under the lead of bishop, Maurice de Sully. Over the years Notre Dame has gone through restorations that has kept it in good condition and it is still an operating church to this day, offering daily masses. On Christmas Eve, plan on arriving a few hours early for Midnight Mass! (01 42 34 56 10)
9 La Tour Eiffel
Boasting an impressive resume that includes being one of the tallest buildings in the world and a design that was lauded when it was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle - a festival to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution - La Tour Eiffel, more commonly known as the Eiffel Tower, originally served as a radio transmitter and a symbol of the innovations achieved during the industrial era. Today, the Eiffel Tower stands proudly amidst Paris and glimpses of it can be seen from all over the city. In reverse, the Eiffel Tower provides a view to the whole city; a ride to the top of the tower takes visitors 276 meters up for a panoramic view of the entire city, stretching out for miles in each direction. At night, the Eiffel Tower comes alive with a light show that increases its role as the city's most recognized feature. (01 44 11 23 23)
Originally built in the 18th c. as a sanctuary for the patron saint of Paris, Ste. Genevieve, the monument today is open to visitors and offers free guided tours (in French) several times a day. Classical architecture modeled on the Panthéon in Rome distinguishes this stately structure, which features both a dramatic portico and a colonnaded dome. Although "pantheon" originally referred to a temple for all gods, this building serves as the final resting place for some of France's most prestigious citizens, including Victor Hugo, Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, and Emile Zola. The four people French President Hollande named to the honor of the Panthéon in 2014 are two men and two women, all who fought in the French Resistance to the Nazis during WWII. The women are Gen?vieve de Gaulle-Athonioz, a niece of Charles de Gaulle, and Germaine Tillion. METRO: Cardinal Lemoine (01 44 32 18 00)
7 Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica, also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is blessed with its location in Paris. At the top of a huge hill in Montmarte overlooking the city, large steps cascade down the hill on one side, the basilica's white domes looming up in magnificence behind them. Head inside the Sacré-Coeur to experience this sacred Catholic cathedral, built in 1876. With its high point at the top of the Montmarte hill plus its gleaming white stone exterior, Sacré-Coeur Basilica is an amazing sight to behold from a distance as well, and views of it can be seen from many different points in Paris. (01 53 41 89 00)
6 Batobus Louvre Stop
Though not strictly an attraction the Batobus is more than just river transportation along the Seine. A hop-on, hop-off shuttle between the major Paris monuments easily accessible from the Seine, I often find myself riding the Batobus just for the sheer pleasure of seeing the city from a different perspective. And while the Bateaux-Mouches and the other wonderful dinner and cocktail Seine river cruises are experiences many rave about, this little Batobus-that-could offers the same views at a fraction of the price, dinner and cocktails not included (of course). The eight stops it makes as it amiably motors along the Seine are : the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d'Orsay, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Notre Dame, Jardin des Plantes, Hôtel de Ville, Louvre and Champs-Elysées. Honestly speaking, where you embark and disembark are in areas that make not just the named monuments accessible, but whole neighborhoods where much then becomes walking distance.
5 Jardin du Luxembourg
Wander amidst manicured flowers and stately statues in this popular and tranquil park in Paris. Jardin du Luxembourg is located in the 6th arrondissement next to a former royal palace, the Palais du Luxembourg, which now houses the French senate. With historical architecture set as a backdrop, your walk through the park will feel completely Parisian. Weave your way around ponds, fountains and grassy areas until you come to the chess area in the middle of the garden where you can take in the many chess devotees playing. This park is also great for children as it offers a small pond with boats for children to rent plus a merry-go-round and pony rides. And it is even dog-friendly, though only on the far side, where it butts up against Blvd. St. Michel.
This 13th-century royal chapel was built in 1242-48 by King Louis IX to house his religious relics brought back from the Holy Land. It is said that it once housed Christ's crown of thorns. Originally part of the royal palace complex on the Ile de la Cité, it is now incorporated into the administrative complex called La Conciergerie. That's part of the reason why you have to go through a security check by the gendarmerie upon entering. The stunning Gothic structure boasts two levels, including an upper section that's awash in light from gorgeous stained-glass windows, depicting scenes from the Old Testament and the Passion of Christ.The chapel is a perfect example of the Gothic architectural style called Rayonnant and its "jewel-box" structure, along with its acoustics within, are renowned worldwide. It has been a national historical monument since 1862. Not to be missed. METRO: Cité (01 53 40 60 80)
For luxury lovers, a visit to the famous Champs-Elysées is a must. Flanked by the Arc de Triomphe (take the elevator to the top of the monument for the magnificent views!) on one end and Place de la Concorde on the other, the Champs-Elysées stretches between the two landmarks in tree-lined magnificence. The buildings are stately with mostly Haussmanian architecture. Inside the buildings are designer goods like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Don't miss La Durée or the flagship Guerlain boutique as well as the numerous movie theaters, many showing films in v.o. (that stands for version originale, which means in English for US films). Renault and other car manufacturers have showrooms here to show off their concept cars. Other shops include Tiffany & Co., M&S, H&M and Zara Home. Boutiques here come in all price ranges so shopping on the Champs-Elysées doesn't have to break your piggybank. (01 49 52 42 63)
2 Musée du Parfum
Housed in a private mansion built in the style of Napoleon III in 1860 you will find the Museum of Perfume. It was founded by the French family-owned perfume company, Fragonard, in 1983 who chose this spot just next to Paris's Opéra Garnier. These delightful perfumes are made at a family-owned factory in the world capital of perfume, Grasse. The company was named after the famous artist from Grasse, Fragonard, whose works you can see displayed in the Costa's family buildings and residences in Grasse in the south of France. That they installed a museum devoted entirely to perfume in the Opéra district of Paris is testament to the cultural significance of perfume not just in France, but to world civilization. Sound a bit grandiose ? Wait 'til you get a glimpse of the tiny ceramic perfume casks that were made back in Jesus' day, or the long slender glass vials that the Ladies of the King's court wore tucked into their bodices.The collection, assembled by Jean-Francois Costa, son of the Founder of Fragonard, re-traces over 3000 years of the history of perfume. The museum offers guided tours and also self-guided tours. It is easy to find as it is literally a stone's throw from l'Opéra, the Palais Garnier. The museum is free with guided tours offered in French and English. (+33 1 47 420 456)
1 Musée du Louvre
Being home to the Mona Lisa and other famous landmark artworks like the Venus de Milo has given the Louvre a lot of clout. This museum lives up to the hype by not only providing visitors a place to see these famous pieces of art, but displays the art in such a way that it enhances the works while not taking away from them. The Mona Lisa, for example, is a small painting, but in the large, expansive room where she stares out from the wall, the painting seems grand. From the Mona Lisa to the famous Aphrodite statue, Venus di Milo, and more, the Louvre delicately and historically showcases the diverse works of art housed within the museum walls. A visit to the Louvre starts at its memorable entrance through the iconic glass pyramid situated in the center of its courtyard, beginning a memorable art experience. (01 40 20 53 17)
About Paige Donner
Paige is a transplanted Parisian. She first arrived as a young bride in the early 90s to live in Paris, having uprooted herself from her native California. Since then it has been an on again, off again love affair for her with the City of Lights, one that has grown fonder over time. Paige hosts World of Wine for World Radio Paris. When discovering a new wine region, her dog accompanies her as the little canine has proved to be the ideal vineyard companion. As a journalist, Paige has written for the NY Times, Variety, LA Times, Fodor's, Blackbook...
Read more about Paige Donner here.