Top Attractions in Paris

When in Paris, try to balance the gravity of the famous landmarks with the intoxicating verve of the city’s cobbled streets. In the spaces between seeing the can’t-miss monuments, let the romance of the City of Light speak for itself.

Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France
This former royal palace is one of the largest museums in the world, and its art collection is considered one of the most comprehensive. It contains around 400,000 works, although—mercifully, perhaps—not all are on display at any one time. There are some pieces that never get taken off the walls. The Mona Lisa and her smile attract millions of visitors each year. Other must-see masterpieces include the sculptures Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo’s Rebellious Slave, and the Eugène Delacroix painting The Death of Sardanapalus. There’s no real trick to avoiding crowds at the always-packed museum. The best you can do is try to go in the off-season, early or late in the day, and on a weekday. Your chances of being alone with the Mona Lisa will still be slim to none, but you might be able to actually see that enigmatic smile behind the Plexiglas.
Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France
The Centre Pompidou, France‘s national museum of modern art, led the way for steel-and-glass buildings in the 1970s. Now the museum leads the way in modern art with its extraordinary collection, currently the world’s second largest. Masterpieces include Pablo Picasso’s Parade and—one of my favorites—Tamara de Lempicka’s Young Girl in Green. Go for the museum, but check out the public library and the view of Paris that becomes more and more impressive as the museum’s escalators rise from floor to floor. Spot the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Coeur (and perhaps a street entertainer or two with a gawking audience of kids) from the sprawling roof terrace.
1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France
Small enough to get around without being overwhelmed, the Musée d’Orsay is a favorite stop in Paris not just for its size but for its collection of Impressionist, Postimpressionist, and art nouveau art. Perfectly set in the center of the city, on the banks of the Seine, and opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a railway station that was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900—so the building itself could be seen as a work of art. The extraordinary collection spans art created in the period between 1848 and 1914.
84 Rue Claude Monet
It’s a quick train ride from Paris to Vernon and the 19th-century home of impressionist artist Claude Monet. From the station, most visitors hop on the bus waiting to take them to Giverny, but right across the street, a bike rental shop can easily turn the visit into a romantic day in the country. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, pick up supplies for a picnic at the farmers’ market in the quaint Norman town. Your bucolic ride along the Seine follows a protected bike path all the way to the pastel-tinted home and gardens that inspired many of Monet’s masterpieces.
Place d'Armes, 78000 Versailles, France
Without a doubt Versailles is the most luxurious palace in Europe, built to astound visitors and impress the king’s subjects into awed submission with crystal chandeliers, gilt, and fine art. This opulent monument is also attractive to those with simpler tastes: Visitors with green thumbs will love the king’s kitchen gardens while others may want to rent bicycles to pedal the lavish grounds, and animal lovers will enjoy the sheep, goats, and chickens receiving the royal treatment at the queen’s quaint hamlet. La Petite Venise, an excellent restaurant on the grounds, offers garden seating on sunny days.
13 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris, France
The largest contemporary art space in Europe is also the coolest place to be for kids of every age. Teens come in flocks, lining up for the vintage Fotomaton, exploring the experiential art exhibitions, and waiting for the opening of the YoYo nightclub. Families with young kids also enjoy the art, as well as the kiddy art classes and the fantastic brunches at Tokyo Eats.
6 Parvis Notre-Dame - Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
A devastating fire on April 15, 2019, has closed the interior of the cathedral to visitors. Plans to rebuild and reopen the structure are being made, but at present, visitors are not allowed near the site.
For a first-time visitor to Notre Dame, investing in the audio guide is essential to understand this overwhelmingly significant Paris icon. There’s a lot to see and absorb—history, architecture, artifacts, theology—and the audio guide gives a much-needed sense of direction and context. Even without spiritual ties, the awe-inspiring grandeur of the cathedral is not to be missed from every angle—tour the naves, stroll around the entirety of the exterior, take in the city from the top of the towers, walk along Quai de Montebello to view it from across the water, or admire it from a river cruise down the Seine. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is everything everyone says it is and more.
3 Bd Edgar Quinet, 75014 Paris, France
Step off the beaten path that leads to Jim Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise and head instead to the lesser-known, yet extraordinary Montparnasse Cemetery. Locals bring metro tickets to leave on Serge Gainsbourg’s grave in honor of his song “Le Poinçonneur des Lilas (The Lilas Ticket Taker).” Nearby rest the poet Baudelaire and eternal lovers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. A married couple by the name of Pigeon share a tomb that is as surprising as their family name. Susan Sontag opted for a minimalist grave, while artist Niki de Saint Phalle chose a rainbow-colored mosaic cat for the grave of her assistant Ricardo. Brancusi’s The Kiss sculpture stands at the head of his grave. Stop at a guardian’s kiosk when you enter the tranquil space and ask for a map of the luminaries who have made this their eternal resting place.
10 Place de l'Opéra, 75009 Paris, France
The Palais Garnier, the national opera house of Paris, is a magnificent building dripping in ornate details and glittering with gold. The five-ton chandelier, made famous in The Phantom of the Opera, still takes center stage in the auditorium. It is surrounded by a swirling, colorful ceiling painting by Marc Chagall. The decoration goes beyond the auditorium: The grand foyer rivals the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and the grand staircase is an entryway fit for royalty. You don’t need to buy a ticket to the opera to see the space: Tours are given daily in a variety of languages.
18 Rue Antoine Bourdelle, 75015 Paris, France
The tiny Bourdelle Museum was once the atelier and home of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, whose monumental art deco masterpieces are a highlight of the Champs-Élysées Theater. The museum displays works the artist purchased for his own inspiration, as well as his own largest pieces in an airy, light-flooded hall, an open-air gallery, and a sculpture garden. In a workshop area, the process of casting bronze sculptures is demonstrated. A tiny rose garden with lounge chairs provides a welcoming oasis to neighbors and visitors. This is the ideal museum for giving young children a first taste of fine art and for those who like art in small doses.
62 Rue des Archives, 75003 Paris, France
Lions and tigers and bears…oh my, this museum has everything for the aspiring naturalist. Examining the relationship of human and animal throughout history, original displays of classic and contemporary art mingle with taxidermic animals, rifle collections, and archives in a 17th-century mansion. Visitors, especially kids, will love opening the wooden drawers to find contents like scat and paw-print samples, or hunting down a trompe l’oeil mousehole. Founded by the François Sommer Foundation, the museum is committed to promoting the global discussion about our environment. The result is a compelling selection of temporary exhibitions, conferences, and events that change with the seasons.
Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 75008 Paris, France
A kid can spend only so much time in “Isn’t that pretty, don’t touch, be quiet” museums. Parisian families looking for rainy-day activities where kids can be themselves head to the Discovery Palace. Located in the western wing of the Grand Palais, this hands-on science museum has exhibits and experiments on everything from chemistry to life sciences to the stars. Watch as real scientists test their theories, play fun math games, and challenge your memory. It’s fascinating to explore the subjects that your little scientists are most drawn to, or to uncover the ones that make them want to run and hide.
5 Rue de Palestine, 75019 Paris, France
More rough-and-tumble and far less touristy than the Tuileries and Luxembourg gardens, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a green space that’s worth a visit—especially given the recent resurgence of its surrounding district, the formerly working-class neighborhood of Belleville. You’ll find a nice mix of mostly Parisians walking, eating, canoodling, and sipping cocktails at the park’s not-too-overpriced Rosa Bonheur bar. In short, there’s plenty to keep you entertained if you just want to sit back and people-watch. From the elevation of this former quarry (much of the stone used to build Paris was extracted here), you can get a nice view of the city, especially if you make the trek to the Victorian-era folly that sits at the park’s highest point.
120-122 Rue des Rosiers
Tempted by trendier bistros in the area, tourists rarely stop by this nondescript café on the corner of the Rue des Rosiers at the St.-Ouen flea market unless they are gypsy jazz fans. Aficionados from across the globe know that La Chope is the place to hear the best of gypsy jazz in Paris and where the spirit of Django Reinhardt lingers. Businessman (and jazz guitarist) Marcel Campion saved the historic spot from destruction, opening a jazz school upstairs, sponsoring master classes, and providing accommodations for wandering talent. Concerts are held every Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Reservations not required.
6 Rue Baudelique, 75018 Paris, France
French chef Eric Fraudeau spent 30 years working in three-star kitchens. When he returned to France, he opened a cooking school to share the wealth of French cuisine with visitors from across the globe. He started with market-to-table classes and was soon overrun with requests for his fun, informative, hands-on lessons. There is now an entire team at CWC, all of them professional chefs or sommeliers, offering a range of classes, from “Mother of All Sauces” to cooking with kids, wine pairings, and baking croissants or macarons. You can also opt for a gourmet food tour instead.
8 Place de la Concorde, 75005 Paris, France
Paris is a wonderful city to explore on one’s own, but sometimes it can be nice to have a guide to bring the city and its history to life in a special way. Group tours aren’t for everyone, though—get the personal touch with Paris by Tuktuk. It offers themed private tours throughout the city, day or night, by electric tuk-tuk. Melting Pot tours take visitors along graffiti-adorned streets and are fun for families, the Romantic Stroll tour is the perfect excuse for a surprise proposal, and the Wine-Tasting tour works well for foodies, couples, and hen parties.
Port de la Rapée, 75012 Paris, France
Board an elegant 1930s Venetian taxi boat for the most romantic Seine River tour on the waters of Paris. Champagne is chilling in the ice bucket and a few snacks are served as well, but the real show is life on the river, up-close and more personal than you could ever get on the larger boat tours. Wave to picnickers on the berges, spy on lovers canoodling under the bridges, and peek into barge homes from your 30-foot wood and chrome beauty. Take the evening tour, and you’ll witness the Eiffel Tower sparkling every hour on the hour.
37 Quai de la Seine
The boat basin Bassin de la Villette is berth to Marin d’Eau Douce, a service that rents out easy-to-steer electric boats by the hour. Captaining your own boat is an unforgettable way to see Paris and beyond. Cruise through the industrial countryside, watch graffiti artists working on city-sponsored projects, pass shipping barges, bob alongside the swans, and putter past the city limits on your self-guided visit. The trips are perfect for couples, families with young kids, or small groups of friends. (The youngest sailors will love the mini-boat rides available for 10-minute spins around the basin.)
132-140 Rue des Rosiers, 93400 Saint-Ouen, France
Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, aka Clignancourt, is Europe’s largest flea market and the city’s favorite place to find a bargain. Exiting the Métro at Porte de Clignancourt, those in the know pass by the counterfeit designer-goods hawkers, avoid the parking lot with camper vans full of cheap goods, and head under the overpass to Rue des Rosiers. Groups of stalls form smaller flea markets, each with its own specialty, so shopping can feel like walking through a museum where you can actually buy things. The market called Serpette draws serious dealers looking for mid-century marvels, but shoppers who head as far as Jules Vallès market may score some true bargains. Of course, this is France, where food matters, so there are plenty of local cafés to choose from. Ma Cocotte is trendy chic, La Chope des Puces has live jazz with moules frites, and Chez Louisette draws a crowd nostalgic for French tunes with its simple steak frites.
16 Rue des Saints-Pères, 75007 Paris, France
Paris is known not just for romance but also as a destination for art—creating art, viewing art, and buying art in all its forms. On the first Thursday of every month the art galleries in the neighborhood of St.-Germain-des-Prés turn culture into a fete as they stay open until 9 p.m. Opening night exhibitions and ongoing shows turn the neighborhood into one large block party and attract celebrities like Jane Birkin and Catherine Deneuve. Visit Galerie Flak to learn more about the primitive arts and admire Inuit sunglasses, African masks, or Hopi kachina dolls. Galerie Marcelpoil specializes in modernist furniture from Lyonnais master Sornay, and Galerie Claude Bernard specializes in collectible contemporary art. After the shows, head to Alcazar for dinner in an indoor garden or listen to live jazz at L’Hôtel’s Le Bar.
5 Rue de Picardie, 75003 Paris, France
Empreintes is a craft concept store housed on three light and airy floors of a mansion in the upper Marais. The jewelry, furniture, garments, and housewares displayed here have been created exclusively by members of a French artist collective. Season café serves drinks and treats from mugs, plates, and glasses that are conveniently available for purchase. There is a bookstore for those looking for inspiration. The indigo-dyed scarves are a très Parisien souvenir for friends and family at home, and the wooden bowls and small vases pack nicely into most luggage.
3 Place du Palais Bourbon, 75007 Paris, France
L’Atelier Renard has been making custom handbags for France’s elite for generations, using a technique that was originally created for horse saddles. Atelier Renard handcrafts elegant bags destined to become family heirlooms. Briefcases, handbags, evening bags, and luggage are custom-made for clients from across the globe. The prices are similar to famous international designer brands, but these bags are one of a kind. Choosing from an existing model, patrons can then customize every aspect of their bag, designing the form they need, selecting the leathers for inside and out, and choosing the hardware.
Viaduc des Arts, 85 Avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris, France
Le Viaduc des Arts, an abandoned railway line, was converted into an elevated park, and the arches below it were turned into ateliers for artisans. Parasolerie Heurtault is one of the workshops worth a detour. Master artisan Michel Heurtault created corsetry in haute couture houses before pursuing his childhood passion of making and restoring bespoke umbrellas. In the showroom, ready-made umbrellas and precious handles fill shallow drawers. Rolls of silk and natural fiber fabrics are gathered into colorful bouquets in the workshop beyond. In addition to providing shelter from the rain, Monsieur Heurtault will repair family heirlooms and makes spectacular pieces for period films.
111 Bd Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, France
It isn’t uncommon to see large tour buses idling in front of Merci, one of the city’s most popular home and design shops, as visitors alight, armed with canvas shopping totes and credit cards at the ready. The store’s philanthropic mission brings in droves of both tourists and locals—profits are donated to a charity in Madagascar that aids women and children. It is a veritable feel-good shopping destination. One caveat: The goods for sale don’t come cheap. While high-end homewares and designer duds don’t match all budgets, Merci’s space itself is undeniably cool. When I’m feeling strapped for cash and want the Merci experience, I head to its Used Book Café. Used books, old and new, decorate this cozy library-inspired café where I can read, write, people-watch (and play the guessing game of “What’s in that Merci bag?”), and rejuvenate with a freshly pressed lemonade. With each sip, a feeling of calm washes over me—a type of Zen harder to reach on the bustling streets of Paris. All beverages, hot or cold, are served with a bite-size piece of cake and a smile. Grab one of the mismatched vintage armchairs, the fresh scones with jam, or the American-sized lattes. But on a warm, sun-drenched Paris day, it’s the citronnade between shop-hopping that sets you right.
33 Rue de Poitou
Tammy & Benjamin offers an antidote to the modern disposable lifestyle with a selection of limited-edition leather bags. The shelves are stocked with streamlined backpacks, practical yet charming totes, and pocketbooks that could have been worn in the ‘40s yet still create fashion envy today. The line’s workshop is just blocks from the flagship store, which ensures that all the craftsmanship for sale here is locally sourced.
46 Rue du Bac
Since 1831 Deyrolle has been the taxidermist for Parisians. In the two-story shop on the lovely Rue du Bac, you’ll find everything from domestic animals and large exotic mammals (lions! zebras!) to insects, shells, birds, and educational books. Parisians bring their small children here to teach them about the natural world because it feels like a beautiful natural history museum as much as an odd little shop of curiosities. In one room, drawers display beautiful insects and seashells for purchase. A small gardening shop on the first floor may be of interest to companions for whom taxidermy feels icky.
81 Rue des Martyrs, 75018 Paris, France
Known for the poetic hippie style of her jewelry designs, Emmanuelle Zysman works from a Paris atelier, designing pieces in hammered silver, vermeil, and gold studded with semiprecious stones, like black diamonds, garnets, and turquoise. She began her career designing leather wallets and bags, but her silver good-luck bracelets became impossible to keep in stock, so she expanded the jewelry selection to include stackable rings and stringed bracelets. This gifted designer can even give simple hoop earrings an extra sense of swag.
5 Rue de la Banque, 75002 Paris, France
Shopping passages were built in the 19th century to give Parisians protection from muddy streets and horse-drawn vehicles. Galerie Vivienne is a beautiful restored 19th-century passage with entrances at the Rue des Petits-Champs, Rue de la Banque, and Rue Vivienne. Built in 1823 in a neoclassical Pompeian style that includes a gorgeous canopy and is decorated inside with mosaics, paintings, and sculptures, Galerie Vivienne’s most famous resident is the Jean-Paul Gaultier shop. Some passage entrances are easy to miss, so be on the lookout! A stroll through these fascinating galeries is a fun and free activity on a rainy day.
Quai de Valmy
The location for the most charming scenes in the movie Amélie, this once-forgotten neighborhood is now a destination for the young and fun-loving. As soon as the weather turns warm, picnickers line the paths along this 19th-century waterway, watching bridges rise and turn to allow barges to pass. Shopping, food, drink, and diversions also abound here: Artazart (83 Quai de Valmy) is recognized as one of the best design bookstores in Europe, while Le Comptoir Général, just across the bridge, offers live music and cheap drinks. Chez Prune has one of the city’s most popular terraces for enjoying a glass of something refreshing and a chance to watch Paris go by.
9 Rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris, France
The friendly neighborhood of Rue des Martyrs is a favorite destination for buying edible souvenirs of Paris. To get started, head to No. 9, where the beautiful Chambre aux Confitures stocks endless jars of jam for your morning tartine as well as chutneys and caramel spreads and honey. Première Pression Provence bottles the sunny taste of Provence into excellent olive oils for the larder. The pastry shop Sébastien Gaudard has sweet treats for consumption now or later. Down the street at No. 30 is a honey shop, Famille Mary, which sells ultralocal honey produced by three apiaries around Paris. Order vacuum-sealed cheeses to be sent home from the extraordinary displays at Fromagerie Beillevaire. A walk along this street offers many culinary temptations—go discover some on your own.
Paris, France
This picturesque street in one of Paris’s poshest quartiers is dotted with gourmet sweet shops. Beginning at the eponymous Rue du Bac metro station, Chapon offers decadent taste-tests of single-estate chocolate mousses. On the next corner, Jacques Genin sells mouthwateringly good caramels along with his famous chocolate treats. The shops Des Gâteaux et du Pain and La Pâtisserie des Rêves also sell sweets, but this time they’re enveloped in a pastry delivery system. Le Bac à Glaces tries another sugary route: It scoops out the city’s most infamous dark chocolate sorbet. End the stroll at the gourmet temple La Grande Epicerie de Paris, a grocery store filled with more unforgettable tastes of Paris to tuck in your bag and take home.
Place d'Aligre
Marché d’Aligre is a very special place: Commerces de bouche (mouth businesses!) line up to sell their goods, an orchestra of voices calls out daily specials, and cheesemongers offer free samples. The market’s selection changes with the seasons. In summer, apricots from the Roussillon, figs from Toulouse, and bouquets of herbs from Provence spill from cases and perfume the air. As fall arrives, the butcher will display fresh game from the hunt, and there’s usually at least one stand where someone is shucking fresh oysters. After your visit here, your appetite will surely be piqued; happily the neighborhood is rich in restaurants that base their menus on what’s fresh at the market.
3 Rue Notre Dame des Champs, 75006 Paris, France
At Maison Verot, locals get in line to stock up on all kinds of elaborate goodies. Verot has been making some of Paris’s best charcuterie since 1930, and it is still winning prestigious awards. Products vary with the season but will most likely include elaborate pâtés baked in pastry, local sausages, preserved meats called rillettes, a selection of deli salads, and a variety of products preserved in aspic. Verot’s location is convenient to the Luxembourg Gardens, so perfect for a nearly instant picnic.
86 Avenue Gambetta, 75020 Paris, France
Even before its designation as 2010’s best bakery by restaurant guide Gault & Millau, La Gambette à Pain drew long lines to buy its bread. The boulangerie bakes some of the best loaves in the city, working with carefully selected organic flours. You won’t find fancy Parisian pastries here—the focus stays on breads. There are some sweets, however: tempting viennoiseries (goodies made with yeast dough) like an orange flower blossom brioche and seasonal fruit tarts.
37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
Located at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, a stone’s throw from the Seine and draped in the shadow of Notre Dame, is what should be proclaimed one of France’s national treasures: the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. This is actually the second site of the store; the original was closed in June 1940 due to the German occupation of Paris during the Second World War. The current location opened in 1951 as Le Mistral, but the name didn’t stick for long. Walk through the green double doors to find a world steeped in history and literary greatness. Endless stacks of books and shelves teeming with manuscripts make it hard to move around. The smell of old books hangs in the air, and that fragrance alone is reminiscent of a bygone era. My own weathered copy of A Moveable Feast was picked up here (Hemingway was a frequent visitor of the original shop). Stop in for a minute or stay for hours: Shakespeare welcomes your company.
7 Passage Saint-Paul
Locals queue up for delicious cheeses from this fromagerie, whose namesake owner received a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the country’s highest honor for a craftsperson (in this case, for his skills as a master of cheese). Aged Comté is king here, but there are also signature creations not to miss, including Roquefort layered with quince jam and a chèvre marinated in walnut oil. A selection of super-aged cheeses—try them if you dare—are aged right beneath the shop.
34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris, France
Situated a block from the Canal St-Martin in the 10th arrondissement, Du Pain et des Idées is your favorite corner bakery—only better. The owner, Christophe Vasseur, was named best boulanger in Paris in 2008, and for good reason. From hearth breads to viennoiseries, everything is crafted to perfection. If you’re discerning about your bread, don’t leave without a slab of the signature loaf, the pain des amis—masterfully crusted on the outside and airy and fluffy on the inside, just waiting to be buttered. But Vasseur’s masterpiece is the chocolate-pistachio escargot pastry, a snail-shaped treat with pistachio paste slathered in between layers of puff pastry and punctuated with dark chocolate chips. This isn’t an optional stop along your Paris visit—it’s a must. But be aware: The shop is open only Monday to Friday.
8 Avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, 75116 Paris, France
With its swooping glass panels that resemble a kind of space-age ship’s sails, Frank Gehry’s design for the Louis Vuitton art collection, which opened in fall 2014, is worth the Métro ride to the far-flung 16th arrondissement. The multiple terraces let you peek through and around the panels: One side overlooks the verdant Bois de Boulogne park, while the other offers a view of the Eiffel Tower, looking miniature in the distance. The innovative exhibitions of modern and contemporary art rotate twice yearly. Outside on the ground level is a can’t-miss piece by Olafur Eliasson: a dizzying row of yellow-glass and mirrored columns that are guaranteed to fill your Instagram feed.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: South America
Journeys: History
Journeys: Canada
Journeys: Canada