The City of Light, the City of Love, the city with a certain je ne sais quoi: There’s perhaps no place more adored on the planet, as evidenced by the millions of visitors Paris draws each year.
You could spend a lifetime exploring the French capital, but whether you have a day or a year, we’ve got you covered with this shortlist of 25 quintessential Parisian things—a mélange of classic experiences and offbeat thrills. Amusez-vous bien!
Years before New York City opened the popular High Line park on a former railway track, Paris had the coulée verte. Also known as the promenade plantée, this was the first elevated park in the world.
Fragrant with roses and lavender, the park extends along the former Vincennes railway viaduct from the Bastille to the Jardin de Reuilly in the 12th arrondissement, continuing all the way to the Bois des Vincennes. From this privileged perch, you can peer into the Haussmannian apartment buildings and ogle unique architectural details, like statues carved into stone facades. Below on the avenue Daumesnil, artist ateliers and boutiques are housed in the Viaduc des Arts.
You’ll find a village-like ambiance in the hilltop neighborhood of Butte-aux-Cailles, a closely guarded secret among residents. The leafy cobblestoned alleyways are abuzz with cafés, and the Art Nouveau public swimming pool is filled with spring-sourced water.
A wander through the quarter will reveal some of the city’s most interesting street art, like the witty stencil pin-ups created by Paris icon Miss.Tic. Elsewhere in the 13th arrondissement, you’ll notice that high-rise buildings have been converted into canvases for famed street artists like Shepard Fairey.
Initially abhorred, now universally adored… There’s no better symbol of Paris than the “Dame de Fer” (Iron Lady). Built by engineer Gustave Eiffel in 1889 for the World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower is now a landmark that’s instantly recognizable around the globe.
At the top of the hour, even the most jaded Parisians are stopped in their tracks when the Eiffel Tower sparkles for a five-minute show throughout the night. Skip the line by buying a 7-euro ticket to walk up the 1,710 stairs. (If you reserve a table at one of the Eiffel Tower’s restaurants, you also get cut-the-line access.)
The birds-eye views will take your breath away: the perfect symmetry of Haussmann’s boulevards, the grassy lawn of the Champ de Mars, the boats plying the waters on the Seine far below. And the glass floor, installed on the first level in 2014, lets you peer at the lines of visitors down below.
Paris is home to rock-star chocolatiers, like Patrice Chapon, who travels the world to source his own cacao beans. Step inside his St. Germain shop and enter a chocolate universe with beautifully packaged treats, even sweets made to look like emojis.
But the most innovative thing of all is the Bar à Mousses, where you can sample five different decadent mousses, each made from a single origin chocolate. You can buy a cone to eat on the spot, or take away a container to thrill dinner guests.
Damien van Renterghem, who runs the rue de Bac boutique, will make sure you’re equipped with lots of extra napkins. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to linger on the rue de Bac. In recent years, this street has morphed into an epicurean hot spot with a number of gourmet addresses. Last June, the neighborhood’s pâtissiers even organized a food fest called the Bac Sucré (The Sweet Tray).
Tucked away behind the Louvre and the busy Rue Saint-Honoré, the Palais Royal is hidden in plain sight. Inside this protected historic landmark, you’ll find tranquil gardens and the famous columns designed by Daniel Buren.
The place is also a favorite shopping address for in-the-know Parisians, with a number of boutiques flanking the gardens. It’s a lovely spot to go “window licking” as the French call “window shopping”; the Palais arcades boast gorgeous mosaic tiled floors.
Drool over the vintage couture at Didier Ludot, then stop to caffeinate at Café Kitsune, opened by the cool French-Japanese fashion label Maison Kitsuné.
None of the city’s parks encapsulate the Parisian art de vivre better than the Luxembourg gardens. Here you’ll witness the pageantry of French life: suit-clad business folk reading on their lunch break, competitive Pétanque players tossing boules on a sand court, lovers kissing by the Medici Fountain, children sailing mini-boats on the pond.
This is where leisure-loving Parisians come to revel in the sunshine, or even play a round of tennis. Pick up picnic provisions at the nearby Raspail street market (Tuesdays, Fridays, Sundays) and stake your claim to one of the green metal chairs. (In the summer, there’s a grass area opened for picnickers in the south end fronting the avenue de l’Observatoire).
The city’s grands magasins, or department stores, are legendary shopping emporiums. It’s a retail triumvirate: Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Le Bon Marché. These stores are “musts” on the sightseeing circuit because of the exquisite architectural details: colorful Art Nouveau mosaic tiles at Printemps, the stunning neo-Byzantine stained-glass cupola at Galeries Lafayette, and Gustave Eiffel’s design of Le Bon Marché.
Not to mention the glorious food selection at Lafayette Gourmet and La Grande Epicerie (adjacent to Le Bon Marché). Rooftop terraces at both Printemps and Galeries Lafayette afford sweeping views over the Paris cityscape. Stock up on perfumes by uber-French brand Roger & Gallet and sturdy, stylish leather bags by Galeries Lafayette’s in-house brand.
In this fashion capital, the Hermès silk scarf—in every color of the rainbow—has become a lasting icon, a quintessential Paris accessory. The Hermès store at 17 rue de Sèvres is a sartorial temple on the Left Bank.
Housed in the former swimming pool of the Hôtel Lutetia, this concept store is a gorgeous space with a sky-lit atrium and possibly the prettiest flower arrangement in all of Paris.
The authentic bistro is as much a part of the Paris landscape as the Seine. White tablecloths, traditional décor, and a zinc bar contribute to the comforting Gallic ambiance. There’s a heated debate among Parisians about the city’s best bistro, and some worry that this breed of neighborhood eatery is on the verge of extinction.
Our pick? Josephine“Chez Dumonet”—where you should order the boeuf bourguignon, a classic of the French culinary canon, washed down with a glass of red. As far as decadent desserts go, the Grand Marnier soufflé is unforgettable. Another favorite is Bistro Paul Bert (pictured), which serves a mean steak frites.
There’s a long-time tradition of swimming in the French capital—from recreational frolics in the Seine in the 18th century to the bikini era launched at the Piscine Molitor (now renovated as a stunning MGallery hotel).
Today there’s a public piscine in every corner of the French capital, and many of them are historic monuments. Even if you’re not an avid swimmer, you’ll want to partake in the life aquatic in Paris.
The Piscine Josephine Baker, for example, is a glass-covered pool which floats on the Seine, anchored off the Quai François Mauriac in the 13th. A retractable glass roof makes for a great sun-bathing spot in warmer months. Here you can watch the river boats glide by on the Seine, and even better—partake in a little people-watching.
In the Roaring Twenties, Parisian hotel bars invented some of the most exciting libations. And today, after a dry spell, cocktails are having a comeback, as speakeasy-style joints like the Experimental Cocktail Club and Candelaria are shaking things up by skipping French burgundy in favor of mixologists and taco trucks.
Still, you can’t beat the palace hotels for ambience. After all, this is where famous habitués like Ernest Hemingway used to imbibe. (Bar Hemingway will reopen soon at the Ritz Paris after a major renovation). Our pick is Le Meurice, the legendary palace hotel on rue de Rivoli which is celebrating its 180th anniversary this year.
William Oliveri, Bar Manager at Le 228, has been mixing cocktails for 37 years. Among the guests he’s served? Salvador Dali, who used to shack up at the hotel.
Join the throngs to watch the sunset from the steps below the Sacré-Cœur basilica in Montmartre. In a city full of Instagrammable moments, this is one of the best spots to go gaga over the vistas.
Local musicians pluck guitars on the steps, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of soccer star Iya Traoré performing his freestyle tricks.
Tip: Avoid the vendors who harass tourists by trying to hawk souvenirs or charge to take photos on the steps heading up the hill, and instead take the metro to Blanche or Abbesses.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more Parisian setting to spend the night than the Place des Vosges—the oldest square in Paris. Located in the Marais district, the square is flanked by symmetrical red brick buildings facing a central verdant green.
Tucked away behind the arcade, the Pavillon de la Reine is an elegant pied-à-terre that exudes quiet luxury. This four-star hotel comes with a Carita spa, a terrace garden, an honesty bar, and thoughtful amenities like complimentary bikes and Wi-Fi.
In the warmer weather, the banks of the Canal St. Martin are crowded with hipsters reveling in the aperitif hour. Iron footbridges—made famous by actress Audrey Tautou skipping stones in Amelie—gracefully span the waterway, where Canauxrama sends cruise boats through the locks.
The trendy district around the Canal St Martin (10th arrondissement) has long been the bastion of the bourgeois-bohêmes (“bobos”). Wine bars like Le Verre Volé have been packed for years, while newer cafés like Ten Belles lure those in need of a caffeine fix.
Nothing is more quintessentially Parisian than a croissant “au beurre”—that flaky, buttery icon of the petit déjeuner. Every corner boulangerie entices passers-by with the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through the streets.
But the subject of the city’s best butter croissant is one that’s fiercely debated. Recognized as a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (M.O.F.), Laurent Duchêne was awarded the “best Paris butter croissant” in 2012.
In a small bakery at the bottom of the Butte aux Cailles, Duchêne produces croissants crafted from Poitou-Charentes butter, considered possibly the best in all of France, that are downright addictive.
Joining the ranks of the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and the city’s stalwart architectural landmarks, the Fondation Louis Vuitton debuted in October 2014. Designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry, the contemporary art museum is located next to the Jardin d’acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne.
You could spend all day marveling at the building’s innovative engineering: curved panels of glass—reflecting the passing clouds above and moving water beneath—evoke the sails of a ship.
From the terraces, you can catch glimpses of the Eiffel Tower. But don’t forget the Fondation’s interesting art collection inside! For a knock-out meal, try the on-site restaurant, Le Frank, helmed by Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Louis Nomicos.
Situated behind the Panthéon in the 5th arrondissement, the rue Mouffetard is an ancient market street brimming with treats. Vendors have been peddling their wares here since the Middle Ages, and before that, it was an ancient Roman road and prior, a Neolithic thoroughfare.
At the foot of “le Mouffe”—as locals call the neighborhood—you’ll find Androuët, the master cheesemonger. The selection is mouthwatering, and you can get a crash course on France’s hundreds of different cheeses.
Follow in the footsteps of your literary heroes and head to Shakespeare & Company, situated on the banks of the Seine in the shadow of Notre Dame. The go-to English language bookstore in Paris was founded by George Whitman in 1951, to honor Sylvia Beach’s original Shakespeare & Company—where all the renowned expat writers (like Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein and Hemingway) used to hang out.
Today this literary institution is run by Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia, who hosts frequent book readings and festive events. There are even small beds upstairs among the book shelves for visiting artists in need of a crash pad. In big news for October 2015, Shakespeare & Company has opened its very own café—a longtime dream of its late founder.
Paris is art nirvana for the culturati, with over 170 museums tucked into the Haussmannian boulevards and cobblestone streets. Bien sûr, the granddaddy of all art museums is the Louvre, the most-visited museum in the world.
But many just make a beeline for the Mona Lisa to take a selfie. To do it justice, why not focus on just one small area, like its dazzling Islamic arts wing? Across the river in a former Belle Epoque train station, the Musee D’Orsay takes up where the Louvre leaves off—covering the period 1840-1914.
This is home to the popular Impressionist works and Van Gogh paintings. France’s modern art is then housed in the Centre Pompidou, conceived by architect Renzo Piano with a radical “inside-out” design that still stuns today. You can do all three in a day, but you’ll need to reward yourself with red wine at the end.
Lined with fine 17th-century mansions, the smaller of the Seine’s islands is like a tranquil Paris in miniature. The main artery, rue Saint-Louis en Île, boasts art galleries, lovely boutiques, and one of the best butcher shops in town.
What better place to practice the French art of flânerie, or strolling without a fixed destination in mind? Buy a scoop of Berthillon ice cream—the salted butter caramel flavor is famously delicious—then linger on the bridge linking the islet to its big sibling, Île de la Cité.
A precursor to the modern shopping mall, the city’s 19th century covered passageways are almost impossible atmospheric. Topped with a glass roof to protect from bad weather, these arcades are lined with shops and cafes that open onto a mosaic-tiled walkway.
In the Galerie Vivienne, which was built in 1823, you’ll find an excellent wine shop called Legrand Filles et Fils. Opened in 1880, Legrand also offers an old-fashioned gourmet épicerie that’s straight out of the Old World.
Enjoy a selection of wines at the comptoir—it’s even possible to taste a rare and expensive Chateau Cheval Blanc 1975 by the glass!—or reserve a table for lunch. Legrand organizes wine tasting soirées with well-known wine-makers, and also offers wine classes.
Sprawling across 108 acres, Père-Lachaise is a park-like cemetery that’s the permanent resting place for more than one million souls. Walk through this peaceful, verdant place and you’ll mingle with the spirits of famous artists, politicians, writers, and musicians, like Molière, Honoré de Balzac, Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, and Gertrude Stein.
Many of these tombs, like Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, have become touristed shrines; Wilde’s controversial statue was so well loved (and covered in lipstick kisses), that a plastic partition was erected to protect it.
All marble and gilt, Paris’s famous opera house is a majestic monument. The sumptuous façade is only matched by the decorative interiors: A sweeping grand staircase, crystal chandeliers, and the colorful ceiling fresco painted by Marc Chagall in 1963. Another reason to go?
This fall marks the inaugural ballet season with Benjamin Millepied (Natalie Portman’s husband) as Artistic Director.
Steeped in legend, Notre Dame is the literal and figurative heart of Paris. This masterpiece of Gothic architecture features spectacular stained glass windows, spooky gargoyles, and a bell named Emmanuel that weights a whopping 13 tons.
Climb the towers to a vertigo-inducing height over Paris, or head underground to the archeological crypt to see ruins from the ancient Gallo-Roman town of Lutetia. Stay all day—Quasimodo would be proud.
There’s no better place than Paris to celebrate a special occasion with an epicurean extravaganza. We’re talking about the world’s culinary capital, where French chefs like Yannick Alléno are blazing trails in gastronomy.
Pavillon Ledoyen has been an institution since 1792, and when Alléno took over the kitchen in mid 2014, he quickly won three Michelin stars, bumping it up two from its previous ranking. Anchoring a quiet, green space just off the Champs-Élysées, the dining room affords lovely views of the Petit Palais.
The food is mindblowing, prepared with creativity and finesse—think smoked eel soufflé, or rouget with sea urchin and foie gras. And the (friendly!) waiters take great pride in describing culinary techniques and ingredients.