I have been lucky enough to visit the French capital twice in the last 18 months, both experiences very different with the first visit being with my Mum (50th Birthday surprise) and the other with my Husband. There is so much to see and do in Paris and everyone is going to have varying opinions about what is worth seeing and what isn’t.
First things first if you are visiting from the UK then travel by Eurostar, you can get cheap tickets if you are flexible with when you travel, getting through security is so quick and easy and you can take your own food and drink through with you, unlike when you fly! It is also very comfortable and fairly quick and takes you to the Gare du Nord Station where you can then easily get the metro to your hotel or to start exploring Paris.
Both my trips were short (four days) and again for both trips I used reasonably cheap hotels for ease. The first was Hotel Kyriad in Clichy Centre, the nearest Metro Mairie de Clichy was only a five minute walk and because it was located outside of the main part of the city the restaurants in the area were very cheap, which if you are working with a tight budget is a great tip to bare in mind. On my second trip I stayed at the Ibis budget Paris Porte de Vincennes, this was mainly because it was easy to get to from the Accor Hotels Arena. The nearest metro station was actually on Metro Line 1 which goes straight to some of the main attractions, including the Louvre. If you know you are going to use the Metro a lot then buy a book of ten tickets, this only saves something like 2 euros but every little helps and it means you don’t have to keep using the machines every time you want a ticket.
So here are 10 Things to do in Paris:
1 – Breakfast at Angelina
As I was planning my trip to Paris I saw Angelina mentioned a number of times. One of my friends had previously been and told me the hot chocolate was to die for. Now I don’t really have a sweet tooth, I can take or leave chocolate. My first visit to Paris we walked past Angelina on the Rue de Rivoli and there was a queue out of the door and there was no way I would convince my mum to stand in it. So when I was booking my second trip to Paris I made sure this time I booked a table for breakfast.
Luckily this time it wasn’t as busy and we had a table that could seat four for the two of us which was much needed when we then both ordered the Angelina Breakfast which included, a choice of juice, a choice of hot drink, pastries and jams, fruit salad and eggs however I wanted them. It was a feast fit for a king and everything I had read and heard about the hot chocolate was true! It was the best I had ever tasted, although a little too much for those without a sweet tooth. The building itself was beautifully decorated and possibly the most elegant place I have ever eaten breakfast. In front of the tea room was a little shop where you can buy your very own hot chocolate and teas and treats to take home with you.
2 – Notre-Dame Cathedral
An obvious choice when compiling a list of 10 things to do in Paris, one of its most iconic landmarks. We arrived nice and early on a Sunday when we visited and it was worth it, we grabbed some breakfast from one of the nearby cafes and then after devouring that headed straight inside as there were no queues. Now I have been to a fair few Cathedrals throughout the years but Notre-Dame for me is by far the best, Mass was taking place as we walked around and the architecture and the stain glass windows were mesmerising.
For me it was like a part of my childhood had come to life, after watching Disney’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame a number of times I couldn’t help but find myself singing the songs as I walked around the 13th Century building. Now my mum is not a real fan of heights and my Husband not a fan of queues so I didn’t get to go up to the towers of Notre-Dame, which is disappointing. I do however have it on good authority that it is totally worth going up. You can now obtain a ticket (as of July/August) from a machine just outside which gives you a time to come back at so that you do not have to constantly stand in a queue. Something which they should and will hopefully introduce for a number of their top tourist attractions.
3 – Walk along the River Seine
The metro in Paris is really easy to use but if there is just one time that you do not use it then make sure this is to walk along the River Seine. Walking from Notre-Dame to Eiffel Tower along the river is a must for great views of the different landmarks. Make sure you alternate between walking right next to the river and up along the road where a number of stalls selling not only your traditional souvenirs but also paintings, books and posters can be found. I managed to pick up a poster of different types of Bicycles for my other half which is now hung in our bedroom. As you get towards the western end of the walk, nearest to Eiffel Tower there is a group of small bars down by the river which have lots of outdoor seating. A great stop for a bite to eat and of course a glass of wine!
4 – Eiffel Tower
I couldn’t really leave this one off, even if you decide not to go up the tower you should go and get the obligatory photos and marvel at how tall it really is. I bought tickets to the summit on both my trips. The first time we got there before it opened which kept queue time down to a minimum, I also managed to get a reduced ticket as I was still only 24. The view from the summit really puts into perspective how tall the tower is, it makes Notre-Dame look like a pin prick. Arriving so early meant it was really quiet up the tower and there was no queue to get on the lift to the top floor. Unfortunately when i visited this June with my Husband everything was a little different.
Security has stepped up in the last year and you now have to queue to have your bags checked to be able to walk under the tower. The queues were so much longer in the middle of the day and the tower was very busy and was not a relaxing experience like my previous visit. However I do think that the tower looks better on photos when the sun is shining.
5 – Sacré Couer
The Sacré Couer was only a short walk from the Station so we visited on our last day after putting our bags in lockers at the station as large bags aren’t permitted in a lot of the tourist attractions in Paris. We had a standard parisian breakfast at a cafe directly opposite the Sacré Couer at the bottom of the steps which was a beautiful setting to enjoy a croissant and reasonably priced.
After walking up all of the steps the views of Paris from here are breathtaking. We went inside which was free and although beautiful it didn’t come close to Notre-Dame. We then bought tickets (4 euros…i think) to climb some more stairs to reach the dome of the Sacré Couer. From here the view was even better and well worth walking the long spiral staircase up and down.
6 – Montmartre
This is my favourite area of Paris, it had an old feel to it with the small and colourful buildings and little cobbled streets and felt like how I expected Paris to feel. There is a real buzz in the air and only a short distance from the Sacré Couer. The restaurants here are a little on the expensive side however the atmosphere you get for the price makes it worth it.
7 – The Louvre and Musee d’Orsay
I am being cheeky by clubbing these two together but it allows me to add one more item to my list of 10 things to do in Paris. Musee d’Orsay was the first museum I visited. This museum lies on the opposite side of the river to the Louvre and contains pieces from a number of famous artists (including ones I had even heard of). I got in for free for being under 25 and from the EU (win!) and we only queued for about 30 minutes. The building itself is an old Station which adds to the experience, there was a large quantity of artwork and I am not sure we saw it all. If you have limited time I would recommend making sure you see the pieces by Van Gough and Monet.
The next day we visited the Louvre. After looking at the website for the Louvre I realised how big the place was and had read on a number of other blogs that I should plan what I wanted to see before I got there. Now i don’t really know anything about art but I do know about the Mona Lisa and that I should see it. Again I got into this museum for free but I think an adult ticket was only something like 12 euros. When you go inside the Louvre there are arrows showing you the way to the Mona Lisa from the entrance, so we headed straight there and was met by a four deep crowd of people. I took the necessary photo and got out of their sharpish. I then concentrated on looking at the archaeological items the the museum had to offer. These areas of the museum were a lot quieter and housed some really nice pieces.
8 – Archaeological Crypt
This can be found directly outside the Notre Dame and is a must for any lovers of archaeology. Entry only cost 8 euros (6 euros for concession) and you can see a number of buildings which have been excavated which form part of the city dated to the Roman period.
9 – A little piece of Paris – Aux Anysetiers Du Roy
If you want to taste traditional French cuisine in a traditionally Old French building then this is the place to go. We stumbled across this hidden gem whilst trying to find somewhere to eat near Notre-Dame. Located on the corner of Rue Saint Louis En L’lle and Rue le Regrattier this small restaurant looked as if it had changed very little since it originated in the 17th Century. The french charm offered by the decor was then matched by the classicly french food, we had the Boeuf Bourguignon and the Confit de Canard, both were delicious, so delicious I forgot to take photos!
10 – Accor Hotel Arena
Now this is a strange one but I had to mention it. My last visit to Paris was largely due to buying tickets to see Phil Collins (Yes I am only 25 I promise) at the arena in the centre of Paris. I have been to a lot of venues in England but the Accor Arena in Paris was a great place to watch live music. The queues were minimal even with the thorough security, the building was light and airy. Once in our seats you weren’t constantly bothered by staff members getting in your way. If you can’t get tickets to see someone you really want to see in this country i recommend looking at whether they are playing this Arena and making a holiday out of it!
So that is my list of 10 things to do in Paris, I did more than is listed, but places like the Champs Élysée and Arc de Triomphe are good but no different from anything you could do anywhere else. My trips to Paris varied considerably, there was a stark difference between visiting in May and visiting in June and that was the number of people, everywhere was packed in June and that matched with the ridiculously hot weather made everything feel a little uncomfortable and more of an effort.
I really wanted to visit the Catacombs on my second visit, underground tunnels full of skeletons is basically an archaeologists dream. We arrived at 10am when it opened and was met by a queue, a queue I presumed was just because it had not quite opened yet. Oh how very wrong I was, three hours later and after nearly being murdered by my Husband we left the queue. It was ridiculous, there was no one there to say how long the wait would be and I heard someone say it was the shortest queue they had seen all week. I was gutted. The three hours of hell was thankfully made better by eating the most delicious Croque Madame at Cafe du rendez-vous where we watched those continuing to queue with very little movement towards the entrance.
I think it will be a while before I visit Paris again but I am sure with it being so close and easy to get to that we will cross paths again. I would love to hear your recommendations and feel free to ask any questions about my trips and the places I have mentioned.