Paris. Poets, artists, playwrights, writers, journalists, and more have all written about their love of this city. It’s a place that exudes culture, sophistication, class, and style. Like the millions before me, I fell in love with this city the first time I visited.
Settled by Gallic tribes around the 3rd century BCE, the region was conquered by the Romans a couple of centuries later, turning it into a prosperous settlement. By 508, Paris was made the capital of the Merovingian dynasty. The city was sacked by Vikings in 845 but recovered to repel further Viking incursions. By the 12th century, Paris was the economic and cultural hub of all of France.
Today, Paris is one of the few iconic cities in the world that truly lives up to its hype. I’ve spent years visiting the city, have organized tours here, and even lived here for a bit. It is one of my absolute favorite places in the world. As Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” He wasn’t wrong.
As iconic as it is, Paris is also gigantic, with thousands of years of history and a plethora of things to see and do. It would take a lifetime to explore all of Paris. Fortunately, with a little planning, you can see the highlights over just a few days.
This travel guide to Paris can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your visit to the City of Light!
Table of Contents
- Things to See and Do
- Typical Costs
- Suggested Budget
- Money-Saving Tips
- Where to Stay
- How to Get Around
- When to Go
- How to Stay Safe
- Best Places to Book Your Trip
- Gear and Packing List
- Related Blogs on Paris
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Paris
1. Scale the Eiffel Tower
Built for the 1889 World Fair, the 300-meter tower is an engineering feat that was originally hated by locals. They called it “the metal asparagus” and hoped it would be torn down. Now, it’s the most famous symbol of the city and every local will tell you they love it. It’s a beautiful building. If you’re going to go up to the top, get there early to avoid the lines. Tickets range from 16-26 EUR. You can also pay for direct access to an elevator that takes you to the top for 52 EUR. The Champ Mars (the grassy field in front of it) is a perfect spot for photos and picnics.
2. Tour the Palace of Versailles
Visiting the famed 17th-century palace requires a whole day (don’t skip Marie Antoinette’s home or the spacious gardens that are located here). Originally, a hunting lodge, Louix XIV built this opulent palace to get the nobles out of Paris so they wouldn’t plan any coups. It was expanded over the years and filled with tons of allegorical statues and symbols reminding people that the power of the state rested with the king! The palace gets super crowded so try to go during the weekday, though summer weekends are the best time to visit the gardens, as the fountains are set to music then. Admission to the palace is 18 EUR and admission to the entire complex (including the gardens) is 27 EUR. Skip-the-line entry costs 55 EUR.
3. Explore the Louvre
The Louvre is the biggest museum in the world, with thousands of square feet of space and millions of artifacts and works of art (including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo). To see it all, you need at least two full days, but you can do the highlights in a full afternoon. It costs 17 EUR. Timed skip-the-line tickets fro Get Your Guide cost 17 EUR. If you want to really avoid the crowds, go on Wednesday night when the museum is open until 11pm. There’s hardly anyone there after 7pm.
4. Wander the Latin Quarter
A historic area near the Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter is filled with tiny, winding streets that turn at weird angles to open into little cafe-lined squares. I love wandering around here; it always feels like you’re stepping back a few hundred years in history. There are a lot of restaurants, bars, and jazz clubs here too.
5. Visit Sainte-Chapelle
This is my favorite church in Paris. Built in 1238 by Saint Louis, it was meant to house holy relics he found during the Crusades as well as serve as the Royal Chapel. I find this tiny Gothic chapel to be far more beautiful than the nearby Notre Dame. The (mostly) original interior décor is exquisite, including some of the few remaining examples of original stained glass in France. It’s absolutely beautiful. Don’t skip it! There’s usually a long line, but museum pass holders can skip it. ENTRY costs 11.50 EUR.
Other Things to See and Do in Paris
1. Go museum hopping
Paris has hundreds of museums worth seeing. Make sure to check out the Musee D’Orsay for great impressionist work, the amazing Rodin Museum, Holocaust Museum (one of the best in the world), Musee D’Orangerie (more impressionist work), and the interesting sewer museum. A museum pass is the most affordable way to see them as it provides access to over 50 museums in Paris and the surrounding region. A two-day pass costs 52 EUR, a four-day pass costs 66 EUR, and a six-day pass costs 78 EUR.
2. Stroll down the Champs Elysees
This is one of the most famous streets in the world and stretches from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre. It’s lined with expensive shops and restaurants and is always busy, but it’s a great place to club hop at night or shop during the day. Come in the very early morning to see the place utterly deserted. It makes for great photos.
3. Visit the Panthéon
Located in the Latin Quarter, this Neoclassical building was originally built as a church but was turned into a state burial site for France’s heroes, including Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille, and Voltaire. Admission is 11.50 EUR.
4. Relax in Jardin Du Luxembourg
The Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden) is the largest public park in Paris, covering 56 acres. The garden, which was first created in 1612, contains over a hundred statues, monuments, and fountains, all scattered throughout the grounds. The park was neglected for years until the French Revolution, after which Jean Chalgrin (the architect of the Arc de Triomphe) set about restoring and expanding the park. In the morning, you’ll see lots of runners exercising here. At lunch on a nice day, join park-goers in having a picnic.
5. Admire the view from Montmartre
Home to starving artists for over a century (since the Belle Époque in the 19th century), the neighborhood of Montmartre offers a stunning view of Paris, arty cafés and bars, cobblestone streets, and the only winery within the city limits (Vignes du Clos Montmartre). It’s one of the hipper parts of Paris, even if it has lost some of its old grandeur. It’s great for those wanting to visit the hangout spots of folks like Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The iconic Sacré-Cœur basilica sits at the top of the hill. Climb the steps or sit on the sloping lawn and admire the views at dusk. Entrance to the basilica is free
6. Visit Notre Dame
Paris’s Gothic masterpiece was constructed between 1163-1334. Climb from the north tower to the south to appreciate the masonry and get a close-up view of the Gallery of Chimeras, the fantastic birds and beasts gazing over the balustrade. The outside facade has been cleaned up in recent years, but the inside has a bit of that old Gothic grimy charm. To climb the tower, it costs 10 EUR. NOTE: Notre Dame is currently closed due to the 2019 fire.
7. Stand under the Arc De Triomphe
This monument stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle and is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris. Inaugurated in 1836, the arch is dedicated to those who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. For 13 EUR, visitors can climb 284 steps to the top of the Arc for panoramic views and information about the city’s history.
8. Celebrate Bastille Day
Every July 14th, a series of spectacular events in Paris celebrates the infamous storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. The Bastille was a medieval armory and fortress and represented royal authority in Paris. Its capture was one of the biggest milestones of the Revolution. These days, there’s a huge televised parade and a never-ending fireworks display (head to Champ de Mars or the Jardins du Trocadéro for the best views of it all).
9. Experience the Cinema en Plein Air
Every July and August, Paris rolls out an inflatable screen in the Parc de la Villete for this major outdoor cinema event in the 9th arrondissement. It’s hugely popular with locals who tend to bring food and wine! It’s free to attend too.
10. Visit Maison du Victor Hugo
This beautiful apartment dates to 1605. Its most famous resident was the writer Victor Hugo (author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), who moved here when he was 30. His old apartment is now a museum dedicated to his life and writing. The museum is quite small, but Hugo lovers (like me) will find it very interesting. Each room is designed to showcase a specific period in his life, from his childhood to his death. Admission is free.
11. Climb through the Paris Catacombs
Underneath the city of Paris, you’ll find a honeycomb of tunnels, originally constructed as mining tunnels. The French resistance used these tunnels during World War II and rave parties flourished there during the 90s. Within this maze of tunnels lie the famous Catacombs of Paris, an ossuary containing the remains of over 6 million Parisians. This burial site was created in the 18th century due to public health concerns about overflowing cemeteries. It’s one of the freakiest and coolest sites in Paris, oftentimes missed by tourists. Advance skip-the-line tickets (including an audio guide) are 29 EUR while last-minute tickets cost 14 EUR, when available (they are often sold out, however).
12. Listen to Paris’ famous jazz music
Whether you prefer modern clubs or classic jazz joints, you shouldn’t leave Paris without tasting the music that attracted some of the best musicians and artists to the city. There is an especially abundant amount of good jazz clubs in the city. Le Duc des Lombards, which opened in 1984, is one of the most famous jazz clubs in the city. Harry’s Bar also has a lot of great music there too.
13. Take a walking tour
There are dozens upon dozens of companies covering all aspects of life in Paris, and it can be hard to make sense of all those endless Viator and TripAdvisor listings. Some are free, like New Europe’s tour, and go around the center of Paris, giving a historical overview of the city. Walks offer amazing in-depth tours starting from about 55 EUR. You’ll get specialized guides and skip the lines to big attractions, like the Louvre. I wrote a whole guide to the best walking tours in Paris!
14. Walk amongst the tombstones
The Pere-Lachaise Cemetery is Paris’ largest and most famous cemetery. In fact, it’s the most visited cemetery in the world and a peaceful, hauntingly beautiful area worth exploring. Look closely to spot the famous graves (Jim Morrison, Chopin, and Oscar Wilde are all buried here.) The cemetery was built in 1804 but locals considered the cemetery too far from the city. For that reason, Père Lachaise only had 13 graves its first year, however, administrators devised a plan to transfer the remains of Jean de La Fontaine and Molière, two of Paris’s most famous artists, to Père Lachaise. After that, everyone wanted to be buried here! You can read more about the cemetery here.
15. Visit the Mémorial de la Shoah
Despite having an excellent exhibit on France, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust, the Mémorial de la Shoah never draws a lot of people. It’s a real shame, as there is a lot of in-depth information and a great collection here. I’ve been to many Holocaust museums, and this is one of the best and most detailed in the world. I highly recommend it. Admission is free.
16. Take a food tour
To learn more about the history and culture behind Parisian cuisine, take a food tour. It’s the best way to eat your way around the city, sampling the best eats Paris has to offer, all while learning what makes the cuisine unique. Devour Tours runs in-depth food tours led by expert local guides that will introduce you to the food culture and its history. If you’re a foodie like me who wants to learn more about the history and culture behind each dish, this tour is for you! Food tours range from 89-109 EUR.
Hey there! Wait one second! Did you know I also wrote an ENTIRE guidebook to Paris filled with not only even more detailed information on everything included on this page but also itineraries, maps, practical information (i.e. hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, prices, etc.), cultural insights, and so much more? It has everything you want in a guidebook – but with a focus on budget and cultural travel! If you want to go into more depth and have something to take on your trip, click here for more about the book!)
For more information on other cities in France, check out these guides:
Paris Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in an 8-12-bed dorm costs 19-22 EUR per night. A bed in a 4-6 bed dorm costs between 23-30 EUR per night. A double private room starts at 85 EUR per night. Expect prices to increase in the summer. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have self-catering facilities.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at about 85 EUR per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, coffee/tea maker, and occasionally free breakfast.
On Airbnb, the private rooms start at 55 EUR, while full apartments start at 85 EUR per night (but usually cost at least double that if you don’t book early).
Food – Food in France has a long history and is intricately intertwined with the culture. Fresh bread (especially baguettes), tasty local cheeses, and plentiful wine may be stereotypical staples of the cuisine, but they really are some of the must-eat foods in the country. Be sure to try croque monsieur (a hot ham and cheese sandwich), pot-au-feu (beef stew), steak frites (steak and fries), and if you’re real adventurous you can sample traditional delicacies like frog legs, escargot (snails) or foie gras (a fattened duck or goose liver).
If you’re on a budget, pick up some ingredients at the local market and have a picnic in one of the city’s many parks. Creating your own meal costs around 9-15 EUR and is a fun way to take in the city as you relax.
Eating pre-made sandwiches from the city’s takeaway shops, crepes, or fast food generally costs between 5-10 EUR. If you want to eat at a restaurant (the French are known for their culinary skills, after all!), try doing a “prix-fixe” meal. It’s a set menu that offers you a deal on a 2-3 course meal for about 20 EUR for lunch.
Expect to pay between 25-40 EUR for dinner at a nice restaurant including wine. Try to avoid the tourist areas, where prices are around about 10-30% higher.
Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 9 EUR for a combo meal. A cheap meal at a casual restaurant costs around 15 EUR.
Beer costs 6-7 EUR while a cappuccino/latte is around 3 EUR. Bottled water is 1 EUR.
Some of my favorite places to eat in the city are Bouillon Pigalle, Café Marlette Martyrs, Père & Fils, Bong, Crêperie des Arts, Le Det Vin, Five Tea Or’normes, Florence Kahn, Juveniles, and La Recyclerie.
If you’re cooking for yourself, expect to pay about 50 EUR for a week’s worth of groceries. This gets you basic staples like rice, pasta, bread, seasonal produce, and some meat.