Sightseeing in Paris: What to See and Do in the City of Lights

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Ah Paris, je t’aime. From our first day here, I felt a connection to the city – as corny as that may sound. There was just something about the people that we met, the historic architecture, the food, even just the sights and sounds…but not the smells, especially in the metro. Hey, nothing’s perfect. 

I don’t have hotel or hostel recommendations for Paris because we actually chose to stay in an Airbnb instead. Our Airbnb were situated just outside of the 10th arrondissement near the metro station of Goncourt, and our host was a lovely elderly French woman whose son listed the apartment on AirBnB. This host was one of my favorites by far, partially due to her hospitality: she would make tea or coffee for us each morning and leave an array of pastries for us to choose from – all without request! It was also a fantastic opportunity for both my travel partner and me to practice our French.

For ideas on what to see and do in Paris, keep reading! This post is organized by general sightseeing spots, museums to visit, some memorable food spots, and visiting the Palace of Versailles.

General Sightseeing

Eiffel Tower

Nearly every Paris guide/itinerary is sure to tell you to go up in the Eiffel Tower. While I’m sure the views from there are great as well, we actually chose not wait in line for this experience. Instead, we went to the Montparnasse Observation Deck at sunset to get a panoramic view of the city (more on that below).

What I truly recommend for the Eiffel Tower is that you visit it at night. The tower is lit up with tons of sparkling lights with the pattern changing every few minutes. People of all different nationalities and walks of life came to the tower to bask in the blinking lights and that quiet magic that seems to buzz throughout the heart of the city. It was surreal to see, and honestly this simple experience has been one of my favorite travel memories to-date.

Arc de Triomphe

The iconic Arc de Triomphe is located at the western end of Champs-Élysées and stands at the center of a massive converging of avenues – 12, to be exact.

The wait time to climb the Arc wasn’t too bad, so we decided to go ahead and try it. The views were great, but I’m still very partial to our Montparnasse experience.

Sidenote: if the massive traffic circle intimidates you, be sure to look out for the underground/below-street pathways to help navigate and cross the road(s).

Sainte-Chapelle

Located just 10-minutes walking from the tragically-burned Notre Dame (renovations of which are projected to be finished by the 2024 Olympics!), Sainte-Chapelle is a gorgeous royal chapel located in the historic heart of Paris, Île de la Cité. This chapel boasts an amazing display of stained glass and is reportedly much more beautiful than the interior of Notre Dame. We didn’t go inside Notre Dame when we visited before the fire, so I cannot confirm nor deny this.

Tuileries Garden

This beautiful and expansive garden is located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. I highly recommend a walk through this park as you explore Paris, especially if the weather is nice. We lucked out with sunshine on the day that we visited, and it was such a peaceful experience: couples and friends lounged around on the grass, strolled through the garden, or contemplated the statues. This is also a great spot for a picnic if you have the time!

Champs-Élysées

Truth be told, Champs-Élysées is incredibly touristy. To the point that you will probably make a sport of maneuvering through the crowd of people and will have to brush off countless people trying to sell you something/get you to sign something/another scam to try and pick-pocket you (so don’t feel bad and don’t fall for it!).

That said, if it’s your first time in Paris, it might just be worth it to visit this iconic part of the city. There are countless high-end shops and Paris establishments here, but I wouldn’t spend all day here unless you plan to shop ’til you drop. We simply walked it for the experience, stopped at Ladureé, and went on our merry way.

TRIP HIGHLIGHT: Montparnasse Observation Deck

Taking in the sunset from the 56th floor of the Montparnasse Observation Deck was hands-down one of my favorite moments of this trip. Plus, if you’re a student (and have a valid ID), you can get a discount of 15 euros compared to the adult admission of 18 euros.

This observation deck was surprisingly not very crowded despite the amazing views that it provided. I think that this is arguably the “best” view in Paris because you get a panoramic view of all of Paris’ monuments from the open-air deck. In particular, we could see the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the distance – which added to the magic of the moment. Pictures don’t do this experience justice; you have to see it for yourself.

Montmartre: Sacré-Cœur

Montmartre is a bit outside of the city center, but so worth visiting. Although our sole purpose was to see (the outside of) Moulin Rouge in person and visit the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, there is a lot more to experience in Montmarte! Check out this blog post from the Paris Visitors’ Bureau to learn more.

Now, about Sacré-Cœur: It is absolutely STUNNING inside. This basilica was one of the most beautiful religious buildings that I have ever witnessed, and I would absolutely go back to visit it again the next time that I’m in Paris. Plus, once you walk outside the basilica you’ll be greeted with a hilltop view of the city at the top of the steps that lead up to the basilica (we went the back-way, somehow). These steps are a popular spot to take in the sunset, lounge, etc. but be very wary of pickpockets.

Museums

Would you believe that we didn’t make it to ONE museum during our time in Paris? I know, it’s crazy. I still can’t quite believe it myself. That said, we had the following museums on our list, and all the intentions of seeing d’Orsay on our last day; but we didn’t reserve tickets in advance, which was a big mistake.

The Louvre: Largest museum in the world and most popular museum in Paris.

Highlights: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and Crown Jewels.

Museé d’Orsay: Perfect for Impressionism-lovers, potentially easier to get into and explore than the Louvre.

Highlights: Pieces by Impressionist greats such Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, and more.

Museé l’Orangerie: Smaller museum featuring Impressionist art and a few euros cheaper than Museé d’Orsay.

Highlights: Water Lily Collection by Monet plus more pieces by Picasso, Sisley, Cezanne, and Matisse.

For more information on each of these museums + how to work them into your itinerary, I highly recommend this blog post by EarthTrekkers!

Food and Snacks

Crêperie Suzette

If you’re looking for a crêpe-fix, look no further than Crêperie Suzette! This cute restaurant is located in the historic Marais district in Paris’ 4th arrondissement. Whether you’re craving a savory galette or a mouth-watering sweet crêpe, this place is sure to please without putting too much of a dent in your wallet.

Angelina Tea House

Chocolate-lovers, you’re in luck: Angelina is the place to go for the most decadent hot chocolate you’ve ever experienced. Although Angelina has a full menu with treats ranging from savory to sweet, we decided to simply indulge in the famous L’Africain hot chocolate.

Ladureé

A trip to Paris wouldn’t quite be complete without a visit to the iconic Ladureé for a proper macaron (or 5). There are many, many Ladureé locations around Paris, but we went to the one along Champs Elyseés. I’ll let the macaron tower below speak for itself:

Overall, when it comes to food (especially inexpensive food) in Paris, I recommend simply wandering! I would say that half of the restaurants that we ended up eating in were establishments that we happened upon while wandering through different neighborhoods.

TRIP HIGHLIGHT: Versailles

Oh. My. Goodness. I cannot say enough good things about our day trip to the Palace of Versailles. This palace – and the grounds – are so beautiful, immaculate, and well-kept, I was in awe.

I was also very surprised at the pricing, as I thought entrance to such a gorgeous and historic place would cost WAY more. But get this: access to entire estate only costs 20 euros. Crazy, right? Even crazier when you consider places like the Biltmore in the United States costs upwards of $80 just to get onto the estate…

In my opinion, Versailles is worth devoting a day to so that you don’t feel rushed while exploring. You can get there easily by taking the RER C commuter train to and from Paris. There is a lot that I could say about the estate, but I think some pictures will do it far more justice. I will say this, however: be sure to go out and explore the gardens. One of my favorite sights was a little farm (that used to belong to Marie Antoinette) with a variety of animals, situated along a tranquil pond.

~

Here are my last thoughts on Paris, partially in response to other travelers’ reactions to the city when we’ve talked about it: I must say, my friend and I didn’t have a single encounter with a “rude French person”, which seems to be a stereotype that many people (mostly American) speak about when describing their Parisian experience. Now, when I hear this and ask the person if they attempted to speak French, the answer I usually get is “no, why would I?” or “No, but I don’t know how to and they should understand that!”

To that, I counter: it is too way easy nowadays to obtain a guidebook, learn a few phrases, and to make the effort – even if it’s just to say “Bonjour” or “Merci” or even “Pardon, tu parles anglais?”.  It shows so much respect to at least make an attempt to learn the culture and language of a place that you visit. Plus, it’s a big part of getting the richest travel experience. So why not try it?

Is Paris on your list? Have you already visited? Let me know what you’re most looking forward to seeing or what your own favorite experience was!

*Note: This is the first post in what I’m dubbing a “Throwback” series. In this series, I am revisiting old trips that were taken before Wit & Wishes began; and revamping the content to be up-to-date and more helpful!

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