Paris – Top 20 – Must See, Must Do, Must Eat!

While I am off on an adventure this Memorial Day weekend, here is a little wanderlust for you to enjoy. I have put together my top 20 things to do, see and eat in Paris . I lived there for six years (still can’t believe I was there that long) and have so much love for that city. Here is the quick’n’dirty Stiletto’s Guide to Paris – with my favorite things (some of which are totally expected and others… less).

This post contains affiliate links – which means I have scoured the internet looking for the best bang for your buck on the products and sites which I love the very most – and yes, this means that I get a little something extra for my time, but it doesn’t cost you anything extra!
  1. Eiffel Tower & the Arc de Triomphe

I know – obvious. You have to do it, go, wait in line (or get skip the line tickets), go up, take pictures, come back down. There are a million people – if you are feeling ambitious, take the stairs – but you can tick these both off your bucket list.

If you are planning your trip well in advance, you could try and get a reservation at the restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower. The Jules Verne is a Michelin-starred restaurant and it is usually booked up months and months in advance… but it’s worth a shot. If you prefer a different restaurant with a view, you could try Georges at the Georges Pompidou center (made famous by the Sex and the City movie) or Tour d’Argent (one of the oldest restaurants in Paris, dating back to 1572, also starred) which has a stunning view of Notre-Dame.

  1. La Durée

OMG MACARONS – La Durée is my fave, but everyone has a personal preference. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life I think it might have to be the Orange Blossom macarons from La Durée (Fleur d’oranger if you are ordering in French). Okay, you caught me, that may be a slight exaggeration (quelle surprise) but still – they are life changing. And the La Durée in Saint Germain is the original – in a beautiful old building that oozes French charm and decadence. Please, please, please make a stop there.

  1. Fat Tire Bike Tour Evening Tour

My love and devotion to Fat Tire Bike Tours is eternal – they are such a fantastic company and their tours are the absolute best. My personal favorite is the Night Bike Tour – it includes a leisurely boat ride with wine, a beautiful bike ride around a few key sites (think Ile de la Cite, Saint Germain, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Invalides) plus an ice cream stop at the iconic Berthillion ice cream shop. For all the pics from our night bike tour, click here!

Other amazing tours include the Day Bike Tour, a City Segway tour or Versailles bike tour – which I talk about more below.

  1. Bateaux Mouches

If you don’t manage to squeeze in a Fat Tire Night Bike Tour into your itinerary, then do make time to jump on the Bateau Mouche (or grab a water taxi if you prefer). It is impressive to see the incredible sites of the city from the water – they seem more majestic, if you ask me. Bring along a little picnic (they allow wine on board FYI) and enjoy the view. You can always try a river dinner cruise if you are feeling a bit more luxurious.

  1. A Cabaret Show

This is my kitschy-ist recommendation but if this is your first trip to Paris, there is nothing like seeing a crazy cabaret show. Please don’t pay extra for the dinner, the booze etc. – it is definitely not worth the money. The show, the experience, however, definitely are worth it. Another tick off the bucket list… my personal recommendation is Crazy Horse but it’s probably a bit racier than the other two (again, sorrynotsorry) but the area is much nicer/safer late at night.

  1. Versailles

You must take a day to visit Versailles if your itinerary permits (and doing it by bike is the best ever). The palace is stunning, the gardens and grounds are expansive and pristine – you are transported back to days of le roi soleil (the sun king) and wish that you could put on a giant wig and roam the gardens in ridiculous huge dress… wait, that’s just me? NO! Not just me – every June, the Palace of Versailles hosts a grand masked ball (complete with bar, dinner, live music, acrobatics, fire shows) all night long and yes, you must come dressed for the occasion. I still haven’t made it to one of these epic evenings, but I will (*plotting commences*).

  1. Eat

Oh the food – such fantastic food. For the love of all things holy, please make sure you eat so much in Paris. The restaurants are constantly changing and there are so many new places that are all the rage (if you want some serious insight, head over to Lost in Cheeseland for details – Lindsey and I went to college together and she just published the most beautiful book called The New Paris so she is the local expert for all the food news).

But… I do keep a running list of my classic faves from the time I lived in Paris… check them out here! And do make sure that you make it to Chez Suzette (Rue de la Harpe near St Michel) for the Melissa crepe… you will not regret it, I promise.

  1. Markets

I think this may be what I miss most about Europe… the fresh food and flower markets. There are so many – every single day of the week – to.die.for. One of the biggest ones in central Paris is at La Motte Picquet, right near the Eiffel Tower, on Wednesdays and Sundays. There is an organic market on Boulevard Raspail in the 6th on Sunday mornings, which is fantastic but much smaller. My local market for years was the one at Edgar Quinet in the 14th arrondissement (Wednesdays and Saturdays) – so that one is near and dear to my heart as well. Note that these markets usually start to close up after lunch (by 2/3pm), so make sure you get there early! Think about doing a guided market tour and cooking class – you will not be disappointed!

  1. Ile St Louis and the banks of the Seine

Ile St Louis is one of the tiny islands located in the middle of the Seine. This is a great place for warm summer nights, picnics with friends, live music and people watching. I cannot even tell you how many memorable evenings I spent with friends along the Seine on our little island watching the whole world go by with our bottle of wine, cheese and baguettes. Explore the tiny narrow streets with some of the most expensive real estate in the city!

  1. Institut du Monde Arabe

This is a bit further east than most of the places suggest thus far – but is still within walking distance of St. Michel and Notre-Dame, along the river. It is a beautiful glass building with a roof terrace and café – they have fantastic afternoon tea (think Moroccan mint tea) and a wonderful view. The museum itself is an interesting collection – check out their latest exhibits for more details.

  1. Jardin de Luxembourg

I used to spend way too much time in this park – it is usually less crowded then Tuileries (see below) but is just as beautiful. There is often a photography exhibit housed on the outside gates (northern end) which is fantastic to walk around.

Strolling down through the Jardin de Luxembourg and by its many fountains
  1. Montmartre & Sacre Coeur

Head up the hill (there are transportation alternatives to walking) to see the view from the top of the highest hill in Paris – it is quite an incredible view on a clear day. The street entertainers and artists are part of the fun (don’t get scammed, pretty please). There are some fantastic little hidden cafes, side streets and bistros around here so get lost and go on an adventure!

  1. Jardin de Tuileries

This garden is right in between Place de la Concorde and the Louvre – on the same axis as the Arc de Triomphe, which makes for a nice little walk between all of these places. The tree lined pathways are immaculately sculpted, the lounge chairs scattered around, the children playing with sailboats in the water – amazing. Though I would suggest avoiding this area when there is the summer circus/fair – it turns into an absolute zoo and is full of rickety, overpriced rides and games.

  1. (Window) Shopping on Rue de Faubourg Saint Honore

I used to work just around the corner and the temptation was excruciating. Unfortunately, I was making literally 1/5th of what I am making now… so it was not even remotely in the realm of possibilities. But that didn’t stop me from wandering through Hermes, Goyard, Chanel, Lanvin and taking it all in. If you decide to go in, be prepared not only for the temptation (except maybe until you see the prices) but also for the snooty snobbery of the vendeuses – they are French, after all. If you aren’t dressed to the nines in the latest Dior collection or carrying a Hermes Kelly on your arm, you will be looked at like a hobo. I like to antagonize them, but that’s just me.

  1. Place de Vosges for a drink

I love Place des Vosges – it is green, quiet and hidden. I absolutely love the pillars, the architecture, and the garden. It is the perfect place to hide out, have too many drinks and a giant cheese board (oops – sorrynotsorry).

  1. Wander the Marais

I like to spend time in the Marais on Sundays – everything is open, including stores and museums. There is fantastic boutique shopping, wonderful food options from all over the world and lots and lots of little streets to explore. There is an amazing tour that includes food and wine – you learn all about the neighborhood and the fantastic treats hidden down little side streets.

  1. Canal St Martin

This area was just at the cusp of its revival when I left Paris and has since exploded – so many amazing little cafes, hip restaurants etc. Think of it as the Brooklyn of Paris. Wander along the canal, have a coffee on an outdoor terrace, pretend you’re French – soak it all in!

  1. Museums

You have to go to the Louvre if you have never been, but if you have or you hate crowds or you can’t deal with a huge museum undertaking… I would hit up the Musee d’Orsay and the Rodin museum. The Orsay can still be quite crowded but the building is stunning and the collection is much more manageable than that of the Louvre. I would also highly recommend the Rodin Museum. This is one of my favorite museums in Paris because it is partially outside and is a lot less crowded than the Orsay or the Louvre. If you don’t feel like paying – the first Sunday of every month is free to enter the Louvre, but again, you will be fighting the crowds throughout the museum. Check the calendars when you are going as they sometimes have late night openings, student evenings (entry for under 26 is free) and other special events.

  1. Daily intake of carbs and wine

Although this is a subset of the “Eat” category above, carbs and wine deserve their own individual tick on the Paris to do list. Start at a boulangerie – that is French for “carbs, glorious, carbs” aka bakery. Pick up a hot baguette, a pain aux chocolat aux amandes (chocolate croissant with almonds) and one of everything else while you’re at it. For the love of carbs, you will be so happy. Same with wine – as a college student in Paris, we became experts at choosing the cheapest wine possible – we could fine the most wonderful bottles of wine for less than 5 euros… when is the last time you found excellent wine for less than $20, $35, $55? Precisely. Grab a bottle, a baguette (or 3) and head to the river, like a local.

  1. Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite and Sainte Chapelle

I recommend seeing all three of these in one go. They are all a few minutes walking distance from each other and it is easy to tick them all off the list at the same time, depending on how long the lines are. Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame are notorious for long lines, so prepare yourself (or go super early in the morning). I would put this in the same category as #1 (Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe) – things you have to do and see in Paris but just prepare yourself for the crowds. You could also see these on a walking tour, which may be a bit easier than facing the crowds on your own!

Bonus: if you want to get even further out of the city, take the train to the Parc de Sceaux (20 mins south of Paris) – the park is a combination of the manicured grounds of Versailles and the quiet, untouched nature of the Bois de Boulougne in West Paris. You’re welcome.

AND if you have extra time, take a day trip out to Monet’s Gardens – DIVINE! If you are feeling ambitious, take a day trip to the Loire Valley for some chateaux and fabulous wine.

Don’t forget to check out my recommendations for finding the cheapest flights to Paris and the greatest (and most fiscally responsible) places to stay while you are enjoying all of the amazing and fun things to do in the region! Happy travels!

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