The problem visitors to Paris have is there is just too much to do, from its world-class museums to utterly staggering art galleries. Here is Telegraph destination expert Hannah Meltzer’s guide to the very best experiences and attractions in the city, from ripping down the Champs-Élysées in a quirky retro sidecar to insider tips on tackling classics like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower like a pro.
Read on for our expert’s tips for the very best things to do in the city, while for further Paris inspiration, see our guides to the city’s best hotels, restaurants, bars, nightlife, free things to do, shopping, plus how to spend a weekend in Paris.
The historic centre
Discover hidden treasures at the Louvre
The crowd-drawing Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo in the Denon wing are only part of what this vast former palace has to offer. Head to the underground Medieval Louvre to see surviving remnants of the 12th-century fortress that once stood in this spot; marvel at the sarcophagi in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities or browse the astoundingly vast collection in the Department of Islamic Art, which is housed in its own dedicated wing.
Insider’s tip: You can avoid the often long queues to enter by purchasing a timed ticket in advance on the Louvre website. These ensure access to the Pyramid entrance within 30 minutes of the time on the ticket (without a ticket the wait can be 2-3 hours in summer months).
Ride around town in a retro sidecar
You will need to expect a spot of pointing in the street if you take this atypical jaunt around Paris from the sidecar of a motorbike with Retro Tours. A dapper ‘Gentleman Sidecarist’ will be your guide as you whizz through the key sights of Paris attached to vintage motorcycles and decked out in Chevignon jackets. Night tours complete with a champagne stop are also available.
Insider’s tip: If you would like an idea of what you’re in for, you can watch Richard Ayoade & Mel Giedroyc try out the experience on Channel 4’s Travel Man.
Immerse yourself in Impressionism at the Orsay
Visit the Orsay not only for its impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces, but also for the unique architectural backdrop of this former Belle Époque railway station: the views out over Paris from behind the vast clock face are a particular highlight. Don’t miss Manet’s ‘Olympia’ and ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe’, Monet’s Rouen ‘Cathedrals’, Van Gogh’s self portrait and Degas’ delicately beautiful dancer sculptures.
Experience the “the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism” at the Musée de l’’Orangerie
Be sure to explore the Tuileries, the exquisite gardens designed by André Le Notre (who also designed the Versailles gardens). Inside the former orangery, you’ll find one of Paris’s most intimate and touching galleries. Downstairs you’ll find temporary exhibitions with a distinctly contemporary feel (shows in the last few years include David Hockney and Paula Rego). Upstairs, you’ll find the enchanting permanent exhibition of Monet’s vast Water Lilies canvases, which were painted to be hung in this oval-shaped space.
Insider’s tip: You can take a guided tour of the permanent collection in English in the early afternoon at the very reasonable price of €6. Book a place ahead on the museum website in the ‘What’s On’ section.
Nearest metro: Concorde (lines 1 and 12)
Ogle the world’s most incredible stained-glass
Louis IX (Saint Louis) built the magnificent stained-glass edifice Sainte Chapelle in the mid-13th century to house the Crown of Thorns and other Holy relics. The lower level with its star-painted vaulting was for palace servants. The upper level, intended for the royal family and clergy, is a flamboyant masterpiece gothic, with glorious stained glass, where hundreds of roundels depict Old Testament scenes and the crucifixion.
Insider’s tip: Try to come on a sunny day when the deep blues and reds stand out best. Tickets can be bought in advance, but you still have to queue for security checks (no metal objects).
Nearest metro: Cité (line 4)
See Paris from the water
All of Paris originally grew out from an island in the Seine and the river is still the lifeblood of the city—the most picturesque point and the dividing line that separates the Left Bank from the Right Bank (the official symbol of Paris is actually a sailing ship).Taking a cruise along the river is a fantastic way to take in some of the most famous sights of the city. Bateaux Parisiens and Bateaux Mouches are the largest providers and cruise between the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame, taking in the Orsay and Louvre on the way. Passengers can opt for a classic sightseeing tour, or book special restaurant or champagne cruises.
Insider’s tip: For a special occasion, consider splashing out on a more bespoke experience with Green River Cruises. Most of the boats are eclectic (hence the name) and are available for private hire for between 2 ans 12 people. You’ll have your own captain, your choice of music and can also add on food and drink. A great choice for a proposal or special birthday.
Browse the exquisite private art collection of a billionaire
In the centre of town, the collection of French luxury mogul Francois Pinault, displayed in the historical Bourse de Commerce building opened to the public in 2021 following extensive renovations of the grand 19th-century domed building. Inside you’ll find a rich and thought-provoking collection of painting, sculpture and photography, including the captivating oil paintings of British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
Insider’s tip: From installation to portraiture, there’s so much to see – but make sure you take the time to see the excellent photography section, where you’ll find thought-provoking snapshots from the likes of Sherrie Levine and Cindy Sherman.
Nearest metro: Louvre – Rivoli (line 1), Les Halles (line 4), Châtelet (lines 7,11,14)
Check out the best in French modern art
The Centre Pompidou’s 40-year-old post-modern design that was so shocking when it was first built – criss-crossing primary coloured pipes and a diagonally rising tube escalator – still stands out today. The gargantuan edifice houses a significant collection of modern art, as well as a a café, art shop and library. The programming is generally excellent.
Insider’s tip: For a special treat, sit down for a meal at Le Georges, the top-floor restaurant that offers gorgeous views over the rooftops and monuments of Paris, as well as the bustling square below, a hotbed for street entertainers in the warmer months.
Get under the skin of the superstar of 20th-century Paris
The Musée National Picasso-Paris is housed in a former mansion house, before becoming a temple to the iconic 20th-century artist. A multi-millionaire at the time of his death, Picasso left his ex-wives, mistresses and children to fight over his estate with his decision not to leave a will. The Picasso Museum’s collection was donated to the French state by his family to settle a tax bill. Visitors can trace the prolific artist’s career, from his moving Blue Period, to the birth of Cubism and his eccentric sculptures.
Insider’s tip: On the top floor, there are rotating temporary exhibits, often by contemporary female artists, which present an interesting counterpoint to Picasso’s work.
Nearest metro: Chemin Vert (Line 8)
Become an expert in all things Paris
The Musée Carnavalet, themed around the city of Paris and its history, reopened after a refurb in 2021, revealing a charming immersive tour of Paris-themed artefacts; think Emle Zola’s watch, Proust’s furniture, original Métro signage, as well as relics from ancient Lutecia (the Roman name for Paris). The permanent collection, which is free, is complemented by an exciting roster of ticketed exhibitions, with a focus on photography and social history.
Insider’s tip: Once you’ve had your history fix, stop at the gorgeous courtyard restaurant, Fabula, which is open throughout the warmer months and a gorgeous setting for a coffee or meal.
Nearest metro: Saint-Paul (line 1)
Learn about the country’s most famous sculptor
The Musée Rodin is a beautiful rococo mansion where Auguste Rodin had his studio in the early 20th century has been thoughtfully restored with new parquet, subtle lighting and an inventive new presentation that is part chronological, part thematic. Visitors can immerse themselves in the artist’s early portraits, and pioneering armless bronze and stone sculptures encrusted with fragments of antique statuary.
Insider’s tip: Be sure to visit the gardens too, where there are numerous sculptures, including The Thinker and The Gates of Hell, and a pleasant café.
Drink in the views from the world’s most famous tower
Despite being such a familiar icon, the Eiffel Tower never fails to impress with its iron latticework, its 2.5 million rivets and the thrill of the old-fashioned elevators. The summit, some 1000-foot up, is still the highest viewing point in Paris, while the second level viewing platform allows for 360-degree monument spotting. Visit at night to delight at the tower sparkling (on the hour for five minutes).
Insider’s tip: Tickets bought in advance must be reserved for a specific slot; otherwise, note that queues are shorter if you come late at night, or if you walk up as far as the second level – 704 steps – and then buy tickets for the very top.
Champs-Élysées and the West
Enjoy the most underrated view in Paris
Going all the way up the Arc de Triomphe involves climbing almost 300 steps, but the view at the top makes it well worth it. Look out over the Champs-Elysées with the Louvre and the old city on one side and the ultra-modern La Défense business district out to the west. The construction of the arch began in the early 1800s to celebrate the military triumphs of Napoleon Bonaparte (though he would never see it completed); today it’s the focal point of the annual Bastille Day military parade.
Insider’s tip: The elaborate group sculpture on each pillar each represents a different historical event from the time of the first Republic, first Empire and restoration. Under the arch is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and an eternal flame which is lit each evening.
Sample the city’s wackiest art
Palais de Tokyo, a vast 1930s edifice on the banks of the Seine, houses Paris’s home for contemporary art with the most experimental temporary art exhibitions in the city (French artist Abraham Poincheval once spent three weeks sitting on and hatching chicken eggs) – it may not always be to your taste but you definitely won’t be bored. There’s a permanent collection in the eastern wing taking in Picasso and Matisse. The bookshop has the biggest collection of art books and design journals in Paris.
Insider’s tip: The complex hosts restaurant ‘Monsieur Bleu’- try the terrasse in summer for gorgeous Eiffel Tower views.
Nearest metro: La Muette (line 9)
Contemplate a priceless collection in a sumptuous mansion house
For an intimate encounter with art, visit Musée Jacquemart-André and discover this sumptuous private museum and its exquisite collection. The mansion and collection belonged to couple Edouard André, a wealthy protestant banker, and artist Nélie Jacquemart, who bequeathed it all to the French state after their deaths. Inside, you’ll find pieces bought on their travels to Europe and the ‘Near East’, including incredible Italian Renaissance masterpieces and exquisite Ancien Regime artefacts.
Insider’s tip: The thoughtfully curated museum shop is a great stop for gift-shopping. You’ll find fabulous art books, of course, but also jewellery and homewares and children’s toys and games themed around art and history.
Nearest metro: Miromesnil (lines 9 and 13)
Take an enchanting trip through the history of fashion
Lovers of all things sartorial will be in heaven in Paris’s official museum of fashion, Palais Galliera. The permanent exhibition, which displays garments from the 1700s to the present day, is simply exquisite with spellbinding pieces ranging from Versailles-era frocks to Comme des Garçons casualwear. The museum has up to 200,000 items in itc collection overall.
Insider’s tip: The museum has upped its programming game and recent exhibitions, tracing the history of Vogue and the personal wardrobe of Frida Kahlo, have all been blockbusters. Book a timed ticket ahead to speed up entry.
Nearest metro: Iéna (line 9)
Enjoy beautiful architecture and art in the woods
Head out to the Bois de Boulogne park to discover the monumental Louis Vuitton Fondation. You’ll notice its striking glass and metal “wings”, which were designed by superstar architect Frank Gehry. Opened in 2014, this exciting modern art museum was funded by Bernard Arnault the CEO of the huge conglomerate LVMH (or Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton). The exhibition programming is generally excellent.
Insider’s tip: The arts complex also houses a state-of-the-art auditorium and there’s a popular calendar of classical music concerts. Book well ahead to secure a place.
Nearest metro: Les Sablons (line 1)
Saint-Germain and the Latin Quarter
Make a trip back to the Middle Ages
Very few vestiges of medieval Paris remain (thanks to Haussmann’s renovation), and even fewer of ancient Roman settlement Lutetia – therefore the Musée de Cluny, incorporating the remains of Roman baths and housed in the Gothic town house of the abbots of Cluny – is a rare treat. This is the usual home of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and reopened after extensive renovation in 2021.
Insider’s tip: Don’t miss the heads of the kings of Judah: the stone monarchs that adorned the façade of Notre-Dame were torn down during the Revolution and each beheaded, only to be found in a long-forgotten cellar in 1977.
Nearest metro: Cluny-La Sorbonne (line 10), Saint-Michel (line 4),
Take in a world-famous classical monument
The Panthéon, a majestic neo-classical edifice, identifiable throughout the city by its vast dome, was first built as an offering to Paris’s patron saint, Genevieve, from party-loving King Louis XV. After the Revolution, it was transformed into a secular temple and burial place of the “great men” of France, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire and Rousseau. Marie Curie was the first woman to be buried there: today there are still only six, including holocaust survivor and pioneering politician Simone Veil. In 2021, legendary entertainer Josephine Baker became the first black woman to be added to the Pantheon.
Experience parklife à la parisienne
The Luxembourg Gardens, created in the early 17th-century to accompany Marie de’ Medici’s Renaissance palace (now the French Senate) is known for its central sunken parterre and picturesque plane-tree-lined avenues, but it’s not all ornamental. In summer you’ll find busy tennis courts; very serious pétanque games, played by regulars; basketball and even bee hives. On the south side, stop in the secluded English-style gardens, replete with greenery and birdsong and dotted with neoclassical sculpture.
Insider’s tip: This is a great place to visit en famille. Napoleon Bonaparte dedicated this park to children and famous features include the “Guignol” puppet show, pony rides and whimsical miniature sailing boats on the central octagonal basin.
Nearest metro: Odéon , Saint-Sulpice (line 4)
Visit Musée de Montmartre
This little gem of a museum is housed in a historic building where Renior once had his studios, as well as Montmartroise painter Suzanne Valadon. Inside, you’ll find a delightful recreation of her apartment and studio, evoking the golden age of Belle Epoque Montmartre. The temporary exhibitions are always thoughtfully put together.
Insider’s tip: Be sure to visit the quaint gardens, which have a view out over Montmartre’s last remaining vineyard.
Nearest metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt (line 12); Anvers (line 2)
Explore Espace Dali
The director of this museum, Beniamino Levi, is an internationally famous art dealer who worked closely with Salvador Dalí and commissioned him to make a number of large-scale bronze sculptures, which are on display here. Lovers of Surrealism will adore the mind-bending display, which also comprises a number of engravings and lithographs.
Insider’s tip: There is no gift shop here, so you will need to hit the souvenir shops nearby for your Dali-themed knick-knacks.
Nearest metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt (line 12); Abbesses (line 12); Anvers (line 2)
Experience the lavish lost world of France’s formers kings
If you make just one excursion out of Paris, then it should be to Versailles, for its vision of royal absolutism — “the state is me”. Today, its extravagant ceilings, hall of mirrors, and king’s and queen’s bedchambers remain fascinating for their excess. The formal garden created by André Le Nôtre, are integral to the design and every bit as exquisite as the house.
Insider’s tip: Head down the steps at the Grand Perspective to explore the magnificent “bosquets” (groves) with their spectacular fountains and ornate décor. On a warm day, grab picnic ingredients and have lunch by the Grand Canal.
Travel in time and across the world, for the price of a metro ticket
The newly revamped and reopened Musée Albert Kahn museum, located just outside of the city in Boulogne-Billancourt, is a must for both lovers of photography and, in an unexpected pairing, also for lovers of gardens. Banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn was responsible for financing some of the world’s earliest colour travel photography; inside you’ll find thousands of striking Autochrome colour-plate photographs captured around the world between 1909 and 1931. Well worth a metro trip to the near suburbs.
Insider’s tip: The voyage of discovery continues into the grounds where you’ll find ornamental gardens in English, French and Japanese style.Traditional ornamental gardens blend with the contemporary architecture of Kengo Kuma.
Nearest metro: Boulogne Pont de Saint-Cloud (line 10)
Visit the pleasure ground of French monarchy
The castle located on the edge of the hunting forest in Fontainebleau was the country retreat of French rulers from the Middle Ages to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. The grounds are every bit as enchanting as the building itself. Take time to contemplate the unique double-horseshoe staircase in the main courtyard; in warmer months, visitors can go boating on the magnificent Carp Pond.
Insider’s tip: The Château organises a huge number of events and special tours and visits. Take a private tour to see the Second Empire theatre and Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir. VIP experiences like private night tours and even a hot air balloon ride are also on offer.
Nearest transport stop: Fontainebleau-Avon (train from Paris Gare de Lyon)
Indulge your inner child at Disneyland
Just 27 miles (45 km) east of Paris, you enter another world comprised of the main Disneyland Park, smaller film-themed Walt Disney Studios Park and Festival Disney containing shows, restaurants and souvenir shops. Small tots are entranced by the parades and the teacup ride, Big kids (including adults) enjoy the thrills of Star Wars-themed Hyper Space Mountain and the eery Tower of Terror.
Insider’s tip: It is far more relaxing to stay in Paris than in one of the Disney resort hotels. Buying tickets online is cheaper than on the door.
Shop for vintage treasures in Europe’s biggest flea market
Les Puces de Saint-ouen is a must for thrifters and antique lovers. This huge sprawling flea market is open Friday to Monday inclusive every week and is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Each of the dozen or so markets (covered and outdoor) has a different vibe and speciality. You can find just about anything, from vintage Chanel, to antique lace, to giant stone animals, old door handles, antique books, and the list goes on.
Insider’s tip: Soak up the atmosphere by staying for lunch. There are ever more hip addresses, like L’Insurgé in this fast gentrifying suburb, as well as classic bistros loved by local brocanteurs (dealers), like Le Pericole and Le Relais Des Broc’s.
Nearest metro: Porte de Clignancourt (line 4), Garibaldi (line 13)
Watch a match at one of the world’s most iconic stadiums
Stade de France in Saint-Denis, in the north of Paris is an excellent place to soak up some sports atmosphere a la française. Here, the formalities of Parisian interaction are forgotten – the atmosphere is relaxed and festive with plenty of waving tricolores, songs and sloshing pints of beer. There are often last-minute tickets available for international fixtures (football and rugby).
Insider’s tip: Die-hard supporters go to the north stand – it’s nothing dangerous but you can expect a lot of jumping around and loud French chanting, so potentially one to avoid if you’re en famille.
Meet the radical rebel artist that history forgot
Rosa Bonheur was one of the most successful French artists of the 19th century and the first woman to buy a chateau with her own earnings, and to receive the Legion of Honour– yet until recently she’d been largely forgotten by history. The Brault family has entirely renovated Bonheur’s whimsical chateau in Thomery, on the edge of Fontainebleau forest. You’ll find the artist’s striking animal paintings and a charming tearoom. Book ahead for a guided tour.
Insider’s tip: There are two beautiful guest rooms in the artist’s former bedroom and painter’s studio. Book well ahead for a memorable stay, including breakfast and a visit of the chateau.
Nearest transport stop: Thomery (train from Paris Gare de Lyon)