Top 10 Things To Do In Paris For First Time Visitors

August 19, 2015

Paris is a city that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. In a city with so much romance, so many monuments and such great food – choosing what to do can be an overwhelming task. After living in Paris for three months, here’s my personal list of the top things to do in Paris for first time visitors.

I must admit that it was super difficult to decide what, in my opinion, would be the must-see things in Paris that a first time visitor should cover – there’s just so much to see, do and eat in Paris! If you’re making a return trip to Paris, I’ve got a top 10 list just for you – filled with more local spots, off the beaten track stuff and places you might wanna check if you’ve been to all the tourist highlights. Remember guys, Paris has a lot to offer but – and a big but – the best way to experience it is to take things slowly and enjoy the subtleties of life. So keep calm, and don’t rush.

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Plan the perfect trip to Paris with free and in-depth Paris travel guides, including the Best of Paris collection and a guide to all major Parisian neighborhoods.

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10.  Cruise along the River Seine

It might look super touristy, but hopping on a boat and cruising the Seine is an excellent way to get to know Paris. Quite of a few of the city’s most famous monuments lie pretty close to the banks of the river, giving you the opportunity to cover a great distance with little effort. The most popular route takes you from the Eiffel Tower area, turning around just after Ile Saint Louis. There are quite a few options for Seine cruises, ranging from simple one hour tours all the way to romantic dinners. At the end of the day, there’s no better way to experience Paris than by way of walking, but a river cruise on the Seine can be a nice complement.

Seine dinner cruise

View from seine dinner cruise

9. See the most beautiful building in Paris – the Palais Garnier

Metro stations: Opéra, Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette, Havre – Caumartin

Located smack in the center of Paris, the Palais Garnier is even more beautiful on the inside than it is on the outside – and that’s pretty hard to imagine. Home of the Opera National de Paris, this late 19th-century masterpiece is commonly known as the Opera Garnier and you must put this on your Paris to-do list. Inspired by Classic Italian architecture but finished off in classic French from, the Palais Garnier was purposely designed to take your breath away. Put on your aristocratic costume and climb the famous Grand Staircase all the way to the auditorium, whose ceiling is decorated with the famous Chagall fresco. The Palais Garnier is also where the legend of the Phantom of the Opera began and if you can’t make it inside for a concert, at least take the time to visit (advanced tickets recommended).

Palais Garnier Paris front

Grand Foyer Palais Garnier Paris

Opera Garnier Auditorium Paris

Further reading: guide to the Palais Garnier

8. Cross the most beautiful bridge in Paris – the Pont Alexandre III

Metro station: Invalides

It’s one of those grand structures constructed for the 1900 Universal Exposition, a time when cities were competing for global attention in the pre-mass media days, by building urban masterpieces. The Pont Alexandre III (pont means bridge) is the prettiest bridge in Paris and probably the most romantic one too. So it’s no surprise why so many couples come here for their pre-wedding super cheesy photo shoot. The bridge is famous for its golden ornaments and Art Nouveau lamps but during spring and summer, there’s more action happening beneath the bridge than on top with a few pop-up bars springing to life. It’s the perfect spot in Paris to end your day. Bring your own drinks or grab a spot in one of the bars and enjoy the last few hours of what will probably be another one of those days in Paris that you just didn’t want to come to an end.

Pont Alexandre III Bridge Paris

Pont Alexandre Romantic Paris Alexander Bridge

Pont Alexandre III chilling

Further reading: guide to the Grands Boulevards of Paris

7. See where it all began in the islands of Paris

Metro stations: Hôtel de Ville, Saint-Michel, Pont Neuf

Though the islands of Paris are by no means tropical, Île de la Cité & Île Saint Louis simply cannot be missed. After all, it’s right here that Paris started out centuries ago. Île de la Cité holds the architectural highlights while Île Saint Louis is where you’ll wish you could live, and also where you’ll find the best ice cream in all of Paris. There is just no way you’ll miss the Notre Dame Cathedral (sadly closed following the tragic April 2019 fire), the most famous in Paris. It took nearly 200 years to finish off this Gothic masterpiece and you won’t want to miss the exquisite stained-glass rose windows. Just nearby is the Sainte Chapelle, which ranks at the top of my list of Parisian cathedrals. It’s a totally worth it €8.50 to get inside this 13th-century work of perfection, where the highlight is the upstairs chapel. The best time to visit is on a sunny day, when the shining sun’s rays create a spectacular kaleidoscope of colors, radiating throughout the ancient chapel.

Notre Dam Cathedral paris spring cherry blossom

Notre Dam Paris stained glass rose window

sainte chapelle paris alter

Further reading: guide to Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint Louis

6. Get lost in the medieval alleys of the Latin Quarter

Metro stations: Saint-Michel, Place Monge

Getting its name from the Latin that was spoken centuries ago in the top-notch academic institutions and Gothic churches that call this Parisian neighborhood home, the Latin Quarter is the perfect place to spend a day’s worth of walking. It’s one of the oldest parts of Paris and many of its narrow alleys survived the grand urban renovation projects of the Haussmann era. Not to be missed is Rue Mouffetard, a superb market street on the ancient road from Paris to Rome. After filling up, head over to the Pantheon, where you’ll feel super tiny in this giant mausoleum for France’s greatest men & women.

Latin Quarter paris narrow alleys

Latin Quarter Medieval narrow lanes

Pantheon Latin Quarter Paris Interior

Further reading: guide to the Latin Quarter

5. Catch panoramic views of Paris from the Eiffel Tower

Metro stations: Alma-Marceau, Trocadero, Passy

Like the Pont Alexandre III (see #8), the Eiffel Tower was built for another one of those global expos, this time it’s the 1899 Universal Expo. Towering at 300m, it’s hard to imagine that the Eiffel Tower was actually meant to be disassembled at the end of the expo. Can you imagine Paris without its prime symbol? The Eiffel Tower is as pretty by day as it is by night when the famous steel structure becomes a luminous lighthouse. For €11, you can climb to the famous observatory and for an extra €6, you can go all the way to the top. Whatever you do, just buy tickets in advance as the queues can really suck the energy out of your day. Romance seekers or just James Bond fans might enjoy a meal at the super posh Jules Vernes restaurant, though there are far better deals elsewhere in town.

From of Eiffel Tower from Champ de Mars. Paris

Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse Tower Paris

View from top of Eiffel Tower Paris2

Further reading: guide to the Eiffel Tower district

4. Walk the length of the Champs Elysees

Metro stations: Charles de Gaulle – Étoile, Tuileries

It’s one of the most famous avenues in the entire world and despite the fact, there’s very little authenticity in this place, there’s just no way a first-time visitor to Paris will not make their way to the Champs Elysees. Aside from a handful of luxury shops, most of the glamor has moved elsewhere but the tourists still make it here in large numbers. At both ends of the avenue are the true stars of the area. On the northern end is the Arc de Triomphe, a symbol of power and French patriotism. It’s free to visit the arc and for €9.50, you can climb the 200+ step spiral staircase for some of the best panoramic views in Paris that money can buy. On the southern end of the Champs Elysees is the Tuileries Gardens, a former palace that is now one of the best urban parks in the entire world. Walking the length of the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Tuileries Gardens has to be one of the best experiences one can have in Paris!

Paris Champs Elysees Arc de Triomphe

Champs Elysees paris from arc de triomph terrace

Tuileries Gardens view of concorde

Tuileries Gardens Paris fountain view

Arc de Triumph Paris twighlight sunset photo

Further reading: guide to the Champs Elysees area

3. Explore the most romantic neighborhood in Paris – Montmartre

Metro stations: Abbesses, Pigalle, Anvers, Blanche

Located on a hill overlooking Paris, Montmartre used to be a self-sustained village outside of the Paris city walls, back in the day. Steep streets and staircases lead their way up the hill to twisting cobblestone lanes that open up to charming little squares. If you visit on a quiet weekday, you’ll definitely feel like you’re somewhere in the French countryside. Don’t miss the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica (free) for even better panoramic views of the City of Lights.  

Eiffel tower from Montmartre summer

Montmartre Paris portrait artists

Montmartre stairscases Paris

Sacre Coeur montmartre paris

Le Relais de la Butte montmartre paris

Further reading: Montmartre neighborhood guide

2. Be amazed at the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay

Metro stations: Louvre – Rivoli, Solférino

Paris is home to dozens upon dozens of museums, some of them among the best in the world. It can be a bit overwhelming to choose which ones to see and even how to best visit them. Even if you’re experiencing museum-phobia, you must try and make it to either the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay (or both). I must admit that I only visited them when I moved to Paris for 3 months but I’m sure glad I made it. Let’s start off with the Louvre – the world’s largest museum. Only a small fraction of the museum’s collections is actually on display, but it would still take you months to see everything it has to offer. Among my favorite highlights are the Classical paintings, Ancient Rome collection and Napoleon III’s Apartments. The Musée d’Orsay on the other hand picks up where the Louvre leaves off, focusing on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. You’ll find here some of the most famous works by the likes of Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso. The best way to visit these giants is by not trying to see everything on one go and to come when the museums are open for extended evening hours.

Louvre denon wing Grand Galerie

Napoleon III apartments louvre dining hall

Hercules and spartacus Richelieu Wing louvre

The Coronation of Napoleon louvre museum

Vincent van Gogh Musee d'Orsay Peasant Portrait

Vincent van Gogh Musee d'Orsay Paris paintings

Further reading: how to best visit the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay guide

1. Experience the joie de vivre in Saint Germain

Metro stations: Pont Neuf, Métro Saint Germain des Près, Mabillon  

It was a place I kept coming back to over and over again in my months spent in Paris. No other Parisian neighborhood is buzzing with chic life like Saint Germain des Près. The historical home of Paris’s intellectual elite, Saint Germain is a place you just want to spend the entire day exploring by foot. It’s home to two of the most impressive cathedrals in Paris, Saint Sulpice & Saint Germain, and the prettiest park I’ve ever been to – the Luxembourg Gardens. However, the most pleasant thing to do in Saint Germain is to slowly meander along its beautiful streets, stopping by one charming cafe after another and sampling delicious pastries here in there, in a neighborhood that has to have the highest ratio of fine pâtisseries to residents. There is simply nothing like spending a sunny day exploring Saint Germain – it’s the ultimate Parisian experience.

Luxembourg Garden Paris

Des Gâteaux et du Pain Best Pastry Shop Saint Germain Paris


Café Les Deux Magots saint Germain Paris

Place saint Sulpice saint germain Paris

Le Saint Germain Classic Paris Bistrot

Further reading: Saint Germain neighborhood guide

So there you have it folks. Those are what I think are the top things to do in Paris for first-time visitors. Do you have more time in Paris?

What’s Next?

Plan the perfect trip to Paris with free and in-depth Paris travel guides, including the Best of Paris collection and a guide to all major Parisian neighborhoods.

The best of Paris collection - thumbnail
Paris neighborhood guides collection - thumbnail



  1. nice post about a great city. I have always wanted to go to Paris and experience it first hand but I’m a bit skeptical if the area is safe for first time tourist like me. Please let me know your thoughts about the security. Thanks!

    1. Hi Sofi

      Despite recent events, Paris is still a safe travel destination. The city is on heightened terror alert and you will see soldiers patrolling the streets. Sadly, this is the reality in many European cities. I would recommend taking the bus (or walking) vs. taking the metro when possible and to avoid hanging around the major train stations as those are always prone to petty crimes.

  2. What is the best way to use the public transport in Paris? Do they have an option similar to a travel card on the London Underground for all day travel? Can these be bought in advance or when there?

    1. Hi Ben

      What you need to do is to enter one of the Metro station and buy day passes from the machine (they display in English as well). You can also go to a station with a manned booth if you want to do it manually. I think that for week/month passes, you need to get a Navigo Card which requires a photo and going to a manned booth. The Navigo is rechargeable. I could be wrong though in the sense that even the paper ticket you buy at the machine can be purchased as a week pass.

  3. This is very helpful. For the 1st time, my sister and I are coming there for only two days? We definitely want to shop, specially eager with Goyard. Can you recommend a central place to stay so we can access as much of the attractions as we can in two days? Maybe a tour guide to bring us to all these must see? Fastest way to get around?

    1. Hi Eka
      Have a look at this 3-day itinerary and choose what works best for you (see link at the end of my reply). As far as places to stay, Paris is so well connected by Metro that all central neighborhoods are good (Latin, St Germain, Marais, around Opera). I would recommend the Marais if I had to choose. As far as tour guides, have a look at Paris Walks.

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