Paris needs no introduction: the French capital is brimming with postcard moments, world-class museums, and atmospheric neighbourhoods. If you’re heading to Saint-Denis for the France Rugby World Cup 2023 (just 5 minutes by train from central Paris), why not plan a few days before or after match day to take in the highlights of the City of Lights? To get you started, here’s our pick of the top 10 things to do in Paris.
1. Walk the Champs-Elysées
The Champs-Elysées is “the world’s most beautiful avenue’, a grand 2km-long tree-lined boulevard flanked by 19th-century buildings, historic theatres, and luxury boutiques (think Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and France’s famous Galeries LaFayette department store).
Start at the Arc de Triomphe at the northwestern end of the boulevard, the 19th-century monument built by Napoleon to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. From there, continue past the Presidential Palace, the General Charles de Gaulle statue, and the Petit and Grand Palais art museums, all the way down to Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries.
2. Cruise the Seine River
The Seine River flows through the heart of Paris, affording glorious views of the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and countless other landmarks. The standard cruise route sets out from the Champs de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and loops around the Ile de la Cité before gliding back along the Right Bank, past Place de la Concorde and the Pont Alexandre III.
For the most magical views, opt for an evening dinner cruise and see the sunset over the city. Watching the glittering illuminations lighting up the Paris skyline from the water will be one of the most memorable moments of your stay.
3. Explore Montmartre, Paris’ Most Charming District
Crowned by the ethereal white Sacré-Coeur Basilica, hilltop Montmartre is the “village” of Paris, and it’s the most atmospheric spot to ‘flâner’, the oh-so-French art of ‘aimlessly wandering’. Before you do, be sure to head inside the Basilica and climb the dome for a panoramic view over Paris.
Afterwards, leave yourself ample time to explore Montmartre’s cobbled lanes, stop for coffee at a street-side café, watch the street artists and buskers around Place du Tertre, or duck into one of the many museums and galleries.
4. Marvel at Art Masterpieces in the Louvre
The gleaming glass pyramid of The Louvre is right up there with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe as one of Paris’ most unmistakable landmarks. This mammoth museum is also the world’s largest and most popular, with an incredible 38,000 works of art on display.
You could spend days browsing the art masterpieces, which include works by Michelangelo, Monet, Picasso, Botticelli, Raphael, and just about any other artist you can think of, but with a short visit, stick to the essentials. A peek at Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a must, as are the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Egyptian Galleries, and the Richelieu Wing, where you’ll find Rembrandt and Vermeer’s most prized works.
5. Take a Walking Tour of the Left Bank
The Left Bank (south of the Seine River) is the former stamping ground of Parisian artists, philosophers, and intellectuals, and has some of central Paris’ oldest and most beloved neighbourhoods. The bohemian spirit still lingers in the Latin Quarter, where traditional bookstores, market stalls, and terrace cafés line the cobbled streets.
Follow the maze-like lines down to the majestic Panthéon, then stroll through the nearby Jardin de Luxembourg, one of the capital’s most beautiful parks. Neighbouring Saint-Germain-des-Prés is known for its historic abbey, jazz bars, and lively cafés, while the Musée d’Orsay art museum is a short stroll away along Quai Voltaire.
6. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth with Parisian Pastries
There are few better ways to make like a Parisian than ordering your breakfast at a terrace café and dipping your croissant into your chocolat chaud (yep, that’s how the French do it). Croissants are just the beginning for foodies visiting Paris, though—the French capital is renowned for its hand-made cakes, tarts, and pastries. Perfect for ‘Le goûter’, France’s version of a 4pm coffee and cake.
Pick up a box of pastel-coloured macarons, a Paris-Brest choux pastry, or a vanilla-cream-filled mille-feuille from one of the many patisseries or treat yourself to a selection of hand-made chocolates from one of Paris’ renowned chocolatiers. On the go? Grab a Nutella-filled crêpe from a street stand instead. Or blow the budget and visit one of the world’s greatest pâtissiers.
7. Venture Underground into the Catacomb
One of Paris’ most unique sights lies hidden beneath the city streets. The labyrinth of underground tunnels, crypts, and chambers spans a mind-boggling 300 kilometres and house the remains of some six million people, most from the post-French Revolution era.
A small section of the Catacombs are open to the public by guided tour only, and it’s a thrilling—if somewhat macabre—experience. Descend the 131 steps into the subterranean tunnels, learn how the catacombs were used as shelters during WWII, and marvel at the 18th-century ossuary, where the walls are decorated with thousands of human skulls and bones.
8. Take a Day Trip to Versailles
If you take just one day trip from Paris, make it a tour of the Château de Versailles, the lavish palace built by King Louis XIV and former home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
This royal palace is the French château to rival all others, with its dazzling Hall of Mirrors, extravagant royal suites, and magnificent landscaped gardens.
Speaking of gardens, the Gardens of Versailles are a destination in themselves, so leave yourself time to stroll the tree-lined walkways with their monumental ponds, fountains, and Orangery. Peek into Marie Antoinette’s Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, then stick around for the Musical Fountain show (weekends only until the end of October).
9. Enjoy a Skirt-Swishing, High-Kicking French Cabaret
If you’re looking for a night out in Paris that doesn’t involve beer-drinking in a bistro or hopping between wine bars, there’s no better entertainment than a traditional French cabaret. The Moulin Rouge is the most famous (book your tickets well in advance), with shows held at the historic 20th-century theatre in La Pigalle, with its distinctive red windmill. Get ready for a show-stopping spectacle complete with glitter-and-feathered costumes, risqué dancing, and of course, the grand Can-Can finale.
Other popular cabaret shows include the Crazy Horse, Le Lido, and the Paradis Latin, all of which host nightly performances.
10. Admire the View from the Eiffel Tower
You didn’t think we’d forgotten the most iconic site of all, did you? Of course, you can’t come to Paris without a stop at Le Tour Eiffel. Pre-booking skip-the-line tickets is highly recommended as the city’s number 1 attraction comes with notoriously long queues. The standard view is from the 2nd floor, but to reach the top (more than twice the height of the 2nd-floor viewing platform), you’ll need an extra ticket.
Our tip? Visit after-dark for the best views and consider taking the stairs to the 2nd floor—it’s almost half the price of taking the lift and will give you a sense of accomplishment as you gaze out over Paris. Alternatively, for a view of Paris including the Eiffel Tower, try the view from the Arc de Triomphe or the Montparnasse Tower.