When I lived in Geneva, Switzerland, Paris was a short TGV (high-speed train) ride away. Paris became like a second home to me. Whether it was a shopping trip, a day out with the girls or taking in the sights, I would feel a frisson of energy run through me every time I stepped off the train. I still get the same feeling when my feet touch French soil and more so in Paris. I am sure that my Paris highlights sightseeing guide will help you to make the most out of your visit.
Over Christmas, my husband (Steve) and I had another opportunity to visit. It was his first time in Paris and we had an action-packed visit. We needed to see the Paris highlights in just 2 days. It was fabulous to be able to show him around a city I know well and love. We arrived on a beautiful crisp clear morning and after checking into our hotel we set off on a marathon walk. Paris is a wonderful city to walk through. Around every corner, there is beauty that takes my breath away. According to the app on Steve’s phone, we walked 21km! It didn’t feel like it though, as we stopped for hot chocolate, croissants, lunch and of course a couple of glasses of wine along the way as one does when in Paris!
My Paris Highlights Sightseeing Guide
You need to choose a museum today. It’s between either the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay whose main focus is on Impressionist art. If you choose the Musée d’Orsay then head to the fifth floor for the most recognisable works of art.
An advance purchase cost is €12 and gives you access through a door reserved for specifically for holders of these tickets.
If the Louvre is your choice then you need to remember that it is the largest art museum in the world so it is impossible to see it all in one day. This is where a bit of research comes in useful in deciding what you most would like to see before you go.
The best entrance is the Porte des Lions, in the south western wing just before the Jardin de Tuileries. This is never as busy as the entrance through the pyramid, although when we went the queue was only about 20 minutes through the pyramid. Entering through the pyramid has a certain mystical charm but if you are pressed for time use the other door.
- Allow at least 3 hours for a visit
- Both audio guides and independent guides are available at an extra cost, or you could download a guide to your phone.
- Check the website for opening times, free days and discounts available
- There are restaurants and cafes to take a break, but these are usually really busy.
After your visit, you will probably want to relax for a while to regroup. There is a mall under the Louvre, the Carousel du Louvre where you will find a great food court. You will be able to get delicious French food at affordable prices. If your kids need a McDonalds there’s one here as well as a Starbucks. After you have recharged your batteries head to the next main attraction.
Advance purchase ticket cost is €17
The Eiffel Tower
There is something magical about the Eiffel tower. Whether it is wreathed in mist or lit up like a Christmas tree you can’t help but be drawn to it. Wherever you are it dominates the skyline and gives you a great perspective of just how big it really is!
Obviously, this area is a tourist trap and there are loads of vendors trying to sell you all kinds of cheap rubbish. Just be firm and maybe try a “non merci” and they will leave you alone.
There are restaurants and a champagne bar in the Eiffel tower but you should book these in advance either for lunch or dinner. We were lucky enough to have Christmas lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel and while the food was not spectacular it was delicious. The views were breath-taking and certainly made for a memorable Xmas lunch.
Once again you can book your tickets in advance- purchase cost is €17. Either print them out or save them to your phone.
- As it gets dark the Eiffel Tower is lit up and the lights twinkle for the first five minutes of each hour so keep an eye on your watch.
- If you’re taking the Métro, get out at the Trocadéro stop. Although it is further to walk the views are spectacular.
- Shoot a video in the glass lift on the way up, not only for the views but the ironwork as well.
The banks of the river are fabulous to stroll along. After your visit to the Eiffel Tower head back towards the Louvre taking in the sights. If time allows hop onto one of the bateaux mouches located very close to the Pont de l’Alma for a wonderful trip down the river. The cruise takes 45 min from memory and costs around €13.50. It is really interesting to see the Parisian history along the banks of the river. Be prepared for some fabulous instagrammable moments. Brunch, Lunch and dinner cruises are also available.
Start the morning off in the most Bohemian neighbourhood in Paris. A walk through Montmartre is like stepping back in time. The streets are cobbled and pretty with history surrounding your every step. This was the home of many famous artists over the years. Included amongst these was Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Matisse and Toulouse- Lautrec to name but a few and copies of their most famous works are plentiful in the surrounding shops.
Make your way up the hill to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica located on the hill which is the highest point of the city. Construction began in 1875 and it was finally completed and consecrated in 1919. If you don’t want to walk the hill, you can use the funicular. Details of tickets and prices are available on the funicular website, but you can also use a regular metro ticket
Place du Tertre
Once you have finished visiting the Sacré-Cœur walk around the corner to the Place du Tertre. This is a great spot to sit in any of the many cafes and watch the world pass by. It is also a fabulous way to take in the artists at work in the square.
After your break walk down the hill via Rue Lepic one of the most picturesque streets in Montmartre. This road was made famous by the film Amélie. The streets below the hill are a heaven for foodies as well. Here’s my guide to divine food in Paris. At the bottom of Rue Lepic you will find the Moulin Rouge . The Moulin Rouge is more than a 100 years old and is said to have invented French Cancan. It is still the home of a good party!
Notre Dame Cathedral
The next stop is Notre-Dame one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. It is a beautiful example of French Gothic architecture. Don’t miss the gargoyles peering down at you. (The word gargoyle means throat and comes from the Middle English and Old French languages). They were originally built as water spouts to deflect rainwater but later once pipes were installed they became ornamental.
Place de la Concorde
Make your way to the Place de la Concorde for a ride on the big wheel for some stunning views of the city. During the revolution, this was where the guillotine was sited. Some of the most famous victims were King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the leader of the revolution Robespierre. Cross the square for a stroll along one of the most famous roads in the world.
At the start of your walk up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées look to the right of the Place de la Concorde along Rue Royale for views of La Madeleine. The Madeleine Church was designed in its present form as a temple to the glory of Napoleon‘s army.
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
About halfway up the Champs-Élysées look to the left, for a view of The Grand Palais one of the most iconic Parisian monuments. It was built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, and it is recognizable by its large glass dome flanked by the French flag. There are often amazing exhibitions here.
Arc de Triomphe
Heading up the last part of the Champs-Élysées the historic Arc de Triomphe dominates the view. Don’t miss the tomb of the Unknown Soldier buried at the base of the arch in 1921. The flame of remembrance is lit every day at 18h30.There is also a viewing platform at the top that can be reached either by stairs or elevator.
After your action-packed day, the cafés, restaurants and the glittering lights of the Champs-Élysées will be calling. Just remember that most of them are expensive and tourist traps, but for me, the view is worth the price. It’s something you have to do. If you would prefer more affordable restaurants and bars head back a couple of roads off the main drag.
These sights are just the tip of the iceberg. Paris has so much to offer. No matter how many times I visit I always find something new to see and I am sure that you as well. Paris is a city to easily fall in love with. It casts a spell over you drawing you back time and time again and I am sure that you also will be drawn back for another visit.
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Infographic for public transport for my Paris Highlights Sightseeing Guide attractions.
Paris Highlights Sightseeing Guide using public transport