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A view of the city at night, including the Arc de Triomphe
Photograph: Cristiano Medeiros Dalbem

50 unmissable attractions in Paris

Iconic sights aren’t hard to come by in the City of Light, but these 50 Paris attractions are all absolutely must sees

Written by
Huw Oliver
&
Alice White Walker
Contributor
Andrzej Lukowski
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Ah, Paree, so much to see, so little time. Frankly it’s ridiculous how many great sights there are here… but where to even start? Yeah, alright, probably the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre – but what the hell do you do next? Whether you’re a first-timer or a Paris regular, the same goes – how do you even go about planning a day out here?

Happily, Paris is so gloriously walkable that you can tick off many of its tourist greatest hits without so much as setting foot on the Metro, let alone braving its various train networks. (And let’s be honest, being a flâneur for the day is an essential part of the Paris experience anyway.) So whack on those walking shoes and dig into our concise and to-the-point guide to the 50 best attractions in Paris. Whether you’re mad about museums, live music or shopping, our exhaustive run-down of the city’s most charming spots should have you hooked – and no doubt desperate to return.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Paris

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Best attractions in Paris

Well come on, you know what it is. Very probably the single most famous man-made structure in the entire world, the Eiffel Tower was originally erected as a temporary exhibit for the Exposition Universelle of 1889 (it was due to be taken down in 1909). From its summit you can enjoy heart-stopping views over all of Paris – and conversely its iconic form is visible from most vantage points in the city. Aside from the new glass floor that was installed in 2014 – which is a real trip if you’re brave enough to walk across it –there’s also a panoramic champagne bar on the third floor, a brasserie and a Michelin-starred restaurant. At night, the Eiffel’s girders sparkle like fairy lights on a Christmas tree (every hour, on the hour).

Don’t miss: A meal at Alain Ducasse’s Michelin-starred Jules Verne on the second floor. 

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Paris et sa banlieue

Once just a modest hunting lodge, the Château de Versailles can surely now lay claim to the title of the most sumptuous pad in Paris. It’s grown with each resident and now has an astonishing 2,300 rooms that have housed numerous member of the French royalty over the years. The majority of the lavish work was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1678. The Sun King is virtually synonymous with Versailles: he’s responsible for adding the wondrous Hall of Mirrors, as well as the elegant and expansive grounds. It can get busy at peak times, so book a skip-the-line ticket beforehand and arrive early.

Don’t miss: If you’re visiting during summer, there are magnificent musical fountain shows at night. 

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  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Denfert-Rochereau
  • price 2 of 4

Until you’ve actually been to them, it’s almost impossible to believe that ‘Les Catacombes’ actually exist. This 3,000km (1,864-mile) network of tunnels runs under much of the city, and very publically contains the bones of some six million people, including many who perished during the Revolutionary Terror. In these claustrophobic corridors, you’ll find the bones of Marat, Robespierre and their comrades, packed in with wall upon wall of fellow citizens. It’s a remarkable and deeply macabre sight. And get your jackets at the ready – the Catacombes are chilly, both literally and spiritually. 

Don’t miss: The entrance to the ossuary, where there’s a sign which says: ‘Stop! This is the empire of death.’ Eek!

Moulin Rouge
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Abbesses

Surely the most famous nightclub on the planet, the Moulin Rouge has seen all manner of showbiz stars, musicians, actors and stately names pass through its doors (which first opened in 1889, interrupted for six years when the original building burned down in 1915). And, tourists aside, this cabaret venue also remains beloved by Parisians, who go more for the club scene at The Machine and rooftop Bar à Bulles that lie within. The birthplace of one of the twentieth century’s best-known dances, on stage 60 can-can dancers cavort with faultless synchronisation for two hours in the ‘Féerie’ show. Costumes are flamboyant, legs kick higher than you’d think possible and the ‘half-time’ acts are funny.Just add champagne and you’ve got the ultimate French night out. 

Don’t miss: A trip to tapas joint Le Bar à Bulles, which you’d be forgiven for missing since it’s on the roof.

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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Chaussée-d'Antin
  • price 3 of 4

The very pinnacle of Parisian opulence, the Palais Garner is a stunning 2,000-seat auditorium that’s entirely magnificent, from the classical sculptures on its exterior to the mirrors, marble and parquet flooring of the Grand Foyer. You’ve also got the library, museums and the Grand Escalier, all red satin and velvet boxes. Plus you’ve got the emperor’s private salons: as you might expect, he didn’t fancy taking the front entrance with the rest of the hoi polloi, preferring instead an exclusive entrance at the rear of the building that his carriage could roll up to.

Don’t miss: The Paris Opera Ballet’s regular shows. 

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Buttes-Chaumont

Centrepiece of the north-eastern Belleville neighbourhood, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is perhaps a little less formal than other green spaces in Paris. But it’s really worth the uphill stroll to get there, because this nineteenth-century arrondissement beauty is one of the city’s most magical spots, and often missed out by weekend visitors who don’t get off the usual tourist trail. The park, with its meandering paths, waterfalls, temples and cliffs, was designed by Adolphe Alphand for Haussmann, and was opened as part of the celebrations for the Exposition Universelle in 1867.

Don’t miss: A drink at either Rosa Bonheur or Pavillon Puebla, the park’s two buzzing, eternall jam-packed bars. 

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  • Attractions
  • Ternes

Commissioned by Napoleon but not actually finished until 1836, the Arc de Triomphe is the mother of all war memorials. Give your legs a workout and climb the 284 steps to the top, where the views sweep in geometric splendour between the arc of La Défense and the Louvre. Although you may be more distracted by observing the remarkable Parisian driving techniques in evidence around the unmarked traffic island below: in fact, hire car drivers have to pay extra on the insurance if they’d like it to cover the roundabout. When you get back down to ground, do spare a thought for the Unknown Soldier whose grave sits solemnly in the centre of the arch.

Don’t miss: The bronze plaque that features a transcript of Charles de Gaulle’s famous 1940 radio broadcast from London: his rallying cry was seen as the beginning of the French Resistance against Nazi occupation. 

A traditional seat of the French aristocracy that fell out of favour after the Revolution for obvious reasons, the Marais (sandwiched between St-Paul and République) has most certainly bounced back: over the last two decades it’s become one of the trendiest parts of the city. It’s packed with modish hotels, vintage boutiques, restaurants and bars. It’s popular with the gay crowd (this is the only part of Paris where the blokes get winked at more than the ladies). And it contains a fair whack of the city’s latterday Jewish heritage (Jewish tailors moved in after the nobles were removed). But this is also prime territory for art lovers, with a vast concentration of galleries (both big and small) and museums, more often than not set in aristocratic eighteenth-century mansions.

Don’t miss: The legendary falafel outlet L’As du Fallafel, if you want to put a pitta something in your stomach.

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  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Chaussée-d'Antin

There are department stores… and then there’s the jaw-dropping Galeries Lafayette. It’s impossible to look up and not feel awestruck at the latticed glass and wrought iron ceiling domes, which allow a kaleidoscope of light to filter through. Founded as small fashion haberdasherie at the end of the nineteenth century, it expanded into its current form by 1912, and now has numerous offshoots the world over. Let’s not forget that there’s great shopping to be done and food to be had, but all in good time: we’d heartily recommend you start your visit by beelining for the roof. If you think it looks great from below, you should see it from above, where you’ll also find fab views of the city and a rooftop café. And the best part? The panoramas are totally free.

Don’t miss: The sort-of secret rooftop, which boasts one of the most splendid views of Paris you can imagine, looking out onto the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower. 

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • 7e arrondissement
  • price 2 of 4

The platforms of the old Gare d’Orsay train station – the first electrified urban terminal station in the world, fact fans – were too short to be able to cope with the changing size of trains, and in 1977 the French government decided to convert it into a museum. It reopened as the Musée d’Orsay in 1986, housing one of the world’s largest collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Aside from the expected masterpieces by Monet, Renoir, van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, you’ll find a dapper collection of decorative arts from the Art Nouveau era and a wide range of nineteenth-century sculpture. Let it all sink in with a coffee in the café behind the museum’s giant transparent clock.

Don’t miss: The superb coffee shop/café tucked behind the clock (designed by the Campana brothers). It’s submarine-themed, in homage to Jules Verne’s ‘Nautilus’, and has recently been redecorated. 

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • 1er arrondissement

If you’re in the market for a spot with really beautiful views to have a really good sit down in, then you really could do a lot worse than this incredibly well-manicured riverside park. It’s basically a row of lawns interrupted by beguiling water features, pretty floral displays and a network of gravelled walkways. Art enthusiasts will also enjoy the handful of modern sculptures including bronzes by Laurens, Moore, Ernst and Giacometti. And with a location slap bang between Place de la Concorde, the Seine and the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries is an easy walk from much of central Paris.

Don’t miss: Each summer, a funfair sets up along the Rue de Rivoli side of the gardens.

  • Attractions
  • Montmartre
  • price 1 of 4

Work on this enormous mock Romano-Byzantine edifice began in 1877: it was commissioned in response to defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, the logic being that God must have been cross with the French and needed appeasing, sharp. Paid for from the public purse and completed almost half a century later, in 1914, it was consecrated in 1919, by which time a jumble of architects had succeeded Paul Abadie, winner of the original competition. The results are impressive, especially given its prominent position atop the hill of Montmartre, and the interior is covered in lavish mosaics.

Don’t miss: The views of the city from the lawns outside. Just be very wary of the hawkers trying to sell you bracelets. Make sure they don’t put one on your wrist – because once it’s there, you’re paying for it!

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  • Attractions
  • Necker
  • price 2 of 4

At 209 metres, this steel-and-glass colossus isn’t quite the height of the Eiffel Tower, but it boasts far better views – for starters, they actually include the Eiffel Tower! Built in 1974 on the site of the Metro station with the same name, you ascend to the top of the Tour Montparnasse via a super-fast lift that sends you soaring skyward to the fifty-sixth floor, where you’ll find a display filled with aerial pics of Paris, plus a café and souvenir shop. On a clear day, you can see up to 25 miles away. If you want to go all the way, a second lift will take you up to the building’s roof.

Don’t miss: The ice rink that’s installed near the tower in winter.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • 1er arrondissement
  • price 2 of 4

The Musée de l’Orangerie is essentially a museum dedicated to Monet, and as such it’s enormously popular: expect lots of tourists, and long queues. But it’s a price worth paying – across its stripped-back, fuss-free exhibition spaces, some truly stunning works by the impressionist master are on display. His eight gargantuan ‘Water Lilies’ occupy two oval-shaped rooms; painted in the gardens at his home in Giverny, they’re gorgeous and borderline trippy.

Don’t miss: Okay, it’s not just Monet: don’t forget to seek out works by his French masters Cézanne, Renoir, Rousseau and Derain, as well as Picasso and Modigliani.

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  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Le Marais
  • price 1 of 4

The enfants in question haven’t been in residence for some centuries: this historic market was named after the orphanage that occupied the site in the 1500s, and was dissolved before the time of the revolution (‘rouge’ was the colour of the children’s clothes: it marked that they had been donated by Christian charities). Fast-forward a couple of hundred years, and in 2000 a chi-chi food market was opened here. It’s a hit with tourists, and understandably so: we defy anybody who arrives here with an empty stomach to not immediately go nots when unleased upon the Italian, Lebanese, African, Japanese produce and other wares.

Don’t miss: The giant tagines at Le Traiteur Marocain. Simply fantastic.

  • Attractions
  • Ile de la Cité

If you want to take mass here, you’ve got a bit of a wait: as you’re doubtless aware, an inferno tore through this magnificent Gothic icon in April 2019, and you’ll be waiting until April 2024 for Notre-Dame to reopen (it may or may not be fully restored by then, but the government is determined to have it up and running in time for that summer’s Olympics regardless). Nonetheless, you can’t keep down a cathedral that almost lives in the popular imagination as much as the real world: after Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’ secured its iconic status, Disney’s plucky ’90s movie brought the wonderfully foreboding Gothic architecture of the historic icon to a whole new generation. On your next visit, look up at its timeless façade and imagine its future – just how will they rebuild this sacred beast?

Don’t miss: When one day they do reopen the cathedral to the public, get stuck into their busy programme of regular classical concerts. The acoustics in the nave have to be heard to be believed.

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  • Art
  • 16e arrondissement

The Fondation Louis Vuitton’s 11 ultra-sleek galleries opened in the Bois de Boulogne in 2014. Since then, Frank Gehry’s astonishing building has played host to a rotating programme of shows by high-profile modern and contemporary artists: expect to see works by the likes of Jean-Michel BasquiatGilbert & George and Jeff Koons, as well as specially commissioned site-specific works. The museum is owned by Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH, but will be taken over by the city after 55 years.

Don’t miss: The events that run alongside the exhibitions – there are frequent appearances by big-name artists and curators.

  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Champs-Elysées
  • price 3 of 4

Definitely one of the more risqué players on the Parisian cabaret scene, the art du nu (it’s a nudie revue!) of Le Crazy Horse first opened its doors in 1951 under the steerage of the legendary Alain Bernardin. Seventy years on, it still pulls in punters aplenty (although it’s been closed during the pandemic – its doors reopen in September 2021). It remains dedicated to all things feminine and sexy, within certain parameters: lookalike dancers with curious stage names like Enny Gmatic and Hippy Bang Bang all bear the same bodily dimensions. (Girls are genuinely required to have nipples and hips at the same height). Expect lots of rainbow-hued light and artfully located strips of black tape. Old-school, self-respecting cabaret.

Don’t miss: ‘Striptease Moi’, a sensual gender-bending show with a daft ending. 

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  • Things to do
  • Jaurès

Commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte himself, the nineteenth-century Canal de l’Ourcq takes a 108km journey from the river Ourcq in Picardie before ending its journey in front of the arty MK2 cinemas at Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad’s Bassin de la Villette. Like the Canal Saint-Martin further south, the Canal de l’Ourcq draws a trendy crowd, from students to thirtysomethings with young families, who come to play boules on the sandy stretches, picnic on the water’s edge, and even play ping-pong in the playground areas. 

Don’t miss: The péniches (canal boats) that double up as a bar, a theatre and a bookshop.

  • Shopping
  • Vintage shops
  • 12e arrondissement
  • price 1 of 4

Marché d’Aligre is one of the most historic markets in Paris, having opened in 1799, it’s survived revolutions, riots and waves of gentrification. But whatever hardships have come their way, the vendors will surely never be deterred from flogging their second-hand garments, bric-à-brac and cheap food on this stretch near Bastille. Your enjoyment of this bustling market will almost certainly hinge on which bit of it you actually head to; the top of the street is a good spot for cheap-ish seasonal produce, while if you make for the covered Beauvau market you’ll find the dearer fishmongers and butchers.

Don’t miss: The artisanal stalls in the main yard which sell books, African masks and other trinkets.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Saint-Georges

Back in 1830, the 9th arrondissement teemed with composers, writers and artists. And it was this year that Dutch artist Ary Scheffer built this small villa. Guests at Scheffer’s soirées included Chopin, Liszt and – most important for our purposes – novelist George Sand. The museum is now mainly dedicated to Sand, who was enormously popular in her lifetime, but it also displays Scheffer’s paintings and other mementoes from the Romantic era. Renovated in 2013, the museum’s tree-lined courtyard café and greenhouse make for a perfect summertime retreat.

Don’t miss: While you’re nearby, you should probably check out the Musée National Gustave Moreau. There’s a surprise waiting for you at the top. 

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • 20e arrondissement

What is La Petite Ceinture? Basically, it’s an out-of-use railway that girdles Paris like, well, a little belt – hence the name. The track has been in disrepair since the last freight train went through in the ’80s (the final passenger train went through way back in 1934). Although bits of it are earmarked for transformation into an urban park – and a stretch on the 20th arrondissement actually has been – the city council is on the whole unsure what to do with La Petite Ceinture – for now, it mostly remains an, ahem, unauthorised way of navigating Paris. 

Don’t miss: The belt’s access points, which aren’t particularly policed. It’s easy enough to find information about them online.

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  • Shopping
  • Bookshops
  • Faubourg Montmartre

Elegant precursors to the modern-day shopping centre, in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Paris there were lots of glass-roofed shopping galleries in areas around the Grands Boulevards. These covered passages allowed you to take shortcuts, escape the elements or (ooh la la!) steal a forbidden kiss with your lover in relative privacy. Not that it was all elegant charm: most passages were also given a salon de décrottage: a room where the dog excrement you’d trodden through was scraped off your shoes. Sadly that service is long gone, but these days passages couverts are perfect little hideaways for an afternoon’s retail therapy. 

Don’t miss: Galerie Vivienne is the best known, appreciated above all for its ochre-coloured décor and mythology-themed mosaics. We love the tearoom there too.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Chaillot
  • price 1 of 4

When this modern and contemporary art building opened in 2002, many thought the Palais de Tokyo’s determinedly no-frills aesthetic amounted to a deliberate statement. In fact, it was purely for budgetary reasons. Happily, the venue has really flourished since then, especially after an extended 2012 overhaul of its open-plan space. Extended hours and a cool café bring in younger audiences, and the roll-call of artists is impressive (Roberto Braga, Wang Du, Theaster Gates and others). The name harks back to the 1937 Exposition Internationale, but is also a reminder of links with a new generation of artists from the Far East.

Don’t miss: Everything else here. There’s Le Yoyo club, an excellent fashion and design bookshop, and two new restaurants. Oh, and don’t forget to head out to the terrace. The view of the Eiffel Tower really can’t be beaten. 

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Louvre
  • price 3 of 4

It would of course be ridiculous to visit Paris without at least dipping into the world’s largest museum. The Louvre’s maze of corridors, galleries and stairways constitute a city within a city – especially when you take into account the sheer numbers that visit (a record 10.2 million people back in 2018). It’s undeniably somewhat intimidating: with 35,000 works on public display, split across eight departments and three wings, there is zero chance you’re going to see it all in a single day. The best bet is to pick the parts you want to see beforehand, be patient and make your way steadily through the crowds. If you want a few starter tips, we recommend a trip to the impressive Islamic arts galleries, which opened in 2012. For the Mona Lisa –yes it’s a cliché, but why wouldn’t you want to see it? – head to the Salle de la Joconde.

Don’t miss: If the crowds sound like too much to bear, try the Louvre’s extended-hour evenings on Wednesdays and Fridays – open until 9.45pm, it’s significantly quieter.

  • Museums
  • Le Marais

After a five-year closure for work and restoration, the Musée Picasso finally reopened its doors in October 2014, so once again Parisians could enjoy some of the France-resident Spanish maestro’s finest artworks including ‘La Celestina’, ‘The Supplicant’ and ‘Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter’. Occupying seventeenth-century mansion the Hôtel Salé – right in the heart of the Marais – Picasso’s masterpieces hang on the walls of bright, spacious exhibition rooms. As you’d expect from an institution dedicated to an artist of Picasso’s stature, the Musée Picasso – now in its fourth decade – is one of the city’s most precious and prestigious institutions. 

Don’t miss: Head up to the top of the museum and you’ll find Ol’ Pablo’s very own art collection, which includes some gorgeous works by Cézanne, Renoir, Mirò and his frenemy Matisse.

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  • Art

Paris has had a pretty serious street art scene from as long ago as the 1960s, and it’s only grown bigger since. There is plenty of wall space in the city’s suburbs, outer arrondissements and centre for local and international artists to get creative with their spray cans and transform whole areas into outdoor art galleries. By definition this stuff tends to be somewhat transient – if you can, take a look at the several dedicated blogs for up-to-date info.

Don’t miss: We recommend the Rue Dénoyez in Belleville. Even during the day, there are always a couple of graffeurs at work. 

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Invalides

You’ll find many of the legendary sculptor’s greatest works in this museum based at the hôtel particulier where the sculptor spent his final years until his death in 1917. Timeless highlights including ‘The Kiss’, ‘The Cathedral’, ‘The Walking Man’ and many other busts and terracottas. You’ll also find work on display by Camille Claudel, Rodin’s pupil and mistress. As a further bonus there are works by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and Carrière here too.

Don’t miss: The gardens, a gallery space in themselves. Look out for the ‘Burghers of Calais’, ‘The Gates of Hell’, and ‘The Thinker’.

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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • La Villette
  • price 2 of 4

This grandiose venue in the North-East of Paris aims to make classical music accessible and non-elitist, with a remit to draw in novices well as seasoned concert-goers. This all naturally hinges on the tickets being affordable: at a time when cultural activities are getting increasingly costly, the Philharmonie hopes to counter the trend much as the Opéra Bastille did for opera. Aesthetically impressive and large, this 2,400-seat concert hall frequently dazzles with season after season of eclectic concerts and events.

Don’t miss: The rooftop has spectacular views, open throughout the summer.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • 4e arrondissement
  • price 3 of 4

The Pompidou’s ‘inside-out’ appearance – with pipes, air ducts and escalators proudly gracing the exterior – has made it one of the best-known sights in Paris. It’s so striking that when it opened in 1977, its success exceeded all expectations… which was kind of a problem, as in essence five times more people turned up than had been expected: in its early years it was a byword for excessive busyness.  

After a two-year revamp, completed in 2000, the building grew, with a larger museum, renewed performance spaces and vista-rich Georges restaurant added. Entrance to the forum is free (as is the library, which has a separate entrance), but you now have to pay to go up the escalators.

Don’t miss: Obvious, but the slow ascent up the escalators really is worth the fee. Nothing beats the moment you rise above the rooftops.

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  • Things to do
  • Bercy

The old train tracks that join Bastille and Vincennes have now been reclaimed as La Coulée Verte: a verdant, picturesque five-kilometre trail of elevated gardens, the Jardin de Reuilly and tree-lined cycle paths. Kick off at the Bastille end and you can nip up one of the staircases on Avenue Daumesnil to get sweeping views of the city. It’s so scenic that doing the whole thing can easily take up a whole day. If you‘re going to do that, pack a picnic and stop in the Jardin de Reuilly, where there’s (we’re not kidding) Paris’s first sparkling water fountain (there are now around ten more). Then you can carry on to the glorious Bois de Vincennes, which has lakes and leafy, shaded parkland.

Don’t miss: The police station on Rue Rambouillet which is decorated in enormous 1930s-style murals.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Le Marais

In the Musée Carnavalet – which recently reopened after a major refurbishment – a walloping 140 rooms tell the story of Paris in chronological order, from pre-Roman Gaul right up until the twentieth century. The building was built in 1548, transformed by Mansart in 1660 and turned into a museum in 1866, when the great city planner Haussmann persuaded the authorities to preserve its gorgeous interiors. Original sixteenth-century rooms contain magnificent Renaissance art collections heaving with portraits, furniture and other artefacts.

Don’t miss: Items belonging to Napoleon himself, a cradle given to Paris by his nephew Napoleon III, and a replica of author Marcel Proust’s cork-lined bedroom.

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  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Canal Saint-Martin

The Canal Saint-Martin was built between 1805 and 1825 during Napoleon’s day. It was initially intended to bring drinking water and merchandise to the Imperial capital; from the late nineteenth century it housed factories and industrial warehouses.

It’s all change now: many of those factories have become lofts for Paris’s ever-growing bobo (Bohemian-Bourgeois) population, and dozens of bars, restaurants and shops line its quayside. Its sturdy iron footbridges and picturesque locks are coveted spots for weekend picnics and hikes – especially on Sundays and public holidays when cars are banned and the roads are reserved solely for walkers and cyclists. 

Don’t miss: The canal stalwarts, Point Ephémère and Chez Prune.

  • Shopping
  • Home decor
  • 18e arrondissement

The Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen is widely held to be the biggest flea market in the entire world. While it seems quite likely that its rivals haven’t in fact been formally measured, with 3,000 traders and nearly 180,000 visitors each weekend, nobody is really arguing. Opening in 1885, it started life as a humble rag-and-bone set-up on the city’s edges.

Paris being Paris, it has, perhaps inevitably, turned into a more upscale affair, with lots of boutiques and antique stalls. At the other end of the spectrum, restaurants and takeaways are in danger of displacing the less fancy traders. But whatever sanitisation is sanding the edges of the Puces, it still makes for an exhilarating experience for a tourist.

Don’t miss: There’s only a single ATM – so make sure you come with a bulging wallet or a willingness to queue.

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  • Attractions
  • Zoos and aquariums
  • 5e arrondissement
  • price 2 of 4

An unexpected side-effect of decapitating swathes of your wealthiest citizens? Working out what to do with their many ownerless pets. Proof that the instigators of the Terror were really just big softies, this ménagerie became the solution to the sudden influx of homeless animals in 1794. Nowadays the collection is sourced by less homicidal means: present-day inhabitants include vultures, monkeys, orang-utans, ostriches, flamingos, a century-old turtle, plus another one rescued from the sewers, a gorgeous red panda and lots of satisfyingly scary spiders and snakes. There’s also a petting zoo with farm animals for small kids, and older ones can zoom in on microscopic species in the Microzoo.

Don’t miss: A game of ‘who can spot the oldest tree?’ in the botanical gardens next door. The black acacia planted in 1636 is particularly striking. 

  • Shopping
  • Boutiques

Time has not withered the Champs-Élysées: despite having probably the stiffest local competition in the world, it remains the premiere shopping destination in Paris. It’s no drab high street; rather it’s a world-famous boulevard of sublime consumer chic. The brands are high-end and the stores are filled with art installations, DJs and other things keeping the whole retail therapy thing as fresh and fun as possible. And the avenue itself is a wonder: deafening, overwhelming, but inimitably Parisian.

Don’t miss: Come Christmas, the market and fairground at the foot of the Champs give it a truly magical feel.

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  • Attractions
  • Zoos and aquariums
  • Chaillot
  • price 3 of 4

Trocadéro isn’t historically the most thrilling area of Paris, but it’s really been jolted into life by this fantastic attraction, which combines an aquarium and two-screen cinema. Kids will go berserk for the shark tunnel and the petting pool, where you can fulfil the lifelong dream you never knew you had and stroke the friendly sturgeon who stick their long snouts above the surface. There’s also a section showing the various heroic species of fish that somehow manage to survive in the Seine despite the pollution. Some visitors might find the admission fee trop cher, but it really is a brilliant way to spend a long afternoon.

Don’t miss: Special kids’ shows take place on Wednesdays and weekends.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Chaillot

Inside this grand old 1930s building you’ll find key works from the Cubists and Fauves, and artists like Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Georges Rouault, Chaim Soutine and Kees van Dongen. It’s a fine museum, albeit with such stiff local competition not as famous as some of Paris’ premium venues, which is why it’s unfortunate that the museum made international headlines back in May 2010 when five paintings, including a Picasso, were stolen.

Don’t miss: Visiting even if you’re skint – this is one of the scant number of museums in Paris where it’s free to enter.

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  • Shopping
  • Bookshops
  • Quartier latin

France’s premiere English-language bookshop, Shakespeare & Company is a Left Bank institution, but so much more than that. For more than 60 years, it’s been an intellectual gathering place, a cultural hub – and a place to kip for the numerous writers, bohemians, travellers and bookworms who have volunteered here. Shakespeare & Company is an icon that’s appeared in numerous films, books and memoirs – and when you come to lose yourself in its volume-lined corridors, you really come to see why. 

Don’t miss: The busy events schedule, which includes readings from many high-profile authors.

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Roquette
  • price 2 of 4

The Marché Bastille is one of the capital’s biggest markets, and takes over the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir twice a week. With more produce than most hypermarkets, it’s a hive of food vendors selling local cheese, free-range chicken, fish, fruit, veg, sausages and other quintessentially French things. Not everything is a bargain – far from it – but keep your wits about you and this vibrant market is a truly atmospheric experience. 

Don’t miss: Saturdays, when the character of the market changes as the food sellers are replaced by arts and crafts merchants. It’s a great opportunity to pick up affordable paintings and other handmade goodies.

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  • Attractions
  • Cemeteries
  • Père-Lachaise

Pretty much anyone famous, French and dead is interred in Père-Lachaise. Indeed you don’t even have to be French: creed and nationality have never prevented entry; you just had to have lived or died in Paris or have an allotted space in a family tomb. From Balzac to Chopin to Oscar Wilde (the tomb worn away by kisses from visiting admirers, now with transparent barriers), the opportunities for posthumous talent-spotting are endless.

Don’t miss: Oscar Wilde’s tomb: much like the man himself, it’s ostentatious and flamboyant. 

  • Kids
  • Exhibitions
  • La Villette
  • price 1 of 4

Europe’s biggest science museum pulls in five million visitors a year, and deservedly so. Its permanent exhibition Explora occupies the top two floors, whisking visitors through 30,000-square-metre that looks at life, the universe and everything in all its complexity: highlights include scale models of satellites including the Ariane space shuttle, planes and robots, plus the chance to experience weightlessness. The hothouse garden investigates developments in agriculture and bio-technology.

Don’t miss: The Espace Images, where you can play around with a delayed camera, draw 3D images on a computer and even lend your voice to the Mona Lisa. 

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  • Museums
  • Grands Boulevards
  • price 3 of 4

Like a kitschier version of Madame Tussauds – yes, such a thing is possible – the Musée Grévin is a guaranteed winner with kids that need entertaining. It’s pretty much the same deal as Tussauds only without the edgier bits: have your photo taken alongside waxworks of showbiz stars and personalities like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, the Queen and Barack Obama. The ‘snapshots of the twentieth-century’ area also recreates great historical moments, such as Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. A small gallery at the top of a spiral staircase near the end shows how waxworks are made. 

Don’t miss: The trippy hall of mirrors designed by American artist Krysle Lip.

  • Attractions
  • 8e arrondissement
  • price 2 of 4

Punctuated by landmarks, spanned by historical bridges and dotted with tree-lined quays, the Seine is bursting with picture-postcard moments: it’s surely one of the prettiest city rivers in the world. One of the best ways to absorb it all is by boat, ie one of Paris’s iconic Bateaux-Mouches. Sure, they are always rammed with tourists (we won’t lie: Parisians tend to avoid them like the plague), but if you don’t mind tthat, you’ll be in for a treat.

Don’t miss: Stop off at the Île Saint-Louis for lunch at an old-time bistro. 

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Montmartre

The very opposite of a manicured garden, the Jardin Sauvage Saint-Vincent – tucked away at the back of Sacré-Coeur, beside Montmartre’s vineyard – is part of a very old stretch of fallow land that was abandoned to nature years ago. And nature came up with the goods: all the trees, plants and flowers you’ll see here are self-sown. Indeed, the garden was ordained as an official biodiversity enclave in 1987. You’ll find hundreds of different types of flora and fauna here, from horse chestnut trees to pond-dwelling toads.

Don’t miss: There are regular guided tours of the gardens, and better still, they’re free.

Sainte-Chapelle
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Ile de la Cité
  • price 2 of 4

In the 1240s, the fervently religious King Louis IX – who went on to become St Louis – acquired what he’d been led to believe was Christ’s Crown of Thorns.. Naturally, he wanted somewhere appropriately magnificent house it. The result was one heck of a monument: the magnificent, glittering Sainte-Chapelle. Its 15-metre windows are truly jaw-dropping: hundreds of scenes from the Bible are depicted, culminating in the Apocalypse in the rose window.

Don’t miss: The occasional classical and gospel concerts that take place here. It makes for an eerily poignant venue.

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Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle
  • Museums
  • 5e arrondissement
  • price 2 of 4

You know what you‘re getting with any major Natural History Museum, and you’ll rarely regret it. Inevitably they’re family-friendly places with admirable collections. Well Paris is no exception. At the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle’s Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, stuffed creatures parade majestically through their various habitats. Animals of all kinds teach children about the diversity of nature. In the endangered and vanished section – where a dodo takes pride of place – they inform you about the importance of protecting them. The museum contains the bony remains of fish, birds, monkeys, dinosaurs and humans. You won’t know where to look first.

Don’t miss: Venturing into the Jardin des Plantes complex to find the small Ménagerie zoo, plus separate pavilions containing hunks of meteorites and crystals in the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie. 

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • La Villette

Home to numerous theatres, concert halls and museums (including the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie), the Parc de la Villette is also no slouch as an actual park. With its giant climbing frames, burger bar and children’s art centre, the ’80s-built Parc de la Villette is a hub of outdoor fun. Kids shoot down a Chinese dragon slide, and an undulating suspended path follows the Canal de l’Ourcq. There are ten themed gardens bearing evocative names such as the Garden of Mirrors, of Mists, of Acrobatics and of Childhood Frights. 

Don’t miss: The open-air film festival that takes place on the lawns every summer. 

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  • Attractions
  • Theme parks

Located just five minutes by train from Versailles in Élancourt is this five-hectare, scaled-down version of... France! Built on a 1:30 scale, you can make your way along a route that takes in the ramparts of Carcassonne, a small Savoyard village, the Chambord castle, winding up in the port of Saint-Tropez. Along the way check out the TGV crossing the Pont du Gard, and Mont-Saint-Michel bathing in the centre of the artifical lake. If it doesn’t literally  one single French region goes unrepresented – and that includes the Mediterranean island of Corsica. 

Don’t miss: There are other fun things to do here – like exploring a replica of one of the Lascaux caves.

  • Attractions
  • Theme parks
  • price 3 of 4

There are actually two parks to explore here: one is Parc Disneyland – aka the erstwhile EuroDisney – which has the big pink castle in it; and then there’s the SFX-oriented Parc Walt Disney Studios, which is more themed around Disney’s films. And then there’s Disney Entertainment Village, which is filled with places to eat, drink and party. Europe’s premiere themepark can seem rather vast and intimidating. But remember it’s all meant to be good fun, and it’s broken down into easy to digest zones: Fantasyland, Discoveryland, Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, et al. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to run out of stuff to keep you and the nippers occupied.

Don’t miss: The Fastpass ticket. Sure, you’re paying more, but it gets you right past the queues for the most sought-after attractions.

Looking for somewhere amazing to stay?

The 93 best hotels in Paris
  • Hotels

Whether you want to splash the cash or save your pennies, you’ll find all your needs catered to with this wonderful selection of Paris stays. From boutique gems to palatial oases to trendy hostels, you’re sure to find the right fit for your dream Paris holiday.  

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