You won’t see all of Paris on your first visit. Not your second or even the third. I’ve been fortunate to visit the city of lights on five occasions and I still return home with a list entitled “Next time in Paris”. But with a little research and planning, you can decide what piques your interest and make the most out of your stay.
Off the beaten path is a tired old cliché that is best left behind before you board your plane. Paris is an iconic city, proud of its history and rich in beautiful landmarks that you will want to see and experience.
The Paris Guide for First Time Travellers is aimed at providing highlights of Paris for the first time visitor including handy tips. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide that lists every monument, museum and church. The Guide consists of four parts: What to See in Paris, Things to Do in Paris, What to Eat and Drink in Paris and Paris Travel Tips and Advice.
What to See in Paris
La Tour Eiffel – Take the lift to the top level of the Eiffel Tower and work your way down to the remaining levels. The view from every platform is different and well worth seeing so allow plenty of time if you like to take a lot of photographs. You can book online from the official site to avoid queues. Allow at least 2-3 hours.
Métro: Bir-Hakeim on Line 6, Ecole Militaire on Line 8, Champ de Mars / Tour Eiffel on line RER C.
Arc de Triomphe – Go up the Arc to the viewing platform and you can see why it’s called L’etoile. The boulevards branch out in a star pattern and you can look all the way down the Champs-Elysees. From the top, you can also see La Grande Arche de la Défense and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in opposite directions.
Métro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile – Lines 1, 2, 6
Notre-Dame de Paris – The interior of the cathedral is well worth the visit but make time to go up to the cathedral towers to see the bell and come face to face with the gargoyles. Walk around the cathedral and along the Seine for a postcard view. You’ll also see the Bouquinistes, the second hand book sellers that line up the banks of the river. While you’re there, stroll towards the neighbouring Ile St Louis with its cafés and quaint shops, home to the famous Berthtillon for the best ice cream in Paris.
Métro: Cité – Line 4
La Tour Eiffel – Arc de Triomphe – Notre-Dame de Paris
Sacré-Coeur and Butte Montmartre – At minimum, visit the basilica of Sacré–Coeur and wander towards Place du Tertre where artists tout for your portrait. For a more genuine experience, discover the cobblestone streets of Montmartre on foot for a glimpse of what Paris once looked like before Baron Haussmann flattened it to make way for boulevards. Allow half a day. Catch the Funiculaire de Montmarte to go from the base of the church grounds to the entrance of the basilica.
Métro: Abbesses – Line 12, Anvers – Line 2, Lamarck Caulaincourt – Line 12
Le Louvre – To see the Louvre museum properly, you need at least a couple of days. It helps if you select the highlights and do your research in advance. La Joconde (Mona Lisa) is lovely but the reality is a mass of people looking at a small painting behind glass. If you’re only after seeing select pieces of art, allow half a day. While you’re there, you can also visit the shops that make up the Carrousel du Louvre.
Métro: Louvre Rivoli, Palais Royal Musée du Louvre, Line 1
Museums – If you must see another museum beside the Louvre, our top picks are:
1. Musée Rodin – for its outdoor sculptures set in ornate gardens. Métro: Varenne, Line 13
2. Musée d’Orsay – a converted train station which houses the impressionists work. Métro: Solférino, Line 12
3. Musée de Cluny or Musée National du Moyen Âge – for tapestries and stained glass from the middle ages. Métro: St-Michel, Line 4 or Cluny-L Sorbonne, Line 10
4. Les Invalides – an impressive museum which houses Napoleon’s tomb. Métro: Invalides, Line 8 and 13
Sacre-Coeur – Pyramide du Louvre – Les Invalides
Opéra Garnier – The original Paris Opera, this is one of the greatest buildings in Paris and well worth a visit to see the opulent interior. In the evening when it’s illuminated, it takes on another element of grandeur.
Métro: Opéra (Line 3, 7, 8)
Centre Pompidou – Housing a museum, exhibitions and a library, Centre Pompidou is also know as an inside-out building with bright colours. For a small fee (€ 3)You can ascend to the 6th floor for a panoramic view over Paris. The Stravinsky Fountain nearby is also worth a look.
Métro: Rambuteau, Line 11
Bridges – Each bridge is unique and has its own charm but you can’t go past Pont Alexandre III for the ornate and gilded bridge near Le Grand Palais and Le Petit Palais.
Métro: Champs-Elysées- Clemenceau, Line 13 or Line 1
Moulin Rouge – Opera Garnier – Centre Pompidou
Cemeteries – Cimetière du Père Lachaise is more an outdoor museum than a row of tombs. Highlights include the graves of Oscar Wilde, Victor Noir (famous for his bulge), Edith Piaf, Molière, Gericault, La Fontaine, and Jim Morrisson. Allow 2-3 hours.
Métro: Père Lachaise, Line 2 or 3, Philippe Auguste Line 2.
Squares – Our top picks are:
Place de la Concorde – Métro: Concorde
Place des Vosges – Métro: Bastille, Saint-Paul, Chemin Vert
Place Vendôme – Métro: Opéra, Pyramides, Madeleine or Tuileries.
Palais Royal – Métro: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre
Gardens – Our two picks are Jardin des Tuileries on the right bank (Métro Tuileries, Line 1) which leads towards Place de la Concorde with its ornate fountains, and Jardins de Luxembourg on the left bank (Métro: Odéon, Lines 10 and 4).
What you will see in Paris on your first visit depends on your interests and the duration of your stay. Even if you only have five hours in Paris, there is still a lot you can see to make it a memorable visit.
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