10 Things to Do in Paris for First-Timers
Even if you’ve never been to Paris, you’ll feel instantly at home in your new surroundings. You’ll recognize famous landmarks, walk the streets with a spring in your step, and lose yourself in the bustling street cafés, extravagant boutiques, and vast museums. There’s definitely no shortage of things to do in Paris.
You’ll shamelessly eat baguettes and pain au chocolats on park benches, and greet shop attendants with confident bonjours! Return visits are just as rewarding – there’s something about this magical city that just never gets old.
Things to do in Paris
1. Cruise the Seine
You may scowl at the idea, but a touristy boat cruise along the Seine is one of the best ways to acclimatize yourself with the city. Most cruises last about an hour, and they’ll give you a perfect overview of the city’s history and main attractions.
Insider tip: If the weather is good, look for an open-top boat for fresh air and the best views.
2. Get your museum fix
Choosing a museum to visit in Paris is almost as difficult as choosing a pastry in a French bakery. There are several iconic museums, and many, such as the Louvre, are overwhelmingly massive. Don’t let this put you off. Read up about fixed and new exhibitions at each and plan to visit small sections at a time.
Some museums are more manageable than others – Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, and Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais are all worth a visit, whether you have 3 hours or an entire day.
Insider tip: Check the museum websites before you leave – some offer online ticket sales that offer discounts and allow you to skip the queues.
3. Explore by Velib
There’s no better, cheaper, and more exciting way to explore Paris than by Velib. This bike share scheme is one of the best in the world, and with stations every few hundred yards, you don’t have to worry about running overtime or cycling vast distances. You’ll easily reach the other things to do in Paris if you travel by bike.
You can purchase a one-day ticket for 1.70 euros or a seven-day ticket for 8 euros. If you keep your trips under 30 minutes at a time you’ll pay nothing extra.
Insider tip: Download the Velib app to find the nearest docking stations and bike availability.
4. Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre
The Sacré-Cœur is not only one of the city’s most striking landmarks, it also happens to sit on the summit of the highest point in Paris. The church itself is a beautiful structure, and the panoramic views from its steps are unsurpassed. Combine a visit to this Roman Catholic Church with a walk around Montmartre, and you’ll have one of the best Parisian afternoons imaginable.
Insider tip: Get under the skin of Montmartre and the fascinating people who live and work in the neighborhood with the “Illegal Paris” tour on the Detour app.
5. Go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe
Most people will tell you to take a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but the truth is this iconic structure is much more beautiful from a distance. The Arc de Triomphe offers the perfect vantage point from which to view the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Cœur, and Champs-Elysees, and has the added bonus of allowing you to marvel at the chaos of the traffic swirling at your feet below.
Insider tip: Be prepared for a bit of a walk to the top – even if the elevator is in operation, you’ll have to complete the last 64 steps to the top on your own.
6. Picnic in a park
Eating out in Paris can get expensive. When the Euro starts to bite, head for a bakery, pick up a baguette, and find a park nearby to enjoy a budget lunch with the ultimate atmosphere. Place des Vosges, Square du Vert Galant, and Luxembourg Gardens are possibly the most famous. But you’ll have an equally enjoyable experience at smaller parks like the quirky Square des Batignolles.
Insider tip: It’s forbidden to picnic or walk on the grass in some parks – make sure it’s permissible or risk getting told off in abrupt French.
7. Photo opp at the Eiffel Tower
You can’t visit Paris and not get a cheesy photograph in front of the Eiffel Tower – your Instagram followers may just disown you. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Paris. While the gardens at the base of the tower are generally over-trodden and fairly lackluster, particularly in peak season, a trip to the base, and if time allows, the top, is always worthwhile.
Insider tip: If you feel like a workout, skip the elevators and earn your view with a walk up to the second floor of the tower.
8. Day trip to Versailles
Day trips from Paris abound, but few are as enthralling as a quick jaunt around the Palace of Versailles. The palace is just 12.5 miles (20 km) southwest of the capital. You can easily lose yourself in the gardens and vast compound for an entire day. The gardens that surround the palace offer some of the best picnicking around, so go prepared.
Insider tip: Double-check opening days and times on the Versailles website – the garden and park are open everyday, but the palace is closed on Mondays and some public holidays.
9. Walk through famous cemeteries
Paris is the resting place of many famous celebrities, poets, authors, and politicians. A walk through the quiet pathways of one of the city’s famous cemeteries is a walk through history. Père Lachaise is the world’s most visited cemetery. If you know where to look amongst the 800,000 graves, you’ll spot those of Proust, Chopin, Balzac, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.
Montmartre and Montparnasse cemeteries are equally intriguing and worth adding to your list of things to do in Paris.
Insider tip: If you’re looking for famous graves at Père Lachaise, pick up a free map at the conservation office in the south-western corner.
10. Shakespeare and Company bookshop and Notre Dame
It may seem counterintuitive to go all the way to France to visit an English bookshop, but Shakespeare and Company is one of those stores that will pull you in off the street and keep you enthralled for hours. Pick a classic novel off the shelves and find a spot close to the Notre Dame outside to indulge in a bit of public reading.
Insider tip: Check the Shakespeare and Company website for the latest event listings – you may just catch an interesting reading or discussion.
You’ll eventually have to leave Paris, which is a very difficult thing to do. But the good news is you’ll be back – that’s just how the city works. And when you do return, you’ll find yourself standing in a whirl of beautiful Parisian chaos smiling uncontrollably, because that’s also just how the city works.
Paris is well-connected by train to several cities. Learn more about train travel in France.