Don’t make the mistake of feeling you must tick off every museum and historic site when visiting Paris.
Following your nose, buying flowers, and enjoying great bread, wine, and cheese at a cute café in your quartier can be just as rewarding. Eat, drink, and be merry, and don’t let a haughty waiter in central Paris put you off. Give him your biggest smile and get on with revelling in the magic of the French capital.
This Paris city guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
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Paris for history lovers
A practical way to get your historical bearings in Paris has always been to visit Notre-Dame Cathedral in the centre of town.
On the 15th of April 2019, the world looked on in shock as the 12th century edifice went up in flames — causing significant damage to the entire structure. The painstaking reconstruction is well underway, with the Cathedral expected to reopen by the end of 2024.
The project is headed by chief architect Philippe Villeneuve, in collaboration with Rémi Fromont and Pascal Prunet. Their aim is to preserve (as best as is possible) the artistic, architectural, and historic integrity of the famous monument. French President Emmanuel Macron originally set a five-year deadline for the completion of the restoration, which caused plenty of debate — given the cathedral originally took centuries to build.
Just behind the cathedral is the famous English bookshop Shakespeare and Company. Once an intellectual hub in the Latin Quarter for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, the shop offers a great collection of books and manuscripts on the history of Paris.Pick one to suit your taste covering the history of Parisian food, love, language, race or perhaps the complex relationship with the much-maligned British.
Next, cross the road to the bouquinistes — the second-hand book sellers on the banks of the Seine. You can pick up tales of times past, along with Belle Époque post cards and posters (which make fabulous souvenirs).
Top cultural activities in Paris
Theatre, opera, music, dance, literature, fine art, photography — whatever it is that floats your artistic boat, you’ll find a thriving scene for it in Paris.
Start by whiling away an afternoon in centuries past at the Louvre, Musée Marmottan Monet, Museé d’Orsay, Musée Rodin, or Musée du quai Branly. The last thing you can afford to do in Paris is waste time queuing, particularly at the Louvre. Consider booking a guided tour, which includes skip-the-line entry and an introduction to several of the gallery’s most famous pieces. You can stay on after the tour and explore at your own pace.
In the evening, splash out on tickets to the iconic Paris Opéra in Bastille, or perhaps a cabaret show at Folies Bergere in the 9th or the Moulin Rouge in the 18th. The latter is one of Paris’ most popular attractions and features flamboyant cancan dancers doing their thing on stage.
If the weather is appropriate and you have a spare day, trek out to the 20th and pay your respects to Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Beethoven, Chopin, Proust, and Marcel Marceau at Père Lachaise cemetery. Afterwards, back track up to Belleville and check out the vibrant street art along rue Dénoyez.
Great places to eat in Paris
Nothing in the world beats Parisian croissants for breakfast.
Dunked in milky coffee (café crème), there’s simply no better way to start the day.
Next, make haste to the markets. Fresh food marketplaces are set up on streets and in squares across the city every day of the week, and the atmosphere is always convivial. From Tuesday to Sunday, you can visit the Marché des Enfants Rouge in the 3rd arrondissement; it’s the oldest covered market in Paris. Buy flowers and fruit, gawk at the gigantic cheeses, and try some street food. Lebanese sandwiches, Indian snacks, and mahjouba — succulent Algerian crepes — are all on offer.
When lunchtime rolls around, try a French-style crepe. They’re amazing just with ham and cheese, and you can munch on the move as you explore the small streets of Montmartre or Montparnasse.
In terms of more substantial eats, budget-friendy Bouillon Chartier has been a much-loved fixture of the Parisian dining scene since 1896. For a grander gastronomical experience you have plenty of options, including Le Grand Vefour and La Coupole. If you want to live it up a little without having to remortgage your home, Hotel Bachaumont’s in-house eatery Bachaumont serves beautifully presented French classics and draws a trend-setting crowd. The hotel was recently restored to its 1920s-era glory.
You can dine and sightsee at the same time by doing a dinner cruise on the Seine River. Most cruises include an a la carte meal and live music, and you’ll get to see sights like the Eiffel Tower and Louvre in all their lit-up glory.
Leave room for dessert — perhaps an ice-cream while strolling on Ile Saint-Louis, or cheese and vin rouge in the Marais. Book a guided walking of this fabulous part of Paris and discover more of its delicious delights — including cured meats, chocolate, and to-die-for macarons. If you’re looking for a great wine bar, swing by Frenchie (opposite the restaurant of the same name).
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Where to shop in Paris
Shopping isn’t just a pastime in Paris — it’s a way of life!
If independent and up-and-coming designers are your thing, head directly to Le Marais in the 3rd. Rue de Turenne, rue Charlot and rue Vieille du Temple have a tonne of funky and fun shops that offer perfumes, clothing and to-die-for homewares.
For elegant clothing and accessories, the 1st and 2nd arrondissements are home to all the top labels. Rue St-Honoré is the place to shop for designer perfumes.
There’s no shortage of delightful ways to kick back and relax in Paris.
Parisians are fond of the after-work apéro: a kir (white wine with syrup), a demi of beer, or perhaps a Perrier (the champagne of sparking mineral water, which is served with a slice of lemon). Order on the ‘terrace’ (outside seating area) of almost any street café. Then sit back, relax and watch the world go by.
Settle into one of Paris’ many public gardens or parks and read your new history book. Then get off the beaten track and explore the surrounding streets. There really is something special to discover around every corner. When you get tired (or lost!), find the nearest Metro station and head for home.
And last but not least, try doing a couple of my Paris self-guided walking tours during your stay:
Browse our range of Paris day tours and experiences here.
Do you have any tips to add to our Paris city guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture, and food writer based between Europe and Australia, and has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice, and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS, and Screen Australia. Ruby’s books — The Art Lover’s Guide to Paris and The Architecture Lover’s Guide to Paris (White Owl Books) — are available in bookshops and to order online.