Paris Unveiled: A First Timer's Guide

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Advisor - Jennifer Grant
Curated By

Jennifer Grant

  • France

  • Paris

  • Arts & Culture

  • Food & Wine

  • Romantic

  • Sightseeing

  • Entertainment

I fell for the Eiffel Tower
Curator’s statement

Paris is always a good idea… Yes, you’ve heard that before because it’s true. Whether you have a weekend or a year, the City of Light is magical. I believe Paris is a city that everyone should visit at least once in their life and preferably many times. Each neighborhood has its own personality, so take your time and savor Paris slowly to immerse yourself in its joie de vivre.

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Where to stay in Paris

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Things to do in Paris

Beautiful Architecture of Paris

Paris is a very walkable city made up of 20 arrondissements. To maximize your time for a shorter stay, I would recommend choosing a hotel in a central location close to the Seine, preferably in the 1st (Le Premier), 4th (Le Marais), 5th (Latin Quarter), or the 6th (Saint Germain des Prés).

A nice way to get off your feet and accommodate any jet lag is to enjoy a cruise along the Seine on your first late afternoon/early evening. These short cruises provide a relaxing orientation of Paris by viewing many of the city’s highlights such as the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Both scenic and dinner cruises are available. And if the weather doesn’t cooperate for an open-air boat, the No. 24 bus makes a very scenic loop of the city, passing Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Notre-Dame, Île St. Louis, the Boulevard St. Germain and the Musée d’Orsay.

Everyone’s must-see is the Eiffel Tower. Book your tickets in advance from the official website. If your preferred time is unavailable, there is a ticket option to walk up to the second level and catch the elevator from there. Or perhaps not, as many prefer, this view, high enough to see all of Paris, yet low enough for clear views of all its landmarks. You may also bypass the line by reserving lunch or dinner at one of the two restaurants. Plan your visit for 30 minutes before sunset, staying until dark and the start of the hourly sparkles, for the best experience.

The Louvre is the largest museum in the world and it would take over 200 days to see each of the 35,000 works of art. I highly recommend hiring a tour guide to enrich your experience and save time. If you prefer to visit on your own, skip-the-line tickets are also available for purchase. Bypass the long pyramid entry line by descending the stairs to the right of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (but first appreciate the magnicity planning with the view under the arc through the Tuileries, passing the Place de la Concorde obelisk and continuing up the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triumph.) Begin your visit in the basement where the original fortress structures have been preserved. Don’t miss Napoleon III’s apartment, which provides a mini glimpse of Versailles opulence. (Closed Tuesdays, open late on Wednesdays and Fridays.)

Musee d’Orsay is home to the world’s largest Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art collection in an expansive light-filled 1900 rail station, complete with its original clocks. The restaurants are also worth a visit, especially the chicken curry at Café Campana, but they do not accept reservations. Skip-the-line tickets as well as combo tickets with the Musee de l’Orangerie are available. (Closed Mondays, open late on Thursdays.)

Musee de l’Orangerie was a greenhouse for orange trees before becoming a smaller Impressionist museum next to the Place de la Concorde. It is famous for its massive circular display of Monet’s series of “Nymphéas”, eight panels of water lilies. (Closed Tuesdays. Combination tickets with Musee d’Orsay can be used on different days due to the closing schedule.)

Notre-Dame won’t officially reopen to visitors and resume services until December of 2024, following the devastating fire of April 2019, but you may visit the subterranean exhibits nearby. However, my favorite gothic chapel, Sainte-Chapelle, is just steps away. Louis IX built this 13th-century exquisite stained glass masterpiece as a jewel box to contain his collection of 22 relics, including the Crown of Thorns. The beauty and acoustics of this chapel make it one of my favorite places to attend a concert.

The majestic Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Climb to the top for excellent views of Paris and to watch cars navigating the insanely busy roundabout! Combine with a stroll down the Champs Elysees to lick the windows (the delightful French expression for window shopping.) Other shopping destinations include Galeries Lafayette (don’t miss the rooftop for a fabulous view), La Samaritaine (reopened after a stunning renovation) and Le Bon Marche (and its gorgeous food hall next door at La Grand Épicerie). Don’t miss the Merci concept store in the Marais for a more curated shopping experience.

Lucky enough to have more time in Paris? A bicycle tour is my favorite way to cruise through its unique neighborhoods. Climb the 270 steps or ride the funicular (one metro ticket) to the Sacré-Coeur basilica atop Montmartre. Have teenagers? The catacombs and sewers (égouts) are off-beat and memorable. Younger children have plenty of parks to run around after relishing all the chocolate chaud, macarons, and pains au chocolat. Paris is synonymous with romance and it’s easy for anyone to fall in love with the city repeatedly.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Briana Masson’s guide, An Extended Guide to Paris.

Advisor - Jennifer Grant

Travel Advisor

Jennifer Grant

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Paris.