I didn’t think I was going to lake Paris. I have to be upfront about it. But after being in the city for a little over 6 hours I didn’t just like it, I LOVED it! I was too caught up in the “city of love” stuff before my arrival and what movies told me it was going to be. But I took Paris at face value, threw all those preconceived notions out the window, and now I can’t wait to go back. As a result, I think I have created an amazing list of the best things to do in Paris for first time visitors.
This post is especially for those who aren’t looking for all the cookie-cutter Paris things to do. Yes, some of them are on here, but not all of them.
WARNING: Before you get too far into this I need to warn you that there are no art museums on this list. Art museums aren’t my thing and if they’re yours you should probably check out this blog post because you won’t learn anything about art museums here.
Best Things to do in Paris for First Time Visitors
Best Things to do in Paris: Catacombs Tour with Walks
The catacombs were one of the only things to do in Paris on my must-do list! I wanted to go with a guide so I got as much history as possible. When I found the Walks Skip-the-line Catacombs Tour I was thrilled! Not only would I have a guide, but I’d get to see “behind the scenes” for lack of a better term, and see rooms and areas the general public doesn’t have access to.
Their website was user-friendly so booking was easy and if I had more time I would have done a few of their other tours too!
My guide, Michelle, was extremely knowledgeable and had a real passion for history. I’m that person on a tour that asks a million questions and she always had an answer for me, and usually gave me even more information than I thought.
The special rooms included one of the oldest parts of the catacombs with Roman arches and others with sculptures made by a quarryman (who sadly ended up getting buried alive due to a cave in.) There are some other spots too, but I’ll leave those as a surprise!
When it comes to Paris for first time visitors, you shouldn’t miss this Catacombs tour! I’m so glad I found this tour and can’t wait to visit other cities where Walks has tours I can experience more with them!
Things to do in Paris for First Time Visitors: Have a Picnic
Grab a blanket, some food, and wine and you’re ready for a very local experience. You’ll see Parisians having picnics in parks all over the city. With plenty of places to have picnics in Paris you’ll always find a beautiful spot!
A picnic can be as simple as grabbing a drink and a hot dog in a baguette (I know what you’re thinking and, yes, it is delicious!). Or you can get really fancy and get a picnic planned and set up for you like the ones from Love Picnic Paris. Either way, sit down, enjoy the people watching, and sip on some tasty French wine!
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Best Things to do in Paris: Visit the Eiffel Tour
As touristy as it is the Eiffel tour is a Paris must-do for first time visitors! Skipping the Eiffel tour in Paris is like skipping Times Square in New York.
Make sure you see the Eiffel Tour during the day and at night.
When visiting during the day take a stroll around one of the nearby parks to see her from all angles and bring a picnic! My friend Megan, and I enjoyed a sunnt day at the Champ de Mars watching the police be handsome as they patrolled the area and there was a guy playing the saxophone. Don’t worry, he played Careless Whisper.
For visiting at night make sure you are in the area with a good view at the top of the hour. From 9pm to 1am on the hour the Eiffel Tour sparkles for approximately 5 minutes. It’s super cheesy and oh so pretty. You can judge me for loving it, I don’t mind.
Keep in mind that pick pockets are known for targeting tourists in this area. If you’re carrying a backpack make sure you have the zippers secure. I always travel with my anti-theft purse from Lewis N. Clark. There are special hooks to ensure the zippers can’t be opened, it has RDIF blocking and magnaloft panels so the bag cannot be slashed open.
Take a Day Trip to the Palace of Versailles
If you only do 1 day trip from Paris make sure it’s to the Palace of Versailles. OK, you should totally go to Disneyland Paris too, but those are different blog posts.
The Palace of Versailles is a short train ride or Uber out of the city. Both of which will be approximately an hour give or take traffic and time of day/day of the week. The train will be cheaper, but in most cases the Uber will be faster depending on what part of Paris you’re staying in.
There a lot of different ticket options at Versailles, so read the website carefully as you can end up over paying for things you don’t want to or don’t have time to see. I purchased the Passport because I wanted to see everything. Sadly it was so hot that day I left early, and when I say early I mean I left after being there for 5 hours because I was exhausted. I didn’t get to go to the Estate fo Trianon (Marie Antonette’s home). I did explore every part of the gorgeous gardens!
For your Versailles day trip make sure to:
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Bring a reuseable water bottle
- Bring a light jacket (depending n the time of year)
- Bring an umbrella
- Pack sunscreen
There are several places to eat within the Palace complex, but there are others in the village too. It is also possible to picnic, but you need to do this outside the garden grounds, in the park.
For those looking to get a little extra history there are audio guides available or you can hire a guide.
Go to the top of the Arch de Triomphe
The top of the Arch de Triomphe is the best view of the city and is one of the best things to do in Paris for first time visitors. It isn’t that expensive to go inside and you get a 360 degree view of the city. As you can see in my photo you’ll get to see the Eiffel Tower too.
The most challenging part of getting to the top is finding the right underground stairway to get there. DO NOT try and cross the street as the round about is 4-6 lanes wide. If you attempt this you will be hit by a car or large truck. The easiest way to get to the Arch de Triomphe is to navigate to the Qatar Embassy. There is a staircase right next to the embassy if you’re facing the Arch. Go down those stairs and they will take you to the ticket booth and stairway up to the Arch.
You can purchase tickets at the ticket booth, which is what I did, or you can get tickets in advance. As I’ve said before skip-the-line tickets cn be very helpful if you’re there during the busy season. You can also opt to hire a guide to give you more information.
Things to do in Paris for First Time Visitors: Experience Paris’ Cafe Culture
When it comes to Paris for first time visitors you NEED to sit down in a cafe and just be. That’s right, slow down from seeing the sites, grab a coffee or glass of wine and just sit.
My first day in Paris it was raining, and while I had my umbrella (a must-have in Paris), it was raining way too hard to spend time outside. So I wandered into a cute cafe, sat down, and relaxed. I had a book and a newspaper too, so I read There was plenty of people watching as well. I sipped on wine and coffee. I ordered a charcuterie board and about an hour later I was hungry again, so I got a brownie. It was the perfect way to spend the afternoon.
A few days later, I met up with my friend Megan and we spent 3 hours in a cafe eating and drinking wine. No one bothered us, we were just there enjoying ourselves. As someone from the US this doesn’t happen. We order, eat, and are rushed out of the cafe or restaurant. It was lovely to just be and enjoy my friend’s company and not feel rushed.
Tour Paris in a vintage Citroën 2CV
If you have a limited about of time in Paris, one of the best things to do in Paris for first time visitors is taking a city tour in a vintage Citroën 2CV with the So French Tour. Yes their website is terrible, but don’t let it fool you. The tour is spectacular.
We drove down side streets that most first time visitors to Paris aren’t going down. I’m 90% sure there were places we went aht cars aren’t supposed to go, but our guide drove down anyway. It was great! We stopped at a few places to take photos and get out of the car for views too.
This tour is especially great for people who have mobility issues and would have difficulty getting around the city. So you’re your traveling with a grandparent, friend or family member that has challenged by their mobility, book this tour. We saw the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Catherdral, and we drove down the Champs-Élysées towards the Arch de Triomphe. Our guide even asked us what we wanted to see! As this was a private tour we saw it all.
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Take an evening Cruise down the Seine
Another one of the best things to do in Paris for first time visitors is to see the city is to take an evening cruise down the Seine. It is also possible to do is during the day, but we opted for an evening cruise so we could see the city at golden hour as the sun was setting.
Mos tof the boats are crowded so be prepared for that, as this is something that most tourists do. With that said I feel like anyone who is visiting Paris for the first time should do this. It’s beautiful and you’ll get to see so much of the city!
I could go on and on about what you’ll see, but I feel that you should discover that on your own!
Best Things to do in Paris: Eat Ice Cream
If you didn’t already know I LOVE ice cream. I make it a point to try it wherever I go because it’s always different. Ice cream in Paris is a middle ground between gelato and ice cream in the United States. I had a bunch of ice cream while in Paris and while I wish I could tell you I had a favorite place to get it, I don’t. It was all so tasty!
And if you don’t think eating ice cream is one of the best things to do in Paris, you’re wrong.
Paris for First Time Visitors: : Go to a Cabaret Show
Cabaret was born in Paris sometime in the 1880s. No one really knows where it started, but we all know what we think of now, the Moulin Rouge. And yes, while I went to the Moulin Rouge while I was in Paris I wouldn’t say it blew my mind. Maybe I’m spoiled because I live 2 hours from New York City and love live theater, but for a place that is so famous, I excepted more. For me this was a Paris first time visitor mistake.
If your heart is set on going to the Moulin Rouge while in Paris, go! It was an enjoyable show. It was flashy (in more ways than one *wink*) and the break acts between dance numbers were VERY good. I’m talking strong men, acrobatics, and roller skaters that did mind blowing tricks. But don’t expect a high caliber dance performance (these are NOT the Radio City Rockettes). Think more like the movie show girls.
Keep in mind that the Moulin Rouge is not the only Cabaret in Paris. Check out The Lido, The Crazy Horse, and The Paradis Latin too. Still in Paris does a great job breaking down what the Best Cabaret in Paris is, so check out their article. Personally my vote is not for the Moulin Rouge.
best things to do in Paris for first time visitors: Visit Sainte-Chapelle
Before I arrive in Paris I did very little planning. I can’t emphasize enough how little planning I did for this trip. So when I stumbled upon Sainte-Chapelle and saw a short line I got in the queue. Boy am I glad I did! I had NO IDEA how beautiful it was inside!
There are thousands of panes of stained glass. All of which tell stories from the bible. There is a written guide inside to help you learn about the stories being told. You can even get a ticket that includes an audio guide for even more information and for the visually impaired.
If you’re in Paris during the busy summer months and want to visit Sainte-Chapelle, I highly recommend getting a skip-the-line ticket. It will help you save time and be able to do even more exploring in Paris.
Before entering you’ll need to go through a security screening, but that usually doesn’t take too long if the line is short.
Best Things to do in Paris for First Time Visitors
Did I mention your favorite things to do in Paris? For all of my Paris first time visitors out there take your time, enjoy, and don’t rush. Paris isn’t a fast-moving city, in my opinion. It’s about slowing down and enjoying the little things in life, so make sure you do that while you’re there!