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The best things to do in Paris during the Olympics

When you’re not screaming wildly in the stands, or hanging with the throng of athletes and their fans, this list covers the very best things to do in Paris this year.

I just spent Christmas in Paris and absolutely loved walking around the famous sites and seeing the sights. (See what I did there?) But in this post I also uncover some hidden gems to do on your down days, off-the-beaten-track places you might not know about.

Paris Sculpture Garden
Paris Sculpture Garden

And because travel and food are synonymous, I’ve written this mouth-watering post on the all the food you must try when you visit Paris. I ran it past our walking tour guide too to make sure I’d covered the very best things and he concurred, so that was comforting. Although I had missed out croissants! (Immediately updated).

But if you’ve seen the main sights of Paris before, then you might like to jump straight to my post on the best rooftop bars for great views in Paris instead.

This post contains some affiliate links, that means if you make a purchase I may make a small commissiom, at no cost to you.

Dinner at George’s on the rooftop of Centre Pompidou

The City of Light (so-named because Paris was the first city in Europe to have gas street lighting in the 19th century) is sectioned into arondissements, neighborhoods. But as you’ll see from the little map below, don’t be fooled into thinking area 10 is miles away, for example, as it’s an easy walk to #1 where you’ll find the Louvre, etc.

This is a helpful map when choosing where to stay in relation to the sights you want to see, if it’s your first time visiting.

Here’s my list of the best must-sees in Paris:

Eiffel Tower

Of course! The Eiffel Tower is the most famous landmark in the French capital. It’s a symbol of Parisian romance and engineering marvel, built in 1887 by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World Fair in Paris. And a bit like that painting you did in school, it’s been there ever since.

Pro tip: never line up with the masses for hours to view an attraction! Get a timed ticket entry and skip the line, to go up inside for the views. This ticket allows you to visit all floors, and go up via elevator!

You can climb the 674 steps or take the elevator up to various levels, depending on what ticket you’ve bought. There are also three restaurants on various levels and a bar up here, so plan to stay for a glass of champagne at least!

Megan at Eiffel Tower
Christmas Day at the Trocodero, one of the best spots for a photo of the Eiffel Tower

Louvre Museum

Housing a vast collection of art spanning centuries and continents, the Musée du Louvre is a cultural treasure trove. It’s got a lot more in it than the little painting of Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. You could literally spend days in here. In fact, don’t even bother coming if you’re only wanting to see the aforementioned tiny painting! Too many people and she’s super underwhelming – in my humble opinion!

Walking through the Louvre Palace to the Museum
Walking through the Louvre Palace to the Museum

At over 60,000 sqm (652,300 square feet), its galleries are home to some of the world’s most iconic masterpieces. There a few ways to get the most out of your visit: You can wander in and explore the museum’s labyrinthine halls, getting lost in the impressive exhibitions.

Or, and I suggest the best way to see the Louvre, is to take a private guided tour and learn some fascinating stuff from an expert, as well as see things you might not have ever found otherwise. You can tailor this tour to your interests too.

Megan at the Louvre Museum
Christmas Day in Paris was busy!

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame Cathedral stands proudly, albeit injured, on the River Seine. It is still closed for repair since the 2021 fire, but is scheduled to reopen in December 2024. I would keep an eye on their website before I made my plans around a visit though in case of delays.

Its Gothic façade, adorned with intricate carvings and gargoyles, is captivating and grand. Hopefully we’ll be allowed to climb to the top again for panoramic views of the city, and spend time exploring its centuries of history and devotion inside.

Megan at Notre Dame Cathedral
This is as close as you can get to Notre Dame while it’s be repaired

Montmartre

Perched on a hill overlooking Paris, the Montmartre neighborhood (18th arondissement) exudes a charming and bohemian spirit.

Its winding streets and bustling squares are the playground of artists, performers, and dreamers, inviting you to lose yourself in its vibrant atmosphere.

The sweet streets of Montmartre
The sweet streets of Montmartre

From the iconic Sacré-Cœur Basilica to the bustling Place du Tertre, Montmartre offers a glimpse into Paris’ artistic soul and a chance to experience the city’s creative energy firsthand.

Explore its quirky shops, savor a café au lait at a sidewalk bistro, or simply soak in the views with some fascinating people-watching.

The steps of Sacré-Cœur
The steps of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre

Seine River Cruise

We did this on Christmas Day for a wonderful lunch, and it was great! A Seine River cruise is the perfect way to experience the magic of Paris from a different perspective. You can get tickets for this top selling one hour Seine River cruise to take all the photos and enjoy the perspective from the water.

The river was running too high when we went to allow us to cruise past the iconic sights, so instead we went in the other direction down where lots of building work was underway for the 2024 Olympic Games.

You board in front of the Eiffel Tower, and cruise past Notre-Dame Cathedral, and Musée d’Orsay, beneath bridges and past charming quaysides. You don’t need to take a dinner or lunch cruise, you could just sit back, relax, and soak in the romantic ambiance of beautiful Paris.

Book a 3-course dinner cruise on the Seine with live music for a truly magical evening here.

Musée d’Orsay

Housed in a stunning Beaux-Arts railway station, on the banks of the River Seine, the Musée d’Orsay is a treasure trove of impressionist and post-impressionist art.

See the vibrant brushstrokes of Monet and the haunting portraits of Van Gogh, as its galleries showcase the revolutionary works of 19th-century masters. You’ll love exploring the museum’s expansive collection of painting, sculpture, photography, and decorative arts.

With its breathtaking architecture and unparalleled collection, the Musée d’Orsay offers a captivating journey through one of the most transformative periods in art history.

Versailles Palace

This is one of the best places to visit whilst in Paris. Take a day trip out of Paris to the Palace of Versailles. You can get a train for about €4 each way from Paris, or take a tour with pick up and drop off in Paris (I have added links below).

I visited years ago and was gob-smacked, it’s so beautiful. The palace is grand and shows off the excesses of the French monarchy. It’s a masterpiece of Baroque architecture and stunning landscape design.

As you enter the grounds you’ll see Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, the Queen’s hamlet, built for her to entertain her friends in 1783.

Marie Antoinette's hamlet at Versailles
Marie Antoinette’s hamlet for entertaining her guests

But inside the palace you’ll love the opulent Hall of Mirrors, and look out to the sprawling gardens dotted with fountains and sculptures. Every corner of the palace reflects the extravagance of Louis XIV, the Sun King’s, reign. Stroll through gilded halls, marvel at the lavish apartments, and imagine being here in the era of courtly pomp and pageantry.

With its rich history and breathtaking beauty, Versailles Palace offers an unforgettable day trip for glimpse into France’s royal past and artistic legacy.

Buy your timed tickets for to Versailles, with full access, here >

Or if you prefer a tour departing from Paris, you can buy this day tour ticket including transport, and skip-the-line with full access to the gardens and palace.

The Palace of Versailles gardens
The Palace of Versailles gardens are breathtaking!

Visit Monet’s ACTUAL Gardens

Claude Monet’s garden is located about 50 miles (80km) northwest of Paris in Giverny, a village in the Normandy region of France. Giverny is where Monet lived for many years and created some of his most famous works, including his series of water lilies and paintings of his garden.

When you step into Monet’s Giverny gardens you realise he was a gardener before he was a painter. Walk across the iconic Japanese bridge nestled in the Water Garden, adorned with wisteria. The Flower Garden is a kaleidoscope of tulips and roses and immerse in Monet’s world.

You can to Giverny by train from Paris to Vernon, then a shuttle or taxi. Or take this full-day tour from Paris and include a visit to Versailles too.

Monet's Gardens in Giverny
Monet’s Gardens in Giverny

Sainte Chapelle

Tucked away on the Île de la Cité, Sainte-Chapelle is a hidden gem of Gothic architecture and stained glass artistry.

Its soaring nave and delicate rose windows transport create an ethereal beauty. Sunlight filters through the kaleidoscopic panes, and it feels like you’re looking at heaven, as the scenes from the Bible and the lives of saints are depciting in the glass.

Admiring its intricate carvings or marveling at its celestial light, Sainte-Chapelle is a wonderful moment of faith and artistic expression.

Inside stunning Sainte Chappelle
Inside stunning Sainte Chappelle

Catacombs of Paris

Not for the faint-hearted, but beneath the bustling streets of Paris lies a secret world of tunnels and ossuaries known as the Catacombs. This eerie labyrinth, lined with the bones of millions of Parisians, offers a haunting glimpse into the city’s darker side.

Underground in the Paris Catacombs
Underground in the Paris Catacombs

As you descend into the subterranean depths, you are confronted with the inevitability of mortality.

I quite like wandering through cemeteries and reading grave stones, but this is quite different. It’s macabre, but also the Catacombs are a unique opportunity to confront our fears and contemplate the mysteries of existence.

I haven’t personally visited these Catacombs in Paris, but I have been to the Catecombs in Santiago, Chile, and found it truly fascinating. I didn’t mind the bones, all lined up by type, but the skulls arranged in a circular pattern were very eerie.

Grab your Catacombs Tour tickets here from Viator.

Skulls and bones on display in the Paris Catacombs
Skulls and bones on display in the Paris Catacombs

Jardin du Luxembourg

Nestled in the heart of Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg (Garden of Luxembourg) is a tranquil oasis of greenery and serenity. Its manicured lawns, vibrant flowerbeds, and picturesque ponds provide a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Stroll along shaded pathways, relax in the shade of ancient trees, or admire the fountains and statues that adorn the gardens. Enjoy a picnic, a game of chess, or simply a moment of quiet reflection. The Jardin du Luxembourg is peaceful sanctuary and a glimpse into the beauty of Parisian life.

Canal Saint-Martin

Tucked away in the vibrant 10th arrondissement, Canal Saint-Martin offers a charming retreat from the hustle and bustle of central Paris. Its tranquil waters, lined with leafy trees and historic buildings, provide a picturesque setting for leisurely strolls and romantic boat rides.

I took a canal boat ride, which is a lovely perspective to see the city from, gliding quietly past boutiques, cafes, and galleries along its banks. People-watching in the bohemian vibe of one of Paris’ most eclectic neighborhoods is a favorite passtime of mine. It also takes you underground, which I found fascinating. I’ve written more about it and added photos of my underground canal boat ride in Paris.

Le Marais

Steeped in history and charm, Le Marais is an olde worlde neighborhood in the 3rd and 4th arondissement, with narrow cobblestone streets, historic mansions, and trendy boutiques.

From the grandeur of Place des Vosges to the hip cafes and art galleries of Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, every corner of Le Marais tells a story of the elegance and bohemian spirit of Paris. Explore hidden courtyards, sample artisanal treats at bustling markets, and soak in the eclectic atmosphere of one of Paris’ most dynamic districts.

Whether it’s admiring medieval architecture or indulging in contemporary culture, Le Marais offers a wonderful blend of old-world charm and modern-day allure.

Fountain at the Marais
Wander through the Marais

Musée Rodin

Nestled in a leafy enclave of Paris, the Musée Rodin is a tranquil retreat for art lovers and garden enthusiasts.

You’ll walk past the iconic sculptures of The Thinker and The Kiss, amid lush greenery and manicured lawns and rose gardens. It’s such a wonderful spot to take your time and enjoy.

Wander along sun-dappled pathways, admiring these masterpieces of Rodin’s creations. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll or an afternoon of culture you’re after, the Musée Rodin is an enchanting escape from the bustle of the city and reconnect with nature and culture.

Paris Flea Markets

If you’re a vintage treasure and hidden gems kinda girl (guy), Paris Flea Markets offer a trove of unique finds and delights.

Whether you’re hunting for antique furniture, retro clothing, or quirky collectibles, the markets’ labyrinthine stalls and bustling atmosphere promise an exhilarating shopping experience like no other. From the sprawling Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen to the charming alleyways of Marché aux Puces de Vanves, each market has its own distinctive character and eclectic offerings.

Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a casual browser, the Paris flea markets offer a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage and a chance to take something special home.

I would also recommend strolling past the little green boxes where the bouquinistes (book sellers) sell vintage books, art and other collectibles along the Seine. However, I was told that they are going to be moved along for the Olympics – which will be a travesty. They’ve been here for 300 years! I wrote about them as being the best place in Paris to pick up a unique souvenir.

Browse at the bouquinistes for art and books
Browse at the bouquinistes

Visit Père Lachaise Cemetery

This is the cemetery to pay your respects to famous poets, artists, and statesmen, like Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and Edith Piaf.

Whether it’s a leisurely stroll or a pilgrimage for fans, Père Lachaise Cemetery is a beautiful place to visit and remember the legacy of those who came before us.

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

Housed in a cozy nook overlooking the Seine, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is a literary sanctuary for book lovers and dreamers alike on the Left Bank, in the Latin Quarter’s 5th arondissement.

Its shelves are lined with an eclectic array of titles, from classic literature to contemporary bestsellers, inviting visitors to lose themselves in the world of words and ideas. Whether it’s browsing for the perfect novel, attending a book reading or simply soaking in the cozy ambiance, Shakespeare and Company offers a warm welcome and a chance to connect with fellow bibliophiles from around the world.

La Promenade Plantée

Tucked away above the bustling streets of Paris, La Promenade Plantée offers a tranquil oasis of greenery and serenity. Its elevated walkway, built atop an old railway viaduct, winds its way through the city’s vibrant neighborhoods, offering panoramic views of historic landmarks and hidden gardens along the way.

Stroll beneath leafy arches, admire blooming flowers, and escape the hustle and bustle of urban life amidst the treetops. Whether it’s a leisurely jog, a romantic sunset stroll or simply a moment of quiet reflection, La Promenade Plantée promises an enchanting journey through Paris’ natural beauty and architectural heritage.

Belleville Neighborhood

From its colorful street art to its eclectic mix of cultures and cuisines, Belleville Neighborhood is a vibrant melting pot of creativity and diversity. Its bustling markets, lively cafes, and trendy boutiques offer a glimpse into Paris’ dynamic cultural scene, while its leafy parks and hidden squares provide a peaceful retreat from the city’s frenetic pace.

Sample exotic flavors, explore avant-garde galleries, and soak in the bohemian atmosphere of one of Paris’ most eclectic neighborhoods. Whether it’s sipping coffee on a sunny terrace or discovering hidden gems around every corner, Belleville promises an unforgettable adventure through Parisian culture and community.

Musée de l’Orangerie

Set in the tranquil Tuileries Garden, Musée de l’Orangerie is a fablous place for art and nature lovers.

From the shimmering reflections of Monet’s ponds to the vibrant hues of Renoir’s landscapes, every brushstroke captures the essence of nature’s fleeting beauty and the timeless allure of the French countryside.

Whether it’s a leisurely stroll through the galleries or a moment of quiet contemplation, Musée de l’Orangerie promises an enchanting journey through the world of color, light, and imagination.

A visitor looks at waterlilies at Musée de l'Orangerie
The waterlilies at Musée de l’Orangerie

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

Tucked away in the heart of Paris’ 19th arrondissement, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is an oasis of tranquility and natural beauty. Its winding pathways, rocky cliffs, and picturesque waterfalls provide a scenic backdrop for leisurely strolls, picnics, and outdoor adventures.

You can explore hidden grottoes, admire panoramic views of the city amidst lush greenery and blooming flowers. Locals take a morning jog, or a sunset picnic. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is an escape from the urban jungle right in the heart of Paris.

Wonderful tours and activities to try in Paris:

Take a Macaron making class: the delicious feather-light meringue cookies are something you need to eat when in Paris. But if you love them so much you want to make them, then you can sign up for this macaron baking class held at the iconic Galleries Lafayette shopping centre.

Macaron making
The art of macaron making. Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Take an Emily in Paris walking tour:

I’m a fan of the show, starring American fashion PR Emily (played by Lily Collins, daughter of singer Phil Collins). I love it for the Paris street scenes and the amazing costumes in every scene, not just hers, but all the girls in the cast!

Well rejoice, because if you love it too, you can take this Emily in Paris walking tour. You’ll visit the square where Emily’s apartment is, Gabriel’s restaurant (which is actually an Italian restaurant called Terra Sera), Place Saint Michel where Mindy first played with her band and of course lots of romantic river views. It’s a great tour with a bit of history of Paris thrown in, as well as info on the hit TV series.

Stand on the top of the Arc de Triomphe:

Did you know you can climb 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Napoleon, via underground stairs at the top of the Champs Elysées. At the base of the arch, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier pays tribute to the 1.3 million French soldiers who died in World War I, where the eternal flame is rekindled at 6.30pm each evening. Get your Arc de Triomphe rooftop tickets here.

Musée de la Vie Romantique:

Tucked away in the heart of Paris’ 9th arrondissement, at the foot of Montmartre, Musée de la Vie Romantique offers a glimpse into the world of 19th-century Romanticism.

Located in a mansion once frequented by renowned artists and writers, the museum showcases a collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts that evoke the spirit of a bygone era. Explore intimate salons, period furnishings, and immerse yourself in the nostalgia and elegance of Romanticism.

Take a Da Vinci Tour:

Dan Brown fans will love this 90-minute Da Vinci Code-themed walking tour featuring locations from the book and movie, guided by a local. You start at The Ritz, where the final chapter of the book ends.

You’ll know the story line is about an alternative religious history. This tour is a walk around many Paris sights, discussing the puzzle while walking through film locations. You’ll see which parts of the story are found in the real world and which stay in the fictional one. 

Paris Ritz
Paris Ritz

Musée Jacquemart-André:

Housed in a magnificent mansion in Paris’ 8th arrondissement, Musée Jacquemart-André is a glimpse into the opulent world of 19th-century art and culture. From its sumptuous salons to its grand galleries, the museum showcases an exquisite collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts amassed by the wealthy Jacquemart-André family by artists such as Rembrandt, Botticelli, and Fragonard.

Visit the Covered Passages:

Tucked away amidst the bustling streets of Paris, 21 covered passages are hidden treasure troves of history, charm, and architectural splendor.

Built in the 19th century as shopping arcades for the Paris’ elite, these glass-roofed passages couverts have ornate arcades, where you’ll find vintage storefronts, and hidden courtyards filled with boutiques, cafes, and artisanal shops. Read about where to find the best covered passages here.

1 Passage Jouffroy
A typical covered passage in Paris. 1 Passage Jouffroy. Pic from Pixabay

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!