Things to do in Paris

There’s no other city in the world quite like Paris. Where else combines romance, glamour, history, food and style with such effortless panache? To visit Paris is to wander by the Seine, to gaze up at iconic landmarks and sample the finest cuisine in a city that has a unique and timeless appeal.

Our guide to the best things to do in Paris ticks off all the must-see sights, but also points you in the direction of some of the lesser-known jewels in its crown. You’ll eat at the very best tables, rest in hotels perfect for exploring this remarkable city and make great memories you won’t forget.

Eiffel Tower

The history of Paris is a dramatic and colourful one, as befits a place that’s been one of the world’s great cities for hundreds of years. From the days of Napoleon through the turbulence of the 20th century, it’s been at the centre of affairs and always served as a cultural touchstone. Its soaring icon is the Eiffel Tower – although not many people realise it was only supposed to be a temporary tower, built for the World’s Fair in 1889. Now, it’s the symbol not just of Paris, but of France itself.

Elegant both up close and from a distance, take photos from every angle before ascending to the top. Make sure you pre-book a timed ticket to ensure speedy entry. You’ll change lifts – the lower level has shops, restaurants and a see-through floor to walk over – on your way to the viewing platform. Once at the top, look for the Champagne kiosk and celebrate the sensational views with a flute of fine French fizz.

If you’ve no head for heights, grab a picnic and a prime spot in the Jardins du Trocadero nearby. The fountains, sculpture and sense of space – plus that view – make it the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere on a hot day.

Notre Dame

Back on terra firma, head for Notre Dame, Paris’ majestic cathedral. Again, the queues can be big, so get here early if it’s peak season. More than 10 million people file through the doors every year – and once you’re inside you’ll quickly realise why.

This vast Gothic masterpiece took nearly two centuries to build. Climb the bell towers, gaze in awe at the rose windows and head up the steps to see the gargoyles, the ones the famed hunchback, Quasimodo, clung to in Victor Hugo’s timeless story.

Sacre Coeur

For more history, head for Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart has looked down on Paris from its lofty perch for more than a century and its location in the most bohemian part of Paris is no accident.

The Catholics who erected it meant it as a rebuke to the perceived ‘moral decline’ that resulted in the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. Highlights include the Savoyarde Bell, statues of Joan of Arc and Louis IX and the grand pipe organ, one of the most impressive in the world.

Arc de Triomphe

While Sacre Coeur was built in the wake of defeat, another landmark celebrates a French victory. The Arc de Triomphe, found at the top of the Champs-Elysees, was built by Napoleon to celebrate the 1805 victory at Austerlitz. There’s a viewing platform here with sweeping vistas along the leafy boulevards that snake out from the monument.

What to do in Paris

To do all there is to do in Paris requires several things: time, a plan of action or a repeat visit. It’s a city that contains multitudes, even beyond the architectural glories detailed above. Whether you want to explore the left bank, the oh-so-Parisian shops or delve into the museums, this is the place to start.

The Louvre

The Louvre’s art collection is world famous, but the building that houses this treasure trove is almost as impressive. Don’t be fooled by the modern look of the iconic glass pyramid exterior, this huge edifice started life as a 12th century fortress but didn’t become a museum and gallery until the late 18th.

Perhaps the most famous piece within its wall is Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – although you may need to jostle for a good vantage point to see it. But there’s enough here to satisfy most tastes, with impressive Renaissance art, crown jewels, a fine Islamic collection and sculptures including the Venus de Milo. It’s a veritable who’s who of art up to the mid-19th century.

Musee d’Orsay

After that, make your way to the Musee d’Orsay, a former railway station and a heart-stoppingly gorgeous building that showcases the best of the Impressionists and other more recent art movements. You’ll find rooms bursting with Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Cezanne, along with sculptures by Rodin.

Complete your art education with a visit to the Pompidou. Once controversial, the futuristic-looking building is now a modern classic and a place that feels like the perfect canvas for contemporary art and exhibitions.

A hop-on, hop-off boat tour of the Seine is the ideal way to see way more of the city, picking and choosing what suits you. Make sure you get off to visit Shakespeare and Company on the left bank, a wonderful indie bookstore that’s been trading for a century. It was the Parisian hub for writers from across the world and its warren of rooms and nooks played host to the likes of Hemingway and Joyce. Insider’s tip: the smaller shop next door is the place to go for ruinously rare first editions.


Shopping is a full-time job in Paris. Head to the Champs-Elysees not just for mainstream chains, but also for flagship branches of high-end designer brands such as Louis Vuitton. It’s also a place to witness human theatre – the street is thronged with locals and visitors. There’s more serene shopping at Galeries Lafayette, especially at the flagship Boulevard Haussmann branch. People come here just to see the beautiful art nouveau interior and sumptuous dome, while terrace restaurants and bars afford commanding views of the city.

Where to eat and stay in Paris

The best hotels in Paris

There are two things to know about Paris hotels. One, the rooms tend to be on the small side. This is true in much of Europe, but especially so here. Two, that doesn’t really matter, because however snug your room is it’ll have a view of the Paris rooftops, perhaps even of the Eiffel Tower, and that’s something to be treasured.

That doesn’t mean you should eschew luxury or a place that feels like a treat. At the high end, look no further than Le Bristol, so good it was the first hotel in Paris to be deemed better than five-star standard. The location on the Rue du Faubourg can’t be beaten, the marble decoration is old school and elegant, while there’s also a stunning pool. The rooms are some of the biggest in the city and there are two separate restaurants on site boasting Michelin stars. This is where you come to be pampered.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Hotel Eugene en Ville is affordable but still stylish, done out in black and muted tones. Rooms are small, but some have lovely sun-trap terraces that are bigger than the room themselves – a real treat in spring or summer. Make it downstairs in time for the generous buffet breakfast – here you’re just steps away from the Grands Boulevards and a stone’s throw from Galeries Lafayette.

Paris’ best restaurants

If the world has a spiritual home of eating, it’s Paris. Whether it’s something as simple as a baguette from a boulangerie, a menu prix fixe at a brasserie or a Michelin-starred blowout, the French are in love with food and you’ll find meals that will make memories here too.

For old school service and decadence, look no further than one of the 10 different three Michelin-star destinations in the city. This is where you’ll find some of the big names of French cooking, from Pierre Gagnaire to Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy. The latter has been at his restaurant for nearly 40 years, albeit with a relocation to the hushed surroundings of the Paris Mint in 2015. A la carte is slightly cheaper than the tasting menu – that can top out at more than 400 euros per head before wine – a list of grand French bottles. Is it worth it? Undoubtedly. This is food served with attention and love, from incredible buckwheat bread through to John Dory with razor clam, while vegetables dishes are elevated to another level.

You can eat well in Paris for much less, however. Neighbourhood bistros are reliable places for steak frites, snails and confit duck. One of the best in town, much loved by the locals, is Le Bistrot Paul Bert on Rue Paul Bert. This is the archetypal tiled bistro, one that doesn’t put a foot wrong. Start with the scallops, swimming in brown butter, then the entrecote steak with crisp frites, perfect for mopping up the juice. All the desserts are special, but the Paris-Brest – an irresistible mix of choux pastry and hazelnut cream – is one of the city’s best. The cost will be a fraction of dining at Guy Savoy, but in its own way the experience will be just as special.

Paris is a place to make memories that will last a lifetime. Car hire in Paris will make it all the easier to pack in everything you want to see in this timeless capital.