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Paris is such a beautiful and huge city: there’s so much to see and do that it can be a little overwhelming deciding what to put on your itinerary and what to leave out. When searching online, you can find list upon list of the top 50, 75 or even 101 things to do in Paris. How do you know what you should really spend your precious days in the French capital? What’s really one of the top things to do in Paris… and what’s just filler content for someone’s blogpost?
Personally, I think that if it’s your first time in Paris, you should take it slow and prioritise a shorter bucket list so you can take your time at each stop and really soak in the Parisien atmosphere. There’s no point rushing between arrondissements so frequently that you spend the majority of your trip on the metro! That’s why I’ve come up with the top ten things to do during your first time in Paris.
Where to stay for your first time in Paris
Before you leave for your first time in Paris, you’re going to need to find a place to stay. There are obviously endless amounts of accommodation to choose from in Paris. However, it’s hard to find an affordable option which doesn’t leave you out in the suburbs. If you’re anything like me, location is one of the most important aspects of my holiday accommodation.
That’s why I recommend the Louvre Youth Hostel, where I stayed during my first time in Paris. This hostel was literally a 2 minutes walk from the Louvre, in the 1st arrondissement. I absolutely loved how you could leave the hostel and be at one of the world’s most famous sites within minutes.
I was in the highest room in the building (it was a very high building) and it had a bizarre layout with a mezzanine that you had to climb up metal ladders to reach. The bunk beds also had no ladders so I had to vault into my top bunk. However, it is the oldest hostel in Paris and the location and free breakfast really made up for any downsides.
Getting around Paris
Getting around Paris on the metro can be relatively easy and cheap. A single ticket costs €1.90 and to get a carnet of ten tickets in one go, it’ll cost you €16.90, which is much better value if you’re planning on using the metro often.
You could also consider using the classic Paris Hop-On Hop-Off bus, which has two routes around Paris, allowing you to visit all the sites while travelling on an open-top bus. This way you to see the beauty of Paris pass you by as you travel and also learn about the different landmarks as you go.
I love using hop-on-hop-off buses on my first day of travel to help me get my bearings of a new city and figure out where everything is in relation to each other. This is an excellent idea for your first time in Paris!
Things to do during your first time in Paris
Cycle around Paris
As soon as we arrived in the city, we were determined to hire bikes to ride along the river. This is pretty easy in Paris as they have Vélib bike stations located all around where you can take out a bike, ride it across the city and then take it back elsewhere.
As long as you return it within half an hour this is completely free, other than a deposit of $150 each that is returned to you. We actually found it quite hard to work the Vélib system but it was lovely to cycle around Paris once we’d figured it out.
If you’d like to cycle around Paris without having to figure out the Vélib system and pay an extortionate deposit, consider a city bike tour with a friendly local guide who can give you relevant tips, tricks and historical facts while you ride through the city.
You might not have heard about this little attraction called the Eiffel Tower, but I heartily recommend it. We decided to visit the tower the night we arrived and walked from our hostel along the river in the dark. When we turned the corner and saw it, illuminated in all its glory and sparkling, all three of us actually screamed- it’s so much bigger than it seems in pictures.
I was pretty starstruck by it after seeing it everywhere growing up. It’s a simple structure but absolutely beautiful in person. Buy a selfie stick and take a million photos in front of the tower or there’s really no point in going to Paris.
Taking your first time in Paris more seriously? Buy an advance ticket to climb to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and see views of Paris from its most iconic monument. Getting a ticket in advance means you won’t have to wait in the perilous queues!
Arc de Triomphe
We reached the Arc de Triomphe by metro as it was only a few stops away from where we were staying by the Louvre. On arriving it took us a while to figure out that we had to walk through a subway to reach the Arc de Triomphe rather than dangerously attempting to cross Place Charles de Gaulle, a large junction of 12 roads (yes, 12).
Once, we reached the Arc de Triomphe, we climbed the gazillion and one steps to the top and it was spectacular, with 360 views around the whole of Paris. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and its Napoleonic wars. Underneath the Arc de Triomphe, you can also find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated to all soldiers who died in the first world war.
The Arc de Triomphe was one of my favourite spots in Paris, even though I think I said that everywhere!
Sacré Coeur is in the district of Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement. The whole district is absolutely beautiful and I recommend taking a walking tour to discover the area with a local guide to discover some of its lesser-known gems.
The actual Sacré Coeur is such a unique and beautiful church. It’s also featured in the last scene of one of my favourite French films, Amélie so I really enjoyed visiting.
It’s situated at the top of Montmartre hill, which is the highest point in Paris so again, exquisite views from here. We were really lucky with the weather on our trip as well so the hill made a top-notch sunbathing spot for a few hours relaxing with a picnic.
If you’ve seen the movie Moulin Rouge, then you’ll probably want to visit here just for a look. It’s only a five-minute walk from Sacré Coeur so you might as well if you’re in the area.
We only really looked at it from outside because you have to fork out your life savings to watch a show but it was pretty cool to see it anyway!
It’s also among the largest collection of sex-shops I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in my life. It seemed that every single shop down the road was a sex shop. You can imagine how inventive some of the shop names had to get by the end of the street…
We were so lucky to be close to the Louvre because my god, it is a truly spectacular piece of architecture. When you think of the Louvre, the newer glass pyramid structures are what first come to mind, but the medieval palace surrounding the courtyard is really what took my breath away.
The sheer amount of exhibitions in the museum mean that there’s probably something to interest everyone, and if not I’d visit for the architecture alone. If you’re looking to visit the Musée Louvre and don’t want to wait in obscene queues, consider getting an advance ticket.
Locating the Mona Lisa took us a ridiculously long amount of time wandering up and down the same corridor thinking god, it must be really small before realising we were in the completely wrong place. Be warned in advance, you won’t get to see her up close unless you feel like fighting through a massive crowd of tourists.
Jardin des Tuileries
The Jardin des Tuilleries is situated next to the museum and is equally as beautiful. It’s quite a monumental place as its where citizens celebrated after the French Revolution, when it was made public to the people rather than privately owned by the monarchy. You always feel like you’re surrounded by history in Paris.
Whether sitting around the duck pond in a deck chair or hiding amongst the bushes with a picnic, this is one of my favourite places to spend time in Paris during summer. I adore the impeccable shrubbery and flowerbeds and the incredible statues dotted around all over the garden.
You can’t visit Paris without visiting the Notre-Dame, it’s such a fantastic and historical medieval cathedral, not to mention the setting of the adorable Disney movie Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Have a walk all around to soak in all the exquisite detail in the architecture and have a look at the beautiful flowers in the gardens if visiting in summer. We spent about half an hour at the Notre-dame taking pictures before my friend Cloé remarked, “wow you know, it looks like the Notre-Dame from that movie.” Ah Cloé…
The architecture of Les Invalides is beautiful inside and out. Inside the golden dome of the building, you can take a look at the tomb of Napoleon. The tomb is made of red quartzite and stands on a granite base, surrounded by 10 bas-relief statues that depict the main achievements of his reign.
The ceiling of the dome depicts beautiful artwork and the gallery of the tomb is quite an eerie spectacle. You can also visit the Musée de l’Armée within Les Invalides, a museum made up of various exhibits to do with artillery and warfare. We visited the exhibit on World War I and although it contained some interesting artefacts, it became quickly dreary. If you’re a WWI enthusiast however, I’m sure this is the place for you!
Palais de la Découverte
This is basically a science museum so we gave it a go because my friend Lyd is a major science nerd. You can get reduced entry if you’re less than 25 and if you go after 3pm on a weekday it’s reduced even further to €3!
Sadly for Lyd, all the displays were in French. But happily for Lyd, Cloé and I are pretty competent in French so we could translate for her. (Teamwork!)
It was actually really fun, I’d recommend it especially if it’s raining and you’re looking for a more interesting museum to go to. There was also an awesome exhibition at the end where you could control light with movement and sound, which we loved.
Where to eat in Paris
Unsurprisingly as a Western capital and a major tourist hotspot, Paris is rather expensive for food and drink. However, if you’re going to treat yourself during your trip, the patisseries are to die for and very unique to France. We went to ‘Gosselin’ on Rue Saint Honoré near the Louvre and had some amazing cream cheese cupcakes.
The choice of vegetarian meals in Paris was sadly limited. There was always something on the menu I could eat, but it always turned out to be the same thing- pesto pasta. You can get quite sick of pesto pasta after 4 days of it!
However, ‘Café des Marronniers’ gave us the option of a fantastic cheese platter instead and being located in the centre of Jardin des Tuileries, it was lovely to eat outside amongst all the greenery. The service was great too, each of us got free coffee at the end of our meal when our waiter found out we were students!
For more advice on what to eat while visiting the city of love, check out Trimm Travel’s foodie guide to Paris.
Budgeting your first time in Paris
If you are under 25 and have a European passport, definitely bring this around with you in Paris, we got free access to this and many other sites around the city because of it, which was amazing! However, keep in mind that even if you aren’t under 25 or European, there are still so many free things to do in Paris.
Thanks for reading my guide on what to do during your first time in Paris. If you’re thinking of spending more time in France, check out my guides to Lyon and Marseille, to see if these equally beautiful cities can tempt you.
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