Planning a trip to Paris is exciting, bien sûr (that’s French for “of course”). There’s so much to do and see, from the grand boulevards and gorgeous architecture to the renowned museums and boutiques to the fun of hitting flea markets or just sitting at a café and people-watching.
It can be tough to whittle down all the amazing things to experience in the City of Light to a short list of absolute “must-dos.” Should you stick with tried-and-true bucket-list items, like visiting the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre? Or should you wander a bit outside those boundaries and book a bicycle tour or train trip?
The best answer may be to do a little of everything. Here, you’ll learn seasoned travelers’ tips and picks for fun things to do in Paris so you can create your own list of adventures.
Best Times to Go to Paris
Although many say there is no wrong time to go to Paris, you may want to choose your travel dates based on when the weather is at its best (based on your personal preference), how well you can deal with crowds, and the celebrations and festivals that might be occurring during your visit.
For example, if you want to attend the Carnaval de Paris, with its colorful Mardi Gras-like parade, you’ll want to time your trip so you’re there in the late winter. Or if you’re into fashion, you may wish to visit in the fall, during Paris Fashion Week, to soak up the excitement (just be warned, hotel rooms may be scarce and pricier than usual).
Frequent travelers tend to prefer Paris in the late spring and summer, when the skies are mostly clear and the weather is warm. But if you don’t mind the cold, the city also sparkles in the winter, especially during the holidays.
Bad Times to Go to Paris
Because many Parisian families take their vacations in August, you may run into more restaurant and shop closures during that month. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad time to go — but you may want to check ahead to be sure you’ll still be able to see and do what you want while you’re in the city.
Also, of course, the summer travel season is when the city tends to welcome the most visitors. If you’d like to avoid the crowds, you might prefer to plan your Parisian vacation for spring or fall.
Average Cost of a Paris Vacation
The cost of a Paris trip can vary significantly, depending on how long you stay, when and where you stay, and other factors. For instance, are you happy grabbing inexpensive fare on the go, or are you the type who wants to dine at Paris’s most exclusive eateries?
Travel sites put the average cost of a weeklong Paris trip at about $1,550 for an individual and $2,600 for a couple. This represents daily costs of lodging (two people to a room), plus local transportation and basic food costs. (If you’re traveling with your kids or traveling with pets, the cost can be significantly more.)
Here are just a few of the costs you may want to consider when you’re budgeting for your trip:
Roundtrip airfare to Paris can range widely, based on where you’re flying from, when you’re traveling, how many stops you’re willing to make, and the class of service you choose. A search in April 2023 found that an economy flight with one stop from Chicago to Paris cost $1,167 or more round-trip for flights in May. Want to fly nonstop? That will cost about $1,500 round-trip. (Don’t forget to look at how credit card travel insurance works, just in case your flight is canceled, your luggage gets lost, or some other mishap occurs.)
If you’re willing to stay at a hostel or a budget hotel, you may be able to save money on hotels, possibly a significant amount. Otherwise, you can expect to pay from $150 to $600 per night for a mid-range to luxury hotel in the city, though prices can certainly vary depending on the time of year and how far in advance you book.
If there are several people in your group, you might look into renting an apartment for a true “live like a Parisian” experience and lower price tag. This can also be how families can afford to travel.
The average spend per person for food in Paris is about $45 per day. But your tab may go up or down (just like at home) based on how often you dine out, the restaurants you choose, and of course, how many cocktails you consume.
If you opt for fast food or a simple ham sandwich eaten on a park bench, you will obviously spend less than if you are having an exquisite lobster dish at a top-notch bistro.
Tip: Are you splurging on luxurious meals? You may want to consider how to charge those expenses to make the most of your credit card rewards.
You can wander the beautiful streets of Paris for free, but the museums and other tourist attractions typically cost $15 or $20 per person. The famed Louvre Museum, for instance, typically charges about $18; at the Musée d’Orsay, the cost is similar. However, you may luck out here and there: The Petit Palais’ incredible permanent collection is free.
If you hire a guide or buy souvenirs, it could be more. But you also can save by purchasing a multi-day Paris Pass or Paris Museum Pass to gain entry to various top attractions. (A pass also may get you past the long lines at some attractions.)
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10 Fun Must-Dos in Paris
No matter how fast a walker and how high-energy you may be, there is no way to see everything when you go to Paris. There’s just so much, it would be impossible to squeeze it all into a week, or two, or 10. But if you go in with a plan — and some word-of-mouth recs from friends and frequent travelers to France — you can up the chances that you’ll hit your fair share of Paris highlights.
Here, culled from dozens of travel sites, blogs, and “best of” lists, plus frequent visitors’ advice, is a lineup of the top things to do around the city.
1. Take in, Then Dine in, the Eiffel Tower
Of course, you can’t miss the Eiffel Tower! You can see it during the day, from a tour boat, from the street, or by climbing the tower stairs (or taking an elevator) with or without a guide. Or you can take your experience to a whole other level and book a table at the Michelin-starred Jules Verne restaurant on the second level of the tower. The Jules Verne is open for lunch and dinner every day except July 14 (Bastille Day). Restaurants-TourEiffel.com/en/jules-verne-restaurant.html#b9
2. Visit the Louvre Museum
The Musée du Louvre makes every Paris “must” list, and here’s why: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is there along with other amazing works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt. In fact, there are tens of thousands of works of art at the museum and some amazing artifacts. (Let’s face it, the architecture alone is worth a visit.) Worried you’ll be overwhelmed? You can always sign up for a theme-based tour or take a break in the museum’s gardens. Louvre.fr/en/
3. Walk Like a Parisian
The Rive Gauche, or Left Bank, is home to many of Paris’s memorable attractions, including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre-Dame Cathedral (see also below). But if you want to get a taste of what life is really like for a Parisian, you also may want to plan a leisurely stroll through this part of the city.
You could start with coffee at Café de Flore (CafedeFlore.fr/?lang=en), for example, one of the city’s most famous cafés. Then maybe stop to shop at the oldest department store in Paris, Le Bon Marché (LeBonMarche.com/en/store-2), known for its architecture and fantastic fashions. You won’t want to miss the macarons at Ladurée on Rue Bonaparte (Laduree.fr/en/). And from there you can take a 10-minute walk to Le Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens; ParisInfo.com/ paris-museum-monument/71393/Jardin-du-Luxembourg), one of the best free things to do in Paris. It’s a beautiful park with sculptures, fantastic flowers, and a pond where kids and adults sail their toy boats.
4. Watch the Sunset at Montmartre
Paris’ Montmartre neighborhood is a favorite among travelers, who love its quirky bohemian vibe and breathtaking sunsets from the steps of the beautiful Basilique du Sacré-Cœur basilica (Sacre-Coeur-Montmartre.com/english), with its iconic domed silhouette. During the day or at dusk, you’ll get a panoramic view of Paris, and if you hang around long enough, you’ll also see the city’s lights start to twinkle.
5. Check out the World Famous Churches
With its magnificent Gothic architecture and its amazing history, Notre-Dame de Paris (NotreDameCathedralParis.com/) is, for many travelers, a bucket-list destination. Though the iconic structure was nearly destroyed in a 2019 fire, its restoration is well underway, and a full reopening is scheduled for 2024. Along with Notre-Dame and Basilique du Sacré-Cœur (mentioned above), there are many beautiful churches worth visiting in Paris, including La Sainte-Chapelle (Sainte-Chapelle.fr/en) and Église Saint-Eustache (Saint-Eustache.org/).
6. Whip Up Some Fun at Chateau de Chantilly
Looking for fun things to do in Paris with kids? At the Château de Chantilly, there are horses, history, and even whipped cream workshops! The castle is actually about 40 kilometers (24 miles) outside Paris, but you can easily get there if you’re renting a car or take the train. (Take a taxi or bus from Chantilly Station). ChateaudeChantilly.fr/en/access/
7. Make Time for the Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay is the second-largest museum in Paris and a must-see if you’re a fan of Impressionist art. You’ll find works by Claude Monet, Edward Degas, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin, as well as sculptures, photography, and more. And the building that houses the museum, the former Orsay railway station, is an architectural gem. Another plus: The crowds tend to be a bit more manageable than at the Louvre. The museum is closed on Mondays, however, so plan accordingly. Musee-Orsay.fr/en/visit
8. Get Chills at the Arc de Triomphe
The exterior of the iconic Arc de Triomphe is in and of itself something to admire, with its four massive bas-reliefs depicting important events in French history: The Entry of Napoleon, The Departure of the Volunteers (also known as La Marseillaise), The Conquest of Alexandria, and The Battle of Austerlitz. But the monument also has a viewing platform with a sweeping view of Paris, and it will likely be less crowded than the Eiffel Tower. fr/en/paris/article/arc-de-triomphe
9. Tour the Père Lachaise Cemetery
You may have heard of the Cimetière du Père Lachaise, France’s largest and most famous graveyard. Many actors, singers, writers, musicians, and other personalities are buried there, including Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, and Gertrude Stein. It’s also a lovely, lush green space, filled with remarkable sculptured tombs. You can take a guided tour to get the history and locations of some of the hardest-to-locate gravesites, or you can scan a QR code just inside the entrance to get a map. Pere-Lachaise.com/
10. Take a Cruise Down the Seine
If you want to kick back and relax a bit while you see the sights, you may want to consider a river cruise down the Seine. Cruises range from one-hour sightseeing tours to hop-on-hop-off day trips, to weeklong voyages that can take you from Paris to the Normandy beaches and beyond. You’ll get a different perspective on the city, and a close-up look at its beautiful bridges, including the Pont Neuf, believed to be the oldest stone bridge in Paris, and the Pont Alexandre III, with its ornate sculptures.
Follow these tips to enhance your time exploring the best things to do in Paris:
Location, Location, Location
Paris consists of 20 districts (the French call them arrondissements), and each is a little different. Some have lovely streets to stroll, while others may be closer to famous attractions or have better shopping. Keeping your sightseeing goals in mind when you choose your accommodations can make your time in Paris even more enjoyable.
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Avoid the Long Lines at Attractions
The lines are notoriously long at Paris attractions, but there are ways to get around them. If you meet up with a guide, for example, you typically can bypass the lines and go right inside. Many attractions also offer skip-the-line entrance tickets you can purchase in advance on the website. Or you can buy a Paris Museum Pass or Paris Pass to avoid the wait at popular venues. (You’ll still have to go through security lines, however.)
Get Yourself Some Wheels
If just the idea of walking everywhere in Paris is giving you foot cramps, you may want to consider renting a bicycle or a motorized bike for a day or two. You can go your own way at your own pace or take a guided bike tour of the city.
Of course, the city’s metro (or subway) system also stands at the ready and can be a fast way to zip around, albeit underground.
Have a Plan for How You’ll Pay
Even if you are planning a “book now, pay later” vacation, it’s wise to develop a budget and follow it.
When you actually head to the airport, it can be a good idea to bring some cash, your debit card, and a couple of credit cards to pay for various things in Paris. (VISA and Mastercard may be more widely accepted than other cards.) You also may want to bring at least one travel credit card so you can get rewarded for qualifying purchases while you’re abroad. And, if you can, bring a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
When it comes to money and plastic, remember that big, crowded cities anywhere have their share of pickpockets, so pay attention and keep your wallet and bag secure.
Because there’s so much to do, traveling to France can be a little daunting. So plan ahead and decide which experiences are on your personal list of top things to do in Paris. Having a “must” list can help you decide where to stay, what you’ll need to bring, how much you’ll need to budget, and how you’ll pay for it all. Then you’ll be set to visit the city’s world-famous landmarks, stroll through its wonderful neighborhoods, and feast on French food. You’re bound to have a magical, memorable time.
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How much French do I need to know to visit Paris?
You don’t have to take a language course, but you may want to keep a few basic French phrases at the ready, such as bonjour (hello), merci (thank you), pardon (sorry/excuse me), and “Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?).
What are things you cannot miss when visiting Paris?
Many people feel that a visit to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and Notre Dame cathedral (currently under restoration) are must-see locations in Paris. Also, sitting outside at a café and watching the world go by is a pleasure.
What are some non-touristy things to do in Paris?
If you long to get away from other tourists but still do fun things in Paris, France, you could visit Paris’s largest open-air food market, Marché Président Wilson, in the 16th arrondissement. You can join shoppers from the neighborhood and beyond buying vegetables, flowers, wine, and pastries. You might also visit one of Paris’ wonderful but lesser known parks, like Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th district.
Photo credit: iStock/Eloi_Omella
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