Paris is a joy for active sightseers, with a magnificent array of museums, monuments, must-see sights. However, the sheer number of sightseeing opportunities in Paris can be overwhelming. No matter how many times you visit, you may feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface.
Here’s a short, opinionated list of sightseeing options (with lots of hyperlinks), organized into 6 categories: Top Tier, Mid-Tier, New & Niche, Quirky/Off-Beat, Kids, & Day Trips. Consider choosing one or two in each category, so you can experience variety in the best Paris has to offer.
When it comes to sightseeing in Paris, time is your currency, and more precious than gold. I recommend you purchase the Paris Museum Pass, which covers entry to over 60 museums and monuments and is available for 2, 4, or 6 days. You will save a few Euros over purchasing tickets individually, but most importantly, you will save time….hours and hours of time…..because you don’t have to queue in long lines to purchase tickets at every venue. Just look for the special door for pass holders at each venue, and sail past the ticket lines. I’ve waited 60 minutes in line at the Louvre, and 90 minutes each at Musee d’Orsay and St. Chapelle, so learn from my mistakes and get the Pass! You’ll still need to wait in line for the security screening, but this should be minimal.
If you’ll be in Paris more than a few days, look into the Paris Visite Pass, which covers the Metro, RER suburban trains, and city buses, and offers great reductions on 18 other sites. Save money & time!
Top Tier Sights – many museums are free for children under 18, offer reduced rates for 18-25; museums usually offer one free Sunday per month – avoid these days as they’re usually crowded.
Eiffel Tower – new for 2010! – advance reservations are now available online; save time! Count on at least an hour in line if you don’t reserve in advance. (Entry NOT covered in Paris Museum Pass)
Louvre Museum – most famous and extensive art museum on the planet
Musee d’Orsay – 19th & 20th century masterpieces, temple of Impressionism, & much more.
Notre Dame Cathedral – free admission to the church; fee applies for self-guided tower
Palace of Versailles – see Day Trips Below
Bateaux Mouches & Bateaux Parisiens – Seine River Cruises – a must to enjoy Paris beautiful bridges and monuments. Go at sunset to see floodlit monuments; time it to pass Eiffel Tower as it’s sparkling – breathtaking!
Arc de Triomphe – ascend to the top for amazing views (fee); otherwise visit free at street level to admire sculptures, eternal flame and pay respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Sacre Coeur Basilica – Montmartre’s stunning white domed Basilica, on the butte of Montmartre
Mid-Tier Sights – feel free to argue with me as to which should be Top Tier vs. Mid-Tier
Centre Pompidou – modern and contemporary art
Musee Marmottan – world’s largest collection of works by Claude Monet, plus 300 works by other Impressionists & Post-Impressionists
Musee Rodin – master sculptor and gardens
St. Chapelle – Gothic cathedral with beautiful stained glass; lines can be very long; if you don’t have Paris Museum Pass, and skies are cloudy, skip it and wait for another time
Musee Jacquemarte Andre – private mansion with impressive collection of French, Dutch and Italian masters; lovely cafe
Les Invalides – honors French military heros & houses Napoleon’s tomb
Opera Garnier – gorgeous baroque Paris Opera, of Phantom fame; self or guided tours available – go for the guided tour
Pantheon – originally constructed as a church, and now the tomb for many important French historical figures, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Madame Curie, Braille, Dumas
Cathedral of St. Denis – about ½ hour north of central Paris, burial place of kings of France, with over 70 sculpted tombs, including Francois I, Louis XVI, Dagobert, and Catherine de Medici
Musee National Picasso – closed for renovation until 2012
Musee de Quai Branly – relatively new museum featuring art & artifacts from Africa, Asia, Oceania & the Americas
New and Niche
Paris Movie Walks – author Michael Schurmann leads you on a series of 10 walking tours in the City of Lights, Camera, Action – see the sights where your favorite movies were filmed. Video of my tour of Montmartre below, where Michael points out one of the last two remaining windmills of Montmartre, the Moulin de la Galette, which was the setting for one of Renoir’s famous paintings you will recognize:
Eye Prefer Paris Tours – Personal walking tours and cooking classes by Richard
La Cuisine Paris cooking lessons – 2 hour, ½ day and longer classes – French desserts, bistro classics, chocolate tours and more!
Rick Steves Paris Illuminations by Taxi Tour – Rick gives you a great, fun option to hire a taxi for a do-it-yourself floodlit Paris tour – with a map and French translation to hand to the driver – a great alternative to overpriced bus tours, with recorded commentary in 7 languages (ugh).
Pere Lachaise Cemetery – most famous & visited cemetery in the world; among the famous buried here are Edith Piaf, Pissarro, Proust, Jim Morrison, Yves Montand, Moliere, Lalique, Haussemann, Heloise, Delacroix, Colette, Frederic Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Balzac, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde
Catacombs of Paris – municipal ossuary is the reburial place of approx. 6 million residents of Paris
Paris Sewer Tour – haven’t been, don’t plan to go, unless someone talks me into it
Canal & Seine Barge Cruise – Teena Hughes of A Night in Paris explains it all here, with video
Fat Tire Bike Tours – comes highly recommended, although I haven’t tried yet; Paris city tours, Versailles and Giverny also; if you’ve done this, please leave a comment with reviews
Versailles – magnificent palaces & grounds; former home of French kings
Chartres – extraordinary Gothic cathedral & UNESCO world heritage site
Giverny – Claude Monet’s home and gardens
Reims –Champagne country
Parc Asterix – large amusement park organized around 5 themed lands, about 20 miles north of Paris
France Miniature – outdoor village with scale models of 160 major French monuments; 45 minutes from Paris
Paris local parks – Luxemburg Garden, Tuilleries, Champ de Mars – lovely, green spaces, kid-friendly activities
Aquaboulevard – indoor/outdoor waterpark and athletic facility; largest indoor waterpark in Europe
Last tip – don’t be pennywise but hour foolish. If you’re trying to get to a venue in a hurry, like before closing or last admission time, consider jumping in a taxi rather than waiting for a bus, or walking to/from a metro station. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, traveling across Paris usually takes twice as long as I estimate, so give yourself plenty of time. Plot your visits on a map, as many can be grouped for walking (Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, Deportation Memorial). Buses are a great way to get around, but to a visitor who is unfamiliar with local routes, the occasional manifestations (strikes) alter bus routes, bypassing certain popular stops, leaving you Lord knows where (another lesson learned the hard way).
Plan ahead, do your research, and don’t get frustrated. You’ll never see it all, but just assure yourself, you’ll be back and see more on your next trip. Bon voyage!
All links are working at time of publication, but subject to change by site owners. If you find a broken link, please send me a comment and let me know. Thanks!