Europe France Paris Travel

What to See in Paris: Guide for First Time Travellers

Tour Eiffel - ParisYou 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 - Paris Arc de Triomphe - ParisNotre-Dame de Paris
La Tour Eiffel – Arc de Triomphe – Notre-Dame de Paris

Sacré-Coeur and Butte Montmartre – At minimum, visit the basilica of SacréCoeur 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 - ParisLouvre - Paris Les Invalides - Paris
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 - ParisOpera Garnier - ParisCentre Pompidou - Paris
Moulin Rouge – Opera Garnier – Centre Pompidou

CemeteriesCimetière 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.

Next in the Paris Guide for First Time Travellers: Things to Do in Paris, What to Eat and Drink in Paris, Paris Travel Tips and Advice.


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About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.


  • That’s why cities are great isn’t it? We visit the first time to tick all the ‘must-sees’ off. It’s only then, we start to delve deeper. We’ve only been to Paris once, unfortunately. It was a short weekend. Would love to go back and get more of a feel for the city.

    • Absolutely. Even if we’re visiting for the first time, there is so much choice in our must-see lists. My first visit to Paris was for 7 days and due to (very pleasant) circumstances I didn’t even make it to the rive gauche!

    • Thanks Anil. There is so much to Paris that a summary doesn’t seem to fit. Yet I am asked these questions from first time (and subsequent) travellers all the time!

  • Ahhh, one of my favorite cities. Great list of places to see, especially for first timers.(I can’t wait for the eat & drink portion in Part 2). Even though I lived in Paris for almost 2 yrs, I still have a “next time in Paris” list, and Pere Lachaise is on it. I understand that everyone should visit the Louvre, but I think the smaller museums like Orsay, Rodin, Invalides, and also Orangerie are more enjoyable, especially when you have only a short amount of time.

    • Pere Lachaise isn’t to be rushed so I understand it being on the ‘next time in Paris’ list. I’ve been there on two occasions, and it took around 3 hours to appreciate it and we still didn’t cover all the grounds. I’m with you on the Louvre. Been once (as one feels the urge) and wouldn’t go back, yet I’d return to Musee d’Orsay and Rodin…

  • I like the Bois de Boulogne too 🙂

    This is a great comprehensive guide, C! Thanks! I get excited when people go to Paris. It’s one of my favourite cities. Who doesn’t enjoy this city?

    • Thanks Jen! Apart from seeing it from the top of La Grande Arche, I haven’t been to Bois de Boulogne! I guess I’ve seen too many French movies to associate it with prostitutes… 🙂

    • There’s a lot to cover but it needs to be pared back for first time visitors. As for What to Eat in Paris, even I’m looking forward to this one! 🙂

  • Yep, all present n correct here! For me, a wander round Latin Quarter too. Now made 4 trips and still yet to go to Louvre, Cluny or even ex-railway station D’Orsay! Total philistine obviously!

    • I love strolling down the quartier latin – but didn’t get anywhere near it on my first visit! You haven’t been to Musee d’Orsay?! Oh you’d love it…

  • Great list, very comprehensive & clear! I’ve been to Paris five times now myself, & I’m still missing some of the biggies on your list. Thankfully, as you said, it’s a city we can keep going back to again & again to discover some gem we’ve missed. Plus, I could fill the better part of the day sitting in a café & be just as pleased as hitting the museums. Sometimes being in Paris is just…well, “being”. Wonderful post!

    • Absolutely! My first time wasn’t exactly just ‘being’ in Paris but on subsequent visits, sitting in cafes and not having a plan was a most enjoyable experience!

  • Wow! I feel breathless like the contestants on The Amazing Race just reading the summary of what to visit. It sounds intense and crazy. So I guess what you say must be true, there is no way one can visit Paris and see everything at one go. Then again, not many people are lucky enough to visit Paris a few time over. I for one have not been to the city of love. And when I do, I’m coming back to read your guide again.

    Can’t wait to read the WHAT TO EAT chapter. 🙂

    • Thank you for the validation. This is exactly the point I wanted to make. People often ask me what to see in Paris, as if I can create a list they can tick off as they go. It’s much more involved than that.

      Neither can I 🙂

  • Nice list of some of the must-dos. I’ll be making my 2nd trip there soon and can’t wait to see key places I missed the first time and just walk around that wonderful city. I’ll have your list handy!

    • That’s fabulous! I hope you have a lovely time on your second visit and get a chance to do all those things you missed 🙂

  • This is very useful information that I need to save for my next visit as I’ll admit that I have yet to properly explore this city. Now I know where to start instead of wandering around aimlessly yet again!

    • Thanks Earl! Any time you decide to go back to Paris, feel free to get in touch. More than happy to answer any queries 🙂

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