When you think about the icons of Europe, what comes to mind? There’s a good chance that the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame or a scene along the Champs-Elysee are some of the images that pop up. These famous attractions should be at the top of every Paris bucket list, but there are so many more things to do in Paris beyond these popular attractions as well as some unusual things to do in Paris.
Known as the City of Love, Paris has been a top European destination for decades, even as other cities like Prague and Amsterdam rise in popularity. According to statistics compiled by the folks at Hopper, Paris is the second most popular European destination searched by Americans.
Thinking about a trip to Paris? Here are some ideas for pulling together the perfect Paris itinerary.
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Let’s start with the obvious. The Eiffel Tower is probably the most recognizable landmark in France, if not all of Europe. There are many ways to visit the Eiffel Tower, or you may just want to snap that Insta-worthy shot from the gardens at the base of the tower. You can buy various levels of entry tickets to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and if you’re really feeling flush, you can even dine at one of the restaurants in the tower.
Notre Dame Cathedral
This iconic cathedral, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, is located on an island in the Seine. Even if you are not Catholic or Christian, this masterpiece of architecture is worth a stop on your Paris itinerary. In addition to amazing stained glass and famous flying buttresses, Notre Dame is well known for the stone gargoyles that adorn the exterior.
The Avenue des Champs-Elysées may be the most famous avenue in the world. The scenic street stretches from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, and is the heart of Paris cafe culture. Spend a few hours strolling the street, drop in to the famous Cafe Lenotre for lunch or dinner, and be sure to find some macarons to satisfy your sweet tooth.
The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world, and quite possibly the most famous. Inside the Louvre, you’ll find famous works like the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Depending on your affinity for art, you could spend up to a full day at the Louvre.
Another excellent art museum in Paris is the Musee D’Orsay, housed in a train station that was built for the 1900 World Fair. Here you’ll find artwork by Renoir, Degas, Manet, Cezanne, VanGogh and of course, Monet.
Across the river from the Musee D’Orsay are the Jardins des Tuileries. These tranquil gardens in the heart of the city are a great place to take a stroll, or load up a picnic basket with a baguette, cheese and wine.
Seine River Cruise
No trip to Paris is complete without a cruise on the River Seine, which runs through the heart of the city. Options range from simple water taxis to luxury dinner cruises. This is a great way to get a glimpse of some of the 37 bridges that span the Seine.
Montmartre is a hilltop neighborhood within the city’s 18th arrondissement, topped by the domed Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (also known as Sacre Coeur.) Montmartre is lined with cobblestone streets, striped awnings and artisanal boutiques. You can easily spend a whole day strolling the paths of Montmartre.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Paris, and makes an interesting stop on your Paris itinerary. There are many famous figures buried here, which also makes this one of the most visited cemeteries in the world. You can visit the graves of The Doors’ Jim Morrison, Poet Oscar Wilde, pianist Chopin and the playwright Moliere.
The Sainte-Chapelle is another chapel, slightly less famous than Notre Dame, but perhaps equally stunning. The stained glass display is well worth a visit to this royal chapel built in the Gothic style.
The Luxembourg Gardens date back to the 1600’s and were originally the gardens of Luxembourg Palace, which is now the home of the Senate.
The Palais Garnier is a 1,979 seat opera house famous is part due to being the setting for Phantom of the Opera. It is also one of the most expensive buildings constructed in Paris at the time, featuring gilded figures on the roof. If a night at the opera isn’t your thing, check into a daytime tour of the building.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe, the 2nd largest arch in the world, stands at one end of the Champs-Elysee, in the Place de Charles de Gaulle. For a birds-eye view of the Champs-Elysee, you may climb the stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. This is a less expensive, less crowded alternative to going up the Eiffel Tower.
The Catacombs of Paris hold the remains of more than six million people in tunnels below the city surface. The catacombs arose from an overcrowding issue in Parisian cemeteries in the late 1700’s. Approximately one mile of the underground tunnels are currently open to visitors.
Palace of Versailles
Located just 10 miles outside of Paris, the Palace of Versailles stands as a monument to royal opulence. Today, the palace and grounds remain open as a museum for visitors. Be sure to check out The Queen’s Hamlet, Marie Antoinette’s reconstructed country village on the grounds of the palace.
The Loire Valley is a region known for both wine and castles, and is well worth a trip outside of Paris. The valley is 2-3 hours from Paris, and can be reached by private vehicle or any number of tours available in the area. If you have the time, there are many charming villages for an overnight stay in the region.
In Giverny, you will find the home of Claude Monet. Just an hour from Paris and accessible by train, art fans will enjoy a tour of the gardens that have been immortalized in Monet’s paintings.
There are any number of cooking classed you can take in Paris, including a lesson on how to make macarons. Not only will you get to sample amazing French cuisine, you will also learn how to make it once you are home and your visit is a distant memory.
The magical elixir, Absinthe (aka the green fairy), originated in Switzerland in the late 18th century, but quickly rose to popularity in Paris. This anise-flavored spirit is said to contain hallucinogenic properties, and has been made illegal in many countries. The absinthe of today is reportedly less potent, but the presentation and serving is still something very French to experience while you’re in Paris.
Cabarets, or cafe bars with entertainment, originated in Paris in the 1800’s. The most famous cabaret, Moulin Rouge, opened in 1889 and was the birthplace of the CanCan dance. Another famous Paris cabaret that remains open is the Crazy Horse, where you can see a show.
Shopping in Paris
In the age of internet shopping, Paris still manages to offer a unique shopping experience to lure you and your credit card. Classic department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, luxury retailers like Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin, and 100’s of unique boutiques. You will be hard pressed to leave Paris without a bit of retail therapy.
Paris’ covered passages were originally constructed in the 19th century, and were the city’s original shopping centers. Glass ceilings were erected over the pedestrian pathways to protect shoppers from the elements. Some of the covered passages remain today, and are still lined with shops and restaurants.
Bastille Day Celebrations
Bastille Day is French National Day, celebrated on July 14th. If you like festivals and fireworks, planning a visit around Bastille Day will add extra fun to your Paris visit.
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