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Things to Do in Paris: Guide for First Time Travellers

Tour Eiffel Light ShowWe continue with Part 2 of the Paris Guide for First Time Travellers. You can catch up on Part 1, What to See in Paris.

There are many things to do in Paris that tempt first time visitors. Whether you’re staying for a few days, a week or even longer, there are many activities to suit various interests and budgets. Tempted as you may to cross items off your to-do list, it pays to select a few that appeal to you and allow enough time to enjoy them.

Watch the Tour Eiffel Light Show – The Eiffel Tower light show runs in the evenings, hourly on the hour. The best spot to see the Tour Eiffel sparkle against the dark sky is at the Trocadéro. Go a little early to secure a good position. The area attracts a lot visitors and consequently you’ll see mobile souvenir sellers trying to sell you items. Like any busy site, keep an eye on your belongings while you’re taking photographs and enjoying the free show. Métro: Trocadéro

Ride the Bateaux Mouches– Take a ride on the Bateaux Mouches from Pont d’Iena for a spectacular tour of Paris along the Seine. The best time to go is not during the day. Go around sunset when there is a little light in the sky and spot lights project onto the illuminated buildings. Try to secure a good spot on deck where you can easily move around without other people getting in your way.

If you’re planning to take this tour during the cooler months, dress warm and take a scarf, hat and gloves as it can get cold and windy. There is an added bonus to seeing Paris at night. Your cruise is likely to coincide with the Tour Eiffel Light show (on the hour) or you may see people Tango dancing along the Seine. Métro: Alma-Marceau

View from bateaux Mouches - ParisView from bateaux Mouches - Paris
Paris by Night from the Bateaux Mouches cruise – (L) Notre-Dame de Paris (R) L’amour…

Catch the Métro – The fast and efficient métro is a great way to discover the art and designs of the various stations while getting from A to B. You can buy a single ticket, a carnet of 10 or a Passe Navigo Découverte (2010 rates) if you’re staying for a week or more. Some of the métro stations are works of art themselves, and it is worth keeping an eye on the interior design and art nouveau exterior during your travels. Métro station highlights  include:

  • Abbesses – an art nouveau entrance and a series of painted walls along a circular staircase. Tip: See it on your way to Montmartre.
  • Cité – art nouveau entrance. Tip: See it on your way to Notre-Dame de Paris.
  • Bastille – has part of the original prison wall at Bastille

Metro entrance - ParisLa Monnaie Metro Station - Paris
Métro station art – (L) Art nouveau sign, (R) Pont-Neuf, La Monnaie interior

Stroll along Seine – No matter where you are, a leisurely stroll along the Seine is a way to embrace the romance of Paris. Best vantage points are opposite Notre-Dame de Paris, along Pont Alexandre III and near the Tuileries. Beneath the quai, you’re likely to see a less romantic view with rows of tents occupied by the homeless.

Catch a Show – For some travellers, a visit to Paris wouldn’t be complete without seeing a show at any of the famous cabarets. Most shows are similar with elaborate productions, music and costumes. Don’t expect the show at Le Moulin Rouge to resemble the movie of the same name or for the other venues to offer a genuine Parisian experience. We have been to Le Lido along the Champs-Elysées and word at the time was that if you’re after a little more risqué in a performance, go to the Crazy Horse.

Shop – From department stores, to designer labels and independent boutiques, there’s always something to tempt the first time visitor.

  • Our pick for department stores or Grands Magazins is Galeries Lafayette. Three buildings make up the department store giant:
    • The main store is at Lafayette Coupole, with women’s fashions and cosmetics under a stunning glass dome. The lingerie floor is well worth a look.
    • Lafayette Maison sells items for the home.
    • Lafayette Homme is the menswear store and houses Lafayette Gourmet and a wine cellar on the first floor. This food hall is a haven for foodies where you can buy gourmet items. Take a look at Sadaharu Aoki’s patisserie for unusual cakes and chocolates.
  • Virgin Megastore at the Carrousel du Louvre is like an Aladdin’s cave for French (and imported) music, books and DVDs.
  • Fnac (various locations) is an electronics store which also sells books, music and DVDs, useful if you need a gadget for your camera, laptop.
  • Pylones (various locations) has unusual gifts for the home, office or just for fun.
  • Carrefour is a chain of supermarkets (various locations) with an extensive range of products. They also sell wine and other alcoholic drinks.
  • Nicolas (various locations) is a caviste which stocks a good range of wines.
  • For luxury shopping, Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Avenue Montaigne, Avenue des Champs-Elysées and boulevard Haussman are home to several designer boutiques.


  • If you live outside of the EU, you can claim a détaxe on purchases made on the same day, in the same store above a qualifying minimum amount.
  • If you’re visiting Paris around Christmas, don’t miss the stunning Christmas window display of Galeries Lafayette and the glittering lights covering the facades . Printemps, another department store, is also worth a look for its decorations.

Christian Dior - Place Vendome ParisGaleries Lafayette - Paris
(L) Christian Dior at Place Vendome – (R) Glass coupole at Galeries Lafayette

Take a Day Trip – If you feel inclined to venture outside of Paris, a popular day trip in the Ile-de-France region is to the Chateau de Versailles. To get to Versailles by train, take the RER from St-Michel Line C to Versailles Rive Gauche and alight at Versailles Rive Gauche station. The Chateau is located within a 5-10 minutes walk. Allow a full day for the visit to explore the interior of the Chateau including the restored Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) as well as the grounds and the fountains. If you’re visiting in winter, it can get very cold in the gardens but the scenery will leave you enchanted.

Previously in the Paris Guide for First Time Travellers: What to See in Paris

Next in the Paris Guide for First Time Travellers: 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.