The question isn't what to do in Paris, but rather how to decide. With so many wonderful and varied options, it can be hard to plan your itinerary, whether you're an art lover, a history buff, or a serious shopper. Let our list help:
Here's a mix of some of the best things to do in Paris that you simply can't miss, from local favorites that will make you feel like a true Parisian, to some of the city's best sites and experiences.
All you have to do now is pack...
Jardin du Luxembourg
Situated on the border between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg Gardens, inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence, were created upon the initiative of Queen Marie de Medici in 1612.
The gardens, which cover 25 hectares of land, are split into French gardens and English gardens. Between the two, lies a geometric forest and a large pond. There is also an orchard with a variety of old and forgotten apples, an apiary for you to learn about bee-keeping and greenhouses with a collection of breathtaking orchids and a rose garden.
The garden has 106 statues spread throughout the park, the monumental Medici fountain, the Orangerie and the Pavillon Davioud.
Musée du Louvre
The Louvre hardly needs an introduction—it is the most-visited museum in the world. The former royal palace is now the magnificent home of some of the world's most iconic artworks (ever hear of the Mona Lisa?).
Don't freak out, but walking through the halls where Louis XIV once strolled (he lived here before moving to Versailles), surrounded by the most famous art on earth can be an overwhelming experience.
The pinnacle of Napoleon III architecture, the resplendent Le Palais Garnier opera house is opulent from every angle. The facade is covered with ornamentation and busts, as well as l'Harmonie and La Poésie, the two gilded copper statues flanking the entrance from on high.
Inside, make sure to channel your best "Phantom of the Opera" moment on the iconic lobby's Grand Staircase, a triumph of decadent Parisian design. Admission costs about 14 euros, but it's well worth it—walking through these public spaces is like walking into the Paris of the past.
When the Centre Pompidou opened in 1977, it was a radical (and controversial) design for a museum—all industrial pipes and open glass views of Paris. Forty-plus years later it's the undisputed grande dame of Paris's contemporary art world.
Within the massive 100,000-piece collection that stretches back to 1905, you’ll find everything from Picassos to video installations.
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre
Sacré-Coeur is a Catholic basilica that sits on the highest hill in Paris, in the Montmartre neighborhood. Its height is topped only by the Eiffel Tower. The basilica's distinct white travertine façade gives the Romano-Byzantine structure a unique look among Parisian monuments.
The church is open all day to anyone who wishes to visit, though big crowds mean you may have to wait to go inside.
The Palais-Royal complex is in some ways Paris in a nutshell: shops, cafés, art, history, architecture, bureaucracy, and spectacular gardens for people watching. And since it's all right across the street from the Louvre, you likely won't need to make a special trip.
Don’t miss the Insta-famous Colonnes de Buren art installation in the inner courtyard.
Le Bon Marche
Dating back to the 1850s, Le Bon Marché is the oldest department store in Paris, and certainly the most iconic. The elegant Left Bank institution is as celebrated for its airy layout as for its top selection of the world’s best designers.
If it’s luxe, you can probably buy it here. Before your shopping spree is done, peek in at La Grande Épicerie, Le Bon Marché’s fine-foods emporium in an adjoining building.
Gustave Eiffel's controversial wrought-iron lattice tower has been polarizing Parisians since it was built for the 1889 World's Fair, but today, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most beloved and instantly recognizable landmarks in the city—and the world. The structure anchors one end of the expansive Champ de Mars and provides an orientation point for in the city.
Jules Verne, the second-floor restaurant, is a Michelin-starred (and pricey) institution, as is the tiny Champagne bar at the tippity-top.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
If visiting a cemetery sounds morbid and dreary, rest assured: It is, but in the best possible way. Death is an inescapable part of French life, and the layers on layers of Parisian history on display at Père Lachaise Cemetery are a fascinating peek into how the city has evolved over time. Visitors flock to the A-list graves here, with Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Jim Morrison among the most-visited. But one of the great delights is to walk away from the crowds and get lost wandering among the lesser-known, less-visited ones, which are all in various states of repair.
Some have been completely worn down with obscurity over time; others appear to be washed and adorned with fresh flowers on a weekly basis. Keep your eyes peeled, and you might find some other noteworthy names buried here, from composer Frédéric Chopin to writer Marcel Proust and painter Eugène Delacroix.
Café de Flore
Stepping into Café de Flore is like stepping into a time capsule, into an era when the Left Bank was a bohemian enclave for the likes of Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. The interior—red booths, mahogany, polished brass railings—has changed little since the Art Deco period, but anyone who is anyone knows that the best seats in the house are actually out on the sidewalk, where the people watching can't be beat and the city's café iconic culture is at its finest.
Although afternoons are best for perching on a table outside and enjoying the pulse of Boulevard Saint-Germain, there's also a vibrant after-dark scene. In other words, there's no wrong time to visit.
Philharmonie de Paris
The Philharmonie de Paris is a striking contemporary building, designed by Jean Nouvel (not without controversy) and opened in 2015.
Located within the Cité de la Musique complex in the Parc de la Villette, in the underexplored 19th arrondissement, the building breaks with all the design conventions of traditional symphony halls, instead favoring pod-like boxes inside the theater, a stage in the round, and a complex, undulating metal façade.
Forum des Halles
The Forum des Halles is a sprawling shopping, dining, and transportation hub right in the heart of Paris, with nearly 150 shops and restaurants. A 2016 renovation saw the addition of a spectacular wavy roof nicknamed La Canopée—you’re going to want a picture of it.
Though the architecture is new, the shopping concept is not: A market has stood on this very site since the 1100s.
Merci is an independent concept boutique, spread out over three loft-like floors in the Marais. The well-curated selection of clothes, accessories, home goods, and just about anything else you might want, draws savvy shoppers from around the globe. Keep an eye out for up-and-coming designers and labels, or go for Merci’s own affordable in-house brand.
Either way, you'll be hard-pressed to walk out empty-handed.
A vast collection of Impressionist art is the focus at the Musée d’Orsay, the second-most-visited museum in Paris (after the Louvre, of course). At every turn, you'll be delighted to recognize yet another piece from pop culture or that art history class you took.
There is no room not worth exploring here, so let yourself just wander among masterworks by names like Degas, Cézanne, Manet, Renoir, and Monet.
Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac
The Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac is perhaps best known for its unusual design by Jean Nouvel. The exterior of the building almost seems alive with plant walls and wild gardens, while the interiors are dark, winding, and dramatically lit.
The modern structure stands in sharp contrast with the treasures housed inside: ancient art and artifacts and relics of bygone civilizations (with a specific focus on non-European cultures). Be sure to check out the museum's continuous calendar of special exhibitions, including shows centered around a specific culture.
Deyrolle is a cabinet of curiosities. The Left Bank institution has specialized in taxidermy and entomology since 1831, but in 2008 a fire destroyed nearly 90 percent of the collection, creating the need for a radical restoration project.
Today you can hardly tell that the shop is, in fact, a replica of its former 17th-century iteration, right down to the wood cabinetry, parquet floors, and painted walls.
Walking along the banks of the Seine is an activity as beloved and ancient as the city itself.
Along both sides of the river, roughly from Île Saint Louis to the Louvre, are the city's Bouquinistes, independent sellers of used and antiquarian books, old maps, postcards, and all sorts of mementos.
It's an activity that rewards patience—you just might find a vintage movie poster or first-edition book to bring home.
Jardin des Tuileries
This sprawling, spectacular park is the beating heart of Paris' public spaces. Standing proudly between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde, and along much of the Seine's Right Bank in the 1st Arrondissement, Tuileries Garden ("Jardin des Tuileries") has a history as long and distinguished as it is impressive, from its inception as an aristocratic playground in the 16th century, to becoming a public space in the 17th century, to serving as the site of numerous French Revolution skirmishes in the 18th century.
With more than 55 acres, the park offers plenty of room to stroll and lots of photo ops. Keep an eye out for Auguste Rodin's iconic "Le Baiser" ("The Kiss") on the West Terrace.
If you have anywhere to go in this part of Paris, skip the taxi or the metro and walk there on foot through the Tuileries. You'll see something different every time...
Musée Picasso Paris
The Hôtel Salé alone is reason to visit, but of course the real draw is Picasso's oeuvre, more popular than ever following a much-hyped 2014 reopening. And since the museum is centrally located in the bustling Marais, it's easy to work the Musée Picasso into a day out shopping and dining.
While there are other single-artist museums in Paris, the combination of Picasso's fame and the beauty of the setting make this one of the very best.
Shakespeare and Company
Nestled on a prime slice of real estate across the Seine from Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company is part indie bookshop, part piece of history. The roster of authors who have lingered among the shelves here reads like canon of 20th-century literature, including Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and contemporaries like Zadie Smith.
Every inch of the space oozes history, from the leaning antique bookshelves to the resident cat to the well-worn piano, which is tucked away upstairs.
The café is a great place for people watching—and maybe eavesdropping on a conversation or two while you sip on a café au lait.
It still serves original proprietor George Whitman's famous lemon pie, as well.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to celebrate his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. Climb the nearly 300 steps to the top for some of the best views of Paris, with clear vistas straight down the Champs-Élysées all the way to the Louvre.
You'll need a ticket to go inside and up to the viewing platform, but anyone can come admire the ornate façade for free.
There are a few major reasons to visit the Panthéon, starting with the gorgeous neoclassical architecture; designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot in 1757, it began as a replacement to the original Church of Sainte-Geneviève.
People also come to visit the final resting places of some of France's most famous sons and daughters, from Napoleon, Victor Hugo to Marie Curie.
And then there are those who come to marvel at Foucault's Pendulum, tracing the path of the Earth. The vibe in the crowd is a mix of awe, reverence, and curiosity.
There’s a reason Chanel holds its runway shows in the nave of this stately Beaux Arts museum-exhibition space, which is all done up in glass, stone, and steel: it's an emblem of French grandeur and architectural prowess. Originally built as an exhibition hall for the World’s Fair of 1900, today the Grand Palais hosts legendary fashion shows, theatrical performances, sporting events like the Saut Hermes, food and literary festivals, and temporary artistic exhibitions.
With its glass dome, visible from far across the river, the Grand Palais is a must-visit cultural destination for all travelers to Paris.
Auguste Rodin lived in the Hôtel Biron in the later stage of his life, where the gardens inspired some of his work. The former home opened as a museum to the public in 1919, almost 200 years after it was built for a wealthy financier.
The high ceilings of the intimate rooms allow visitors to see Rodin's sculptures and drawings up close, while the large gardens showcase his most famous bronze sculptures, like "The Gates of Hell" and "The Thinker."
National Museum of Natural History
Part curio cabinet, part institution of higher learning—it's part of the Sorbonne—the National Museum of Natural History is filled with exhibitions that inspire awe in visitors of all ages. The museum consists of 14 locations across France, but the Grande Galerie d'Evolution on the Left Bank is the showstopper all its own, with interiors that pay homage to Art Nouveau Paris through elegant wrought iron railings and soaring glass windows.
It's a stark contrast to the main gallery's menagerie of articulated skeletons, taxidermist, and lifelike replications. The main attraction—especially for kids—is the permanent display of life-size elephants and giraffes, but the temporary exhibitions are also good.
Coulée Verte René-Dumont
Originally known as the Promenade Plantée, the Coulée Verte René-Dumont is an elevated park built atop a revitalized railway structure. Opened in the late 1980s, the lush garden path stretches for three miles, with landscapes ranging from modern and manicured to wild and natural.
This greenway, which for many will recall New York City's High Line, provides an unusual panoramic view over the 12th arrondissement—and since this crosses through less-touristy neighborhoods, you'll get a sense of the real quotidian Paris.
Marché des Enfants Rouges
The Marché des Enfants Rouges is the oldest food market in Paris (it first opened in 1615), and is now a buzzing Marais hub for food sellers of all types. Stroll through the dense maze of stalls selling everything from North African grains to Italian deli specialties.
For those who want a break from the formality of the traditional French dining experience, this market offers a relaxed and convivial atmosphere (and a great place to stock up on snacks for your hotel room or Airbnb).
Institut du Monde Arabe
The Institut du Monde Arabe celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017, but its iconic building, designed by Jean Nouvel, looks as fresh and contemporary as ever. The light dances in and around the building, which hosts a rotating selection of art, exhibits, performances, workshops, and cultural events.
Don’t leave without inspecting the innovative facade up close or grabbing a bite with views on the ninth floor (pretty high up, for Paris).
Au Lapin Agile
There are plenty of old things in Paris—some more original than others—but for the last 160 years, Au Lapin Agile has managed to maintain its bohemian character.
Nestled on a quiet street in Montmartre, this venue feels like a step back in time—and into a cabaret where the likes of Picasso and Modigliani used to haunt before they were, you know, Picasso and Modigliani.
It's the perfect stop for an after-dinner drink with a side of entertainment.
When you pass the entrance to this famous cabaret, allow your mind to drift back 120 years.
The date is 1889, and two businessmen, Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler, are planning a new venture. Impressed with the commercial success of the wildly popular dances at the Élysée Montmartre, the pair decided to open a rival dance hall in the run-down area of Pigalle.
Even at their most optimistic they could not have imagined that the enterprise would become one of the most visited tourist attractions in Paris over a century later.